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)

Jump to Recipe

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 attractive 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

Happy Joe's Taco Pizza (An Iowa Classic)


  • 1 dough ball (gluten-free if you're avoiding gluten)
  • ½ cup refried beans (it's best to find the smooth kind)
  • 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)


  • Preheat oven to 425 deg F
  • Brown the ground beef, drain fat.
  • Add taco seasoning, along with 3/4 cup water.
  • 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)
  • Stretch your crust until they are the desired thinness
  • Mix taco sauce, refried beans, and pizza sauce together.
  • Spread over the crust
  • Top with mozzarella, then taco meat, and Colby Jack.
  • Bake until cheese is bubbly and crust is golden (about 10-15 minutes)
  • Let sit for a few minutes to allow the cheese to set.
  • Then cover the pie with lettuce, tomatoes and cheesy nacho chips (crush them up).
  • Serve with additional taco sauce and sour cream
Serves: 12
Nutrition + Show
Calories 305
Total Fat 11.3g
Saturated Fat 4.6g
Carbohydrates 30.3g
Fiber 3.4g
Sugars 1.4g
Protein 19.5g
Print This Recipe


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

    5 stars
    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

    5 stars
    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 Simerbir Singh June 17, 2018 at 11:27 am

    5 stars
    I love your blog. Just started following recently and already have made many recipes that you shared. Excitd to try this one too.

  • 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

    5 stars
    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 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 can NOT wait to make this because my whole family is going to flip over it.

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

    5 stars
    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

    5 stars
    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

    5 stars
    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

    5 stars
    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 Angie June 18, 2018 at 9:52 am

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

  • Reply Brandy June 18, 2018 at 10:13 am

    5 stars
    “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

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

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

    5 stars
    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

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

  • Reply Val June 18, 2018 at 4:39 pm

    5 stars
    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 Rochelle June 18, 2018 at 6:34 pm

    4 stars
    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 Karen Morse June 18, 2018 at 7:07 pm

    5 stars
    I love this, it’s really nice to be able to recreate a favorite, especially a dish that reminds you of so many precious memories. It looks amazing and perfect for parties and get togethers!

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

    5 stars
    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 June 19, 2018 at 6:41 am

    5 stars
    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 June 19, 2018 at 8:10 am

    5 stars
    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

    5 stars
    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

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

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

    5 stars
    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

    5 stars
    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

    5 stars
    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 Samantha June 20, 2018 at 11:58 am

    5 stars
    Everyone of your recipes excites us! Beautiful pictures… Lovely detailed recipes…. We would love to feature them sometime

  • Reply Liz June 20, 2018 at 12:19 pm

    You know what? I am actually *always* looking for another pizza recipe because I still haven’t found the mother of all taco pizza recipes. This looks hopeful, especially with the comment/recipe from the person who used to work at Happy Joes. How cool is that?!

  • Reply Sayanti June 20, 2018 at 1:19 pm

    5 stars
    Pizza is my all time favorite but I love it when someone makes it for me. Many people find making a pizza so effortless while I even struggle to make a sandwich on my own. I have to look for someone who can make this pizza for me, lol !

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

    5 stars
    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 Emma June 20, 2018 at 9:24 pm

    Love pizza and tacos. This looks like heaven. And you write beautifully.

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

    5 stars
    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 Lindsey 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 Holly June 21, 2018 at 6:57 pm

    5 stars
    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

    5 stars
    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 Deb June 21, 2018 at 11:56 pm

    I just LOVE your writing and sentiments and of course, recipes!

  • 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 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 Polly June 25, 2018 at 6:23 pm

    5 stars
    Oh my goodness, I can’t believe I have not yet made taco pizza! This looks super fantastic!

  • Reply Becca 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 Prerna July 6, 2018 at 4:36 pm

    The pizza looks great, but your writing, as always, is the real reason I read your blog. Beautiful.

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

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

  • Reply Melanie July 8, 2018 at 10:39 am

    5 stars
    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!

  • Reply Sheila July 23, 2018 at 11:33 am

    I just dug deep into your archives to find a chocolate chip cookie recipe I recalled making. For some reason, our family cannot agree on cookies, but the New York Times recipe you adapted made everyone happy. Sifting through several years of blogs to find the recipe made me realize what an incredibly complex, rich, delicious, wondrous story you have already lived!

  • Reply Noelle Lynne September 26, 2018 at 4:03 am

    I’ve been reading your stunning blog for quite a while but have never left a comment. Your writing reminds me of everything that I love about food and also about life. You inspire me so much so thanks to you!

  • Reply Doug October 25, 2018 at 8:31 pm

    4 stars
    I worked at Happy Joe’s in the 70’s (yes, THAT long ago) and made thousands of pounds of pizza crust dough. The Recipe is etched into my brain and will never leave to make room for something else:

    42 lbs high gluten flour
    28 oz vegetable shortning
    1 pound cake yeast (Red Star)
    1 pound pre-mixed package of mystery ingredients (mostly sugar, some salt)
    Mix dry ingredients in giant Hobart mixer fitted with dough hook
    Add 1 gallon water
    Mix more
    Add 2-to 3 gallons more water a quart at a time. This amount varied drastically depending on weather, humidity and season. The end product needs to be stiff, like play-dough. Heavier than normal bread dough.
    When mixed, put into large garbage-can type plastic container with lid. set out a room temperature for about 8 hours.
    This will have risen, often pushing the lid off the container. At that time punch it down and place it into the walk-in cooler overnight.
    In the morning, punch down again and cut into quarters.
    Roll, roll, roll (with machine) until it is about 1/4 inch thick, x 18 inches wide x 6 feet long. Add flour as needed to keep from sticking on tools and rollers.
    The rolled dough then needs to be “relaxed” or gently raised and lowered in sections a dozen or more times. Add flour
    Cut rounds the proper diameter, gather leftover dough, re-roll and recut.
    repeat with remaining and then do this all day long.

    Recipe may be reduced according to need, keeping quantities the same proportional ratio.

    This is a medium crust. Not thin like some are today and not thick crust either. Actually quite good. These were baked directly on the pizza oven bottom (which was concrete) using cornmeal as a gliding agent to keep from sticking. Check occasionally and pop any bubbles that start to rise up. Usually about 500 to 550 degrees.

  • Reply Matthew Irons March 17, 2019 at 12:17 pm

    5 stars
    As an Iowa native I can attest to the tastiness of this pizza! I recommend also trying the Happy Joe’s Special Pizza, topped with sauerkraut and canadian bacon. Sounds odd but it works!

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