America’s Favorite Pizza Chains
January 13, 2015
More than 1,200 of you voted. Here are your 35 favorite pizza chains
America’s Favorite Pizza Chains
Back in November, 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 chains to the smallest regional ones, and in total 1,239 of you chimed in. Only five votes separated our first- and second-place winners, so read on to learn which pizza chain is America’s favorite.
#35 Pizza King
This family-owned Indiana chain is a certifiable cult favorite in its native state, where there are nearly 100 locations. Square-cut pizzas are loaded with toppings edge-to-edge, and other favorites include pretzel bread sticks, roasted beef and cheese sandwiches, and “sausage boats,” sandwiches with sausage, cheese, onions, green peppers, and homemade sauce.
#34 Imo’s Pizza
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 combination of Cheddar, Swiss, and provolone. Appetizers include provel cheese bites and toasted ravioli, another regional specialty.
#33 Home Run Inn
A Chicago staple since 1947, Home Run Inn has only eight locations but also made its mark due to its frozen pizzas that are available in supermarkets in more than 20 states and also shipped nationwide. Their classic Chicago thin-crust pizzas are still made with the recipe devised by founders Mary Grittani and Nick Perrino. Home Run Inn’s ingredients are all-natural with no fillers or preservatives, their Italian sausage is made from scratch daily, and mozzarella is shredded in-house daily as well.
#32 Aurelio’s Pizza
Aurelio’s was founded in Homewood, Ill. in 1959, and while the bulk of the 40-plus locations are in Illinois and Indiana, they can also be found in Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Naples, Fla. Pizzas are available in sizes up to 18 inches (they were among the largest in the industry for many years), and nearly 30 different varieties are available with toppings including hot giardiniera, Ortega peppers, and Italian beef. Thick-crust and stuffed pizzas are also available, and make sure you save room for an Italian beef sandwich.
#31 Pizza Inn
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.
Serving “Detroit’s original square pizza by the slice since 1956,” this chain actually rose to fame in the 1950s thanks to sandwiches — East Coast-style submarine sandwiches, to be exact — that founder Paul Buscemi was the first to introduce to the Detroit area. Today there are more than two dozen locations around Detroit, and while the subs (up to six feet long) are still big sellers, it’s all about the pizza: available round, square, or on a 24-piece party tray, they're the result of years of experimentation with dough, cheese, and sauce. The menu is geared toward parties, so if you’ve been to any large gathering in the Detroit area, you’ve probably eaten pizza from Buscemi’s.
#29 Mountain Mike’s Pizza
This West Coast chain has more than 130 locations, most of which are in Northern California. Offerings range from a 10-inch to a 20-inch pie, with toppings that go from end to end and include the McKinley (pepperoni, Italian sausage, mushrooms, olives, peppers, onions, and tomatoes); the Sizzlin’ Bacon Classic (bacon, ham, garlic sauce, mozzarella, mushrooms, olives, and green onions); and the Pike’s Peak (sausage, pepperoni, ground beef, salami, linguiça, and ham). Gluten-free crusts are available, and most locations have a salad bar.
#28 B.C. Pizza
Founded by brothers Chris and Wayne Nelson in 1988 after years of experimentation in their mother’s kitchen, B.C. Pizza now has more than 30 Michigan locations and one in Georgia. Chicken or pepperoni “Spi-Rolls,” pepperoni-stuffed Bread Stix, and cheesy bread are popular appetizers, and pizzas (which are also available as “take and bake”) come with toppings like fresh spinach, salami, fresh tomatoes, olives, sliced pepperoncini, Wisconsin mozzarella, Parmesan, Romano, Asiago, and feta (Greek-‘Za Mediterranean). Subs, build-your-own-pasta, specialties like nachos and pizza burritos, and desserts including Pastry Pizza and Cinna-Sticky Fingers are also available.
#27 Rosati’s Pizza
Family-owned since 1964 with recipes dating back to the 1800s, Rosati’s specializes in Chicago deep-dish pizza, and also offers thin-crust, “double dough,” and stuffed pies at their 50-plus locations in Illinois, Arizona, Wisconsin, Texas, Nevada, North Carolina, and Arkansas. The sauce and sausage are made using old family recipes, the cheese is a proprietary blend, and dough is made fresh daily, never frozen, and baked on a rotating deck oven instead of a conveyor belt. The expansive menu also includes a selection of pastas, salads, and sandwiches, including “The Cheef,” home-cooked Italian beef smothered with melted cheese on French bread.
#26 Donatos Pizza
Donatos was founded by Jim Grote in 1963 and today there are nearly 200 locations across seven states, most of them in Ohio. They're famous for their thin crust and "edge-to-edge" toppings (more than 100 pieces of pepperoni come on each pepperoni pie), and specialty toppings 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, Mass. in 1981, is cooked in a brick oven, one of which is on display at each of their 90 locations along the East Coast. (The chain belongs to 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 their 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.
#24 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 as well.
#23 Shakey’s Pizza Parlor
Established in Sacramento, Calif., in 1954, Shakey’s has locations worldwide but the highest concentration is 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 their battered and fried Mojo Potatoes.
