If the American eating diaspora proves anything, it’s that no one should be limited in what they can and can’t call a taco. This is the nation that has turned bacon weaves, Doritos and chicken fillets into delicious pseudo-tortillas. The possibilities are endless.
Perhaps this is why one of the most legendary street eats on the whole East Coast is a delicious mixture of both Mexico and the Mediterranean, with a sprinkling of Americana on top. It might terrify Italian and Mexican traditionalists, but Philadelphia’s “Philly Taco” is living proof that a corn tortilla does not a taco make.
Part culinary mashup, part eating challenge, the Philly Taco is, essentially, an entire cheesesteak, wrapped up in a giant pizza slice. More specifically, the dish involves the diner buying a sandwich from the legendary Jim’s Steaks and a giant slice from the famous Lorenzo’s pizzeria just down the street. Then, like a delicious piece of Ikea furniture, you assemble it yourself and tuck in.
The dish was actually created by two Philly natives, Jeff Barg and Adam Gordon, back in 2003, who originally christened it the Lorenzo’s-Jim’s Challenge. Now a notorious rite of passage in the underground South Street food scene, the dish has lost much of its original competitive element and is now embraced as a weird, obscenely overindulgent fixture of the Philly foodscape.
Love tacos? Check out Tom's recipe for Bull’s-Eye BBQ Rib Tacos:
Even if the idea of a cheesy sandwich stuffed inside a pizza sounds like a bombastic calorie assault, the dish is actually more complicated than you might imagine. As co-creator Jeff explained in a Munchies article back in 2017:
"The beauty of the Philly Taco is not just the double starch; you're increasing the carbs as you go. When you wrap it correctly, you wrap the pizza lengthwise, as opposed to pigs-in-a-blanket style. We tried both versions. Lengthwise is definitely better: With each bite, you get more pizza than the previous bite… Alcohol is not required for this challenge, but it's not discouraged either."
In a country that’s famously obsessed with Mexican food, any dish that calls itself a “taco” has got to deliver. This is true whether you’re exploring the street food scene in South Street, or perusing the unapologetically inauthentic menu at a popular bell-themed franchise. If you’re keen to discover just how far the taco label can be pushed, you can do worse than giving Philadelphia’s finest treat a try.