California Pizza Kitchen / Facebook
Last month, we opened a poll asking you to vote for your favorite pizza chains in America. More than 100 chains were considered, from the largest international ones to far smaller regional enterprises with ten locations or less. Hundreds of you chimed in, and while the voting was close, one chain slightly edged out the competition.
Hungry Howie’s, founded in Taylor, Michigan, in 1973, prides itself on being the home of "the original flavored crust pizza," and this unique twist has helped it to expand to more than 575 locations in 21 states. Those crust flavors include Butter Cheese, Cajun, Garlic Herb, and Onion. Pizzas are made to order using dough made in-house daily and real mozzarella. Oven-baked subs, salads, and "Howie Breads" topped with cheese, Cajun seasoning, or cinnamon-sugar are also available.
Imo’s Pizza / Facebook
A St. Louis tradition founded in 1964 with more than 90 locations in Missouri, Illinois, and Kansas, Imo’s is known for its St. Louis-style pizza, which is thin-crust, round but sliced into squares, and topped with provel cheese, a gooey hybrid of Cheddar, Swiss, and provolone. Appetizers include provel cheese bites and toasted ravioli, another regional specialty.
Shakey’s USA / Facebook
Established in Sacramento in 1954, Shakey’s has about 500 locations worldwide and about 60 in the United States, with the highest concentration in Southern California. There’s an emphasis on fun as well as pizza, and all locations have a game room for kids. The pizza is also quite good: Go for the Shakey’s Special, with salami, pepperoni, Italian sausage, ground beef, mushrooms, and black olives. And don’t forget to get some of the battered and fried Mojo Potatoes.
Pizza My Heart / Facebook
This Bay Area chain was founded in 1981, when East Coast-style pizza was hard to come by in California, and today there are 23 locations across the region. The surf-themed restaurant has a sharp focus on high-quality ingredients, using local produce, antibiotic-free chicken, and nitrate-free bacon and pepperoni. Pizza is available by the slice or in three sizes, and specialty pies include the Big Sur (40 cloves of roasted garlic, organic tomato sauce, pepperoni, sausage, portobello mushrooms, and green onions), Watsonville Apple (green apple slices, pepperoni, sausage, bacon, green onions, gorgonzola, and garlic), and Fort Point (light tomato pesto sauce, chicken, ricotta, sausage, artichoke, basil, and herbs).
Pizza Inn / Facebook
The first Pizza Inn was opened in 1958 by two brothers near Southern Methodist University’s Dallas campus. Today, there are more than 300 locations, most in the southern U.S. The buffet-style approach allows guests to sample many different types of pizza, including the chain's crackery trademark Original Thin Crust in varieties like Bacon Cheddar Ham and Chicken Fajita.
Papa Murphy’s Pizza / Facebook
Vancouver, Wash.-based Papa Murphy’s, which has more than 1,400 locations, takes a novel approach to pizza: "Take 'N' Bake." You choose your pizza, it is then prepared using fresh-made dough and other fresh ingredients — but not cooked; then you take it home and pop it in your oven to bake when you’re ready to eat it. There are meat-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.
Old Chicago / Facebook
Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom was founded in 1976 in Boulder by a few friends who wanted to bring good pizza and beer to the people. Today, the chain boasts 105 locations in 24 states, and it serves a wide variety of small plates, pastas, burgers, and sandwiches along with a host of pizzas, served on either a thick or thin crust, and a wide selection of beer.
Jet’s Pizza / Facebook
With more than 300 locations in Michigan, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, and several other states, this chain, started by brothers Eugene and John Jetts in 1978, has become famous for its signature square pizza (the recipe, which came from the Jetts’ mother, hasn’t changed since 1978). Go for the Jet 10, topped with mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, ham, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, hamburger, Italian sausage, bacon, and black olives, or the trademarked 8 Corner Pizza, where every slice has a corner.
Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream St. Louis / Facebook
Happy Joe’s has more than 50 locations in seven states, but most of them are in its native Iowa. The first location was opened by Joe Whitty in East Davenport in 1972, and it’s still run by Whitty and his children. As its name might imply, the chain is family-oriented and kid-friendly, offering plenty of ice cream treats and a kid’s menu featuring macaroni and cheese pizza (the company also operates the Happy Joe’s Kids Foundation, helping special-needs children). As for the pizza, it’s available in four sizes, with five crust options (thin, pan, nine-grain, gluten-free, and CrunchCrust); you can create your own or choose from the signature pizzas, including the BBQ Joe, with smoked beef, chicken, or Canadian bacon with barbecue sauce and three cheeses.
