Pizza is the best food that’s ever been invented, the food that proves God still loves us. If tomorrow a messiah came along and healed a bunch of lepers and made the blind see and turned water into wine, and then turned and said, “It has been written, thou shalt no longer eat the cheese and tomato upon dough!” We’d all know that we were just being devil’s advocated.
It’s simply the best go-to food for… everything. It’s what you order for the whole team to celebrate a win of the big game, or to comfort you when you just lost. You can order pizza for a romantic night in or because you’re home alone with a bottle of wine and three episodes of the Bachelor. Whether grabbing a slice drunkenly at 3am or as an afternoon treat for your kids after they get an A on a test. It’s fast, it’s cheap, and it’s completely satisfying. You know exactly what you’re getting when you order pizza, and it happens to be exactly what you were always looking for.
It makes perfect sense, then, that talk about pizza can become heated. We all feel passionate about the kinds of pizza we love. It’s a food we grew up on, one that we all associate with some of the happiest times in our lives. So when the time came to hash out the best chain pizzas over at the Uproxx HQ, we took off the kid gloves. And put on rings with broken glass, went into the cage, and fought it out. Several of us didn’t make it out of that cage. And their blood on the walls of the office is a real reminder of what happens when you let yourself get soft as a writer.
More or less, we all individually felt like we were the hands down expert on pizza, like we discovered it. Basically, we all had Christopher Columbused pizza — it may have been already there with lots of people already eating it, but we’re preeeettttty sure we’re the ones that get to claim it. (Interestingly, Christopher Columbus actually Christopher Colombused pizza — bringing the first tomato seeds to Italy from his explorations in the New World.)
However, since none of us at Uproxx are 300-year-old vampires (though we do avoid the sun all day), pizza historian Carol Helstosky, author of the book, Pizza: A Global History, told us that it’s very unlikely that any of us “discovered” pizza. Pizza has been eaten for a long time in America, she says, but it really became popular in the 1950’s.
“What I mean by popular,” Helstosky explains, “is that people of non-Italian descent started consuming pizza. Pizza has become an iconic American food because it was so available to so many Americans — we eat about three billion pizzas per year! This had a lot to do with the spread of pizza chains, franchises and a lot of small individually-owned pizzerias. And, pizza fans will tell you that pizza is popular because it tastes good!”
Pizza chains were almost certainly responsible for the mass spread of our pizza love. Helstosky cited Pizza Hut and Domino’s as the first of their kind (both started in the midwest), with Domino’s launching the trend of delivery or carry out only and putting locations near military bases and university towns. These “fast food” pizzas quickly became popular as a concept.
“Take the case of Domino’s: college students and military personnel appreciated having cheap food delivered quickly,” she says. ” And Pizza Hut became popular because the restaurants offered indoor dining space. Like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut became known for being a reliable place you could take the whole family to, without spending a lot of money, for a meal out.”
But unlike McDonald’s, pizza chains didn’t put mom and pop stores out of business. There’s room for all in the pizza game. Making it a unique kind of fast food, and a much kinder food industry monster. And while pizza chains revolutionized the amount and speed at which we could consume pizza, they did sacrifice on taste. An issue they fight against in advertising every day. Each brand scraps to be the pizza with the best flavor while still maintaining the lowest price point and fastest delivery times. (Interestingly, pizza has mostly avoided the health conversation that has plagued other fast food brands.)
The fight for the throne has, of course, benefitted the consumer, with each of us thinking we’ve found the very best chain and sticking by
“By standardizing pizza production and valuing efficiency and speed over taste, the big pizza franchises were able to deliver,” Carol says with the pun very much intended. “Franchises are known for being reliable. You know exactly what you’re going to get.”
While we all love pizza, what we love about it isn’t standard everywhere. Which may explain how our preferences are wildly different and how the insistence on the “best” chain pizza varies from person to person. It often depends on where you grew up.
