Some of us are fortunate to live in an area flush with Italian heritage, and by extension, locally owned pizzerias (for instance, pizza at the Jersey Shore is unbeatable). We the pizza privileged look down on chain pizza. It’s something you order on a lark to change it up, or because seeing the same Domino’s commercial a dozen times pummels you into submission.
But for some of us (coughcoughDownSouthandOutWest), chain pizzerias are the first port of call. That doesn’t mean chain pizza isn’t without its charms. In fact, chains are the best way to get pizza styles from across the U.S. If you’re jonesing for Detroit-style pizza and you live in South Carolina, you can pick up the phone and order from Jet’s Pizza. If you live in New York City and you aren’t sure if Maryland-style pizza is actually a thing, you can place an order with Ledo Pizza.
The following is a ranking of pizza chains (the word chain is defined as having more than 100 locations across the country). You may agree with us at points, and at others, you may be scoffing at your screen at our ranking decisions. But remember, pizza should unite us all, so here are popular pizza chains, ranked from worst to best.
19. Chuck E. Cheese
Chuck E. Cheese makes the list because of airtight logic: A) it’s a chain, and B) it’s ostensibly a pizza place. In fact, Chuck E. Cheese used to be called Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre. The company was founded in the late 70s when animatronics were all the rage. Inspired by animatronic characters in Walt Disney World at the time, Chuck E. Cheese was meant to be a family-friendly restaurant with a carnival atmosphere. Chuck E. Cheese also has video games (albeit ones for children). That’s by design. With many arcades in the 80s attracting cigarette-smoking, jean jacket-wearing teens, Chuck E. Cheese took steps to keep these ne’er-do-wells out with wholesome video game fare. Sorry Mortal Kombat fans.
For a while, pizza was an afterthought at Chuck E. Cheese. It was there to make sure kids didn’t get hangry while watching the animatronics and playing games. But the company went through a major rebrand about a decade ago. Partly as an appeal to parents, the company started using fresh-made dough and offering modern options, including thin-crust and gluten-free pizzas. Despite these tweaks, we’re sad to report the pizza still isn’t as good as pizza from other chains.
On another sad note: The animatronics were also ditched as part of a recent rebrand. Instead, there is someone in a Chuck E. Cheese suit who dances around and throws tickets, which is only marginally less creepy than pseudo-robots clickety-clacking away to proprietary children’s songs.
18. Little Caesars
For many of us, Little Caesars has been around as long as we can remember, and there’s one thing you don’t think of when thinking about Little Caesars: delivery. According to the official Little Caesars website, delivery is only available through participating locations. This is likely due to the fact that Little Caesars isn’t known for its pizza. It’s known for being cheap, and offering delivery means having to increase prices. As such, we can’t abide by the idea of Little Caesars as a top choice for pizza. It’s cheap. It’s hot. It’s ready.
Speaking of which, there are a few things you should know before ordering Little Caesars Hot-N-Ready Pizza. First, it doesn’t cost $5 anymore. For more than two decades, a portrait of Honest Abe was all it took to walk out of Little Caesars with a Hot-N-Ready Pizza. But recently, the price was increased to $6, likely due to inflation and supply chain issues. You should also know some items on the Hot-N-Ready menu are only available during dinner hours.
For many years, Domino’s was known for its 30-minute delivery guarantee, but a series of tragic accidents involving company delivery drivers caused Domino’s to drop its guarantee. Without speed as the main selling point, Domino’s actual pizza became more of the focus, which turned out to be a bad thing. In 2010, the company, to its credit, acknowledged that its pizza wasn’t very good in a series of T.V. ads that included actual customer criticisms like, "Domino’s pizza crust to me is like cardboard," and, "the sauce tastes like ketchup" (presumably in a bad way).
So, has Domino’s pizza gotten better since a decade ago? First, a caveat: There are many different options when it comes to topping your Domino’s pizza, and some pizza options are better than others. However, all manner of sauces and toppings still have to sit on that highly-processed crust. Also, the toppings don’t exactly reek of freshness. Bottom line: Domino’s is good in a pinch, but it shouldn’t be your go-to option.
