Philly Steaks – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Philly Steaks on Juan Tabo Opened Its Doors in February, 2018

I love the dignity in the name Philadelphia, but at heart, we’re Philly.”
~Lisa Scottoline
New York Times Best-Selling Author

There are a couple of things you should know about Philadelphia,” my friend  Vladimir “Speedy” Gonzalez told me before my first visit to the City of Brotherly Love.  “First, Philadelphians are not rude.  We may be blunt and direct, but that’s just passion.”   Passion?  I always thought he was a grouch.   “Second,” he added, “you’ve got to know the process for ordering a Philly cheesesteak when you visit Pat’s King of Steaks.  If you don’t, you’ll be sent to the end of the line.”  Sure enough, the Pat’s counterman didn’t appreciate my typical twenty questions ordering approach and sent me back to the end of the line, halfway around the block. 

Apparently what Vladimir called passion is pretty pervasive in Philadelphia.  There are dozens of examples of that passion in sporting events, including a notorious 1968 event in which Eagles fans booed and pelted Santa Claus with snowballs.   There are also plenty of non-sporting examples.  In 1998, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, which oversees taxis, mandated etiquette classes for the city’s cab drivers. Cynics called it “cabbie charm school” and derided it as “a class to teach class.” More recently, a 2012 project called “Twitter heat map” scanned 462 locations in the United States for the phrases “Good morning” and “F–k you.” The project revealed that Philadelphia registered the highest concentration of “f-bombs,” but also the highest concentration of “Good morning.”

The Interior of Philly Steaks

So, how do you reconcile that dichotomy?   “Good morning” is not only a salutation, it’s a wish and a blessing, a life-affirming declaration.  It’s hardly a rude or impolite.  Could it be that denizens of the City of Brotherly Love are morning people?  That the rigors and vicissitudes of the day weigh so heavily that they’re transformed into rude and grumpy people?  Could it be, as Vladimir explained, all about passion?  My friend “8,” who matriculated at an institution of higher learning in Philadelphia explained the notion of the grumpy Pat’s King of Steaks waitstaff this way: “It’s kind of a self fulfilling prophecy much akin to the grumpy counterman at Zabar’s or the attitude of the waiter at Peter Luger when a patron asks for a menu, or any Jewish deli man charged with slicing the pastrami.  It is part of the charm if that’s the way to express the curmudgeonly quality of the service.  I would expect no less when ordering.”  Extrapolate that charm, that attitude, that passion across an entire city and you’ve got Philadelphia, take it or leave it.

I’ll take it, especially if it means incomparable cheesesteaks, peerless pretzels, craveable cannoli, bountiful broccoli rabe and roast pork sandwiches, sumptuous square pizza, terrific tomato pie and scrumptious scrapple.  We were ecstatic to learn about the February, 2018 launch of Philly Steaks, an authentic purveyor of Philadelphia cheesesteak sandwiches owned and operated by veteran restaurateurs who plied their trade in the mean streets of the Cradle of Liberty.  We knew we’d love the sandwiches, were hopeful the portions would be more Philadelphia than Albuquerque, and wondered if the famous Philadelphia passion would be part and parcel of our experience.

Green Chile Fries

Philly’s Steaks is owned and operated by Jim and Joe Lelii, twin brothers with a passion for Italian style cooking.  The brothers launched their first restaurant at only 21 years of age and over the years, opened several successful Italian restaurants and sandwich shops across the Philadelphia metropolitan area.    Recently, however, they relocated to the Land of Enchantment where they launched Philly’s Steaks.  They’ve got the pedigree and the passion to do it right.  In rare lulls in grill activity, we shared good conversation and laughs with the affable Joe, a larger-than-life personality who doesn’t perpetuate the stereotype of the grumpy counterman.  He was as as friendly as could be. Look at his Popeye-like forearms and it’s obvious Joe has spent much of his life chopping rib eye on the grill, a melodic percussion of metal on metal as he slices the rib eye into thin, small pieces.

Philly Steaks is a veritable  shrine to the City of Brotherly Love, both its heroes and its anti-heroes.  Walls are festooned with framed photos of iconic Philadelphia sports icons–real (Smoking Joe Frazier, for example) and cinematic (Rocky Balboa anyone), singers, actors (such as Al Martino) and so much more.  One wall is dedicated to Joe’s family.  He waxes nostalgic when he points out the photos of his grandfather’s deli and other family enterprises in South Philadelphia.  Philly Steaks, he told us, is configured very similarly to similar restaurants he previously owned.  He has high hopes that Duke City diners will embrace his sandwich shop. Every indications–crowded tables with satisfied patrons–is that Albuquerque is already in love with Philly Steaks.