Russo’s New York Pizzeria – Brownsville / Facebook
Founded in Texas by New York natives in 1978, Russo’s began selling franchises in 1992 and today has more than 30 locations, most of which are in the Houston area. The fast-casual chain serves a full menu of Italian specialties. New York-style pies are available on traditional or gluten-free crusts, with four sauces (including Alfredo and homemade pesto), six cheeses, 19 vegetables (including fresh kale and artichoke hearts), and 10 meats (including Italian sausage, prosciutto, and sopressata) available. Pizza dough is made with no additives or preservatives, sauce is made with vine-ripened California tomatoes, and mozzarella is from Wisconsin.
Mazzio’s Italian Eatery / Facebook
Founded by Tulsa schoolteacher Ken Selby in 1961, Mazzio's today has 140 franchised locations in 10 states, primarily Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, and Mississippi. The fast-casual chain operates in stand-alone buildings (many of which have drive-thrus and buffets), and specialties include made-to-order pastas; giant stuffed Calzone Rings; baked pastas that serve five; and pizzas in four sizes, three crusts, and with 26 topping options.
Based in Toledo, Marco’s, founded by Italian immigrant Pat Giammarco in 1978, boasts nearly 700 locations in 35 states, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and India. It credits its rapid expansion primarily to an emphasis on fresh ingredients: The sauce is made from vine-ripened tomatoes, the cheese is a three-cheese blend, dough is made from scratch every day, and toppings are fresh, thick-sliced, and abundant. Don’t leave without getting some CheezyBread and CinnaSquares.
Cassanos Pizza King / Facebook
A Dayton, Ohio, institution with 33 locations in and around the city, Cassano’s offers a wide variety of unique thin-crust pizzas, including a ring-shaped “All Edge” pie with appetizers including toasted ravioli in the center, a heart-shaped pizza, and a 30-inch Party Pizza. Burgers and “Cassinis” are served on pizza dough buns; the company is so proud of its dough that it ships it to pizzerias across the country.
Godfather’s Pizza / Facebook
This Nebraska-headquartered mob-themed chain may be 43 years old, but it’s certainly not resting on its laurels. The wide menu features four crust varieties: Original, Golden, Thin, and "Mozza-Loaded," and there’s a wide variety of toppings and specialty pies. Unlike many other chains, Godfather’s offers both "lighter" slices, containing less than 200 calories per slice, and gluten-free options.
Gino’s East / Facebook
Founded in 1966 by two taxi drivers and a friend of theirs, Gino’s East, renowned for its Chicago deep-dish pizza and famous for the amount of guests that have “left their mark” in its dining rooms, currently has 10 Chicago-area locations, plus five in Texas and one in Wisconsin. Pizzas, with Gino’s famous golden crust and chunky sauce, are available in four, six, or eight slices, and come in styles including four-cheese, Chicago Fire (with extra-spicy sausage), and vegetarian (with asparagus, green peppers, mushrooms, onions, peppers, squash, and zucchini). Thin crust pizza is also available, but when in Chicago…
Round Table Pizza / Facebook
Round Table Pizza was founded in 1959 in Menlo Park, California, and today there are more than 500 locations nationwide. Dough is made from scratch in-house daily. The three-cheese blend contains aged Cheddar, whole milk mozzarella, and provolone. The chain is known for applying toppings all the way to the edge of the pie, as well as for its wide selection of innovative combinations, like the King Arthur’s Supreme, with pepperoni, Italian sausage, Italian dry salami, linguiça, mushrooms, green peppers, yellow onions, black olives, three cheeses, and red sauce.
LaRosa’s Restaurant & Pizzeria / Facebook
A Greater Cincinnati institution for more than 60 years, LaRosa’s was founded by Buddy LaRose in 1954 and is still owned by his family. There’s a wide variety of calzones, hoagies, pastas, appetizers (including its famous rolled “Rondos,” which are similar to mini-stromboli), wings, salads, and desserts; the whole menu is available for delivery. As for the pizza, it’s available in four sizes, four crusts (traditional, hand-tossed, crispy pan, or multigrain honey), and there are nearly 30 sauce and topping options.
Chuck E. Cheese / Facebook
What do we all remember about those childhood visits to Chuck E. Cheese’s? The arcade games, the slides and climbing equipment, borderline-creepy animatronic characters, and, of course, the pizza. While for most the pizza is a way to refuel after redeeming your tickets, it’s actually pretty darn good. And at more than 500 locations, you can get it gluten-free and thin-crust as well. In a bid to appeal to “grown-up tastes,” the chain recently added new items to its menu including parmesan bread sticks, churros, and a Cali Alfredo pizza (with Alfredo sauce, spinach, sausage mushrooms, and chicken), and also added beer and wine as well as coffee and lattes.