16. Godfather’s Pizza
Godfather’s Pizza says it makes a pizza you can’t refuse, but it sure seems like a lot of people are refusing to eat Godfather’s Pizza. The Southern chain has shrunk significantly in recent years, and it’s almost easier to find Godfather’s Pizza under a gas station heat lamp than in one of its stores.
It wasn’t always this way. People who grew up in the South likely remember Godfather’s Pizza as a dimly lit haven; a place you could go for video games and decent pizza. It wasn’t unusual for latchkey kids of the 80s and 90s to while away the afternoon at their neighborhood Godfather’s Pizza while they waited for their parents to get home from work. Those neighborhood stores became fewer and fewer over the years, numbering close to 600 in 2019, according to Restaurant Business.
These days, Godfather’s Pizza locations come in two iterations: the traditional dine-in, and the "express" model, which is basically a kiosk in a convenience store or gas station. Either way, you’re looking at a pretty basic pie with classic toppings like sausage, onions, green peppers, and the like. Like a lot of remotely-orchestrated mob hits, Godfather’s, at this point, is phoning it in.
15. Marco’s Pizza
If you demand Italian authenticity in your pizza chain, then look no further than Marco’s Pizza. Started in Toledo, Ohio in 1978 by Italian immigrant Pasquale "Pat" Giammarco, Marco’s Pizza was founded on the idea of making pizza with ingredients straight from the local market. Just like in Italy! Whether or not the chain actually uses fresh ingredients today is up for debate. However, Marco’s does top its pizzas with "Old World" pepperoni. This style of pepperoni does have roots in Italy, and it’s known for curling into a cup shape when it’s sliced and baked.
The Pepperoni Magnifico from Marco’s is a best seller and probably the ideal showpiece for the chain’s Old World pepperoni. The pizza also has the more common flat, "New World" pepperoni, which allows you to compare and contrast.
Marco’s Pizza also has a number of other popular menu items, including Chicken Dippers, Cheezybread, and a Double Chocolate Brownie. However, you’re here from the pizza rankings, and despite Marco’s Italian pedigree, we’ve found these chain pies are pretty indistinguishable from their Yankee counterparts.
14. Papa John’s
You can’t turn on an NFL game without seeing a Papa John’s commercial and hearing that its pizza is made with "better ingredients." But the question is, better than what? We’ll let Papa John off on that technicality and focus on the latter part of that term: ingredients. Unless you’re getting only cheese, Papa John’s comes with a lot of ingredients. Those of you in the "more is better" camp will definitely appreciate that, but, for the rest of us, the massive pile of ingredients can border on gluttony — and not in a good way. Simply put, this chain pizza is great if you want to eat a slice and take a nap, or you’re looking to share it with comrades. Like other chains, Papa John’s also has an extensive menu that goes beyond pizza.
It also bears mentioning that Papa John’s has gotten attention for political reasons. In 2017, founder "Papa" John Schnatter resigned amid controversy after disparaging NFL players who kneeled during the national anthem. In 2022, a major franchiser kept Papa John’s locations in Russia open after the country invaded Ukraine, despite massive sanctions and political blowback. The corporation did not condone the stores staying open and said it would not be taking royalties from any of the Russian locations.
13. Hungry Howie’s
It’s hard not to root for yellow-haired moppet Hungry Howie. He doesn’t care about geopolitics. He has no need for either animatronics or dangerously short delivery times. All Hungry Howie cares about is flavored pizza crust. Oh, and commercials that take a strangely dark turn, (via YouTube).
Hungry Howie’s Pizza was founded in the pizza chain crucible that is Michigan (along with Domino’s, Little Caesar’s, and Jet’s Pizza). It’s largely kept its status as a regional franchise. After one location started adding sesame seeds to its crust, the idea of flavoring crusts caught on within the chain, and since 1985, all Hungry Howie’s locations have had flavored crust options on the menus. Imitation, as the saying goes, is the sincerest form of flattery, and countless pizzerias have bitten off the idea of offering flavored crusts.
While Hungry Howie’s gets points for having an extensive menu, the chain’s flavored crusts are a double-edged sword: They distinguish an otherwise unremarkable pizza. Our advice? Either go with the flavored crust, or go somewhere else.
