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Local pizza places that really should become national chains

Local pizza places that really should become national chains


Local pizza places that really should become national chains

There’s no doubt that we love pizza in America. According to some studies, it’s our favorite food, enjoyed more than steak, hamburgers, tacos, or pasta. Statistics show that we eat an average of 23 pounds of pizza per capita annually.

A lot of that gets consumed at home, of course, either made from scratch or, far more often, picked up from the supermarket freezer case or ordered in for delivery. And a lot of that comes from some of the nation’s top pizza companies – led by Domino’s and Pizza Hut, both of them $12 billion-plus businesses worldwide.

But there are about 77,000 pizzerias and restaurants specializing in pizza around the country, and many of these are single operations or units of small regional chains. Some of these minor players in the pizza world are very good, offering unique approaches to this favorite food of ours – and pizza-lovers would benefit if they were more widely accessible. 

Considering various pizza rankings and reading through numerous regional reviews, 24/7 Tempo has come up with a list of regional pizzerias that are well deserving of attention beyond their original target areas. All are first-rate – even though none of them made 24/7 Tempo’s recent Yelp-based list of America’s 25 favorite pizza joints.

In some cases, these chains have remained – at least so far – in just one state or small geographical area, like Pat’s Pizza, whose 15 locations are all in Maine, or Buddy’s Pizza, exclusive to Michigan. 

Others, like Chicago-based Aurelio’s, have a few outposts far afield. One, L.A.’s 800 Degrees, has even opened in Japan and the Middle East. But if a chain is concentrated in one portion of the country, it qualifies as local by our reckoning. 

We haven’t listed anything that’s too big, however. Some chains on this list have fewer than 10 units; only one has more than 50. We haven’t included such operations as Marco’s, with more than 900 units, or the 1,400-unit Papa Murphy’s – though both are among the restaurant chains with the happiest customers.

We’d be happy to see any chain on this list opening down the street. Perhaps one day some of them will.

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800 Degrees Woodfired Kitchen

Restaurateur Adam Fleischman of the Los Angeles-based Umami Burger chain launched 800 Degrees in 2012 in partnership with chef Anthony Carron. There are now four L.A. locations, plus one each in Las Vegas, New York City, and Aventura, Florida, with Miami coming soon. (The chain also has several outposts in Tokyo, the UAE, and Qatar.) Specialty pizzas include the Tartufo (truffle cheese, mushrooms, roasted garlic, and arugula) and the Angry Bee (a basic Margherita with the addition of soppressata, Calabrian chiles, garlic, and honey). More than 40 toppings are available for custom-made pies.

Artichoke Basille’s Pizza

Artichoke pizza (with a creamy sauce), not surprisingly, is the specialty at this New York-based operation, with 11 New York area locations plus one each in Berkeley, California, and Newington, Connecticut. (A few more are on the way.) Other offerings on the small menu include an equally unusual crab pizza (crab sauce, mozzarella, and surimi stuffing) and one called the Staten Island (meatballs, tomato sauce, red onions, and ricotta).

Aurelio’s Pizza

Opened in 1959 in the Chicago suburb of Homewood, Aurelio’s expanded into franchising in 1974 – the first Chicago pizzeria to do so – and today has more than 40 locations, mostly around Chicago and the Great Lakes, with outposts in southwestern Florida, Las Vegas, and the Atlanta area. Though the chain serves Chicago-style thick crust pizza, its specialty is the thin-crust style. All the usual toppings are available, but a signature specialty is the Taco Pizza (seasoned ground beef, cheddar, black olives, tomatoes, lettuce, mild Ortega chiles, sour cream, and salsa.)

Buddy’s Pizza

Detroit-born, with 13 locations around Michigan, Buddy’s focuses on its home city’s unique pizza style – square, with crunchy crust, and classically topped with Sicilian-style pepperoni underneath layers of Wisconsin brick cheese (underneath so that the pepperoni doesn’t burn in the high heat of the pizza oven). Numerous other toppings are available, including such uncommon choices as turkey, beets, carrots, and dill or cilantro.