“One of the really interesting things about fast food pizza is that it embodies what scholars call ‘glocalization’,” Helstosky says, “or the modification of global production trends to suit local tastes. When the big chains moved from the Midwest to the East coast, they found that pizza fans liked their pizza with a thinner crust, so they accommodated that. You see that all over the world where the big chains do a market study before opening, then make a pizza that will be popular with the local consumers. For instance, Pizza Hut made pizzas with intricate folded crusts, containing snack foods (like tiny cheeseburgers or cream cheese cones) for consumers in Middle Eastern countries where diners like to pick at the crust and have a snack before eating the pizza.”
OFFICIAL NON-ARGUABLE RANKING OF CHAIN PIZZAS*
*We only considered brands with 20 or more locations in seven or more states.
9. Pizza Hut — Traditional Crust
If you’re a millennial who remembers Book It!, you’ve got a deep and abiding nostalgia for Pizza Hut. Sadly the chain has seen better days, both in pop culture and financially, but back in the day, it really was one of the best places to get pizza, and it’s remained remarkably consistent. A golden, greasy pie today will take you right back to the ones of yesteryear, and that’s no small feat.
– Dan Seitz, Senior Staff Writer
8. Dominos — Traditional Crust
When it comes to chain pizza, your choices are always affected by geography. My family always defaulted to Domino’s pizza and over time it became the top choice. When Papa John’s and Little Caesar’s came to town, they still couldn’t compete. And Pizza Hut was always off in some foreign land that never seemed to cross our path. Also it was trash, so that helped. The biggest blow to Domino’s over the years actually hasn’t been other pizza chains, it’s those damn customer complaints that forced them to change the recipe. For me, the original recipe was fine. It’s not the best pizza in the world, but it checked all the personal boxes. Luckily, not much changed when they shook things up over the past few years. The only thing better, aside from local pizza joints, is public school pizza.
–Andrew Roberts, Managing Editor, Trending
7. Unos — Traditional Crust
There are so many hills to die on when it comes to defending your favorite, or even good pizza. I’m not going to die on any hills for pizza … at least not today. I’m going to go for something that was just different. When I moved to Washington DC for college I found a pizza that you rarely saw in Washington State in the 1990s — Chicago Style. In Northwest DC there used to be a Uno Pizzeria & Grill. Now, I’m not saying that Unos is better than pies from Pequod’s or Burt’s Place back in Chicago. But I wasn’t in Chicago and Unos is in 24 states, so it’s a chain. Since they were near my college, they ran really inexpensive buffets every day for lunch. I’m pretty sure it was $4.99 for an all you can eat pizza buffet that had one meat and one veggie pie under warmer lights.
Anyway, that pizza got me through some tough times, financially, until I found work making sandwiches in a lunch joint. Plus, it’s deep dish which has the ability to scratch a very primordial itch in our ids. It’s big, filling, and somehow kinda wrong. It’s a Frankenstein’s Monster of pizzas. And I’ll always love it.
–Zach Johnson, Life Writer
6. Papa John’s — Traditional Crust
Here’s the thing. I know that Papa John’s has some questions lingering because of what ol’ John himself said about the Affordable Care Act. I know that their belief system doesn’t necessarily align with mine. But gosh, they’re delicious. The thick doughy crust, the sweet tomato sauce, THAT HEAVENLY GARLIC DIPPING LARD. I can’t get enough. And yes, it’s the chain I grew up with. We would have Papa Johns on pizza night, every Friday. Appleton, WI didn’t have a whole lot of options. And pizza was the only kind of food that delivered… straight to my heart.
Many years later when I was living in Chicago, I had no Papa John’s delivery places within my neighborhood. And look, I got on okay. I ate “good” pizza. I ordered some Giordanos or Lou Malnati’s when I needed a taste of the most holy of all foods. But something in me was missing, broken. A part of me still craved cheap, quick, delicious Papa John’s. And then one day, I was walking in the neighborhood and a Papa John’s delivery car cruised down my street. I started to cry. Honestly, tears slipped down my face. They were here. I was whole again.
–Allison Sanchez, Writer
*SUPER IMPORTANT AND NOT AT ALL BITTER NOTE: I feel like the voting was skewed because writers don’t have health care and not by taste. I DEMAND A RECOUNT.*
5. Little Caesar’s — Traditional Crust
There are “chains” of pizza places that are regional, and they’re wonderful, but that hardly counts. Of the national/worldwide/coast-to-coast pizza chains, most of them are complete garbage, but as the old adage attests, the worst pizza is still pizza.
Still, you’re often stuck with getting less-than-ideal pizza — making the decision between “subpar but inexpensive pizza” and “subpar but inexplicably pricey pizza” (where you’ll find stuff like Papa John’s, which is like paying $15 to eat a bite of landfill).
I grew up eating Little Caesars, where it was a real treat and a real bargain to get two pretty-good pizzas for the price of one. My overweight, working-class family certainly appreciated that. That tradition has held true to today, where the Hot-N-Ready may not necessarily be hot OR ready when you step into a storefront, but the Little Caesars taste remains unchanged. It’s perfectly acceptable pizza for a very reasonable price, plus they have crazy bread.
Little Caesars wins the coast-to-coast pizza chain debate in a walk.
– Bill Hanstock, Senior Editor, Sports
4. Costco’s Food Court Pizza — Traditional Crust
Pull up a seat (or 25-gallon tub of guacamole), you’re now dining at America’s best national pizza chain. The warehouse club’s simple menu (choose between pepperoni, cheese, or supreme) offers pies so loaded they nearly require the sinful act of using a fork. And at $1.99 a slice, you can down a hearty lunch for the price of an airy fast food meal.
The clincher for very correct “New York has the best pizza because of the water” people: Costco imports its dough from a Brooklyn-based distributor daily.
– Ryan Perry, Social Director
3. Domino’s Pizza — Brooklyn Style
I was a traditional Domino’s kid and — like just about everyone here — nostalgia seems to have a lot of sway over my tastebuds. But the traditional crust is too doughy to eat as an adult, the ratios are all wrong. Because of this, and my general food snobbery, I turned away from chain pizza altogether for a solid decade. Then Domino’s Brooklyn Style came out. The crust was thinner but it wasn’t a damn cracker, it was meant to be folded, it was… sloppy.
For me, the experience conjured living as a 21 year old in Brooklyn and growing up on Dominos — the perfect pizza venn diagram. I currently live in Southern California and we do have some good pizzas, but they’re all dine-in places where there’s going to be goat cheese and fig jam on the menu.
For good pizza that hits my pleasure centers and tickles my sense of nostalgia, this isn’t just a “in a pinch” pie, it’s my #1 choice.
-Steve Bramucci, Managing Editor, Life
2. Round Table — Traditional Crust
I have been vegetarian my entire life (“We know, Alia. Stop writing about it.”), so my take on pizza is different than someone who is getting a meat lover’s pie or…well…something I don’t know the name of because I don’t order them. For the veggie restricted and the veggie lover, no chain can touch Round Table. It’s all about the Gourmet Veggie. I would like to acknowledge that this is primarily an endorsement of this pizza and not of the chain. I can see that now. These pizzas have all the upscale vegetables, spinach, zucchini, and artichoke hearts. But, the real star is Creamy Garlic Sauce, the very idea of which makes my stomach clench in hunger.
Most pizza chains have crap sauce and this changes the game. Forget boring, sweet tomato goo; go garlic and never look back.
– Alia Stearns, Writer
1. Jets — Four Corners
Having recently heard about Jet’s, with its square-shaped pie and cheese baked all the way to the edge, I was delighted to learn that Texas was one of the 20 states where the franchise existed. Even better, there was one only a few miles from my house. After carefully perusing their menu, I placed my order online, and unwilling to wait 45-plus minutes for delivery, I opted for carry-out.
After picking it up, I found that the relatively small pizza (I’d ordered the ‘Four Corners’) was dense with flavor. The crust was thick with the perfect amount of crunch, the toppings were fresh, and the cheese blanketed the entire concoction, caramelized around the edge. The only real shortcoming was the sauce, and not because it came under the cheese, which is an affront to traditional Detroit-style, but that there just didn’t seem to be enough of it — even though I’d ordered it specifically with extra sauce.
Still, this small critique aside, it was a delightfully indulgent pizza, and with all the options of crust, sauce, toppings, and even how long they bake it, its limitless combinations makes Jet’s the pizza place that keeps on giving.
–Christian Long, Writer