As the premium option in just about any airport or mall food court, Sbarro is happy to be a big fish in a small pond. But before Sbarro changed mall food courts forever, it was an Italian deli in Brooklyn. The success of that original location during the 1960s led to a second location in the King’s Plaza shopping mall. According to PMQ Magazine, the runaway success of that second location convinced ownership to take the company in a whole new direction. In order to attract hungry shoppers, Sbarro made the decision to display its food cafeteria-style through a glass case. This makes it easy to see what the restaurant is offering and what each dish looks like. Sadly, Sbarros are disappearing across the country, mostly due to the fact that we don’t spend much time in shopping malls these days.
The company is making an effort to get away from its over-reliance on shopping malls, and hopefully, you’ll still be able to get Sbarro pizza. That’s because the chain delivers a serviceable version of New York-style pizza. If you find yourself in a pizza desert — whether that’s in a mall, airport, or area with bad local pizza — Sbarro can be your oasis for New York flavors.
11. CiCi’s Pizza
Cici’s Pizza may have started life as a pizza restaurant, but recently, the chain has become synonymous with a buffet. Going to a buffet is a down-and-dirty affair, something for which you literally have to gird your loins. Perhaps not surprisingly, American-style buffet restaurants originated in Las Vegas in the 1940s. Developed as a way to keep people in casinos for longer, buffets eventually spread to all 50 states; reaching their apex in the 1980s, (via Vinepair). Narrow profit margins and steep competition eventually led to the buffet’s decline in popularity.
But at Cici’s, the buffet is still going strong. In fact, the chain gets high marks for its full menu and very affordable all-you-can-eat buffet. The fact that it’s a buffet allows you all kinds of freedom when you eat at Cici’s. Why settle for just pepperoni pizza when you can choose from more than two dozen pies? If you’re feeling up for a challenge, Cici’s also has a pizza-eating challenge: Two people who eat a 28-inch pie and drink two 32-ounce sodas within an hour can win hundreds of dollars. Add in the fact that Cici’s makes a decent taco pizza, and you’ve got a pizza chain that’s worthy of its Texas origin.
Donatos built its name on offering tavern-style pizza from the Midwest, which features a thin crust, square-cut slices, and toppings that go from edge to edge. But the truth about Donatos is that the company isn’t completely beholden to tradition. In January 2022, Donatos announced the debut of its plant-based pepperoni. With peas, potato, and fava beans as its main ingredients, the plant-based pepperoni from Field Roast has marbling and a spicy taste that are reminiscent of traditional pepperoni. Those looking to go full vegan can get the new pepperoni on a cauliflower crust, and even create a pseudo meat lovers pizza by adding Donatos plant-based sausage topping. We found the plant-based pepperoni worked great as a topping, but not so much on its own.
Of course, Donatos also has traditional pies, giving the chain broad appeal. Despite tavern-style pizza not being as popular as New York- or Chicago-style pizza, Donatos is currently one of the fastest-growing pizza chains.
9. Round Table Pizza
When the words "round table" are used to describe anything, it conjures up images of medieval knights feasting on roasted turkey legs and slugging back flagons of mead. But the truth is that Round Table Pizza wasn’t initially inspired by Arthurian legend. The pizza chain’s original location, which opened in the late ’50s, got its name from a basic wooden table, albeit one that was handcrafted by owner Bill Larson’s grandfather. Larson thought of pizza as a communal food, and a large round table is perfect for people to gather around, the theory went. Round Table Pizza did incorporate elements of the King Arthur legend in 1961, and the rest, as they say, is history.
These days, Round Table Pizza is mostly a California pizza chain — with a few locations sprinkled throughout neighboring states and other countries. It still prides itself as a place where families can come together around a large pizza pie. As for the actual pizza itself, we think it’s a cut above national chains like Domino’s and Papa John’s. The chain also regularly introduces new specialty pizzas that feature on-trend ingredients. Round Table Pizza doesn’t make the best pies in the world, but they’re good enough to slay all day.
