Second Helpings: National Pizza Chains

Everything you need to know about dining at national pizza chains in this week's "Second Helpings"

The weekly Chronicle feature "Second Helpings" offers readers the opportunity to sample tasty, bite-sized restaurant listings compiled from new and previous reviews, guides, and poll results. This week's entries were updated by Chronicle Cuisines writer Greg Beets. When you need quick, reliable information about Austin eateries, check here.

Domino's

14 Austin locations

Various hours

Having turned pizza delivery into a widely emulated science, Domino's challenge in the new millennium is to differentiate itself from its many competitors. To this end, the chain has begun offering "Italian Original" specialty pizzas such as the chicken grill, which features marinated chicken along with red, green, and yellow peppers. Domino's pizza comes on three different kinds of crust: classic hand-tossed, crunchy thin crust, and ultimate deep dish.

Pizza Hut

25 Austin locations, 444-4444 (citywide delivery)

Various hours

No one would ever argue that Pizza Hut's pizza is all that, yet something about their distinctive, buttery crust sets the Dallas-based chain's pies apart as objects of singular craving. Their personal pan pizzas are now ubiquitous in our nation's airports, making a quick, inexpensive meal possible even on a 30-minute layover. Pizza Hut's Big New Yorker Pizza attempts to approximate New York street pizza with a sizable 16-inch pie.

Papa John's

16 Austin locations

Various hours

Although an unprecedented court decision recently forced Papa John's to stop using the ad slogan "Better Ingredients, Better Pizza," many pizza delivery junkies swear by Papa John's thick pizza sauce made with vine-ripened tomatoes. For my money, though, the chain's most distinguished menu item is their tasty garlic dipping sauce, which comes in little packets with every pizza.

CiCi's Pizza

6 Austin locations

Daily, buffet hours 11am-9:30pm; takeout hours vary

Epitomizing the old adage that "quantity is a quality," CiCi's stuffs you with all the pizza, pasta, breadsticks, and iceberg lettuce-based salad you can eat for the unbelievably low sum of $3.99. Bring the toddlers, too, because all kids 3 and under eat for free. You can definitely find better pizza, but you'll pay a lot more than $3.99 for it.

Little Caesar's

6 Austin locations

Various hours

Ever since they began backing away from the novel "Pizza! Pizza!" concept and ad campaign, Michigan-based Little Caesar's has been suffering from a big identity crisis. Their presence in Austin has dwindled considerably in recent years. Nevertheless, they still champion value by selling in bulk (even by the foot, in some cases) pizza that holds its own against the other big chains.

Mr. Gatti's

21 Austin locations, 459-2222 (citywide delivery)

Various hours

From one Austin restaurant founded by a retired Air Force officer in 1964, Mr. Gatti's has grown into a chain of more than 200 locations nationwide. While quality varies greatly from location to location, a good Gatti's can turn out chewy, cheese-heavy pizzas that are quite delectable by chain standards.

GattiTown

7101 Hwy. 71 W. (at the "Y" in Oak Hill), 301-7777

Mon-Thu, 4-9pm; Fri-Sat, 11am-10pm; Sun, 11am-9pm

From the folks who brought you Mr. Gatti's, GattiTown is a Chuck E. Cheese-style pizza arcade that provides extra good value by serving all foodstuffs buffet-style for $6 (those under 13 or over 59 pay less). The pizza, pasta, and salad bar are all a cut above Mr. Gatti's usual fare, and the menu also includes new non-Gatti items like spinach lasagna.

Chuck E. Cheese Pizza

502 W. Ben White, 441-9681

8038 Burnet, 451-0296

17001 FM 1325, 385-2575

Sun-Thu, 10am-10pm; Fri-Sat, 10am-11pm

Not many people realize this, but pizza is not the main attraction at Chuck E. Cheese. What they serve is adequate but somewhat overpriced to compensate for all the kid-friendly animatronic fun. If you're planning a birthday party, be sure to check your mail for coupons offering discounts on party packages that include pizza, soft drinks, and game room tokens. And if you book your party online at www.chuckecheese.com, you'll receive $5 in free tokens.

Peter Piper Pizza

801 E. William Cannon, 444-4143

13376 Hwy. 183 N., 257-9100

2000 S. I-35, in Round Rock, 248-0026

Sun-Thu, 10am-10pm; Fri-Sat, 10am-11pm

Peter Piper Pizza is now Chuck E. Cheese's main competition for that lucrative family-pizza-and-fun emporium dollar. Though not quite as over-the-top as Chuck E. Cheese, most kids should find plenty to do in Peter Piper's spacious gaming arcades, complete with redemption centers. Oh yeah, they also sell pizza, salad, and chicken wings there.

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