In early January, we opened a poll asking you to vote for your favorite American pizza chains. More than 100 chains were considered, from the largest international behemoths to far smaller regional ones. Hundreds of voters chimed in, and while the race was tight, one chain rose to the top of the heap.
Making a quality pizza from scratch isn’t easy, but successful chains have it down to a science. Some pride themselves on crafting each pie by hand with all-natural ingredients; others churn out a massive quantity of pizzas daily with the help of high-tech machinery. At the end of the day, though, every chain-pizzeria customer has his or her favorite.
What exactly did our voters 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 reason, can’t get to (or don’t want to bother with) an artisanal pizzeria of the kind we rank annually in our signature 101 Best Pizzas in America.
From household names to small regional favorites, these are your favorite pizza chains.
Co-founded by Umami Burger’s Adam Fleischman (who’s no longer involved) and Michael Mina alum chef Anthony Carron, 800 Degrees is all about cooking with fire. What started as a build-your-own Neapolitan pizza concept with an aggressive expansion plan has since morphed into a sit-down mini-chain where rotisserie chicken, roast beef, and porchetta get as much attention as the pizza (and there are only seven U.S. locations, with one coming soon to Miami). This doesn’t mean, however, that the pizzas here aren’t spectacular. The dough is made in-house daily with “00” flour (the most powdery grind possible), toppings are all-natural and locally sourced when possible, and if you can’t decide between the eight varieties on offer (including one topped with prosciutto and burrata and another with sausage, pepperoni, and ham) you can create your own from a wide variety of crusts, bases, and toppings.
The first Pizza Inn was opened in 1958 by two brothers near Southern Methodist University’s Dallas campus. Today, there are more than 150 locations, mostly 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.
Not to be confused with 800 Degrees, 1000 Degrees has 41 locations in 20 states (with the most in Florida), and it focuses on “Roman-style” thick crust oval-shaped pizza as well as traditional Neapolitan thin-crust, along with wings and salads, and it’s aggressively courting franchisees. Plenty of topping combinations are available, including Philly cheesesteak, sausage and peppers, barbecue chicken, and Trenton tomato pie (with the sauce on top of the cheese), and all pizzas are made with 00 flour and high-quality ingredients.
Pizzeria La Rosa/Yelp
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 the 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 and four crust styles (traditional, hand-tossed, crispy pan or multigrain honey), and there are nearly 30 sauce and topping options.
Papa Gino’s Pizzeria/Yelp
Going strong since 1961, when Mike Valerio opened the first location in East Boston, Papa Gino’s today has 97 locations across New England. All the dough is made fresh daily at the chain’s headquarters in Walpole, Massachusetts, using just five ingredients (locally-milled hard winter wheat flour, water, yeast, salt, and oil); pies are hand-stretched, and they’re topped with fresh vegetables, California tomato sauce, and a three-cheese blend. Along with a variety of pizzas (try The Works, with pepperoni, Italian sausage, ground beef, mushrooms, onions, peppers, and cheese; and the Italian Sausage Ricotta, with chunky tomato sauce, ricotta, Asiago, Italian sausage, cheese, and red pepper flakes) in three sizes, Papa Gino’s also serves wings, toasted ravioli, garlic fries, and four varieties of breadsticks. Make sure you get the Cinnamon Swirl Pizza for dessert.
The claim to fame at Chicago-based Nancy’s, which has nearly 30 locations in Illinois, Missouri, Georgia, North Carolina, and Southern California, is the “stuffed” pizza introduced by founders Nancy and Rocco Palese in 1971. Based on a family recipe for an Easter specialty called scarciedda, these pizzas differ from traditional deep dish in that they’re constructed by stuffing cheese and toppings between two layers of crust, then topping the whole thing with sauce. Traditional thin-crust pies are also available, along with sandwiches, salads, pasta dishes, wings, and appetizers.
Aurelio’s was founded in the Chicago suburbs 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, Florida. 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, but we suggest you stick with the thin crust, a uniquely Chicago style (a crackery, buttery, crisp crust, lots of cheese, and cut into squares) that doesn’t get nearly enough attention.
Pieology Pizzeria R&D/Yelp
Pieology was founded in 2011 as a build-your-own pizza concept, and the formula seems to be working well: House-made dough is pressed into 11.5-inch crusts, and as guests go down the line they can choose from eight sauces and 40 toppings; after the pizzas are finished baking in stone ovens (it takes about three minutes), guests can top their pizza with sauces including Buffalo, pesto, and barbecue. Seven signature pizzas are offered along with gluten-free crusts and vegan cheese. In total, there are more than 78 billion pizza possibilities. There are locations in 20 states as well as Guam, but the vast majority are in California.