8. Blaze Pizza
Although you might love the food at Chipotle, the fast-casual chain is probably better known for its style of service. The fast-casual service style at the burrito chain has been copied so much, it’s spawned the phrase "the Chipotle of" — which is used to describe fast-casual restaurants slinging everything from Mediterranean food or Indian cuisine. Blaze Pizza — if you haven’t guessed by now — is the Chipotle of pizza. You know the drill: You get to choose your crust and topping, then watch as your food is assembled right in front of you. Speed is critical to the fast-casual model, and Blaze gets customs pies out fast with a ripping-hot 900 F pizza oven.
While service is a big part of a restaurant’s quality, food is the most important. The scorching-hot ovens at Blaze give the crust a nice char on the bottom, which is nicely contrasted with a sweet sauce. If you’re a fan of the Neapolitan-style pizza crust, then you’ll appreciate the particularly thin and light crust at Blaze. But the ingredients rarely seem particularly flavorful, and pizza from Blaze is often less than the sum of its parts. If you’re interested in leveling up your experience with this fast-casual chain, then we recommend using a few Blaze Pizza hacks.
7. Pizza Hut
It’s safe to say you and Pizza Hut go way back. Childhood parties are filled with nervous glances at the cute person from school. Post-game get-togethers with the sometimes good (usually bad) high school softball team. Getting the munchies and raiding the buffet between college classes. These memories are inextricably tied to the taste of Pizza Hut pizza, and this gives The Hut a massive edge over other chains offering similar quality.
The truth about Pizza Hut is that’s swimming in kitsch, and we have to give credit to the company’s marketing department for acknowledging this in its commercials. Pizza Hut’s genius marketing department also created a real-life pizza thrower, inspired by a weapon from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
We could go on for days about all things Pizza Hut, but the actual pizza is tasty and reliable. If it’s been a minute since you perused the Pizza Hut menu, you should know there are three crust options: pan, thin-crust, and hand-tossed. You can get all the classic toppings and some specialty pies. Then there’s the iconic stuffed crust. All of this is at prices that are still pretty reasonable.
6. Ledo Pizza
From In-and-Out Burger to Buc-ees, we love regional chains here in the U.S. of A. If you’re going to expand a regional chain of restaurants, you’d better be sure your food will have mass appeal outside the region. With Ledo Pizza, we’re about to find out if the so-called Maryland-style pizza with its thin, buttery crust and the rectangular shape can appeal to the masses beyond the Mid-Atlantic region.
Ledo Pizza was founded near the University of Maryland in 1986. That one location has grown to 116 locations, and the company recently opened the doors on its first location in a town known for its own iconic style of pizza: New York City.
According to chief marketing officer Will Robinson, the signature crust at Ledo Pizza gives the restaurant an advantage over restaurants serving pizza with a different style of crust, (via Pizza Marketplace). The thin pastry crust only needs to be rolled out and there’s no need to proof it. This significantly cuts down on the amount of time it takes to make pizza dough.
Ledo Pizza is also known for its toppings. Slices of pepperoni are so large that each one gets its own pizza slice. The company also uses fresh sausage that cooks as the pizza bakes. Ledo Pizza also appeals to modern tastes with specialty pizzas like Korean Chicken Pizza and Enchilada Pizza.
5. Jet’s Pizza
These days, Little Caesar’s is known nationally as being the Detroit-style pizza chain, but Jet’s Pizza is also from Detroit, and it does the style without the emphasis on being cheap. Serving Detroit-style deep dish is a magic formula for success, and Jet’s Pizza owes a large part of its success to a secret sauce recipe. Since opening its first location in 1978, Jet’s Pizza has been serving pizza sauce made from a recipe developed by the mother of founder Eugene Jetts, according to a Facebook video. Slightly sweet with a bit of spice, the sauce helps to cut through the richness of Jet’s signature Detroit-style pie.
If you’re eating a deep-dish pizza, whether it’s Chicago-style or Detroit-style, it’s best to adjust your expectations. Boxes for Jet’s Pizza seem small compared to boxes for Domino’s or Pizza Hut, but that’s because, unlike other styles, deep-dish pizza takes up almost the entire height of the pizza box. Bottom line: The deep-dish pizzas from Jet’s are hefty pies, so expect to eat about half the number of slices as you normally would. If you’re not feeling the deep-dish thing, Jet’s also makes traditional pizzas made with the same great signature pizza sauce.
