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 South. 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.
Pies & Pints/Yelp
This rapidly growing chain originated in a bike shop basement in West Virginia, where it quickly grabbed the attention of the area’s whitewater rafters, bikers, and hikers. The crispy, chewy pizza crusts are the perfect base to locally grown and ethically sourced toppings. The pies pair perfectly with each location’s curated list of hard-to-find pints. The combination is perfect after a day of outdoorsy activity.
Mountain Mike’s Pizza
This West Coast-centered chain was founded in 1978 in Palo Alto, California. The family-friendly restaurants specialize in fresh toppings in a comfortable environment. Swing by for a night out with the entire family for a pie loaded with fresh toppings and be sure to pick up dessert: a pizza-size cookie.
Beggars has 23 locations throughout Chicago, and is certainly holding its own in a very crowded deep-dish field. Established in 1976, it specializes in pizzas made fresh to order, par-baked pizzas for carryout, and stuffed pizzas. Other menu items include nachos, fried ravioli, mozzarella-stuffed breadsticks, wings, Italian beef sandwiches, and burgers.
This Midwest chain claims to have introduced hoagies and New York-style pizza to the Twin Cities. True or not, the chain has made a name for itself with pizzas and sandwiches in a laid-back atmosphere. There are now 22 shops in this chain – including the original spot in St. Paul.
Happy Joe’s has more than 50 locations in seven states, but most 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 plus barbecue sauce and three cheeses.
Hungry Howie’s Pizza & Subs/Yelp
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.
The founders of this Chicago chain came from a long line of pizzamakers, starting at the turn of the twentieth century in New York City. Despite being in a deep-dish-dominated town, the founders decided to buck the trend and serve thin-crust pizza. (There is still the classic deep dish on the menu.) Now run by fifth-generation Rosati pizzamakers, the chain remains a Windy City institution.
Home Run Inn
This pizzeria began in the back of a tavern within swinging distance of Chicaco’s White Sox stadium. Although this pizzeria does serve the city’s iconic deep dish, order the shop’s thin crust. It might defy convention, but it’s the signature here and the one that gets the most rave reviews.
A Greater Cincinnati institution for more than 60 years, LaRosa’s was founded by Buddy LaRosa 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 like 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.
Founded in 1981, this long-standing pizza chain didn’t introduce its celebrated buffet until two years later. Now, more than 30 years later, the chain has reached 200 locations in 13 states and continues to grow thanks to limited-time pizza offerings and rewards memberships.
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.
Chuck E. Cheese’s
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. The chain recently added new items to its menu. The additions include stuffed-crust pizza and pizza-sized cookies.
Round Table Pizza
Round Table Pizza was founded in 1959 in Menlo Park, California, and today there are hundreds of locations focused on the West Coast. 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.
Old Chicago Pizza and Taproom/Yelp
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 has locations across the country and serves 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.
Donatos was founded by Jim Grote in 1963. The Ohio-based 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.
This fast-growing pizza chain hasn’t been open as long as its competitors but its dedication to fast and fresh pies has caught the eye of investors and diners. The assembly-style pies allow diners to pick their toppings just like at Chipotle or Subway. Pizzas are cooked in approximately three minutes so there’s no waiting. And when the chain is backed by LeBron James, you know it has the cool cachet that will keep it … hot.
This Wisconsin-founded pizza chain is known for its by-the-slice offerings, which is kept to a manageable five option. There are also pastas, salads and breadsticks available. There’s also a whole wheat crust available in its pan-style pizzas.
Little Caesars Pizza
Little Caesars, founded in 1959 in the Detroit suburbs, is perhaps best known for its mascot’s catchphrase, "Pizza Pizza!," 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 pizzas made with dough made in-house daily, as well as wings, Italian cheese bread, and Crazy Bread.
