Review: Balboa’s Cheesesteaks

So, after the minor comment war after I panned Balboa’s at Taste of Cincinnati, Terry and I decided that we had to try Balboa’s in the restaurant, under their normal conditions. We decided, actually, to do it twice– once during the day, and once during their special evening hours.

The first time, Terry went during the day. He got what he would normally order in Philadelphia (he spent the better part of several summers in Philadelphia a few years ago). He got a cheeseteak with provolone and tomato sauce (he corrects me: “Steak, provolone, sauce, fried onions.” Okay, then.). It was towards the end of lunchtime, with no wait. It was, in his words, “Okay, at best”. He commented that the bread was still a little stale. The trouble might be getting the Amoroso’s rolls here– if they’re baked in Philadelphia, they’re a day old at best. If the dough has been frozen, that might compromise the quality as well. There was something off a bit about the meat– we can’t quite figure out what’s wrong, though we have our (unprovable) theory. He left me half the sandwich, which greeted me on my kitchen counter when I got home from work that day (accompanied by a voice mail hoping that the cats didn’t get to it). I took a couple of bites– it wasn’t bad cold, but not anything to write home about. I don’t think I finished it.

A couple of weekends ago, we found ourselves out late on a Saturday night and determined that it was the perfect time for both of us to try one fresh, together. The line was enormous– we waited for 45 minutes. Several people actually left while we were there because the wait was so long. Problem? Not nearly enough ovens for the pizza. The guy behind the counter said that they weren’t used to this many people. Most people were ordering the pizza, which were made individually and by hand to order. I think that perhaps there is a way to roll out the crust in advance– this is what took most of the time. Since the pizza was so labor-intensive, there were fewer people working the sandwich line than there might have been. We– or really, Terry, as I was instructed to grab a table to spare my feet from standing forever– ordered two cheesesteaks, prepared the same way as he ordered a week or two before.

I may need to try the pizza, because even fresh, these really weren’t worth the wait. The beef was bland, the sauce had a distinct tinned taste, and the bread was again a little stale. Terry is a bit more positive about them than I am, but I just don’t get it. I would, however, like to try the pizza– they looked cheesy and delicious. The next time we find ourselves out that late, we’ll try the pizza.
Balboa's Philly Steaks and Pizza on Urbanspoon

11 thoughts on “Review: Balboa’s Cheesesteaks”

  • We ate there one night 11ish and the wait wasn’t too bad, maybe 10 minutes or so for sandwiches, the food wasn’t fantastic but it was food and usually if you don’t eat until 11 almost anything will taste good. I’m super picky about bread, but still I don’t remember anything wrong with the bun. I do remember a sign saying everything was imported straight from Philly, but if they can’t pull that off with quality maybe it should be rethought, I mean after 3 or 4 beers at 3am who cares?
    I do remember a couple there who were waiting for a pizza when we got there and were still waiting when we left.
    Most of the people at the Gramercy have been raving about Balboa’s but then again, they’ll eat anything.

  • I had their pizza late night a few weeks ago and it was good. Someone from Balboa’s brought two huge pizzas over to Rockin’ Robin’s and started handing out slices for free. So maybe I’m not exactly impartial since it was free and a pleasant surprise, but I really liked it.

  • It’s simply not very good, and rather pricey for what you get, to boot. True of both the pizza and the steaks.

  • Funny enough…the Pizza is probably the best in Cincinnati…at least as close as you are going to get from the east coast…the cheesesteaks are exactly the one at Jim’s Steaks in Philly which is one of the original cheesesteaks, started in 1939 or something…Balboa’s is the real deal…also I commute between Indy and Cincy, and there is a Balboa’s one outside of dntwn Indy…the reviews I’ve seen from Indy are completely positive…Not being from the midwest it does seem that there aren’t very good options for food in the Nnati, at least compared to Indy, seemingly a more progressive city…I mean have any of you had a hotdog at GABP…or for that matter anywhere around here that’s decent…that goes for, Middle Eastern food, Thai food, Pizza, Mexican food…any suggestions on where to go for these types of cuisines…?

  • Yes, hot dogs at GABP stink. Decent dogs can be found at the Dayton Dragons games. Cincinnati is famous for sausages (being porkopolis and all), but we can’t seem to manage hot dogs.

    Thai food? Bangkok Bistro is good, Sukhothai in Montgomery is great.

    Mexican? La Mexicana in Newport.

    Middle Eastern? There used to be a place, Jerusalem Cafe, that was great. There’s a Persian place in Mason, I believe The Caspian, I’ve been there once with a Persian friend and the food was fantastic. She says it tastes like home.

    Pizza, I can’t comment. I like pizza but I don’t crave it or go ga-ga over it.

    I am still entirely amused that two people (OK, counting TJ, 3) not liking one cheesesteak has caused such a kerfluffle!

  • Whenever I’m tempted to respond to an anonymous post, I remind myself there’s probably a reason the person is being anonymous. Usually it’s because they either don’t really believe what they’re saying and are just saying it to get a response, or it’s because they’re making it up as they go along and are afraid someone will call them on the BS quotient. So I have a brand-new policy of trying to restrain myself, no matter how idiotic the post is. If a poster doesn’t want to take responsibility for their words, I’m going to try my best not to respond.

  • Geeze people!!!

    Julie is right. I have been reading the restaurant blogs for a little while and was surprised to hear about the controversy over this Balboas place. So I decided to go there.

    Was it the absolute best pizza I have had anywhere in the country? No!

    But definately the best in Cinci.

    TJ. You seem to have a ton of free time posting stuff. Not that I think it is bad because I have tried some places you recommended. What is amazing is that you have never been to NYC (according to one of your posts but yet you are such an authority on how this place has overpriced pizza and not very good at that. Being from Bean Town (Boston, for those oblivious to anything outside of Ohio), I have to say some of your local tastes are way out there (ie..PennStation, Skyline, Donatos, Snappy Tomato Pizza).

    I thought Balboas was a descent place to eat, not sure where the bad critique came from. I gave about 3-4 stars out of 5.

    Valeree, did you actually have something to say about the topic of restaurants or were you just trying to spread your wisdom.

  • The next time we are out late, I promise we will try Balboa’s pizza. I saw that they had a white pizza, which looked fantastic.

    Carl, for some reason, when I’m in NY, I never end up eating a slice of pizza. I’m too enamored by the bagels and falafel to spend my street food calories elsewhere. I’ll be there in a couple of weeks and will finally get a true slice of NY-style pizza.

  • I tried Balboa’s three times and wasn’t thrilled with any of the visits. Frankly, I’d rather eat Penn Station’s cheesesteak than Balboa’s. (That’s not a pangyric to Penn Station, but is more a criticism of Balboa’s.) I also tried their meatball hoagie shortly after the place opened–the meatballs were cold in the center. Not a good experience. I’d initially gone with the intention of blogging the new restaurant over at Cincinnati Blog, but didn’t want to pan the place there, so I skipped it.

    I thought the pizza was OK, but not terrific. For East-Coast style pizza, head down the street (Seventh Street) to Gondola’s, one of downtown’s best-kept secret gems.

    Julie–your other recommendations are good, but I think there’s a couple others worth mentioning. For Mexican, folks who haven’t done so should check out Javier’s downtown (just at lunch). And for Mediterannean, there’s Andy’s. Pizza: lots love Dewey’s. Best in town is Adriatico’s, though.

  • Donald– I’ve never been able to check out Javier’s because I don’t work downtown. Darnit. I have a Dewey’s review coming soon. I love Andy’s!

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