Founded in 1987 in Hampton Roads, Virginia, Chanello’s now has 40 pizzerias around Virginia and North Carolina. The chain’s new Extreme Pepperoni Pizza is topped with that spicy dried sausage in three forms – diced, sliced, and in small cupping pieces. There’s also a double bacon cheeseburger pizza, and the E.B.A. (“Everything but Anchovies”), which loads on pepperoni, sausage, ground beef, Canadian bacon, bacon, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, black and green olives, tomatoes, and mozzarella. (Even anchovies are available on request.) Pizzas are served with the chain’s own buttermilk ranch dressing for dipping.

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DoubleDave’s Pizzaworks

With 20 locations around Texas and two next door in Oklahoma, it’s not surprising that a recent pizza of the month at DoubleDave’s was the Chili Pie – topped with chili, corn chips, mozzarella, and cheddar. Dave’s Fave includes mozzarella with a sauce of olive oil, garlic, and oregano and a choice of meatballs and sausage or tomatoes and garlic spinach. The chain has also introduced gluten-free cauliflower-crust pizza, and has won awards for its sustainability and environmental efforts.

Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana

The white clam pizza at this small New Haven, Connecticut-based pizza chain, founded in 1925, has been hailed as the best pizza in its state, but also as the best pizza anywhere in America (by The Daily Meal, which called out the topping of “freshly shucked, briny littleneck clams, an intense dose of garlic, olive oil, and oregano, and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano atop a charcoal-colored crust.”) The New Haven original has expanded to six other Connecticut locations, plus one each in New York State and Rhode Island and two in Massachusetts, so now at least one corner of New England can enjoy Pepe’s acclaimed specialty, along with such other offerings as the Original Tomato Pie, the classic Margherita, and a spinach, mushroom, and Gorgonzola pizza.

Gionino’s Pizzeria

With about 50 locations around northeastern Ohio, Gionino’s has won fans all over the area for its steak pizza with white sauce, spinach-laden Popeye Pizza, G-Mac-N-Cheese Pizza (white cheddar macaroni and cheese topped with provolone), white pizza with banana peppers and black olives, and more.

Great Alaskan Pizza Company

This Anchorage-based chain grew out of a group of 10 Little Caesars franchises that pulled out of that chain’s system and rebranded, introducing new recipes and upgrading the ingredients. There are now a dozen locations around the state, serving regular, deep-dish, and stuffed-crust pizzas, with standard toppings – plus reindeer sausage – available. The specialty pies include one embellished with grilled garlic chicken, onions, and tomatoes, on a ranch dressing base, topped with a blend of mozzarella and jack cheese.

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Home Run Inn

A longtime Chicago favorite, with nine area locations, Home Run describes its crust as “buttery, flaky.” In addition to a build-your-own option, the chain proposes such specialties as the Garlic Fireball (sausage, jalapeños, and giardiniera on a garlic butter crust), the Sweet Caliente (pepperoni, jalapeños, and pineapple), and the Double Pepperoni, with pepperoni both under and on top of the cheese.

LaRosa’s Pizzeria

Born in Cincinnati in 1954, LaRosa’s now operates about 50 pizzerias in and around that city, with more in neighboring Kentucky and Indiana. An early customer favorite, off the menu for some time but now available again, is the Original Deluxe, topped with LaRosa’s own pizza sauce, provolone, pepperoni, sausage, ground beef, green peppers, and red onions. Focaccia and flatbread variations on pizza themes are also on the menu.

Mary’s Pizza Shack

In California’s Sonoma County wine country and vicinity, local residents and visitors alike have been able to enjoy Mary’s pizza since the first Shack opened in 1959. There are now 17 locations around the area, serving pizzas with three kinds of crust – classic, thin, and thick. Serious carnivores love Toto’s Combo, “piled high with everything” – salami, pepperoni, cotto salami, linguica, Italian sausage, mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, black olives, and homemade pizza sauce. Do-it-yourself options include all the usual additions, as well as tri-color jalapeños, pesto, ranch dressing, and whole baby clams.