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 550 locations in 22 states. Those crust flavors include butter cheese, Cajun, garlic herb and onion. Pizzas are made to order using real mozzarella and dough made in-house daily. Oven-baked subs, salads and “Howie Breads” topped with cheese, Cajun seasoning or cinnamon-sugar are also available.
This pizzeria began in the back of a tavern within swinging distance of Chicago’s Comiskey Park, and today it has nine Chicagoland locations. Like Aurelio’s, it’s best-known for its thin-crust pizzas, made with dough that’s scratch-made daily, California tomatoes, and high-quality hand-shredded mozzarella. Pizzas are available in three sizes, and a huge variety of toppings are available.
At Buddy’s 13 Michigan locations, it’s all about the square pizza, which the company claims to have first introduced to Detroit 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.
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 58 East Coast locations; the vast majority are in Massachusetts. You can craft your own pizza or try one of its unique topping combinations, like the Nolio, with caramelized onions, prosciutto, seasoned cream, mozzarella, and pecorino romano; and the Ultimate Bertucci, each quarter of which 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.
Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom was founded in 1976 in Boulder, Colorado, 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 and now operates about 200 locations in nine states (as well as, curiously, three Colorado Red Robins). 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.
The founders of this Chicago chain came from a long line of pizzamakers, starting at the turn of the 20th 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.
Based in Toledo, Ohio, 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.
Shakey’s Pizza Parlor/Yelp
Established in Sacramento in 1954 as America’s first franchise pizzeria, Shakey’s now has about 500 locations worldwide and about 50 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.
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).
Round Table Pizza/Yelp
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.
Celebrating its 11th year in operation, Seattle-based MOD Pizza differentiates itself from the competition in a few major ways: Pies are made assembly line-style, more than 30 toppings are available (including pesto, house-roasted red peppers, fresh rosemary, spicy or mild Italian sausage, and fig balsamic glaze), and all pies — no matter how many toppings — cost just one price. Ten specialty pizzas are also available, including the Mad Dog (mozzarella, pepperoni, mild sausage, ground beef, and red sauce), Dominic (white sauce, Asiago, basil, red onion, sliced tomatoes, and mild sausage), and Calexico (mozzarella, gorgonzola, chicken, jalapeños, hot Buffalo sauce, and red sauce). We really wish this chain would go national.
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 (similar to the one that inspired the signature pie at Nancy's, No. 30), 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.
With more than 300 locations in 20 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 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, every slice of which has a corner.
Laura G./ Yelp
Founded in 1966 by two taxi drivers and a friend, Gino’s East, renowned for its Chicago deep-dish pizza, currently has nine Chicago-area locations, plus one 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 include 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…
This fast-growing pizza chain hasn’t been open as long as its competitors (it was founded in 2011), 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, and pizzas are cooked in approximately three minutes so there’s no waiting.
Papa Murphy’s takes a novel approach to pizza: “Take ‘N’ Bake.” Choose a pizza and it will be prepared using fresh-made dough and other fresh ingredients — but it won’t be 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. It’s America’s fifth-largest pizza chain, with more than 1,300 locations in the United States and Canada.
In Chicago, Lou Malnati’s is synonymous with deep-dish pizza, and there are locations all throughout 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? Lou Malnati’s will ship anywhere in the country.
This Nebraska-headquartered mob-themed chain was founded in 1973 and has been a Midwest staple ever since. The wide-ranging menu features four crust varieties: original, golden, thin, and mozzarella-stuffed, and there’s a wide variety of toppings and specialty pies. Godfather’s also offers “lighter” slices, containing less than 200 calories per slice, and gluten-free options.
“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. The chain attracted some negative press a couple years ago, when Schnatter blamed the NFL for poor sales; he resigned after the chain faced substantial backlash and its stock price took a major hit. The company is still trying to recover.
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. Its popular Hot-N-Ready offer guarantees a hot pizza for just $5, and it’s been known to experiment with things like lasagna pizza.
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, and it’s rebranded and freshened up its image since then.
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 (visionary chef Ed LaDou brought the idea over from Wolfgang Puck’s Spago). 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.
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. Along with pizza, they also serve appetizers, steaks, sandwiches, burgers, seafood, and even (gasp!) thin-crust pizza.
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.
Dan and Frank Carney opened the first Pizza Hut in Wichita, Kansas, 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 (or experiment with beer delivery!), it’s Pizza Hut, and it’s a philosophy that’s obviously served the company quite well. If you’re looking for even more fun facts about our winner, you can find 25 things you didn’t know about Pizza Hut here.
More From The Daily Meal: