Major Pizza Chains, Ranked Worst To Best

Aside from the fried chicken sandwich, perhaps no space in the American food landscape is getting more competitive than that of pizza. Where once we were relegated to a handful of painfully mediocre national pizza chains, now quality regional chains, build-your-own brands, and discount delivery offerings dominate the cheesy landscape. So much so that some predict an imminent pizza war, which sounds both delicious and extremely messy.

Since its early days, the world of chain pizza has changed dramatically and is now faced with so many choices that picking the best one can be hard. With gourmet toppings now the norm and inventive specialty pies more or less expected, choosing the right place can seem downright daunting. Fortunately for you, we've traveled the country and, much to our cardiologist's chagrin, tried a lot of pizza. Some were great, while some were downright inedible. Here are our rankings of America's biggest pizza chains, from worst to best.

22. Cicis

The love of quantity over quality is as American as rejecting the metric system. And so it is that we birthed a place like Cicis, where you're welcome to stuff yourself with endless pizza for one amazingly low price. For teenagers who can consume entire pizzas without gaining weight, we guess a trip to America's favorite (by default, given the lack of serious competition) pizza buffet can be a good time. For anything resembling a decent meal, well ... see ya later!

Saying Cici's pizza crust tastes like cardboard is really an insult to amalgamated paper products. It's more like a tasteless cracker covered in sweet sauce and slimy cheese. Slimy, that is, if you got to the buffet before the stuff congealed into a rubbery mass. Consider the likelihood that, more often than not, that pepperoni pie has been heated by nothing more than a lightbulb for an hour or so, and now tastes a little more like something you woke up to on your kitchen counter in college. Cicis buffet really shouldn't be advertised as "all you can eat," but really "all you can stand." Which, usually, ain't much.

21. Chuck E. Cheese

Chuck E. Cheese knows that its most devoted clientele also regularly eats paste. So going all-out for quality ingredients is kind of a waste of time and resources. That's not to say that this is the worst pizza you'll ever have, but there is no reason a person over the age of 7 should voluntarily be going here to eat. This may be partially why most locations don't allow unaccompanied adults inside, since "lunch" would be a completely unbelievable excuse for a grown adult to indulge in subpar pizza while leering at an animatronic mouse.

In its favor, Chuck E. Cheese pizza tastes like birthday party nostalgia, and for that, we can't hate it too much. The cheese tastes a little artificial, the crust is inoffensive but was obviously once frozen, and the sausage looks like it came out of Chuck's non-singing end. If you need fuel for chasing kindergartners around a skee-ball center, it'll do in a pinch. And paired with soda and crushed ice, the taste can temporarily transport you to a time when you didn't have much responsibility past eating lunch and winning tickets. It's fine for what it is, but is also very much a kids' center afterthought.

20. Little Caesars

Little Caesars' great claim to fame is that its pizzas are always hot and ready. And when something is hot and ready, well, your standards tend to take a little bit of a nosedive. Such is the case with Little Caesars, where you can walk in at almost any hour of the day and have your unbridled lust for pizza satisfied in just a few quick minutes — but at what cost? It'll only be after you've finished your pizza that you realize it was a horrible mistake that will be staying in your apartment long after the pain of regret sets in.

Like many things that are perpetually hot and ready, Little Caesars also comes off as cheap. That's not just because you can pick one up for $5 in a lot of places, but also because the ingredients taste as if they came from the bargain section of the Sysco truck. The cheese tastes almost sour and bitter, the tomato sauce is bland, and the painfully bready crust fills you up long before you're really satiated. If cheap, hot, and ready is all you're looking for, then swipe right here. Otherwise, have some standards, friend. There's a lot better out pizza waiting for you there.

19. Papa Murphy's

If your Papa Murphy's pizza is truly awful, you've gotta put at least a little of the blame on yourself. That's because not only does this take and bake pizza joint allow you to create a staggering number of combinations from its seemingly endless line of toppings, it also requires you to bake the thing yourself. So if you don't like the flavor profile of your artichoke, garlic, and salami pizza, that's on you. As are any complaints about the relative crispiness of the cheese or crust.

That said, good pizza is ultimately about good ingredients, and this is where Papa Murphy's falls off. The greatest pizza master in Italy could have his way with a Papa Murphy's bar, cook the thing in an imported brick oven, and it would still be kinda ... meh. The crust is allegedly made fresh daily but definitely has a frozen pizza texture. The ingredients aren't low quality, per se, but you're never biting into a slice and expecting much flavor. It's a fine solution if you just want something to throw on the dinner table. But there's a lot more to the pizza world than this, to be sure.

