In most of this country, cheesesteaks are just sandwiches. In Philadelphia, cheesesteaks are a religion. And I’m not talking about one of those shiny happy religions that bring everyone together in peace and harmony. I’m talking about those violently factional religions, the ones that pit neighbor against neighbor to fight about the tiny details of an otherwise shared devotion. Philadelphians will argue over just about every aspect of what makes a “real” Philly steak: the cut of beef, whether you use cow or steer, whether that meat is chopped into pieces (and if so, how small), the best type of cheese, the bakery that provides the buns and even whether to apply ketchup. Each of the city’s top cheesesteak spots has its own recipe. And the version Laura Durbano and Gregory Pecca have imported to Hank’s Philly Steaks is unlike anything else in the Valley—and for cheesesteak devotees, a pilgrimage here is a must.
A Philly native, Pecca is an encyclopedia of cheesesteak knowledge, thanks to close friends and family members who have worked in all of that town’s top spots. Mention Philly institutions like Pat’s, Geno’s, John’s Roast Pork, Steve’s or Jim’s, and he can tell you the exact method each uses to prepare its sandwiches. The recipe for Hank’s signature sandwich is closest to the one used at Geno’s: Pecca brings in steer rib-eye rolls from Philly and cuts them down himself, and he imports his bread from the same bakery the South Philly landmark uses. But what Las Vegans will notice first about the steak is that he doesn’t chop the beef, which the vast majority of local places do. Instead, thin slices are piled on top of one another.
Hank’s steaks are offered with your choice of Cheese Wiz, provolone or an American cheese blend, and the option of fried onions. (The few sides I’ve tried have been pretty unimpressive.) They also have a pizza steak, made with pizza sauce and provolone. Unfortunately, Pecca says they may be dropping the latter from the menu because he’s not sure they’ve mastered the sauce. As someone who grew up eating pizza steaks in South Jersey, I think that would be a mistake, since the version he offers is pretty damn good. But even if it goes, I would gladly drive across the Valley any day for the classic steak with onions and American cheese, served on a large chewy roll that sops up the abundant cheese and grease.
Bowing to customer pressure, Hank’s recently began serving a chopped sirloin steak as well, although its listing is relegated to a small blackboard on the counter. I’ll admit it’s a solid sandwich. But you can get that style at plenty of places in town. And even if Hank’s version is better than most, it’s not as good as what you’ll find at Pop’s and a few other top spots. If you’re going to dine here, do yourself a favor and step out of your comfort zone.
Speaking of that, Hank’s also has another delicious treat that might be unfamiliar: panzarottis. These fried pockets of dough stuffed with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese were invented by Pauline Tarantini in the city of Camden in 1960 and have become a staple of South Jersey pizza places. The Tarantini family now sells them wholesale to lucky restaurants across the country. To the best of my knowledge, Hank’s is the only place in town that has them, and you shouldn’t leave without trying one.
Hank’s also offers burgers and will soon be adding more sandwiches. But don’t bother asking me how they taste. Because for me, going here and filling up on anything other than the classic cheese steaks or a panzarotti is a waste.
Hank’s Philly Steaks, 467 E. Silverado Ranch Blvd., 702-778-8353. Open for lunch and dinner noon–8 p.m. Mon–Sat. Dinner for two, $15-$30.