Onion Rings

3 March 2018: Seeing “French Fries” on any menu typically inspires a well-deserved yawn.  At Philly Steaks, it inspires contemplation–a deep, thoughtful deliberation as to how you want your fries.  Sure, you can save the thick, seasoned fries for ketchup, but how boring is that–especially when you can have your fries with Cheese Whiz, Crab, Crab and Cheese, Buffalo chicken and cheese, green chile and cheese, and Philly cheesesteak?  Available in two sizes, regular and bucket, either portion size will sate a family of four.  Don’t be wary about ordering your fries with green chile and cheese.  It’s as if a native New Mexican prepared the green chile.  It’s got both piquancy and the distinctive roasted flavor we love. 

14 March 2018:  On his one “cheat day” a week, my friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” allows himself just a few more carbs than usual.  One of his favorite indulgences is onion rings–what Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster calls “vegetable donuts.”  Philly Steak’s rendition are battered a bit on the thick side with a panko-like breading.  Bite into each of the succulent orbs and the flavor of sweet, juicy onions greets you.  Be careful, though, as these onion rings could burn your mouth.

My Friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Holds A Cheesesteak

If you’ve ever lamented the chintzy meat portions in sandwiches crafted throughout the Duke City, you’ll be pleasantly surprised (maybe amazed) at how generous portion sizes are at Philly Steaks.  Half a Philly Steaks cheesesteak is as big, if not bigger, than any other Philly cheesesteak in Albuquerque.   You’d think there is more livestock in Pennsylvania than there is in New Mexico where sheep and cattle outnumber our citizenry.  And, if you remember the lawsuit a few years ago against Subway for selling twelve-inch and foot-long sandwiches that were allegedly less than twelve-inches long, you’ll be happy to see elongated, torpedo-sized rolls that probably exceed twelve inches at Philly Steaks.  This is the sandwich size Duke City diners deserved and perhaps thought they’d never find in the city. 

3 March 2018: One look at the Philly Cheesesteak and we knew there’s no way my Kim and I would be able to finish it in one sitting.  It was humongous.  Moreover, it was bursting with flavor.  As at the aforementioned Pat’s King of Steaks, there’s a process for ordering your Philly Cheesesteak.  First you select your protein: beef (fresh-cut rib-eye) or chicken (fresh-cut boneless chicken breast) then your choice of cheese (white, American, Provolone, Cheese Whiz) then the type of cheesesteak you want: pizza steak, mushroom cheesesteak, bell pepper cheesesteak, chicken cheesesteak, Buffalo chicken cheesesteak or green chile cheesesteak.  While the ordering process may be similar to that of Pat’s, the “attitude” is not.   Instead of sass and ‘tood, you’ll be greeted with cheer and friendliness.

Philly Cheesesteak “Whiz Wit”

If our choice (bell pepper cheesesteak with Provolone) is any indication, you can’t go wrong with any one of them.  The grilled rib eye is superbly seasoned, tender and delicious.  The hoagie roll is perhaps the best we’ve had in Albuquerque.  The portion size–it’s what Duke City sandwich lovers have wanted for years.  Of course, one of the most difficult decisions to make when ordering a cheesesteak is what type of cheese to request.  We’ve had our share of cheesesteaks with the fabled Cheese Whiz as well as with Provolone and American cheeses, but our favorite has been the white cheese with its salty, pungent notes.  It melts well and integrates beautifully with the steak. 

14 March 2018:  Like me, my friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver has long lamented the dearth of sizeable sandwiches in the Duke City.  Having grown up in Los Angeles, he was used to sandwiches as big as footballs.  In Philly’s Steaks, he’s finally found a sandwich comparable in size to those with which he was raised.  Moreover, the cheesesteak he ordered (mushrooms, red peppers, grilled onions and Provolone) was as delicious as any sandwich he’s had anywhere.  My sandwich was exactly the same as his save for ordering Cheese Whiz instead of Provolone.  Perhaps traumatized by my inaugural visit to Pat’s King of Steaks, I didn’t order mine “Whiz Wit,” local vernacular for ordering a cheesesteak with Whiz and grilled onions.  Maybe next time.  At any regard, we both enjoyed our sandwiches very much and thoroughly enjoyed our visit with Joe.