18. Godfather's

Once upon a time, Godfather's Pizza was a mothership for latchkey kids, where you could while away the hours between school and when mom got home by completely ruining your appetite for dinner. Beckoned in by a TV mafioso who encouraged us all to "Dooo ittt..." long before Nike thought the same way, we'd scarf this pretty average pizza at their all-you-can-eat buffet until our guts busted, then attempted to burn off all those slices with epic arcade battles of Mortal Kombat or Ivan "Ironman" Stewart's Off-Road.

But the once-mighty pizza chain had dwindled to just over 500 units nationwide by 2019, according to Restaurant Business. And while its thick crust, spicy sauce, and mild cheese still stands up when served fresh, the majority of Godfather's pies are now found under the lukewarm heat lamps of a Hess gas station. And by the time you delve into your pizza, it's tepid, congealed, and definitely stale. The pizza you can't refuse would rate a lot higher if it were easier to find fresh. As it is, the stuff makes beef jerky and almonds look like a more appealing road trip snack.

17. Pizza Hut

Another buffet-era nostalgia trip is Pizza Hut, where generations of little league teams used to celebrate wins and drown out losses under the restaurant's iconic glass light fixtures. The hut-shaped buildings were a bastion of comfort food, where families indulged in big, greasy pizzas in a sit-down restaurant setting. Pizza Hut has since abandoned the full-service model, and now if you want to enjoy their food onsite you're potentially relegated to sharing space with a Taco Bell.

But it's not the decline in the Pizza Hut dining experience that lands it so low on this list. It's that the pizza hasn't gotten any better since we left Little League, while our tastes have matured at least a bit. The crust is still painfully oily and greasy, the cheese still a little flavorless, and the toppings remain not so top-notch. Over the year, Pizza Hut has gone from a legitimate dinner option to airport food of last resort — the kinda thing you stuff in your mouth when there's literally nothing else open in the terminal. Of course, you instantly regret it about an hour into your five-hour flight, because Pizza Hut airport pies don't exactly sit lightly.

16. Papa John's

The youngest and smallest of the big four pizza chains, Papa John's promises to stand out by offering "better ingredients, better pizza." And while it's managed to eschew the general low-quality flavors of a Little Caesars and the overwhelming grease bomb of Pizza Hut, the stuff is still far from gourmet. Dressing up bitter cheese and white bread crust with some garlic butter sauce and pepperoncini makes for good marketing. But it is, effectively, just that: marketing.

Papa John's isn't bad if you're hungry in a college dorm or find yourself in a small town with no other options. It's a serviceable pie with ingredients that don't taste frozen or processed, and nobody ever shows up to a party and says, "Oh, no, they have Papa John's?" But nobody gets all that excited, either. 

It's kind of like the Bud Light of pizza. Easy, unobjectionable, but nothing about Papa John's offerings really stands out. It's the pizza you order if you happen to have a coupon on the refrigerator, but otherwise, it's kind of a red-and-green neon afterthought that's never anyone's first choice.

15. Sbarro

America's favorite shopping mall snack has gone the way of a lot of shopping mall favorites. With the foot traffic from Sam Goody, Hot Topic, and GameStop falling off, the once-mighty chain had closed nearly half its stores by 2016, according to Eater. Once the largest slice chain in America, Sbarro has slid for far that it no longer even appears on the QSR 50. Or, really, much of anywhere. Think about it: When was the last time you had a slice from Sbarro? Likely, it was while waiting for your parents to pick you up after a first-run screening of "Jurassic Park."

Sbarro just might have survived the decline of the shopping mall if their slices were actually good. The chain attempted to replicate the New York City slice experience and was only half-successful. They did manage to capture the essence of eating a piece of pizza that came out of the oven hours earlier, re-warmed to a semi-congealed, kinda sour mess of tomato sauce and pizza grease. But the hot, spicy, eternally satisfying feeling of biting into a genuine NYC slice was painfully absent at Sbarro. And their attempt at cafeteria-style foods like spaghetti and meatballs didn't help matters much, either. Maybe this one is best left in the past.

14. Uno Pizzeria and Grill

Uno has the distinction of having more or less invented Chicago deep dish pizza, at least according to Eater Chicago's lengthy anthology of the pie's history. An interesting fact, because anyone who's ever eaten at a Pizzeria Uno with someone from the Chicagoland area has likely also had to endure their beratement of Uno's pizzas. Look, we get it. You'd rather see Jay Cutler at quarterback for the next century than eat at Uno. But it is the original, and for that, it must be respected at least a little bit.

