Eating a cheesesteak sandwich in downtown Philadelphia is an experience on par with eating deep dish pizza in Chicago, cheesecake in New York or barbecue in Kansas City.
Eating a cheesesteak sandwich amid the homogenous suburban sprawl of north Utah County is not quite the same, but it's close enough. The Downtown Philly in American Fork brings an authentic cheesesteak out West, and we couldn't be happier.
Before we get to the sandwiches themselves, a few notes on the Philly-ness of The Downtown Philly. The restaurant serves TastyKake snacks (better than Hostess, they say), Pennsylvania Dutch Birch Beer (something like root beer) and Herr's chips (including ketchup flavor), all regional favorites.
We took a native Pennsylvanian with us, and he and the owner spent a few minutes extolling the virtues of these treats from their homeland, all unavailable out here except when specially ordered. This place is for real.
The Traditional Steak sandwich is made with thinly sliced steak, fried onions and your choice of cheese: Cheez Whiz, Provolone or American. Cheez Whiz, believe it or not, is the most popular and, to us, best-tasting option. Something about the strong, salty flavor of the cheese spread makes the sandwich that much better. The sandwiches come in three different sizes -- 6, 9 and 12 inches -- but only the most hungry of diners will need more than the generous 6-incher.
From there, Downtown Philly offers several variations on the cheesesteak theme, all served on the same fluffy white hoagie rolls. We liked the Mushroom Pepper Steak, with (obviously) mushrooms and red peppers, and the Cheesesteak Hoagie, which comes out more like a roast beef sandwich with tomatoes, mayonnaise and lettuce. You also can get cheesesteaks with jalapeños, cream cheese, garlic sauce, bleu cheese or pepperoni, if you like.
We remember the cheesesteak we had in Philly being a bit greasier than the ones at The Downtown Philly, but the missing grease hardly ruins the sandwich. The sandwiches cost $5 or more, depending on size and variety, and can be made into a combo with chips and drink for $2 more. Kids can order a Grilled Cheese sandwich or a Hot Ham and Cheese, each for $4 with chips and a drink.
The strip mall in a Costco parking lot where the restaurant is located doesn't look like Philly, but it sure tastes like it.