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On the Road

Meet Philly’s Other Sandwich: The Roast Pork

To develop a recipe for Philadelphia's roast pork sandwich, we had to start wit’ a trip to the city.
By Published Apr. 27, 2018

Where We Went

Map of Philadelphia

Philadelphia

Philly is the location of the nation’s first museum (The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, open since 1805) and zoo (The Philadelphia Zoo, open since 1874).

You hear Philadelphia, you think cheesesteak. Staff photographer Steve Klise and I visited the city and had a revelation in the form of the cheesesteak’s porky counterpoint: the Philadelphia roast pork sandwich. Before coming back to the test kitchen and developing our own recipe, we had to taste the experts’.

If you're ordering the house special hot roast pork sandwich at John's Roast Pork in South Philadelphia, you don't have to wait in line; that deeply satisfying sandwich of roasted pork, braised spinach, and a noticeable kick of black and red peppers can be made in short order, and you're allowed to weave through the lunch-rush crowd and up to the counter.

Johns Roast Pork in PhillyJohns Roast Pork in Philly

Left: A menu hangs on the outside wall of John's Roast Pork. Right: Cold day, hot sandwich.

You can be out the door while the other guy is still getting yelled at for ordering his cheesesteak all wrong. ("American wit' extra" is the way to go ["extra" = onions].) At midday, John's is a noisy place, thanks mostly to the yelling between the cashiers, line cooks, and back kitchen staff all jammed into a tiny shoebox of a building.

By contrast, the cavernous Reading Terminal Market across town delivers a much bigger, nearly overwhelming sensory experience with its butchers and grocers and gift shops and bakeries selling freshly fried doughnuts. It's packed to the brim with a mix of tourists and locals and, despite the neon signs, there's an air of antiquity and comfort to the place, a sit-and-stay-awhile kind of vibe.

This is no surprise: The building made its debut as a civic marketplace more than 100 years ago and has become an indelible part of the city's cultural fabric.

That fabric includes Tommy DiNic's, a Reading Terminal Market standby since 1980. DiNic's draws a huge and reliable lunchtime crowd, weekdays and weekends alike. Cooks pile garlicky broccoli rabe atop the thin slices of seasoned pork, along with sharp provolone cheese. Fresh bread, crunchy on the outside and soft inside, soaks up the juices and keeps everything in place. Most of the time, anyway.

Read about some of our other trips to Philadelphia and other places around the country, all in the name of recipe research: