America’s Top Pizza Chains
Last year, we compiled a list of 100 pizza chains, from the smallest upstarts to the biggest multinationals, and asked America to vote for their favorite. Nearly 1,000 folks voted from all across the nation, and the results were definitive. Here are the top 10 pizza chains in America.
#10 Papa Murphy’s
Vancouver, Wash.-based Papa Murphy’s, with about 1,500 locations, takes a novel approach to pizza: "Take 'N' Bake." You choose a pre-designed pizza or from a host of toppings, and then you take it home and pop it in your oven to cook it when you’re ready to eat it. There are meat-stuffed stuffed options as well as lighter ones, and there are also desserts you can bake at home, like dessert pizza and chocolate chip cookie dough.
#9 Mellow Mushroom
Founded in Atlanta in 1974, Mellow Mushroom currently has more than 150 locations nationwide. There’s a big emphasis on craft beer, and there are some very creative pizzas on the menu, like the Bayou Bleu (spicy blue cheese base topped with all-natural grilled shrimp and Andouille sausage covered in mozzarella cheese and garnished with chives), the Magical Mystery Tour (pesto base with button and Portobello mushrooms, feta and mozzarella cheeses, spinach, and jalapeños on a pesto-basted crust), and the House Special (mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, sausage, ground beef, ham, applewood-smoked bacon, mushrooms, black olives, Roma tomatoes, green peppers, and onions).
#8 Little Caesars
Little Caesars was founded in 1959 near Detroit, and today is perhaps best known for its mascot’s catchphrase, "Pizza Pizza!," which was originally intended to advertise a deal where two pizzas were served for the price of one competitor's pie. Today there are locations worldwide, selling round and deep-dish "Hot-N-Ready" pizzas made with dough made in-house daily, as well as wings, Italian Cheese Bread, and Crazy Bread.
Sbarro got its start in 1956 in Brooklyn, N.Y., when the Sbarro family opened an Italian market. Eleven years later, the first modern-style Sbarro opened in the borough’s Kings Plaza Shopping center selling self-serve Italian food with an emphasis on pizza. Today there are close to 1,000 locations in 30 countries, and while they filed for bankruptcy this year, Sbarro is still serving New York-style pizzas on hand-stretched dough with a wide variety of toppings, as well as salads and classic Italian-American pastas and entrées.
#6 Papa John’s
"Papa" John Schnatter opened the first Papa John’s in 1984, and today it’s the third-largest pizza chain in the U.S., behind Pizza Hut and Domino’s, with more than 4,000 locations in all 50 states. The emphasis on fresh dough, fresh-cut vegetables, and high-quality never-frozen ingredients has attracted a rabid fan base (as have offerings like a Double Bacon 6-Cheese pizza). The cheese sticks and dipping sauces alone are worth the trip.
#5 Uno Chicago Grill
Formerly Pizzeria Uno, this chain’s origin story is probably the best known of the bunch. Ike Sewell opened Pizzeria Uno in Chicago in 1943, and it’s there that he essentially invented the Chicago-style pie, with a buttery crust piled high with cheese, sauce, and toppings and baked for more than an hour. Today there are more than 140 Uno locations in 24 states and around the world. Along with deep-dish, they now also serve appetizers, steaks, sandwiches, burgers, seafood, and even (gasp!) thin-crust pizza.
#4 Pizza Hut
The first Pizza Hut was opened by brothers Dan and Frank Carney in Wichita, Kan. in 1958, at a time when pizza parlors in the region were still a rarity. It took off, and soon the trademark red roof was sprouting up all across the country, and today it’s the country’s largest pizza chain. Never afraid to experiment with new pizza-esque products like the P’Zone, the Cheesy Bites Pizza, and the much-missed, two-crusted Priazzo, they’ve occasionally hit gold, like with their now-ubiquitous Stuffed Crust Pizza. If there’s one chain that’s not afraid to get a little silly sometimes, it’s Pizza Hut.
#3 Ledo Pizza
Ledo Pizza, with locations primarily in Virginia and Maryland, has nowhere near as many locations as its other rivals at the top of this list, but the chain’s trademark square pizza has a fiercely devoted following. The distinctive pizzas have a thin crust, thick-cut pepperoni, and a sweet sauce, and are available in several sizes as well as gluten-free varieties. With table instear of counter servce, the wide menu also includes appetizers, salads, subs, and entrées including fettuccini Bolognese (using an original family recipe) and shrimp fettuccini Parmesan. The reason for the square pies? Round baking sheets were very tough to come by when the company was founded in 1955.
#2 Domino’s Pizza
Founded in 1960, Domino’s is today the second-largest pizza chain in the U.S., after Pizza Hut, and the largest worldwide. They offer pizzas with a variety of toppings (as well as rectangular "Artisan" pizzas like Chicken & Bacon Carbonara), toasted sandwiches, stuffed cheesy bread, wings, and a build-your-own-pasta option. It’s greasy, tasty, and just about everything you’d want in a fast-food pizza chain.
#1 California Pizza Kitchen
California Pizza Kitchen can officially claim to be America’s favorite pizza chain. Founded in 1985 in Beverly Hills, Calif., by attorneys Rick Rosenfield and Larry Flax, the casual dining chain is renowned for its innovative pizzas, including the barbecue chicken pizza, which is now ubiquitous but was basically invented there. The menu is loaded with gourmet pizza offerings like Thai Chicken, Habanero Carnitas, and California Club, and seasonal offerings take advantage of what’s in season. Small plates, wine flights, and salads like caramelized peach with pecans, cranberries, and gorgonzola have a distinctly fine-dining feel, but the approach is always casual and fun.