Chopped Cheese Sandwiches Are Not At All Like Philly Cheesesteaks

Many cities have at least one sandwich that comes to define it. No matter where you live, there will always be people in need of a quick, cheap bite to tide them over during the day. And two of the most iconic city sandwiches — New York's chopped cheese and the Philly cheesesteak — are peak examples of this. Both sandwiches are simple, filling staples that can be found all around town, and the residents who love them have strong feelings about what makes each worth eating.

The legendary Philly cheesesteak predates the chopped cheese by decades, and might even have served as the New York sandwich's inspiration. But while both sandwiches start with beef, cheese, and a roll, you would be hard-pressed to mistake one for the other. Consider the type of meat, the classic toppings, and the views towards customization, and never insult a resident of either city by comparing one to the other. The toppings differ, but that's secondary in many eyes. The biggest difference boils down to the type of meat — a Philly uses ribeye steak and a chopped cheese uses ground beef.

The chopped cheese

The easiest way to explain a chopped cheese (aka chop cheese) is that it's like a hamburger went through a shredder and was laid to rest inside a hero roll. Ground beef and onions are griddled, then topped with American cheese, tomato, and lettuce. The sandwich was invented by Carlos Soto at Hajji's bodega in Harlem (sometimes called Blue Sky Deli and other times Harlem Taste). It's not certain exactly when the sandwich was created (likely sometime in the 90s), but it sprinkled into New York bodega culture as a dependable local favorite before going mainstream in recent years to great controversy. Many aspects of bodega culture have long been under threat, and affordable favorites are just one aspect of this citywide panic.

The chopped cheese bears some resemblance to a Philly cheesesteak at first glance, as they both come on long Italian rolls – though a New Yorker would call this a hero. Typically, a Philadelphian would call this a hoagie roll — though a cheesesteak is not considered to be a hoagie. But that's where the resemblance ends. The chop cheese has ground beef cooked with onions and delicious American cheese, and it's typically topped with thin slices of tomato and shredded lettuce.

The Philly cheesesteak

The Philly cheesesteak is much older than the chopped cheese, having been invented in 1930 by Pat Olivieri, the original owner of the legendary South Philly establishment Pat's King of Steaks. Olivieri ran a hot dog stand, and one day when a cab driver saw him making himself a steak sandwich, the customer asked for one, birthing the now-famous cheesesteak.

While a chopped cheese uses ground beef, a Philly cheesesteak uses thinly sliced ribeye steak after Olivieri's original. A chopped cheese traditionally comes with onions while a Philly cheesesteak may or may not. You would order a cheesesteak "wit" to get it with onions, and "witout" to get it without them. As for cheese, there are three types of cheese acceptable to order with a Philly cheesesteak: American, provolone, and Whiz.

Since a chopped cheese is a bodega sandwich, and bodegas are built around custom order specifications (probably how the sandwich came to be in the first place), you might order one with whatever add-ons you prefer, as long as your deli has them in stock. A Philly cheesesteak, on the other hand, comes with a set of rules and traditions. Don't ask for cheddar, don't ask for pickles, and if it's not on the menu, assume they don't have it.