Still, even fans of Chicago-style deep dish can't help but be a little disappointed when stopping at an Uno. The pizzas just aren't as big, cheesy, or rich as what one would experience at, say, a Lou Malnati's or Gino's location. The crust doesn't flake as well as others, the tomatoes taste a little more processed, and the whole experience feels kind of corporate. If you've never had the famous deep dish, do yourself a favor and try it elsewhere. Though it may be the original, it still seems a little like trying tacos at Chili's.

13. Domino's

Not so long ago, Domino's had one of the more self-aware ad campaigns in history, showcasing social media posts telling Domino's that its crust tasted like cardboard and its tomato sauce like ketchup. Domino's got the message, and told America they were going to do better. The result was a completely revamped pizza that has propelled Domino's from the brink of irrelevance to the largest pizza chain in the nation, selling over a billion dollars per year more than second-place Pizza Hut, and adding 258 stores in 2018 (via QSR).

The point is, the ad campaign seemingly worked and the people at Domino's really listened. The new crust actually tastes like someone put some thought into it, with a nice bite of garlic and herb and brushed with just enough olive oil to make it feel like a treat. The toppings options are far superior to what they were 15 years ago, too, offering stuff like roasted red peppers and fresh basil on a delivery chain pizza. These pizzas are not a mass-purchased afterthought either, with most tasting as fresh as anything you'd get from a neighborhood pizzeria. Yes, it's still Domino's, and though the pizza's better than it once was, it's still not blowing anyone away. But for inexpensive stuff brought to your door, they're one of the better options out there.

12. Villa Italian Kitchen

As Sbarro freefalls into irrelevance, a new slice king has emerged among pizza chains, and it is Villa Italian Kitchen. The spot that started in Manhattan is now America's ubiquitous sliceria, showing up in airports, turnpike rest stops, and skeletons of shopping malls nationwide. It's improved greatly on the Sbarro model, offering tastier cheese, thinner crust, and an all-around better experience than the originator. And for a quick meal to fuel up for shopping or long-haul travel, you could do a lot worse.

That said, Villa still suffers from the reheated-slice syndrome, and if you don't get a slice fresh out of the oven it can sometimes taste bitter and old. Fortunately, the old slices aren't nearly as common an occurrence as they were at Sbarro, so your odds of getting a good one are relatively high. Still, the slices tend to drip a little, being fairly greasy, so if you're a pizza dabber you'll want to stock up on napkins. Otherwise, the grease can overwhelm the flavors, and can sit poorly in your stomach once you get on the plane or back in your car.

11. Hungry Howie's

Stuffed crust is quite the polarizing topic in the world of pizza. Cheese lovers find it to be an improvement on perfection. Those who prefer less-cheesy pizzas can sometimes find it vile and stomach-churning. However you feel about stuffed crust pizza, you can thank or blame Hungry Howie's, which was amongst the first chains that brought us cheese in the crust in the mid-1980s (though FoodBeast contends the originator of the practice is Pizza Hut).

Some might accuse this chain of being a little gimmicky, relying on their stuffed and flavored crusts to set them apart from the competition. That is in part because, if you order a traditional, unadulterated cheese pizza from Hungry Howie's, it's pretty unremarkable. However, if you were to throw ranch, Cajun, or butter parmesan flavoring on the crust, you've now got an entirely different animal. Hungry Howie's is unique, and its variety of crusts is a big part of why it's finally cracked Nation's Restaurant News' Top 10 Pizza franchises list. But for pizza purists, it might still be disappointing.

10. Donatos

There's probably a lot of things you don't know about Columbus, Ohio. Most don't realize it's the biggest city in the Buckeye State, per Columbus Navigator, or even that it's the capital. Or, really, much of anything that doesn't involve Ohio State football. Another fun Columbus factoid: It has its own style of pizza, a square-sliced, thin-crust variety not overly dissimilar from Chicago Tavern-style. It's characterized by a thin crust, edge-to-edge toppings, and square slices, according to Experience Columbus, the city's tourism arm. And it's a style of pizza that's best experienced at Donatos.

While Columbus is a lovely city to visit, the good news is you don't need to go there to experience Donatos pizza, as there are locations from Seattle to Sarasota. The stuff is flat-out great, so long as you don't need an abundance of crust for your pizza experience. Donatos is generous with the cheese and toppings, all layered over a vaguely sweet sauce that's distinct to the style. It's also considerably less filling than traditional pizzas, given that there's less bread to weigh you down. If you've never tried Columbus-style pizza, Donatos is a must. It may just change how you prefer to eat your pies.

9. Marco's

Did you know this fast-growing national pizzeria is the only pizza chain in America founded by an actual Italian? QSR magazine says that Marco's is, in that sense, the real deal. Its Italian lineage may be a big part of why Marco's was named America's favorite pizza chain in 2019 (via CNBC), and why it climbed to be the seventh-largest pizzeria in America, notching nearly $600 million in sales in 2019 (via Nation's Restaurant News).

As far as top-ten chains go, you would be hard-pressed to find a more authentic pie than you will at Marco's. The crust tastes fresh and comes brushed with olive oil and a little parmesan. And Marco's has been topping its pies with those coveted pepperoni cups as far back as 2008. Meanwhile, the cheese is smooth and milky, and Marco's savvily manages to avoid killing the whole pie by topping it with too much of the stuff. That perfect blend of sauce, cheese, and fresh toppings makes for an enjoyable eating experience, and an easy choice when looking for pizza along a franchise row.

8. Ledo Pizza

Though Ledo Pizza has been around since 1955 — and is a familiar name to anyone who went to the University of Maryland — its reputation outside the Old Bay State has been pretty limited until recent years. The official pizza of the Baltimore Ravens now boasts over 100 locations in seven states and the District of Columbia, with more on the way. The cult classic rectangular pizza spot might be a new name to many, but once you try it, chances are pretty good that you'll be sold.

First, the rectangular pies actually offer more pizza for the same price, a major plus for value-conscious consumers. But, key to the place's reputation, it doesn't taste cheap, with fresh-made dough that could just have come off a New York city counter. Meanwhile, the toppings that clearly haven't been frozen. The trademark pie here is the Old Bay Hot Chicken Pizza, which tops grilled chicken and provolone with the state's official seasoning. The combination is a spicy flavor explosion and is one you won't find anywhere else.

7. Round Table Pizza

For crispy, thinner-crust pizza enthusiasts, no national chain compares to Round Table. The crunchy bottom of the chain's standard pie gives way to a rich red sauce and fresh toppings, making for an inherently eatable pizza that goes down easier than most. The pies also come with at least one or two big, sauce-covered pizza bubbles, which make for a massively satisfying experience whether you pop them with your fingers or your teeth.

What's more, Round Table offers what could possibly be the best specialty pizzas of any top-ten chain, with Camelot-themed stalwarts like Montague's All Meat Marvel highlighting the menu. The gourmet veggie with a creamy garlic sauce base and unique toppings like artichoke hearts and spinach have further raised the specialty pizza bar. 

And Round Table is constantly innovating, introducing new specialty pies that reflect modern food trends. You may never have to try the same thing twice — unless you want to. Though the chain's simple cheese pizza might not be the best you'll ever try, what Round Table does with the rest of its menu truly sets it apart. And it all lands pretty solidly in the upper echelon of our pizza chain rankings.

6. California Pizza Kitchen

California-style pizza is the newest among American pizza styles, developed in the early 1980s in the San Francisco bay area by two chefs, Alice Waters and Ed LaDou. LaDou later went on to work for Wolfgang Puck at LA's landmark Spago, then consult on the menu for a nationwide chain of his trademark style (via Culture Trip.). So when you're eating at California Pizza Kitchen (CPK if you're into the whole brevity thing), you're getting pies created by one of the people who invented California Pizza.

This sweet crust and minimal sauce style may seem like an affront to pizza purists. And if you fall into that category, you would probably put CPK pretty low on the list. But from a pure flavor standpoint, we have to admit that stuff is hard to beat. The toppings are the freshest of any major chain, and the more traditional combinations like barbecue chicken and Margherita pizzas can hold their own with any other. The experience at CPK — assuming you're not hastily grabbing it at an airport — is also far more pleasant than most chains, as eating here feels more Spago than Spaghetti Factory. Like anything from California, it's typically far from traditional. But in the right frame of mind, it can still be pretty rad.

5. MOD

For gourmet, make-it-yourself pizza, MOD makes a case as the best of the customizable options out there. The list of toppings here can admittedly be overwhelming, with everything from roasted corn to spicy chicken sausage to chickpeas to play with. Essentially, MOD lets you act as an amateur chef, creating your own flavor profiles to see if maybe you missed your calling. Of course, this can also lead to creating some pretty awful stuff if you don't know what you're doing or just got too adventurous. And if you fall into that category, it may be safer to try some of their specialty pies.

What's great about MOD's specialty menu is that the creations are pretty simple, so you don't need to think too hard about if the flavors will work together. The Colexico with mozzarella and gorgonzola, chicken, jalapenos, and red and Buffalo sauces is always a winner. So is the Jasper with spicy chicken sausage and red sauce. The crust is good, but a little uniform-feeling given the more freewheeling MOD model. Still, it's worth noting that MOD's personal-sized pizzas make it an ideal spot for a large group, so everyone can try whatever crazy combination of stuff they want.

4. Mellow Mushroom

If you went to college in the southeast, you no doubt had more than your share of pizzas from Mellow Mushroom, which was considered "the good stuff" compared to your late-night $5 pies. But Mellow Mushroom still holds up even when you're not in school. The chain's pizzas come with a relatively sweet and wheat-forward crust that's dotted with parmesan cheese and a light coat of olive oil.

The stone-baked pizzas bring a masterful mix of crispy and soft, providing the perfect base for the signature Mellow red sauce. The spicy, savory sauce pairs perfectly with equally savory toppings like kalamata olives and applewood smoked bacon. But if you want to experience Mellow Mushroom at its best, then delve into the chain's intriguing mix of specialty pies. The Merry Prankster starts with a garlic-herb aioli and tops it with chicken, peppers, sausage, and white cheddar. And the Wild in Havana is like a Cuban sandwich on a pizza, even going so far as to present itself drizzled with mayo and mustard.

3. Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza

Whatever you do at Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza, don't send your pizza back for being burnt. That's because the black char on the crust is kind of the point of this "well-done," pizza, a take on New Haven, Connecticut style that's branched into a large east coast chain. For lovers of pizza-by-fire, no chain comes close to Anthony's, where the hot, crispy crust supports a rich red sauce and mild cheese. All told, it's always cooked enough that it's never going to be soggy.

The wings at Anthony's are almost as popular as the pizza, and if there's one chain on this list where ordering chicken is a must, it's this one. The birds come coal fired as well, and bring a smoky, spicy taste that complements the pizza perfectly. If you're into softer, chewier pizzas, or like your cheese with a little bit of ooze, then be forewarned that Anthony's is not for you. But if you've never tried this style, be sure to give it an order the next time you're back east.

2. &pizza

These oblong pizzas might not be familiar to those who live west of Appalachia, but do yourself a favor: If you're ever in the mid-Atlantic, or just changing planes at Reagan National Airport, make a point to try &pizza. The hot, fluffy dough feels almost like a perfectly cooked donut, with a crispy outside and an interior that explodes with steam when you rip it apart. Its top-tier crust aside, &pizza also boasts a menu of specialty pizzas unlike any of its competition.

The basic cheese could make a case as the best of any chain, with fresh basil and mozzarella that put it up against traditional Italian pizzerias. Many of the specialty pies also come with a "drizzle," a swirl of balsamic glaze, pesto, truffle ranch, and other sauces that give it a little extra kick. It's the most gourmet of any national pizza chain, and even though spots like CPK might offer more unusual ingredients, &pizza nails flavor profiles in ways no one else can. And for that, it's the best airport pizza in America. And near the top of most pizza places in general.

1. Blaze

There is an old adage that says "good things come to those who wait." The keyword there is "old," however, because that adage was coined long before the advent of Blaze. This Pasadena-based pizza chain boasts a similar model to MOD, with oodles of gourmet toppings that allow you to create your own culinary masterpiece. The big difference between the two is that Blaze cooks your pizza in a "pizza dome" at a scalding 900 degrees Fahrenheit, according to its website. This all means that your pizza is done in less time than it takes a Chipotle employee to tell you that guac is extra.

Okay, not really, given that Blaze pizzas take about three minutes to cook overall. But that's still a fraction of the time of most quick-service food. Yet, Blaze's speed does not sacrifice quality, as their ingredient list includes high-end stuff like fresh basil, feta cheese, and whole Italian meatballs. The crust has just enough puff to give the pie some heft, but not so much your lunch makes it impossible to return to work. Blaze strikes the balance of quality, affordability, and speed that everyone wants in a pizza. And though some may do some things a little better, nobody else has the whole package.