Beggars Pizza / Facebook
Beggars has 23 locations throughout Chicago, and is certainly holding its own amongst a very crowded deep-dish field. Established in 1976, it specializes in pizzas made fresh to order (40 minutes well spent), par-baked pizzas for carryout, and stuffed pizzas (50 minutes well-spent). Other menu items include nachos, fried ravioli, mozzarella-stuffed breadsticks, wings, Italian beef sandwiches, and burgers.
Formerly Pizzeria Uno, this chain boasts an origin story that 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, and it blew people away. Today there are more than 140 Uno locations in 24 states and around the world, spreading the deep-dish gospel. Along with pizza, they also serve appetizers, steaks, sandwiches, burgers, seafood, and even (gasp!) thin-crust pizza.
Sbarro / Facebook
Sbarro got its start in 1956 Brooklyn, when the Sbarro family opened an Italian market. Eleven years later, the first modern-style Sbarro was launched in the borough’s Kings Plaza Shopping center, selling self-serve Italian fare with an emphasis on the pizza. Even though the company filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy and closed 155 locations in 2014, 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. The chain is also in the midst of a major brand makeover and expansion, opening its first-ever standalone restaurants in Columbus, Ohio, last September.
Mellow Mushroom / Facebook
Founded in Atlanta in 1974, Mellow Mushroom currently has more than 150 locations nationwide. There’s a big emphasis on the bar and craft beer, and there are some extremely 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).
Lou Malnati’s / Facebook
In Chicago, Lou Malnati’s is synonymous with deep-dish pizza, and today there are 44 locations in the Chicago area. The buttery crust recipe has been passed down to Malnati’s sons, who run the business today; the mozzarella comes from the same dairy that’s supplied the cheese for more than 40 years; the sausage blend is made according to a family recipe; water is shipped to each location from Lake Michigan; and every pizza is handmade from scratch. In the mood for one but nowhere near Chicago? It will ship anywhere in the country.
Little Caesars, which was founded in 1959 in the Detroit suburbs, is perhaps best known for its mascot’s catchphrase, "Pizza Pizza!," a phrase originally intended to advertise a deal where two pizzas were served for the price of one competitor's pie. Today there are locations all over the world, 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.
Donatos Pizza / Facebook
Donatos was founded by Jim Grote in 1963. Today there are nearly 200 locations across seven states, most of them in Ohio. The chain is famous for its thin crust and "edge-to-edge" toppings (more than 100 pieces of pepperoni come on each pepperoni pie), and specialty pizzas include the Serious Meat with pepperoni, sausage, ham, ground beef, bacon, and aged provolone; and the Chicken Spinach Mozzarella, topped with fresh mozzarella, chicken breast, roasted garlic, Roma tomatoes, chopped spinach, and a Romano-Parmesan blend. Gluten-free, hand-tossed, and thicker-crust pizzas are also available, along with oven-baked sandwiches, salads, and wings.
Every pizza made at Bertucci’s, which got its start in Somerville, Massachusetts in 1981, is cooked in a brick oven, one of which is on display at each of its 87 locations along the East Coast. (The chain is a member of Vera Pizza Napoletana, the Italian organization that recognized pizzerias whose ingredients and practices conform to the Neapolitan ideal.) You can craft your own pizza or try one of its unique topping combinations, like Balsamic BBQ Shrimp and Blue Cheese, Roasted Mushroom and Asiago, and the Ultimate Bertucci, where each quarter has a different topping: sweet Italian sausage, meatballs, rosemary ham, and chicken. Calzones, Roman-style long pizzas, and a whole slew of starters, salads, and pastas are also available.
Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria / Facebook
When friends Peter Cooperstein and Mike Forter set out in the mid-1980s to open an East Coast-style pizzeria in San Mateo, California, they discovered that all great pizzerias had a brick oven. Today, each of Amici’s 11 Bay Area locations has a brick oven of its own. Pizzas served at the stylish restaurants come in four sizes (from seven to 15 inches across), in unique regional-inspired varieties including New Haven White Clam (clams, garlic, olive oil, and bacon), Philly (roasted peppers and onions, housemade hot or mild Italian sausage), and Trentino (mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano, feta, baby spinach, red onion, pancetta, and Meyer lemon olive oil).
