Happy Joe’s Taco Pizza (An Iowa Classic)

June 15, 2018
Happy Joe's Taco Pizza (An Iowa Classic) - A pizza with all of your favorite taco toppings. A great excuse to eat a whole pizza pie all by yourself.

“When I was ten years old, I wished for world peace, no capital punishment, and an endless supply of taco pizza or maybe pepperoni nachos, it was really a toss-up”

Happy Joe's Taco Pizza (An Iowa Classic) - A pizza with all of your favorite taco toppings. A great excuse to eat a whole pizza pie all by yourself.

(I smile into the phone at my son)

— —

In my 40s, I wish for Saturday morning trips to the farmers market, lunch dates with my husband, and the secret to making a loaf cake that isn't too brown on top but is cooked perfectly through in the middle

I wish for a kitty purring on my pillow

I wish for a slow, luxurious husband-kiss delivered to the side of my neck while I chop herbs

I wish for a summer filled with berry picking and warm galettes, off-beat salads, and the occasional cast-iron skillet pizza

I wish to sit at the kitchen table, something sparkly in hand, breathing deeply, staring at the wall, thinking about nothing, while my husband does the dishes

I wish that I would take the puppies for a walk, instead of the other way around .. as it was this evening

I wish for a backyard barbeque with friends, an afternoon with my camera, Playdoh dates with my grandson, and breakfast at a small-town diner

I wish for those I love to feel happy and safe

Happy Joe's Taco Pizza (An Iowa Classic) - A pizza with all of your favorite taco toppings. A great excuse to eat a whole pizza pie all by yourself.

Last Tuesday at 6 pm, I try for these dreams

But there are some issues

My husband is out of town, nothing sounds better than a cold glass of water on this terribly hot day.  This week alone .. not-done-enough loaf cake – 3 .. me – 0

I turn away from it all to stir a skillet of taco meat.  My world fills with chili, paprika, cumin.  The juices reduce down and thicken.  I turn off the heat and reach for the dough

I hear the words of a friend who taught me how to make a great dough, so many years ago

“Don't move your body, instead, move the dough.  Don't overhandle it.  Add a bit more flour.  Move quickly.  Look at the beautiful marbling of the butter.  Isn't dough the coolest thing?  Should we make our initials with the scraps?”

I form the dough into the skillet, covering it with a refried bean/taco sauce slurry, top with as much cheese as possible, and pinch off a piece of dough that no one will ever miss

— —

“Mom, do you remember all of the birthday parties we went to at Happy Joe's when I was a kid?”

(Of course, how could I ever forget)

I call and order delivery .. so they can have taco pizza for dinner too

Happy Joe's Taco Pizza (An Iowa Classic) - A pizza with all of your favorite taco toppings. A great excuse to eat a whole pizza pie all by yourself. Happy Joe's Taco Pizza (An Iowa Classic) - A pizza with all of your favorite taco toppings. A great excuse to eat a whole pizza pie all by yourself.

I had my first Happy Joe's taco pizza when I was in high school

One night after a football game, a bunch of friends bundled up in letter jackets, mittens and scarves found ourselves trying to pick from an assortment of choices on the menu.  A parade of pizzas commenced until close

When the kids were young, and during those years, I did a fair bit of traveling for work.

Returning home was never a wholly pleasant proposition, no matter how much I loved the town we lived in, our cozy starter home, or my trusty little kitchen that always ready and waiting.  But just when my eye was at its wandering worst, I always found a compelling reason for renewing my vows to Ames.  A certain family of four, known for ordering taco pizza on Friday nights

Founded in 1972 by Joseph “Happy Joe” Whitty, they're an Iowa staple.  In fact, their flagship location in Bettendorf was the first restaurant (ever) to have taco pizza on its menu.  It quickly became (and remains) their best-selling pizza