#22 Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom
Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom was founded in 1976 in Boulder, Colo., by a few friends who wanted to bring good pizza and beer to the people. Years later, they’re up to nearly 100 locations nationwide, and serve 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.
#21 Round Table Pizza
Round Table Pizza was founded in 1959 in Menlo Park, Calif., and today there are about 500 locations nationwide. Dough is made from scratch in-house daily, and their three-cheese blend contains aged Cheddar, whole milk mozzarella, and provolone. They’re known for applying toppings all the way to the edge of the pie, as well as for their 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.
#20 Marco’s Pizza
Based in Toledo, Ohio, Marco’s, founded in 1978, boasts more than 500 locations in 35 states. They credit their 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.
#19 CiCi’s Pizza
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 more than 500 locations in 34 states, with a rapid expansion plan in place.
#18 Godfather’s Pizza
This mob-themed chain is celebrating its 40th birthday this year, but it’s not trying to coast by. 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, they offer both "lighter" slices, containing less than 200 calories per slice, and gluten-free options.
#17 Lou Malnati's
In Chicago, Lou Malnati’s is synonymous with deep-dish pizza, and today there are 39 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 their 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? They’ll ship anywhere in the country.
#16 Gino's East
Founded in 1966 by two taxi drivers and their friend, 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 Chicagoland locations, with one in Texas and two more opening soon. Pizzas, with their 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…
#15 Buddy’s Pizza
At Buddy’s 11 locations in the Detroit area, it’s all about the square pizza, which the company claims to have first introduced to the area in 1946. Double-stretched and topped with Wisconsin brick cheese, it’s light and crunchy while at the same time able to hold up to any number of toppings. Homemade minestrone soup, oven-baked meatballs, antipasto platters, and a variety of burgers and pastas round out a menu that has something for everybody.
#14 Papa Murphy’s
Vancouver, Wash.-based Papa Murphy’s, which just announced its 1,400th location, takes a novel approach to pizza: "Take 'N' Bake." You choose your pizza, they prepare it using fresh-made dough and other fresh ingredients (but don’t cook it), and 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.
#13 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. Today there are more than 40 locations in Chicago and its environs, as well as three in Florida, and their massive, deep-dish pies are a Chicago must-eat.
Sbarro got its start in 1956 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 fare with an emphasis on the pizza. Even though they 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.
#11 Hungry Howie’s Pizza & Subs
Hungry Howie’s, founded in Taylor, Mich., in 1973, prides itself on being home to "the original flavored crust pizza," and this unique twist has helped it to expand to more than 545 locations in 21 states. Those crust flavors include Butter Cheese, Cajun, Garlic Herb, and Onion, and 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.
#10 Monical’s Pizza
With the majority of its locations in Illinois and Indiana, Monical’s has developed quite a cult following in the region. While there’s a wide variety of pizzas (including stuffed pizza and "oven-ready" frozen pizza), calzones, pepperoni rolls, salads, pastas, and sandwiches, it’s the "Family Pleaser" that’s been the menu mainstay for more than 40 years: a reasonably priced pizza or pasta, salad, and pitcher of soda.
#9 Pizza Factory
This Oakhurst, Calif.-based chain has been hand-tossing its pizzas since 1978, and today there are more than 100 locations on the West Coast. Dough is made fresh in-house daily, only 100-percent mozzarella is used, and the secret-recipe sauce is bright and tangy. Pizzas range in size from eight to 16 inches and come in varieties like Western-Style BBQ Chicken, Pesto & Garlic, Meat Lovers’, and Fajita Chicken, and sandwiches, calzones, seasonal soups, and appetizers like Pizza Bread, wings, and “Breadstix” are also available.
#8 Mellow Mushroom
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).
#7 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, 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.
#6 Little Caesars Pizza
Little Caesars was founded in 1959 in the Detroit suburbs, 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 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.
#5 California Pizza Kitchen
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. They’re constantly expanding and also do a lot of community outreach and fundraising, and 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.
#4 Papa John’s
"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.
#3 Jet’s Pizza
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 deep-dish pizza. Go for the Jet 10, topped with mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, ham, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, hamburger, Italian sausage, bacon, and black olives, or the 8 Corner Pizza, where every slice has a corner.
#2 Domino’s Pizza
Founded in 1960 in Ypsilanti, Mich.,, Domino’s is today the second-largest pizza chain in the U.S., after Pizza Hut, and the largest worldwide. The three dots on their 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. 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. Their pies are greasy, tasty, and just about everything you’d want in fast-food pizza.
#1 Pizza Hut
The largest pizza chain in the country also happens to be America’s favorite. 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, 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, they’ve occasionally hit gold, like with their now-ubiquitous Stuffed Crust Pizza. In 2014 they really went outside of the box by introducing their “Flavor of Now” menu, with nearly a dozen new pizzas utilizing new ingredients like Peruvian chile peppers, premium salami, and fresh spinach, and new sauces like honey sriracha and balsamic reduction. 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 them quite well. So congratulations, Pizza Hut, you’re America’s favorite pizza chain!