This Nebraska-headquartered mob-themed chain was founding in 1973 and has been a staple ever since. The wide-ranging menu features four crust varieties: original, golden, and thin, and there’s a wide variety of toppings and specialty pies. Godfather’s also offers both "lighter" slices, containing less than 200 calories per slice, and gluten-free options.
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 two kinds of mushrooms, feta and mozzarella cheeses, spinach, and jalapeños on a herbed crust).
This mall-centric chain 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.
Based in Toledo, Marco’s, founded by Italian immigrant Pat Giammarco in 1978, boasts locations across the United States and in 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.
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 brothers’ 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.
In Chicago, Lou Malnati’s is synonymous with deep-dish pizza, and today the chain populates Chicagoland. 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 a location? It will ship anywhere in the country.
Uno Chicago Grill
Formerly Pizzeria Uno, this chain boasts an origin story that is probably the best-known of the bunch. When Ike Sewell opened Pizzeria Uno in Chicago in 1943, 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 Uno spreads the deep-dish gospel across the country 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.
“Papa” John Schnatter opened the first Papa John’s in the back of his father’s tavern in 1984, and today it’s one of the nation’s most recognizable brands with 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, and the cheese sticks and dipping sauces alone are crave-worthy.
Founded in 1966 by two taxi drivers and a friend of theirs, Gino’s East, renowned for its Chicago deep-dish pizza, currently has 11 Chicago-area locations, plus five in Texas, one in Wisconsin, and one soon opening in Phoenix. Pizzas feature Gino’s famous golden crust and chunky sauce and are available in four, six, or eight slices. Popular 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…
Dan and Frank Carney opened the first Pizza Hut in Wichita in 1958, when pizza parlors in the region were still a rarity. It took off, and soon the trademark red roof, which has since been retired, sprouted up all across the country. Never afraid to experiment with new “pizza-esque” products like the P’Zone, it occasionally struck gold, like with the now-ubiquitous Stuffed Crust Pizza. 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.
Papa Murphy’s takes a novel approach to pizza: "Take 'N' Bake." Choose a pizza, it is prepared using fresh-made dough and other fresh ingredients — but not cooked; you take it home and pop it in your oven to bake when you’re ready to eat it. All the classic pizza options are available, and there are also desserts you can bake at home, like dessert pizza and chocolate chip cookie dough.
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. Domino’s offers pizzas with a variety of toppings, toasted sandwiches, stuffed cheesy bread, wings, and desserts. The pies are greasy, tasty, and just about everything you’d want in fast-food pizza.
Giordano’s Restaurant & Pizzeria
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. Its massive, deep-dish pies are a Chicago must-eat.
California Pizza Kitchen
California Pizza Kitchen was 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.
There's a new pizza favorite in town. This Midwest chain rocketed to the top of the list this year thanks to a loyal following and the craveable Topperstix. The brand has grown rapidly, doubling in size in just three years. Founded in 1993 by an industry veteran, Toppers puts customer service and fresh toppings at the forefront of its brand. <a href="http://www.thedailymeal.com/toppers-pizza-unveils-new-store-prototype-de... new format</b></a> allows customers to interact with staff to see their pizzas get created. It’s a recipe for success and loyalty.</p>
What are your favorite pizza shops? We wondered, and for the fourth year in a row, we’ve reached out to you, our readers, to ask just that.What exactly did our respondents look for in determining their favorites? We asked them to vote only for chains that they’ve been to, of course, but also asked them to choose those they truly respect. They were told to take into account the freshness and deliciousness of the product as well as the service, convenience, menu diversity, and overall experience. Some voted based on a loyalty to local chains, while others preferred the big guys.
Note that we’re not exactly identifying these chains as America’s best. Because this was a simple tally, it’s a ranking of America’s favorites — the chains that you, the readers of The Daily Meal, are most likely to turn to when you're in the mood for pizza but, for whatever reasons, can't get to (or don't want to bother with) an artisanal pizzeria of the kind whose wares we rank annually in our signature 101 Best Pizzas in America.