Pat’s Pizza

Pat’s started life as Farmsworth’s Cafe in Orono, Maine, near Bangor, evolving into Pat’s Pizza after owner Pat Farmsworth introduced pizza to his menu and it became a big hit. There are now 15 locations around the Pine Tree State. Signature pizzas include Big Pat’s (Thousand Island dressing, American cheese, “hamburg” [ground beef], onion, lettuce, and pickles) and Pastrami (pastrami and pizza cheese on a mustard base).

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Regina Pizzeria

Regina, which started in 1926 in Boston’s North End, calls itself “Boston’s Original Pizzeria.” There are now 14 branches around the Boston area, plus one each on Cape Cod and at Connecticut’s Foxwoods Resort Casino. A host of toppings are available, and specialty pizzas include a spinach and broccoli option (fresh spinach, broccoli florets, pecorino romano, mozzarella, fresh basil, and the house garlic sauce) and such seasonal choices as the currently available Sam Adams Pizza (pizza sauce house-made with Sam Adams Sam ’76 beer, garlic, shredded cabbage and carrots, mozzarella, red onion rings, and oven-roasted bratwurst, all finished with a Sam ’76 glaze). Regina is the official pizzeria of the Boston Red Sox.

Sal’s Pizza

Originating in Salem, New Hampshire, but inspired by the pizzerias of Boston’s North End, Sal’s opened in 1990. Today, there are seven locations each in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, both company-owned and franchised. A choice of 24 toppings is offered, and specialty pies include BBQ pulled pork, BBQ chicken, and chicken bacon ranch.

Sammy’s Pizza and Restaurant

Bobby Zimmerman would have been in school in Hibbing, Minnesota, when Sam Perrella opened his first pizzeria there in 1954. (Zimmerman left a few years later to become Bob Dylan.) Today, Sammy’s, which grew out of that first effort, boasts a dozen Minnesota locations, plus two in Wisconsin and one in North Dakota. Among the specialty pizzas available are the Iron Ranger (pepperoni, kosher salami, and extra cheese), the Chicken Alfredo (grilled chicken, mozzarella, parmesan, and “our cousin Bert Shomento’s famous homemade Alfredo sauce”), and the Magnificent Seven (a choice of any seven toppings).

Sizzle Pie

This small Portland, Oregon-based chain, with six Oregon locations (all but one in Portland) plus one each in Seattle and Reno, Nevada, offers “East Coast style slices and pies with a healthy blend of West Coast flair.” Though there are plenty of meaty pies (with fanciful names, like 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon, Napalm Breath, and Good Luck in Jail), vegetarian and vegan pizzas are a specialty. These are no less imaginatively named: The vegan New Maps Out of Hell combines creamy basil cashew spread, seasoned soy curls, and a choice of three fresh vegetables. A vegetarian option, Rudimentary Penne, involves vodka cream sauce, roasted garlic, goat cheese, and fresh basil.

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Two Boots

The eponymous two “boots” are the boot-shaped peninsula of Italy and the boot-shaped state of Louisiana. The first Two Boots opened in New York City’s East Village in 1987. Today, there are two locations in Manhattan, two in Brooklyn, and one each in Jersey City, New Jersey, and Nashville. (Two Los Angeles outposts have closed.) Like Sizzle Pie, Two Boots goes in for colorful pizza names. The Bayou Beast pays tribute to Louisiana, with spiced shrimp, crawfish, andouille, jalapeños, and mozzarella. The Bird, named for jazz artist Charlie “Bird” Parker, offers hot Buffalo chicken, blue cheese dressing, scallions, and jalapeños. The Emily Litella, honoring the popular “Saturday Night Live” character created by the late Gilda Radner, is made with breaded eggplant, sweet red pepper pesto, ricotta, and mozzarella.

24/7 Wall Street is a USA TODAY content partner offering financial news and commentary. Its content is produced independently of USA TODAY.

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