Italian Special

3 March 2018: Freshly sliced hoagies, all served with lettuce, tomato, onion, oil, oregano, hot or sweet peppers, salt and pepper and mayo on request, are an excellent alternative to a cheesesteak (if you can pry yourself away from the sandwich which made Philadelphia famous).  There are ten sandwiches in the freshly sliced hoagies portion of the menu.  Among them is a sandwich almost as elusive as Forrest Fenn’s treasure, a truly transformative Italian Special (ham, capicola, Genoa salami, Provolone, pepper ham).  It’s roughly the size of two, maybe three, similarly named and priced Italian sub sandwiches at any Albuquerque restaurant. 

Most ordinary humans won’t be able to consume an entire sandwich in one seating (that turns out to be a blessing because the sandwich tastes even better for breakfast the following day).  Most of us (exempting politicians) won’t be able to get the sandwich in our mouths.  It is seriously thick and crammed with meats and condiments.  The meats (Boar’s Head) work very well with the condiments, the more of them the better.  With its sweet and mild notes, Provolone lets other ingredients shine as well as being a great foil for the sweet, tangy peppers.  Oh, and the hoagie rolls are fantastic, reminiscent of Amoroso’s, the legendary Philadelphia hearth-baked bread.  Joe told us the dough is shipped from Philadelphia and baked on the premises.  It’s outstanding bread and the way it’s sliced, there’s not so much bread that it dominates the sandwich and leaves little room for other ingredients.

Crab Soup

3 March 2018: Because of its proximity to Maryland, it’s only natural that the menu of a Philadelphia themed restaurant would include dishes showcasing crab Maryland style.  Befitting Philadelphia’s “passion,”  a little tchotchke about the staff’s “crabbiness” hangs behind the counter where you place your order.  The menu offers “craby” fries, “craby” cheese fries and on the day of our inaugural visit both Maryland style crab cakes and a crab soup.  It’s a thick elixir served hot in a large portion cup.  Creamy and rich, it’s replete with chunks of sweet crab, potatoes, red peppers and seasonings.  As with every item on the menu, portion size is Philadelphia not Albuquerque.

3 March 2018: When my Kim was studying the small dessert case, Joe came up to her and suggested she try the cheesecake which is imported directly from the City of Brotherly Love.  It makes great sense that the city famous for its eponymous cream cheese would make a superb cheesecake.  Indeed it does.  Moreover, food historian Gil (great name) Marks notes that Philadelphia boasted of a tavern called “Cheesecake House” in the 18th century.  So, Philadelphians have been enjoying cheesecake for years.  You’ll enjoy this one.  It’s dense, creamy, buttery and not overly sweet on a Graham crust.  Even better, it’s served slab-sized so it’s big enough to share.  Take my word for it, if you eat even half a sandwich, you’ll only have room enough left for half a slice of cheesecake.


If you’ve ever experienced the stereotyped seedy side of Philadelphia manners as well as the authenticity and deliciousness of the Philadelphia cheesecake, you’ll love Philly Steaks where you can experience the latter without the “passion” for which Philadelphians are known.   Philly Steaks has elevated the sandwich scene in Albuquerque.

Philly Steaks
2520 Juan Tabo, N.E., Suite C
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 582-2527
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 14 March 2018
1st VISIT: 3 March 2018
COST: $$
BEST BET: Philly Cheesesteak, Cheesecake, Italian Special, Crab Soup, Green Chile Fries
REVIEW #1029

Philly Steaks Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


  • Sr Plata

    Joined Sensei on this expedition as I love Cheesesteak Sandwiches. So do my dogs if they ever get near any and they did about 5 years ago and are in love with them too. I had a Cheesesteak with Provolone, Beef, Peppers, Onions, Mushrooms and Green Chile. I can’t wait to come back to this place as the sandwich size was amazing. In contrast to one of my blogging peers, I didn’t find my sandwich oily at all. All I tasted was the goodness of Rib Eye. My only negative was I couldn’t find the Green Chile I requested, but it was my fault for not immediately asking them about it as I wolfed it down too fast being it was my breakfast and I was famished; next time I will have to make sure it has it. We met Joe, one of the owners and he was awesome to talk to and found that he was the ‘real deal’. It seems that Albuquerque East meets West so being a Los Angeleno temporarily transported to the East Coast was transparent. He mentioned possibly coming out to the West Albuquerque/Rio Rancho area and I could see myself eating there at least once/week.(there is an empty spot to be where Namaste is/was as they are moving out (hint hint)…Sr Plata Out