Everyone was sad to see our Happy Joe's close in 2010 after a flood, and I hadn't thought much about it since.  That is until I read Ann Friedman's recent tribute in Bon Appetit

A crust baked with a thin layer of sauce made from refried beans, taco, and pizza sauces.  Topped with taco meat, tomatoes, onions, cheese, nacho chips, and lettuce.  There's truly nothing like it



~ Adapted from Sweetie Petitti

4.9 from 29 reviews
Happy Joe's Taco Pizza (An Iowa Classic)
  • 1 dough ball (gluten-free if you're avoiding gluten)
  • ½ cup refried beans (best to find the kind that is smooth)
  • ¼ cup Taco Sauce (this isn't salsa)
  • ¼ cup pizza sauce
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 packet taco seasoning
  • mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • colby jack cheese, shredded
  • shredded lettuce
  • chopped tomatoes
  • taco Doritos (or any cheesy nacho chip)
  1. Preheat oven to 425 deg F
  2. Brown the ground beef, drain fat.
  3. Add taco seasoning with ¾ cup water.
  4. When it is cooked through, remove from heat and let cool slightly. (I only used only part of the meat for my pizza. I like to refrigerate the rest for taco salads during the week)
  5. Stretch your crust until they are the desired thinness
  6. Mix taco sauce, refried beans, and pizza sauce together.
  7. Spread over the crust
  8. Top with a mozzarella, then taco meat, and Colby Jack.
  9. Bake until cheese is bubbly and crust is golden (about 10-15 minutes)
  10. Let sit for a few minutes to allow cheese to set.
  11. Then cover the pie with lettuce, tomatoes and cheesy nacho chips (crush them up).
  12. Serve with additional taco sauce and sour cream

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  • Reply Mary Burris June 15, 2018 at 12:02 pm

    Now this is a recipe that I can get behind! I do enjoy a good pizza, and combining this with a taco topping sounds divine. Lately, I’ve been on a kick of chicken topped pizza, so this would be a welcome change. Hope the husband hurries home!

  • Reply Jhilmil Bhansali June 16, 2018 at 8:44 pm

    Wow Ali, this taco pizza sounds so amazing, I still remember my drools over taco’s and nacho’s when I was a lil munchkin and I’m seeing the same phase of my son now. Bean curry over it seems a great option. Must Try recipe.

  • Reply Cristina June 17, 2018 at 2:15 pm

    I’ve never heard of or tried Taco Pizza but it sounds RIGHT up my street. The crunchiness of the nachos on the pizza … yum!

  • Reply Michele Dennis June 17, 2018 at 9:57 pm

    I am so excited to try this recipe out! I have a new gluten free pizza crust recipe that I haven’t tried yet, so this is perfect timing!

  • Reply robin rue June 18, 2018 at 5:47 am

    You put two of my all time favorite meals into one and I love you for it. I canNOT wait to make this because my whole family is going to flip over it.

  • Reply Alli Smith June 18, 2018 at 6:05 am

    This is one recipe the entire family will enjoy! It’s perfect for game night or movie night. I’ve never had a taco pizza before so I’m excited to try it.

  • Reply Candy June 18, 2018 at 6:27 am

    Growing up this was the pizza everyone want d to eat. Here in Illinois where we live it has bottomed out. We still think it is a delicious pizza

  • Reply kim June 18, 2018 at 7:04 am

    I’ve made a taco pizza before, but I have to say this one looks so much better! Can’t wait to try your version!

  • Reply Akamatra June 18, 2018 at 7:19 am

    I can’t begin to tell you how comfort food can better my disposition. This sounds like a great way to blow my diet to pieces, pizza pieces, lol!

  • Reply Jeanette June 18, 2018 at 7:34 am

    Food can bring back such nostalgia! There are so many foods that I eat when I was a kid that I forgot about. Then somebody make something and oh my gosh it brings me back. This one looks delicious I don’t think of ever heard of it but I am definitely going to try it.

