Review: Lou Malnati's And Portillo's Frozen Deep Dish Pizza Collab Offers A Welcome Taste Of Chicago

Chicago is a beacon for numerous iconic experiences. Whether it's basking in the nostalgia of classic mobster films or soaking up the vibrant energy at Wrigley or Soldier Field, the city pulsates with lively adventures. But to many, the true heart of the Windy City is its rich, craveable foods. Meandering through its bustling streets, you can savor cheese and caramel popcorn from Garrett, nab a classic Chicago-style hot dog from numerous street carts, or plunge into the depth of a deep-dish pizza that is as much a hearty meal as it is a commitment of time and stomach space, given the formidable size of these savory pies.

For those who've taken in the sights of Chicago, hopefully, you've encountered at least one of these delights, stepped into a Portillo's restaurant, or even snagged a pizza from Lou Malnati's. Both undisputed icons of Chicago's food scene, Lou Malnati's is renowned for its deep-dish pizzas while Portillo's has carved its niche with hot dogs and scrumptious Italian beef sandwiches, generously bathed in juice and adorned with peppers or even spicy giardiniera. Truly, the only real downfall of grabbing a pizza or Italian beef in the city is that you can only eat one at a time. However, Lou Malnati's is changing that by bringing back its limited-time pizza that promises to alleviate this culinary conundrum: the Lou Malnati's x Portillo's Italian Beef Deep Dish Pizza.

What's special about the Lou and Portillo's pizza collaboration?

The collaboration between Lou Malnati's and Portillo's Pizza is a harmonious fusion of culinary icons, bringing together the best of Chicago's food scene. When you think of Portillo's, the succulent Italian beef sandwich immediately springs to mind. And Lou Malnati's? This Chicago-style deep dish pizza is nothing short of legendary. Now, imagine a world where these two titans come together. That's precisely what this collaboration delivers.

Offering two distinct varieties, patrons have the choice between a pizza crowned with sweet peppers or one adorned with giardiniera. Both are layered with that signature Italian beef from Portillo's. The primary distinction, aside from the type of pepper, is the unique flavor profile and spice level each version offers. Beneath these toppings, the foundation of the pizza remains unmistakably Lou Malnati's: a crust so thick it's almost pie-like, generous portions of mozzarella cheese, a rich and tangy tomato sauce, Romano cheese, and those classic Italian seasonings like oregano which make it so memorable.

But the magic doesn't stop with the ingredients. What makes this collaboration truly remarkable is the dining experience itself. As you take a bite, there's an initial crunch from the crust, followed by the gooey mozzarella and savory beef, all punctuated by the chosen pepper's zest. It's a journey that encapsulates the essence of both establishments, blending them into a delightful gastronomic symphony.

Where can you find the pizza and how much does it cost?

For those fortunate enough to be near a Lou Malnati's in cities like Chicago, Phoenix, Indianapolis, or Milwaukee, the coveted pizza is within arm's reach. Simply swing by your local Lou Malnati's and you'll find these special collaborative pizzas waiting in the freezer section.

However, if you're situated outside these areas, don't despair because Tastes of Chicago has got your back. This company delivers a slice of the Windy City right to your doorstep. Opt for its pizza pack offerings, and you can sample each variety: two pizzas for $76.99, four pizzas at $119.99, or the six-pizza pack priced at $139.99. Notably, these rates cover standard shipping, ensuring your pizzas arrive in pristine condition. They're nestled securely with dry ice, so whether you're eager to bake them immediately or save them for a later date, they're ready to transport you straight to Chicago's bustling streets.

But don't rush through the Tastes of Chicago website — it's a Chicagoian'sVolfan dream. Beyond the collaboration pizza, you'll discover an array of Lou Malnati's creations, from its classic deep-dish to cracker-thin, crispy crusts. Plus, the site offers Portillo's Italian beef kits and even Chicago-style hot dog kits, ensuring your craving for Chicago's best is always satisfied. These pies will be available through the end of the year, so they make great additions to your holiday celebrations. 

Nutritional content

The Lou Malnati's and Portillo's pizza collaboration offers two unique varieties, each boasting its own set of nutritional attributes. The Sweet Peppers variety, when divided into its respective six servings, boasts 370 calories per slice. Within this slice, you'll get 26 grams of fat, 35 milligrams of cholesterol, 600 milligrams of sodium, 29 grams of carbohydrates, and an impressive 16 grams of protein. As for vitamins and minerals, this variant provides 20% of the recommended daily intake for calcium, 10% for iron, and 4% for potassium.

