CLOSED Finding a taste of Philadelphia in a West Boca Raton shopping mall

Cheese steak with Whiz, fries and Pennsylvania Dutch Birch Beer

Old School Philly in Shadowood Square offers authentic Philadelphia-style cheesesteak sandwiches — and more. The former owner of Direct from Philly, inside a Deerfield Beach gas station, is behind the new venture.

You’ll need a big appetite, lots of napkins, plenty of cold beverages and a fork to savor the experience and the cheesesteaks at the recently opened Old School Philly in Boca Raton’s Shadowood Square shopping center.

The fast-casual eatery serving authentic Philadelphia-style cheesesteaks occupies the space that formerly housed the short-lived Zinger’s Deli West Boca outpost. In fact, until recently, Zinger’s signage remained. Still, a permanent Old School Philly sign is yet to come above the entrance to the spare 30-seat restaurant.

Until the Boca Raton eatery’s opening just a few months ago, devotes of authentic Philly-style cheesesteaks had to trek to Direct from Philly, a tiny joint operating in a Deerfield Beach gasoline station. I hadn’t been there in a while, but social media commentaries suggested it was not as good as in the not-too-distant past.

Stephen Rao, who was an owner of the Deerfield establishment, opened Old School Philly just months ago. And two of Direct from Philly’s original cooks are working the grill at the new place.



Indeed, the menu, the ingredients and the prices essentially are the same as at Direct from Philly. Rao’s new eatery, to be sure, is more easily found – it’s located in an outparcel of the mall facing onto State Road 7 (US 441). It’s also a step up in ambiance, albeit a small one. You walk up to the counter, order, pay and receive a number to take to one of the 30 tables inside (there are two more outside). The walls are bare red and white and there’s a long white masonry wall topped by plexiglass that separates part of the prep area from the dining room. Large screen TVs hang below the ceiling in each of the interior corners. Unlike the Deerfield Beach operation, where the kitchen is in plain view, the grill at Old School Philly is tucked into the back, behind a swinging door. I missed watching the meat sizzle on the grill.

The grill, in back

There are ninevarieties of sandwiches available with either ribeye or chicken, largely differentiated by the cheese and toppings one chooses.  The base price for a 9-inche sub is $9.95.

Key to an authentic Philadelphia cheese steak sandwich is an authentic Philadelphia roll. You’ll find them here, from Philadelphia’s Amaroso Bakery. There are also Herr’schips, Tastykakes, soft pretzels and Pennsylvania Dutch Birch Beer.

I opted for the basic cheesesteak wit whiz, as they say in the City of Brotherly Love, and grilled onions.  It’s a sandwich of thinly sliced and chopped rib eye. The meat is tender, and the whiz hits the palate with a blast of salt. The two, however, blend beautifully as the cheese melts and saturates the pile of meat and onions on the roll, dialing down the salt level.

The sandwich is a handful – and a mouthful. I went through half dozen napkins, which I snagged before dining as there is only one dispenser and only one ketchup bottle for every three tables  A fork was necessary to pick up all the bits of meat and cheese that oozed out from the bread onto my wax-paper-lined basket. French fries, cut on the premises with the skin on, were beautifully browned and crisp. However, a 20-oz. bottle of birch beer barely lasted to the end of my meal. Other soft drinks, homemade iced tea and water are available.

Patience is required once you order, especially on a rainy Saturday afternoon when there is a steady stream of customers, some of who haven’t a clue what Old School Philly is about. This is not fast food. As a sign on one wall states: “Fast food is not good.  Good food is not fast.”

Old School Philly

20642 State Rd. 7, Boca Raton, FL 33498


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