Jim’s Steaks is a Philadelphia icon and featured in many travel and Pennsylvanian food guides. In the cheesesteak grilling business since 1939, the original eatery since expanded to four locations, and is well-known around the country.
I recently visited the West Philly location with 15 people (men, women, and toddlers included), where the steaks were first served. The restaurant unapologetically stands on 431 N. 62nd St. (between Callowhill St. & Girard Ave.), in a residential area plagued by poverty, complete with graffiti and visibly dilapidated housing. The block may look rough, but there was adequate, free street parking and most residents were outside on that nice afternoon, trimming bushes, painting their homes, and greeting each other with warm familiarity. For those readers who are not used to living in an impoverished area and feel a bit wary, keep an open mind and don’t let it turn you off to the place: delicious food awaits.
This is definitely a beloved neighborhood corner joint, a place where locals schmooze and laugh, drink a couple of beers, eat some food, and discuss town gossip. The grill master (as I’ll call him) and the kind women running the establishment expertly organized our large party.
“Stay in a single file and order what you want with our main cook there. When it’s ready, tell me what you’d like on top of your steak and to drink. Stay in order, please!” one of the patient women instructed us.
Two beverage refrigerators displayed their extensive drinks for sale- various sodas, including root beer, gingerale, and grape, beers (Heineken, Bud Light, and Corona), and bottled water. Individually wrapped and sized sweet potato pies tantalizingly called to us from the lined counter in front of the register.
“The Whiz is made with white American cheese today,” one of the women nicely warned, as she handed off the drinks in accordance to our tentative, rattled off orders.
All of us wanted the Whiz despite their generous menu. The grill master, in turn, talked with us a bit about how much beef they cook a day (eight silver tins worth) and if we ever had a Philly cheesesteak before (no, never). He also customized our orders with a pleasant smile, “Did you want lettuce, tomatoes, or grilled onions? Definitely go with the onions!”
The perfectly caramelized onions swam in a spoonfuls of russet brown gravy, but I declined and went for a plain Whiz with lettuce. The meat was well-done, slightly dry due to the lack of onions, but served on a soft, long Amoroso roll and wrapped in several sheets of wax paper. I seasoned it with pepper, ketchup, and mayo. It was definitely a very filling serving, worth the $6.00-$7.00 with tax. Several of my companions saved half of theirs for the long ride home or eagerly ordered several more to bring back to loved ones. For anyone salivating, Jim’s Steaks ships their cheesesteaks to long-distance fans, too. Loyal steakists can order them online and Jim’s will freeze and FedEx them for any occasion, large and small.
Lastly, it’s wise to note a couple of things before you plan a visit: 1) there isn’t much offered in the way of seating and 2) it’s definitely a casual place that would think you were crazy if you asked about reservations. Its layout is essentially a short, narrow hallway when you walk inside. The grill and cash register are to one’s immediate left, and several cushioned stools with counters are to the right. There wasn’t enough room for my party, but some nice patrons offered up seating room on their way out, while several of our more claustrophobic lunch goers (including me), happily ate outside, standing up. If this is a deal breaker for your entourage, I recommend going to another Jim’s in Northeast Philadelphia.
Ultimately, Jim’s Steaks (West Philly) is a great, quick lunch stop before heading off to sightsee the rest of the City of Brotherly Love.
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