  • Reply Laura Dove June 18, 2018 at 8:49 am

    This looks absolutely AMAZING! It is literally my idea of the perfect dish, I love pizza, and tacos, but have never attempted them together! I am so making this!

  • Reply Angela Ricardo Bethea June 18, 2018 at 9:52 am

    That taco pizza looks absolutely delish. I’m sure this would be a great idea for dinner for us someday.

  • Reply Bohemian Babushka June 18, 2018 at 10:13 am

    “Playdoh date with my grandson.” Oh how Babushka enjoys those too!! Bet we both would like your taco pizza recipe too. Gracias for sharing. BB2U

  • Reply Sara Welch June 18, 2018 at 1:27 pm

    This looks so yummy! I would love to make this for the family!

  • Reply Ann Snook-Moreau June 18, 2018 at 1:58 pm

    I tried taco pizza once and it was amazing! It’s so fun to look back on happy food memories . . . my favorite is of this one pizza place where my friends and I would go for lunch on the last day of school.

  • Reply Chubskulit Rose June 18, 2018 at 3:31 pm

    Two of my kids and hubby’s favorite dishes. This would wow them as it has their favorites in one dish. Looks delicious!

  • Reply valmg @ Mom Knows It All June 18, 2018 at 4:39 pm

    That pizza looks terrific, my oldest would like it. I wish for those I love to feel happy as well, sometimes it’s hard not being able to help with that.

  • Reply Ana De- Jesus June 18, 2018 at 5:49 pm

    I love how you wish for a kitty purring on your pillow and lunch dates with your husband because to me that would be the ideal homelife that I would have.Someone to come back to with a few cats and dogs waiting to be cuddled, that would be the ultimate stress reliever. But on another note; a taco pizza is definitely up my street, especially if I make a veggie version using quorn mince that would be absolutely delicious!

  • Reply Roch June 18, 2018 at 6:34 pm

    Yum! We’ve never tried taco pizza before. It’s so sad that Happy Joe’s closed back then. Many people had memories of it.

  • Reply Tasheena June 18, 2018 at 7:29 pm

    This recipe looks yummy! Love all of the textures. Would love to try and recreate this meal for the family.

  • Reply Ricci June 19, 2018 at 1:09 am

    You combined two of my fave things….tacos and pizza!! I need to try this, thanks!!

  • Reply Brit Strawbridge June 19, 2018 at 6:41 am

    Mmmm we love anything taco related. Who doesn’t? & pizza?? Yes, please!! Definitely need to try this soon, it looks delicious!

  • Reply Daisy June 19, 2018 at 7:33 am

    Oh my goodness this sounds absolutely super delicious!!! I can’t wait to try out this recipe for my family to enjoy!

  • Reply Farrah Less June 19, 2018 at 8:10 am

    oh my this is a bomb , I always make taco at least ones a week. I would want to try this recipe for a change. it looks so delicious even in pictures ,

  • Reply Shannon Sawicki June 19, 2018 at 9:38 am

    I love making skillet dishes, I find them quick and tasty. This one looks like a real crowd pleaser.

  • Reply Elizabeth O June 19, 2018 at 10:27 am

    I love the idea of a taco pizza, that is so creative indeed. I love your wishes now you are in your 40s too, it sounds like an ideal life to me. Just perfect.

  • Reply Lisa Rios June 19, 2018 at 11:26 am

    I’ve never made a taco pizza before! This looks so creative and cool for guests coming over.

  • Reply Gomama247 June 19, 2018 at 11:56 am

    This Taco pizza is looking delicious.

  • Reply Twinspirational June 19, 2018 at 11:30 pm

    This recipe looks delicious. We don’t eat beef, so I wonder how it would taste with turkey instead.

  • Reply Jennifer L June 20, 2018 at 2:27 am

    What a beautiful list of wishes! I’m sure you’ll be able to master that perfect loaf in no time. I don’t think I’ve ever had a taco pizza before, but I love tacos so I’m already intrigued by the recipe.

