Sadly, I have never been to Philadelphia. Thus, I have never had a chance to enjoy one of my favorite sandwiches--the Philly cheesesteak--in its native environment. However, I know what I like in such a sandwich, and West of Philly, a joint that specializes in myriad versions of said comestible, does a pretty good job of delivering the goods.
Our hardy little group timed it just right, showing up only 20 minutes after they opened for the day. My wife placed an order for a 12-inch mushroom cheesesteak ($8.45), my son opted for a chicken strip meal (undoubtedly to help get over his sore throat, on the theory that if chicken soup is good, strips must be better), and I chose the lunch special of a 7-inch sandwich served with a cup of soup ($8 even). I went with the Italian cheesesteak and a cup of smoked salmon chowder.
It was a short wait for our food, which was good, as patrons started flowing in not long after we ordered. Both my items were served nice and hot, though not too hot to eat. The salmon chowder was nicely flavored with chunks of salmon and sweet corn, though a touch too thin for my tastes; give me New England chowder over Manhattan any day.
The sandwich, on the other hand, was pretty fine: tons of steak piled high and smothered with peppers, onions and provolone, held together by a tomato sauce that was zesty but not overpowering. One common problem I've seen in past cheesesteaks was copious grease from the meat, a problem West of Philly avoids altogether; the steak was juicy and flavorful but not excessively greasy, a boon for a slob like me. Another pleasant surprise was the bread. Sturdy enough for the mountain of stuffing yet soft and flaky, it was a delightful change from run of the mill sandwiches, which seem to think a near-bulletproof hoagie roll is the only way to fly.
I heard no complaints from my dining companions, either. My son enjoyed his strips and smiley-face shaped fries, redlining my cute meter but charming him. The missus reported satisfaction with the mushroom cheesesteak, a bifurcated wonder that delivered on the promise inherent in the name by piling on the 'shroomage. Service was quick and friendly, although our server appeared to be a little bit out of it. West of Philly is a niche kind of place, and if cheesesteak isn't your thing, you'll find the menu too limited for your lunchtime cravings. However, for anybody who enjoys a well-made cheesesteak sandwich, it's well worth the visit.
--Brandon Nolta would drive to Louisiana for a good bowl of gumbo.