On the other hand, the Hot Giardiniera variety, apportioned into five slices per pizza, comes in slightly richer at 440 calories per slice. The fat content remains stable at 26 grams, but it registers a tad higher in cholesterol, measuring 45 milligrams. Interestingly, it's a touch lower on the sodium front with 430 milligrams and offers 33 grams of carbohydrates and 19 grams of protein per serving. In terms of vitamins, both pizzas contribute 20% of your daily calcium needs. However, the Giardiniera variety provides a slightly higher iron content at 15% of daily requirements and 6% for potassium.

It's worth noting that the Sweet Peppers variety doesn't quite live up to its name in terms of flavor; rather than a pronounced sweetness, it predominantly exudes a robust pepper flavor. Many pizza aficionados, like us, will find that two or three slices make for a hearty and fulfilling meal.

How does the pizza compare to other pizzas from Lou?

When comparing the Lou Malnati's and Portillo's collaborative pizza with other offerings from Lou Malnati's, an important, but rather obvious, distinction emerges — the incorporation of Italian beef. This key ingredient offers a signature flavor to the pizzas, accentuated by the spicy giardiniera or sweet peppers and hints of au jus. Yet, for those who enjoy sausage pizzas, this innovative creation might feel quite familiar. Rather than encountering sliced or crumbled sausage, you'll enjoy finely shredded beef that mimics the texture and experience of sausage in a novel, but still delicious, manner.

Flavor-wise, this pizza offers an inventive twist on the conventional pizza taste. Yet when it comes to the texture and the quintessential feel of a deep-dish pizza, it nails it completely. The resemblance is so uncanny to a fresh Lou Malnati's pizza that even staunch Chicago pizza connoisseurs would find it a delightful and satisfying counterpart.

How does the beef flavor compare to a beef sandwich from Portillo's?

When ordering an Italian beef sandwich from Portillo's, one of our favorite ways to order it is dipped. This means that after the beef is on the roll, the whole thing takes a dive into a vat of au jus. Naturally, creating this iconic sandwich experience on a pizza canvas is no small feat. So, instead of replicating the sandwich's texture, the pizza leans into capturing its essence in flavor.

However, there's a subtle distinction. While unmistakable hints of the au jus can be detected in the pizza, it doesn't dominate the palate as prominently as one might expect. In fact, in the giardiniera version, it's the spicy pickled vegetables that command attention. They emerge as the stars, relegating the au jus to a supporting role, enriching the backdrop but not overshadowing the spicy zest of the giardiniera. In the sweet peppers variety, we felt the beef had more of a presence and wasn't quite as overshadowed.

Pizza taste test

Following the provided cooking instructions to the letter, we eagerly awaited the result, and the pizzas did not disappoint. Often, frozen pizzas just don't seem to get anywhere near the taste, feel, and texture of a freshly made alternative, but these pizzas defy that stereotype. The crust strikes a delicious balance between crispiness and suppleness: It's robust and crunchy, mirroring the desired qualities of a quintessential deep-dish crust, yet tender enough to simplify the slicing process.

As for the flavors, they come together impeccably. While melding Italian beef with pizza toppings might sound ambitious or even odd to some, the reality is anything but. It's deliciously cohesive and doesn't taste out of place in the slightest. Giardiniera is one of our favorite pizza toppings, so to see it included on a pizza is a welcome addition. When pitted against the sweet peppers version, we leaned decisively towards the giardiniera, despite its robust spiciness. It's not overwhelming; just keep some water on hand.

Interestingly, an occasional qualm we've had with fresh Lou Malnati's pizzas is the crust's tendency to be a tad moist at its base. However, this issue was noticeably absent with this frozen version. The meticulous instructions advise you to release the pizza from its cooking tin, spritz a hint of oil, and then return it back to the tin for the cooking process, effectively preventing that soggy bottom problem.

Verdict: Should you pick up this pizza?

The answer is a resounding yes. This culinary creation masterfully encapsulates the quintessence of an Italian beef sandwich within the confines of a deep-dish pizza, offering a seamless fusion of two Chicago staples. Yet, your ultimate flavor choice should hinge on your affinity (or aversion) to spiciness. If the mere thought of spice sends shivers down your spine, then we recommend gravitating towards the sweet peppers variety. Conversely, for those who love spice, the spicy giardiniera version will be perfect.

For the undecided, or those who straddle the spicy divide, opt for one of each. Given that Tastes of Chicago doesn't offer pizza shipments in quantities smaller than two, sampling both varieties is not just practical but highly advisable. And if you're fortunate enough to reside in proximity to a Lou Malnati's offering this pizza, seize the opportunity: Snag one of these pizzas and bring the other home for dinner. The experience shouldn't be missed, especially by those who truly love or dearly miss Chicago specialties. Be sure to plan ahead, of course, as you'll need 40 to 45 minutes of cooking time. But after that, it's pure Chicago bliss.