Just about everyone has a pizza delivered from time to time, even if we don't want to admit it. But the evidence is usually somewhere in sight: a menu or magnet hanging on the refrigerator, a coupon or two. It's almost too easy to pick up the phone after a long day and order a pie.

What arrives at your door may not be the best pizza you've ever had, but there are compensations: It's quick, it's warm--it's there.

Some neighborhoods are blessed with a small, independent pizza place that delivers. But many of us rely on what we call the Big Five--the pizza delivery companies that are most widespread in the Washington area. So we called Armand's, Domino's, Papa John's, Pizza Boli's and Pizza Hut and put them to the test. At 3 in the afternoon, we asked for pizza in it's simplest form: plain, without toppings. Sure, taste was a big part of the exercise, but there were other factors. Was it easy to order? Were our options made clear to us (crust preference, etc.)? Did they volunteer the total price or did we have to ask? And did they show up on time?


PAPA JOHN'S was a classy-looking pie that arrived good and hot within 20 minutes (they promised it within 30), with a crust that looked as if it came straight from a brick oven. We didn't quite understand the two hot chili peppers and a container of garlic sauce that came along for the ride, but they were easy to overlook. Especially since that good-looking crust turned out to taste great, too. The sauce was just right, as was the cheese. (Small cheese about $6. About 30 area locations; check the Yellow Pages for local listings.)


DOMINO'S, the national chain, was the surprise here. A pizza that every 3-year-old adores couldn't be all that good, could it? But it was. The crust didn't have much crunch, although the bottom wasn't soggy or gummy. The sauce was slightly bitter, but the right amount covered the pie. The cheese was also in proportion. And this pizza was easily the hottest on arrival. (Small cheese pizza about $8. About 140 area locations; call 1-800-DOMINOS for nearest location.)

PIZZA BOLI'S Let's face it. The biggest mistake a pizza delivery joint can make is to show up with the wrong order--but that's exactly what happened with the small cheese from Pizza Boli's. The cheese was there, but so were lots and lots of little green olives. Things went downhill from there. The crust looked crisp and puffy, but turned out to be both rubbery and somehow dry to the taste. The scant tomato sauce looked as if it had been painted on, while the cheese was tough and tasteless. And what was that stray basil leaf doing tucked among all those unfortunate olives? On the plus side, the ordering process was a snap, with options offered clearly (and slowly) and the pizza arrived in almost record time. (Small cheese about $7.50; about 30 area locations. Call 1-800-234-2654 for nearest location.)


Our little group of tasters was divided on which delivery outfit should bring up the rear. Some were convinced that the thoroughly uninteresting pie from Pizza Hut should hold pride of place as dead last. But an equal number thought Armand's sweet piecrust-like crust should move it into last place.

ARMAND'S Crust is an issue with the 24-year-old local company known for bringing Chicago-style deep-dish pies to the area. It started offering thin-crust pizzas back in 1992, but still seems a bit conflicted about the whole concept. So here's the big warning: When you call to order a pizza from Armand's, you'll get deep dish unless you specifically ask for the thin crust. You're not asked which crust you'd like and may only discover this little quirk if you happen to order a small pie with thin crust--an option that doesn't happen to exist. So we ended up with a large, thin-crust cheese pizza that arrived hot and within the promised time. It was heaped with cheese and had a good amount of sauce. But if you're not a fan of its crust, you're out of luck. (Large, thin-crust cheese about $7.74; eight locations that make deliveries in the local area. Call 202-363-6268 for nearest location.)

PIZZA HUT Remember those pizza kits in a box from Chef Boyardee? That's what the pie from Pizza Hut brought to mind. The crust tasted oddly like a Pillsbury crescent roll, and was topped with a thin wash of uninteresting sauce and some not-so-memorable cheese. A bit of a bust, although ordering it was a cinch, especially since all the various options--crust preference, carryout or delivery--were stated right up front. Medium is the smallest size, though. (Medium cheese about $10; more than 90 area locations. Check the Yellow Pages for local listings.)