Food You Can Eat: NYC Chopped Cheese Sandwich

A New York classic

Image via There is not nearly enough cheese in this one and the tomatoes and lettuce I'd avoid.

This is the New York version of the Philadelphia Cheese Steak but hyper-local: I’ve read more than once that it is common in Uptown (Manhattan) and the Bronx but little known elsewhere in the City. I believe this: I don’t really remember seeing them until we moved into this part of the City, and in my neck of the woods every bodega worth its bodega cat churns them out at a good clip.

These are great park lunch take-out sandwiches, albeit they can be a little greasy and messy, but you can also make your own easily enough. This makes two “heroes” (subs, hoagies, whatever you want to call them.)


2 hero rolls, preferably toasted

A little oil

1 onion, the size will depend on how onion-y you want your hero to be, diced small

Garlic, same as the onions, will depend on taste, 2 or 3 cloves, minced

1 lb. ground beef

4 slices of good old-fashioned American cheese product, like Kraft singles

Sliced tomato (optional)

Shredded lettuce (optional)

Peppers (optional)

In a skillet, sauté the garlic and the onion, about 5 minutes. Add the ground beef and break it up, and cook for a few minutes, maybe 7. Add the 4 Kraft singles over the beef and keep cooking, stirring the melting cheese product so this all comes together. Slice the two hero rolls lengthwise and fill with the mixture. You’ll probably overfill but that is a feature, not a bug. You can add the optional toppings. I find personally that they’re superfluous but if you’re a sandwich maximalist go for it. For maximum bodega realness, wrap each sandwich in aluminum foil. Open one end and start eating from there. The bodega will no doubt provide lots of napkins. Serve with watery American beer, like a Budweiser tall boy. If consuming in a park, put the tall boy in a small paper bag but I think public drinking is one of the several dozen “quality of life” offenses that are no longer enforced. If you get the tall boy at the bodega the bag and a straw will come automatically as part of the package. 

A note to visitors: should you come to New York, the home of the chopped cheese, to try this, there is a good chance that the bodega chef will be Latino, probably from Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic. If you don’t order your chopped cheese in Spanish make clear that you don’t want any mayonnaise on it. You may have to emphasize this more than once. There is a well-founded assumption that non-Latinos enjoy mayonnaise on everything and lots of it and they’re not wrong: I’ve seen tons of people asking for extra mayonnaise on all kinds of orders, which is more than a little queasy-making. On my earliest chopped cheese forays I got mayo on a couple of mine and nothing is more inedible. Caveat emptor. If you see the grill person reaching for the mayo spackling knife while holding the roll in their hand intervene before disaster strikes. Remember: if you see something say something.



  1. In that last bit about the slathering of the unwanted mayonnaise: that should read “spackling knife,” not “sparkling knife”. I wrote this before I figured out how to turn off spellcheck and did not proofread closely enough.

  2. This is one of the few foods I miss (besides bacon) after choosing to eschew eating all animals aside from fish. We have excellent local cheese steaks; the kind with lettuce and mayo are called cheese steak subs. And I want a sparkling knife!!!!

    • This kind of thing never held any appeal to me when I ate meat, so I can’t speak from experience, but have you tried a meatless substitution to see if it holds up? There are lots of ground meat substitutes, could be worth a try. I usually prefer Morningstar or Boca, which I use in tacos or Bolognese sauce. (I haaate the Tofurkey brand ground beef – I couldn’t even eat it, I had to toss it entirely.) Or you could try jumping on the Impossible train. I haven’t tried it yet, because realistic tasting meat doesn’t generally appeal to me. 

      • Impossible is a very close substitute for standard issue supermarket ground beef, and in a sandwich like this I think it would be, uh, impossible to notice the difference.
        It’s easily twice the cost per pound of ground beef right now, but I have to think the price for plant burger will eventually drop to half when production ramps up — the cost of the plants are a fraction of beef, and the cost of labor, food safety and transportation are probably a lot lower too.

        • But getting to the issue of taste, I think it will help a lot when plant-based moves past the idea of burger or hotdog substitutes.
          If a manufacturer can convince people to eat spicy nuggets that don’t feel the need to even taste like meat, they’re going to make a fortune. People eat tons of spiced chips that are 1000 degrees removed from potatoes and corn, so I don’t think it’s too hard to pull off.

          • Well yes, and I don’t eat a whole lot of meat substitutes in general. There’s plenty of plant based processed food that isn’t trying to be something else. There’s just a huge market for people who have given up meat and miss it, so I’m glad that stuff exists.
            But like the nugget field is huge. I get spinach nuggets for my son sometimes. I don’t like them, but then I’m not a huge fan of spinach. Or nuggets, really. And veggie burgers? There are metric tons of them that aren’t imitating meat in anything but the shape of a patty. They’re the ones I generally prefer. (Ugh have you ever had a veggie burger that imitates gristle, because supposedly that’s something people want? Fucking gross.) 

