Philadelphia restaurateur Michael Paparella opens first official cheesesteak spot in Italy

The cheesesteak is an iconic Philly staple, born here 94 years ago.

Alicia Vitarelli Image
Friday, January 5, 2024
Philadelphia native opens Italy's first official cheesesteak restaurant
Philly's Steaks is the first official cheesesteak place in Italy. The restaurant is a little slice of South Philly in the southern Italian town of Trani, a seaport town in Puglia.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The cheesesteak is an iconic Philly staple, born here 94 years ago.

It's taken almost a century, but our city's signature street food, created by two Italian immigrants, finally made its way back to the homeland.

Philly native Michael Paparella is the man behind Philly's Steaks: Italy's first official cheesesteak spot!

"I wanted to be the first to bring the the Philadelphia cheesesteak to Italy so that Italians would know that its a totally Italian story," Paparella says.

The story starts in 1930 in South Philly, when the Olivieri brothers opened Pat's King of Steaks.

RELATED: Pat's King of Steaks shares family secrets about their famous cheesesteak

The Dish: Pat's King of Steaks famous cheesesteak recipe

Fast forward to last year, when Paparella got an offer from an investor to open a restaurant in Italy.

"I said, 'There are so many pizza places here in Italy,'" he recalls. "'Why don't we do something new and different?' I explained to him the story of the Philadelphia cheesesteak, and how it was invented by an Italian immigrant."

Philly's Steaks became the first official cheesesteak place in Italy, a little slice of Philly in Trani, a seaport town down south in Puglia.

So, how do the Italians in Italy like the cheesesteak?

"People that try it, love it," Paparella says.

Better yet: what do they think of Cheez Whiz?

"That's a great question," Paparella laughs. "Kraft doesn't sell that product in Italy. It's impossible to get, so I got the recipe and I made it myself. Homemade whiz made fresh every day."

The bread? Well, he brought back a few rolls from Philly!

"I said, 'Look, I want you to make it just like this.' And I had to go through four or five different bakers until I found one that made it just right," he said.

Paparella tells all of his customers the origin story, so we couldn't resist introducing him to the original.

The Dish: Pat's King of Steaks' Frank Olivieri shares his family's secrets about their famous Philly cheesesteak

"It's an honor to meet you," Paparella said when Frank Olivieri popped onto our Zoom.

Olivieri is the 4th generation carrying on Pat's King of Steaks' tradition.

"I'm honored that you're spreading my family's invention throughout Europe," Olivieri says. "Hopefully we can get together and then we can we can be a joint venture!"

We would love to see it!

Paparella also uses Old Bay seasoning on his fries. He says the spice is taking off in Southern Italy!

He also localized one offering: the Cheesesteak Pugliese has stracciatella cheese on it.

For more information on Philly's Steaks, visit their page on