4. MOD Pizza
Like Blaze Pizza, MOD Pizza is a build-your-own, fast-casual restaurant that owes its service style to Chipotle. MOD distinguishes itself above Blaze in our humble ranking through a few small but important factors. Pizzas (and salads) are sold according to size, and toppings come at no extra charge. It’s like you’ve been handed a Pandora’s Box that you can open as you see fit. The décor at MOD pizzerias also tends to emphasize local flavor. This isn’t particularly noteworthy, except to say that it’s better than generic chain décor.
If you’re not feeling inspired when you walk into this fast-casual pizzeria, that’s okay. The menu at MOD Pizza has a number of classic and specialty pizzas. One of our favorites is the Calexico pie, which is topped with mozzarella, gorgonzola, grilled chicken, jalapeños, and Buffalo chicken wing sauce. If you are looking for more of a classic, the Mad Dog is a meat lover’s dream come true.
3. Mellow Mushroom
If you’re hangin’ with your best "buds" and trying to make a "joint" decision on what chain pizza to get your "recreational marinara" from, consider "rolling up" to one chain that’s "high" on our list: Mellow Mushroom. Obligatory marijuana puns aside, psychedelic-themed Mellow Mushroom is a cut above other pizza chains thanks to its premium, contemporary toppings like pesto sauce, avocado, and roasted red peppers. As you’d expect, the chain leans into its schtick with specialty pizza names like Kosmic Karma and Funky Q. Chicken. There’s also a pie called Veg Out, and Mellow Mushroom is also one of the more vegan-friendly chains. In addition to offering non-dairy cheese for its pizzas, there’s also an entire section of its menu that features plant-based appetizers, salads, and main dishes.
The embrace of hippie culture is more than just a cynical marketing ploy. Mellow Mushroom regularly supports the arts, social causes, and sustainability. This side of the company was very visible throughout the pandemic. In late 2020, the company’s Art of Mellow program held an art giveaway for people who ordered food online. In 2021, Mellow Mushroom’s "A Pie for A Pie" program donated one pizza to front-line workers for every pizza that was ordered.
2. California Pizza Kitchen
California Pizza Kitchen is California first, pizza kitchen second. In that order. Not being a traditional pizzeria might be seen as a disadvantage, but the company actually leverages its non-traditional nature to its advantage.
Inspired by pizzas coming out of Wolfgang Puck’s iconic Spago restaurant in the 1980s, CPK cemented the unique California style of pizza by using fresh Golden State ingredients like avocados, artichokes, and goat cheese. CPK also reps the state as a cultural melting pot with major Asian and Latin influences. Carne asada, Thai peanut sauce, and even sushi have all made appearances on the menu. The pizza chain also offers a more upscale dining experience that oozes California vibes.
A whimsical approach to pizza and pizza culture also lets California Pizza Kitchen make surprising changes to its menu. In October 2022, the chain announced the debut of its West Coast Burger; a cheeseburger made with Wagyu, brisket, and chuck roast that’s topped with bacon, caramelized onions, and melted cheese. Other recent non-pizza additions to the menu include a wild mushroom soup and a Baja Crunch salad.
1. Uno Pizzeria & Grill
How many national chains can lay claim to having invented a style of pizza? Uno Pizzeria & Grill was able to parlay the invention of Chicago deep-dish pizza into a national chain, and, over the years, Uno’s has evolved to become, in our humble opinion, the best pizza chain in the country.
Thickness alone isn’t what makes Chicago-style deep-dish pizza so unique. After the dough is pressed into a deep circular pan, it’s topped with what you’d call "toppings" on other pizza styles, like pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, and/or spinach. Then comes a layer of cheese and, finally, a layer of sauce. Because Chicago deep-dish takes so long to bake, this reverse topping approach causes everything to cook evenly.
Uno also gets top marks for evolving its brand over the years. Back in the ’80s and ’90s, the inside of an Uno’s looked a lot like a Chicago-themed TGI Fridays. These days, the pizzeria has more of an upscale feel to it, with more emphasis on craft beer and other elevated offerings. Is Uno’s better than your favorite local pizzeria? Probably not, but it’s the best pizza chain in the land, and you can find them just about anywhere.