Al's Steak House...

1504 Mount Vernon Ave.
Alexandria, VA  22301
Al's Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

If you look closely at the sign on the front of Al's Steak House there's an ellipsis (or ...) right after Steak House which is ironic since it seems to infer that it's a bit more than just a steakhouse, which it isn't in the traditional sense.  In reality, you could probably call it a CHEESESteakhouse, if there was such a thing, even though they offer other fast food staples like burgers, fries, and onion rings.  I may try those other things one day but today I was craving a well-made cheesesteak sub and the word is that Al's has been making the best cheesesteak subs in the area since 1956 (or that's what the web site says).

Al's can be found in Del Ray on the main strip just a few blocks away from Evening Star and Del Ray Cafe. It's in an unassuming red brick building and as you walk in, there's just a few tables and small window with a counter that you order from.  It's definitely a no frills kind of joint that's more conducive to take out then eating in.  There are various pictures and trophies that adorn the wall that I'm assuming are tied to the local community.  A small TV is perched on a stand in one corner of the room in case you want to watch Big Break Atlantis (I'm a fan!) while you're eating.

The type of cheesesteak served at Al's is very much in the traditional form that originated in Philadelphia.  Yes, that means cheese whiz.  I've never been to Pat's or Geno's in Philly but have been to Jim's Steaks which is supposedly just as good.  It's been a few years and with the wave of 'elevated' comfort food restaurants in this country, I've been used to cheesesteaks having big chunks of beef with a variety of cheeses  etc...  The more traditional way to have cheesesteak is with chopped up beefsteak with a cheese like product.  You can choose to add onions, mushrooms, green peppers, etc...  All this is served on an Italian roll.

On this day, I went with the medium steak, mushroom and green pepper cheesesteak.  I guess it doesn't automatically come with cheese since they asked if I wanted some along with fried onions.  I got a side of fries with the sub which I definitely didn't need once I saw how big the cheesesteak actually was.  The medium is a pretty hefty portion and I had thoughts about only eating one half and saving the rest (I can't imagine how much you get with a large).  Once you get it wrapped in paper along with a can of soda, you just pick the nearest empty seat and you're good to go.

The cheesesteak is what you expect it to be.  It's a big, gooey, steaming-hot, in-your-face mess.  The cheese is squirted on the bun and then they pile high a mound of chopped, grilled beefsteak and mix in green peppers, mushrooms and onions.  When you first look at the sub, it's kind of difficult to figure out where to start since it just looks like a big mound of confusion.  But, you just need to dive right in, pulling apart the halves and then taking the biggest bite possible of one half.  The sub was a mix of heartiness from the mushrooms and beef, sweetness from the green peppers and onions and a wonderful cheesy creaminess from the cheese.  It's definitely comfort food in its purest form and surprisingly not as greasy or heavy as one would think.  The flavors are bold and direct and definitely satisfied my craving for a classic cheesesteak.

While I was there, I overheard the guy behind the counter saying that business had been extremely slow lately and while there was a steady stream of people going in and out while I was eating lunch, it wasn't a lunch hour surge by any means.  I sure do hope that this is just a temporary summer lull and business will pick up soon.  It's tough to find those local establishments that are doing good, solid, and simple food and in market that is increasingly becoming more gentrified, I would imagine that competition for dining dollars is just going to get worse even for an institution like Al's.  Whatever the case may be, I think Al's could probably still hold its own simply because they have over half a century's experience in just making good food.


  1. Thanks for the review! Been searching for a good steak sandwich for weeks!

    1. It's nothing fancy. But, it sure does hit the spot.


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