      • @BigDamnHeroes, I have not. For faux meat, I  like Field Roast hot dogs and Morning Star burgers and sausages. I am concerned about texture regarding crumbled meat substitute. Also, I have to make everything twice, once for me and once for others, so I rarely invest time into even a small effort when I have to duplicate it. I will note your suggestions in case I have free time!

        • Ah, if Keitel won’t try the fake meat, that’s a big argument against it for your household. My parents and lots of people in my family eat meat but like a lot of the fake meat stuff, so it’s often a good option when we have get togethers, which is often why I’m making it. 

    • I had another medical follow-up recently (some people go to gyms; I roll to medical practices) and everything went really well. It was another new doctor, so I told my 2021 tales of woe for the hundredth time (“oh, we do read your charts, we just like to hear from the patient himself his experience” which, translated, means, “your chart is like 100 pages long and I don’t have time for this bullshit.”) It went very well, I had given blood samples the visit before, and at the end this new doctor, who appeared to be about 14, said, “Have you ever considered adopting a more plant-based diet?” (My cholesterol is very good and she asked about my diet and i was honest. She was a little aghast, but Better Half also has good cholesterol. I think a lot of it is genetic, not dietetic, but whatever.) “Do you mean things like almonds, almond paste, almond milk? Or more soy, soy substitutes, soy milk?” “Yes, exactly!” “If I were you I’d do a little more research on sustainable foods before advising my patients to drain the Colorado River dry by vacuuming up all those almonds and soy.”

      • Ehhhh if sustainability is your only concern (and it’s not really, for most veg*n people), soy and almonds aren’t wonderful but they’re still a lot better than beef, though not necessarily better than other non-beef animal products. It depends on how it’s evaluated, given that “sustainability” is a broad and ill-defined term, but unless you’re really looking to prove something (and some people are, and have done so by using very skewed metrics), beef is probably the least sustainable food product around. In any case, not all plant based alternatives are soy and almond based.
        Also, the main sustainability problem with soy comes from the giant monoculture farms of it which are used to feed livestock. 

        • Oh I know, and I got her point, but it was just such a weird turn for the conversation to take. Give up smoking, give up drinking, get more exercise, eat more fruits and vegetables for the fiber and the vitamins, any doctor would tell you that. But the term “sustainable foods” came out of left field and I decided to tease young Ms. Doogie Howzer to see if she knew what the hell she was talking about. Within the last year a young doctor advised something, I can’t even remember what, there have been so many other doctors, but it sounded a little outlandish so I looked it up online and some people should do it but I wasn’t one of them. It was to give up something, or to avoid something. Luckily since I am a frequent flyer on Hippocratic Oath Airlines it wasn’t too long before I saw another doctor, who was much older and much more experienced, and he said, “No, you do that under very rare circumstances. Who exactly told you to do this?”

          • Haha that’s fair enough. And don’t get me started on bad advice from doctors that don’t pay enough attention to your specific needs. I was on birth control for probably ten years before I switched gynos and finally got one who was like uhhh, you have migraines with aura? Has anyone advised you about the increased risk of blood clots and how this medication isn’t recommended for you? I’d probably been through 3 previous gynos during that decade who never said a thing. And it wasn’t even like there weren’t other options – I just switched to a progestin only pill. 

            • At one point one of the creams I was prescribed (I get prescription heavy duty moisturizers and “wound care” ointments) was the medical term for Monistat. When I went to pick up my latest batch the pharmacist withheld the Monistat, whatever the term might be, and asked me to call my doctor to make sure there is some valid reason for me to use it and, if so, where. Oops.

    • “Blade Material: Stainless Steel”
      that’s almost as good as “surgical stainless steel”
      but either one indicate this… knife-shaped-object is to be avoided at all costs.
      lochaber, your local knife-snob

  3. …I seem to remember requesting to substitute cheddar for the regular cheese in the paper-thin slices of beef type of philly cheesesteak sandwich in a deli somewhere in new york (I forget where but it was an indoor counter rather than some sort of food truck)

    …& the guy went from looking horrified to thoughtful over about 10 seconds or so…then agreed to give it a shot…& while wrapping it up to give to me actually said “I thought you were crazy but the more I think about it the more I think a sharp cheese could work – I might even add it to the board”

    …sadly I’ve never managed to remember where it was to find out if they did…but I can vouch for the fact that it was extremely tasty…although obviously I’m biased?

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