  • Reply Jennifer Prince June 20, 2018 at 9:44 am

    Ok, wait. The idea of combining two of my favorite foods – tacos and pizza – is the BEST idea ever. I love it and will definitely test this out. Yum!!

  • Reply Azlin Bloor June 20, 2018 at 2:47 pm

    I loved everything about this post, Ali, from all your “I love” to the actual recipe itself. I can’t remember much of when I was 10. In my 40s, I wished for a night of uninterrupted sleep. In my early 50s now, I am finally getting that!
    The recipe is just amazing, comfort food at its best!

  • Reply Brandy June 20, 2018 at 7:09 pm

    This taco pizza looks so yummy. I love that you shared a new pizza recipe idea with me. I must give it a try on our family Friday pizza night.

  • Reply andrea June 20, 2018 at 9:25 pm

    omg this taco pizza sounds insane. i am totally up for this. and i love that you give the option of gluten-free dough to make the pizza crust

  • Reply Nati June 21, 2018 at 4:51 am

    What an amazing story! I didn’t even know taco pizza was a thing but it sounds and it looks delicious, I need to try it out.

  • Reply London Mumma June 21, 2018 at 7:53 am

    I love it when you read something it takes you back, to better times and a love of wonder and delight. Glad you found Ann’s post, bettwe for me to make Joes Taco pizza.

  • Reply Nicole June 21, 2018 at 10:01 am

    Wow this looks amazing! My son’s birthday party is this weekend and he’s love this. I’ll definitely be giving it a try. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply Chichi June 21, 2018 at 12:00 pm

    I have many had taco pizza but definitely love this and would be making it soon. This is one pizza I know my son would enjoy. He loves pizza and tacos and this is a combo of both.

  • Reply Chichi June 21, 2018 at 12:02 pm


  • Reply holly Hood June 21, 2018 at 6:57 pm

    Yum, this recipe looks so delicious. I can’t wait to give it a try.

  • Reply Esme Sy June 21, 2018 at 9:47 pm

    We have the same dream as you when you were 10 years old, difference is that’s still my dream up to now. And you certainly made it come alive with this scrumptious recipe. Now there’s going to be a very “Happy Jane” later!

  • Reply Heather June 22, 2018 at 8:26 am

    I have lived so many years without the pleasure of a taco pizza. I love tacos, and pizza is my spirit animal. I know the kids will love this recipe, but I have to decide if I’m willing to share it with them.

  • Reply Jessica June 22, 2018 at 10:16 am

    This has my mouth watering! I am going to try to make this tonight. I have never had it before. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply Nayna Kanabar June 22, 2018 at 3:34 pm

    What an interesting recipe to recreate. It certainly looks colourful and filling and would be a hit ar at meal.

  • Reply Kusum June 23, 2018 at 11:23 am

    Holy moly, that looks so tempting to make for the weekend! I mean, pizzas and tacos what’s not to like, they are only like the two best things ever!

  • Reply Becca Wilson July 1, 2018 at 2:44 pm

    This definitely looks like something my family would enjoy. Tacos and pizza should be food groups here and so having them together would be epic!

  • Reply Teresa July 5, 2018 at 1:24 pm

    Are you from Iowa? I’m from Iowa – I laughed out loud when I read the title of this post – NO ONE knows what I am talking about when I say Taco Pizza! Every birthday was celebrated with Taco Pizza from happy joes! LOVE this!!

  • Reply HilLesha July 8, 2018 at 9:43 am

    This perfectly combines the two things I love – tacos and pizzas. And, this looks delicious in every sense of the word.

  • Reply MELANIE EDJOURIAN July 8, 2018 at 10:39 am

    I’ve not been to a farmers market in ages. I did love going to those but rarely have the time at the moment. This sounds like a fun and interesting recipe. I bet I’d love it!

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