Extreme Pizza / Facebook
Founded by extreme sports enthusiast Todd Parent, Extreme Pizza has locations in nine states, the bulk of which are located in major California cities. Pizzas are made fresh to order using high-quality fresh ingredients, and there are some truly extreme varieties available: Take the Hanoi Fever (shredded hoisin-marinated pork, mozzarella, peanuts, green onions, jalapeños, carrots, and cilantro), the yard Sale (Italian sausage, pepperoni, salami, olives, mushrooms, peppers, onions, tomatoes, tomato sauce, mozzarella, and Cheddar), and the Holy Cow (Swiss, fontina, gorgonzola, mozzarella, roasted walnuts, and fresh sage). Other pizza options are loaded with vegetables, and there is also a wide variety of vegan and gluten free options.
Giordano’s Pizza / Facebook
The recipe for Giordano’s famous stuffed pizza dates back nearly 200 years, to a double-crusted Italian Easter pie served every year in Turin, but the recipe didn’t make its way stateside until 1974, when Italian immigrants Efren and Joseph Boglio opened the first location of this chain in Chicago. Today, there are more than 50 locations in Chicago and its environs, three in Florida, and one each in Indianapolis and Minneapolis. Its massive, deep-dish pies are a Chicago must-eat.
Hideaway Pizza / Facebook
An Oklahoma tradition since 1957, Hideaway Pizza received more votes than any other regional chain. Hideaway has 14 locations in the Tulsa and Oklahoma City metro areas, one in Bartlesville, and one in Stillwater, and pizzas are available with five sauces, three crusts, and more than 40 toppings, and are completely customizable. Dough is made fresh daily and allowed to proof for three days. Specialty pies include the Big Country (red sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, kielbasa, ground beef, and Cheddar); Cimarron (Alfredo sauce, mozzarella, meatballs, Italian sausage, Canadian bacon, bacon, Aslabo, jalapeños, and provolone); and the Hideaway Special, with a different topping on each slice.
Papa John’s Pizza / Facebook
"Papa" John Schnatter opened the first Papa John’s in the back of his father’s tavern in 1984, and today it’s the third-largest pizza chain in the U.S., behind Pizza Hut and Domino’s, with about 4,200 locations in all 50 states. The emphasis on fresh dough, fresh-cut vegetables, and high-quality never-frozen ingredients has attracted an enthusiastic fan base (as have offerings like a Double Bacon 6-Cheese pizza), and the cheese sticks and dipping sauces alone are crave-worthy. The chain recently made headlines when it was announced that it will be the completely ditching all artificial flavors and colors, and will only use antibiotic-free chicken.
This Texas-based chain is renowned for its reasonably priced buffet, which boasts nearly 30 varieties of fresh-baked pizza as well as pastas, soups, salads, and desserts. The first location opened in Plano in 1985, and today there are 446 locations in 32 states.
The first Pizza Hut was opened by brothers Dan and Frank Carney in Wichita in 1958, at a time when pizza parlors in the region were still a rarity. It took off, and soon the trademark red roof, which has since been retired, was sprouting up all across the country. Never afraid to experiment with new “pizza-esque” products like the P’Zone, the Cheesy Bites Pizza, and the much-missed, two-crusted Priazzo, it has occasionally struck gold, like with its now-ubiquitous Stuffed Crust Pizza. In 2014, it really went outside of the box by introducing its “Flavor of Now” menu, with nearly a dozen new pizzas utilizing new ingredients like Peruvian chiles, premium salami, and fresh spinach, and new sauces like honey sriracha and balsamic reduction. While that new initiative wasn’t as successful as the company hoped, it is still working hard on new innovations and offerings, including a new $5 value menu. If there’s one chain that’s not afraid to reinvent itself or get a little silly sometimes, it’s Pizza Hut, and it’s a philosophy that’s obviously served the company quite well, as it has more locations than any other pizza chain, with more than 6,000 in the United States and more than 5,000 worldwide.
Founded in 1960 in Ypsilanti, Michigan, Domino’s is today the second-largest pizza chain in the U.S., after Pizza Hut, and the largest worldwide. The three dots on the logo represent the three stores that were open in 1969, and a plan to add a new dot for every new store never materialized, for obvious reasons. Domino’s offers 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. And innovations like a “tweet to order” platform and an upcoming “Easy Order” button make it easier than ever to order. The pies are greasy, tasty, and just about everything you’d want in fast-food pizza.
California Pizza Kitchen / Facebook
By a thin margin, California Pizza Kitchen had staked its claim as America’s favorite pizza chain. Founded in 1985 in Beverly Hills 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 chain, which is constantly expanding, also does a lot of community outreach and fundraising. The menu is loaded with gourmet pizza offerings like Thai Chicken, Habanero Carnitas, and California Club, and seasonal offerings. 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. Congratulations CPK, you’re America’s favorite pizza chain!