      Alas Sr Plata: Per your championing getting eateries to locate on the West Side of the Rio Grande and apparently keeping up with mitote per e.g. your comment about Namaste, have you heard anything further about the renovation at Fat Squirrel, e.g. is Nicky V (and her Viejo) still the owner(s); when might it reopen
      – A couple of years ago, now closed Rub n Wood used to let a dozen or so BlueGrass players jam there on Wednesday nights. Have you run across that happening elsewhere up on your Hill? Elsewise, don’t forget the former Zio’s and TGIF are looking for tenants.
      Say, just down the way from Zio’s is California Pastrami (in the former Lumpy’s on 7 Bar Loop). Given Joe is a local AND a former Californian like yourself, might you have tried his e.g. Reuben and have a thought? (See what horrors are happening in CA re Reubens: Lest you have time, might you also add your 25 cents over here about old LA dining ?

      • 8

        It seems logical that Rio Rancho as a restaurant location is not what it used to be. And the why is simple, 37% fewer salaried employees at Intel to go out for lunch. You can look for all the reasons you want but 37% is a large chunk. I believe 700 or so employee. Assuming a 5 day work week iand several hundred lost meals a few days a week. Well, you do the math. That’s an awful lot of local bucks not being spent.
        So of course there is going to be a ripple effect and a natural fall off and in that environment fewer restaurants, especially locally owned establishments are going to suffer the most.
        But don’t worry, the Dog House is safe.

        • BOTVOLR

          “It seems logical that Rio Rancho as a restaurant location is not what it used to be.”

          Alas 8, you are correct in terms of sustainability, let alone any new growth of sites around RR Intel nowadays. Indeed, I believe your 37% figure of 700 was 2016 from 2015. Perhaps more traumatic to lunch time monies is the overall decline from a high of 5,000 employees to the 1,200 today. I remember some acquaintances of the ‘engineering’ genre even circa ’92, thinking, pre-emptively, of job hunting per constant rumors.

          Clearly, the surrounding area has maxed out residential wise for replacement customers, while the center of RR has “supposedly” shifted as well. I believe it was RR City Hall near Southern and 528, that was razed and then placed in the boonies near the Star Center per a misplanning on how rapidly the town would grow out to there. Nevertheless, it boggles my mind what have sprouted like weeds on Unser (albeit possibly a bit far for Intel lunch) in just a 3 mile stretch between say Irving to Southern as a restaurant location. While it depends on what one means by dining and/or recent, these seem significant in terms of a lunch time crowd:
          Crackin Crab; Marble Brewery; Vanilla Bean; Subway; Einstein Bagels; Dion’s; IHOP; Five Guys; Papa Murphy’s; Ironwood Kitchen; Menchies Yogurt; Chili’s; Jersey Mike’s; Sushi King; Cold Stone; (Wise Pies & Prime came, but possibly left which may have to do with internal business practices than customers); Chica-fil-A; Del Taco; Taco Cabana and M’Tucci’s. Can’t help but think they’ve put a strain on the older/traditional places like (old) Fat Squirrel, Ohare’s, and Joe’s PH. Can’t help but to wonder if the latter has felt the effects as well of the dying off of the ‘pure’ Italian immigrants from NY/CT who came in the late ’60s/’70s, plus what has developed “at the bottom of The Hill.
          – Alas, back on 528/Intel: instead of being able to count on lunch from Intel, a great GCCB ‘across the street’ at Toro Burger, languishes attempting to be only open after 5, along with the many sites that sprouted back in the good old days.

          • 8

            I’m not sure what you mean by “pure” Italian as it relates to Italian food. If only “pure” Italians ate Italian food there would be no Italian restaurants. A recent poll put Italian food’s popularity at 71%, third highest in the US.
            Regarding your post, the fact that restaurants go out of business relates to several factors including age, type of food, choices available, price point, and the local economy among them.

  • I ate here for the first time over the weekend. It is just down the street in the former “The Grill” space on Juan Tabo.
    First, the positives: Got the cheesesteak (beef, with onions, provolone) and the cheez whiz fries. Sandwich: huge. Fries: tasted great and the cheez whiz was a great addition.
    Negatives: Sandwich: unfortunately mine was made with WAY too much vegetable oil on the grill, and the overall flavor suffered. Strange-ish beef consistency…ended up being more like ground beef on mine. Under-seasoned.
    I’ve been to Philly and have eaten both at Pat’s and Geno’s. This sandwich is comparable. If you’re expecting Tony Luke’s (the best, IMO) this place would be a B minus or C plus.
    I’ll chalk it up to a miss for me on my first visit. Hopefully my next visit will be better and I’ll update this comment.

  • Richard L Bonnem

    Was there yesterday Really authentic Philly Steak. I’m from Philly so I speak with valid background. Roll was excellent (most places here don’t realize that is so important) I’m one of the ones that loves my steak with Wiz. Onions on the grill, plenty of meat. Just an excellent Cheese Steak. Actually ranks up there with Dalasandros and Steves Prince of steaks in Philadelphia. Really people try it. It is that good.

    • 8

      Sounds like the real thing.
      There are so many pretenders but you make me want to get over there and give it a try.
      Thanks for commenting.
      I left Philadelphia in 1963 and I’m curious if you ever heard of Spazianos on 11th and Rising Sun.? The had terrific Pizza Steak heroes. Huge by any standard.
      I may be spelling it incorrectly, it been a long time.
      What about the Harvey House just south of City Hall on Broad Street? They had Texas Tommies, hot dogs sliced down the middle filled with cheese and wrapped in bacon. I spent too much time eating and not enough time studying.

      • Richard L Bonnem

        No, never heard of Spazianos. My mother use to take me to the Harvey House for Texas Tommies. I think that closed over 50 years ago. Hope you enjoy Philly Steaks.

        • 8

          I used to make the TT’s at home for my son, he loved them.
          50 years ……. seems like a lifetime ago but the memories of those foods are still fresh even if I’m not. Thanks for replying

  • Lori

    Thank you for such a stellar review! I’ve always known these boys were magic in the kitchen, and to see them recognized this way has made my day.
    You did a great job describing Joe, and those of us from Philly!
    The stories of getting sent to the back of the line at Pat’s and Geno’s for not ordering correctly/quick enough….TRUE!!
    Job well done!

  • Mary Beth

    I am a born and bred Philly girl and I’ve eaten Jim and Joe’s sandwiches- almost all of them! Without a doubt, Philly Steaks is the real deal. Powerhouse portions, cooked to perfection. Whether you get the cheese steak or the Italian special (hoagie), always save the second half for later as they get better the little ne’er they sit. Best sandwiches ever!

  • Marissa

    Thank you so much for this review! It’s awesome and nicely written! I love your style. The description of people in the Philadelphia area is extremely accurate, lol. We embrace it, though. One slight tweak: the website is actually The current website link takes you to a different website.

    • Thank you very much for setting me on the straight and narrow, Marissa. Now, can you tell me about the name Lelli? It’s such a great name, but one I’d never previously heard–even during my days in Massachusetts.

      • Marissa Lelii

        I don’t know a ton about the last name other than it is definitely Italian. I think some of our extended family has tried to do research into the ancestry behind it, but there hasn’t been too much found. I often wonder if Lelii is a shortened form of a longer last name? A lot of people I run into tend to think the last name is Hawaiian, surprisingly enough, haha!

  • Michael

    Had lunch today, ordered the Cheese Steak sandwich. Grilled onions, Hot peppers, Bell peppers and Cheese Whiz. The meat was very tasty and plentiful and the roll held up well under the immense amount of oil used in the prep of the meat. The oil was running down my hand as I held the sandwich. The onions were cooked nicely, the hot peppers and bell peppers hurt my eyes, trying to find them and the amount of cheese for such a large sandwich was equal to about a teaspoon. I didn’t order any sides or dessert and dined alone so the Cheese Steak is all I can comment on. Would I go back, yes, I would ask for more of the peppers and hold the cheese, Provolone would have been a wiser choice. I think next time I will have the Italian Special Hoagie. I read the whole menu and they offer oil on their Hoagies but do not list vinegar as an option.

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  • Roland

    Hi Gil. I see by your review (as promised in the Dining ABQ section) that my taste buds were correct. That may have been my first cheesesteak, but it will certainly not be my last, I hope.

  • Alonna Smith

    Hey Gil,

    Thanks so much for this review. Having recently moved from Philly to ABQ, I will add a few thoughts. First of all, you are reminding me of how hungry I am for a good hoagie, which I always choose over the more famous cheesesteak. Secondly, attitude, of which Philadelphians have plenty, is pronounced attitood.

    As an aside, one of the similarities between Philadelphia and Albuquerque is the residents tendency to be negative and talk smack about their hometown. Both of these cities have much to recommend them, and IMHO, this focus on what is not working is far more negative than they deserve.

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