“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”
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(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
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
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
Ali, I’ve been lurking here for a long, long time, so I’m finally going to leave a comment. All your posts are so inspiring and never fail to make me want to cook. Thank you.
Dear Ali: You are the best. I love your recipes and the way you take care of us so they all turn out so perfectly.
Your writing is a pleasure with bittersweet pangs. I read to the end and wanted to go straight back to the beginning.
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!
I love tacos and pizza, and having them combined in one recipe is heaven. These looks very appetizing and so delicious, this made me crave a lot just by looking at the pictures. Also I love the part where you wish for a slow luxurious husband kiss while you chop herbs, how sexy!
This looks really delicious that it made me crave for pizza. Appreciate the recipe that you shared. Can’t wait to make one.
I miss Happy Joe’s Taco Pizza. Unfortunately, the closest store to us also closed. Thank you for sharing the recipe. Will try making one at home. Hopefully, it’s going to be close to the original.
You’re pictures make me want to have a slice! I’ve never really thought about making a pizza combined with a taco topping. Thank you for the recipe, I will keep it!!
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.
I love your blog. Just started following recently and already have made many recipes that you shared. Excitd to try this one too.
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!
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!
This looks amazing! I love taco pizza! I first saw Happy Joes on a trip to the midwest and I will definitely be trying this version.
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.
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.
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
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!
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!
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.
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!
That taco pizza looks absolutely delish. I’m sure this would be a great idea for dinner for us someday.
“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
I purchased all of the ingredients and I’ll be making it tonight 🙂
yum yum! I’ve recently just started making my own pizza for dinner instead of ordering in. love that I get to put my own toppings on it, but haven’t tried making a taco pizza yet.
So excited to try!
This looks so yummy! I would love to make this for the family!
Well, this just looks bloody amazing. I really want to get into making my own pizza. They’re one of my favourite foods and I just want to find a healthier way to eat them! Thanks for sharing this 🙂
My neighbors and I trade Friday night entertaining. We put on a movie for our kids and have wine and relax and debrief about the week. I made this for them tonight along with a big green salad. Can’t wait to make again. So special, and comforting. And EASY.
I didn’t use a pizza stone. Just well olive-oiled dough (bought prepared in a bag from TJs) on a cookie sheet pan.
Thanks for the recipe!
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.
I know this has been requested on earlier food posts, but can we get some summer no-cooking recipes? Some of us live in “vintage” apartments without AC and turning the oven on is a sauna-like experience!
I might brave the heat to make this, though, it looks delicious!
Two of my kids and hubby’s favorite dishes. This would wow them as it has their favorites in one dish. Looks delicious!
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.
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!
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.
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!
This recipe looks yummy! Love all of the textures. Would love to try and recreate this meal for the family.
You combined two of my fave things….tacos and pizza!! I need to try this, thanks!!
First of all, I love Taco and 2nd I love also Pizza. This is such a good idea to bring together our favorite food in one. Would definitely make this one at home.
Mmmm we love anything taco related. Who doesn’t? & pizza?? Yes, please!! Definitely need to try this soon, it looks delicious!
Oh my goodness this sounds absolutely super delicious!!! I can’t wait to try out this recipe for my family to enjoy!
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 ,
I love making skillet dishes, I find them quick and tasty. This one looks like a real crowd pleaser.
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.
I’ve never made a taco pizza before! This looks so creative and cool for guests coming over.
That taco pizza looks so good!! Now I’m also wishing for endless supply of it too. Lol. I really enjoyed reading this post! Interesting story and good looking food.
Oh Boy! I am definitely going to need some delicious pizza in my future! This looks incredible.
I stumbled upon your blog while looking for random recipes. I love the way you write, and looking forward to trying your recipes. Definitely a blog I’ll be following when I’m hungry… which is all the time!!
This recipe looks delicious. We don’t eat beef, so I wonder how it would taste with turkey instead.
Shouldn’t be looking at this at 12:40AM – I’m craving it now, looks SO good!!
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.
I love local pizza! My favorite pizza place here in Austin (the backspace) serves a pizza with at least 2 lbs of arugula on it, and it really can’t be beat. I crave that every. Single. Day.
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!!
Everyone of your recipes excites us! Beautiful pictures… Lovely detailed recipes…. We would love to feature them sometime
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?!
So weird this was posted today. I made dough late last night and it’s currently at home rising! It’s my first time trying a no-knead method, but I’ve only heard the best things! My mom’s tip about a perfectly charred pizza? If you don’t have a pizza peel (which I don’t), you can also just use the back of a cookie sheet sprinkled with cornmeal… works exactly the same!
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 !
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!
This looks divine! I’m more of a “warmer-upper” of Trader Joe’s frozen pizzas, or if I attempt to make my own, I cheat and use pita bread. If I’m feeling especially lazy, I just pick up the phone and order one. But this? This makes me want to give homemade a try! Great post!
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.
I made this pizza for dinner tonight, and my family loved it! I had to make my pizza slightly rectangular-shaped because i couldn’t find my pizza pan (and don’t have a cast-iron skillet) Nevertheless, the square pizza was very well-appreciated by the whole family.
Love pizza and tacos. This looks like heaven. And you write beautifully.
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
You saved me! 😀 I have been going crazy trying out about 25 different recipes for taco pizza!!! My family was about to move out if I served them one more pizza – and then I promised this would be my last… and yours was PERFECT. I can’t thank you enough!
what else can bring World Peace if not this taco pizza 🙂
You killed me with this one, Ali. Killed me. Sure I like my homemade pizza but goddamn I miss the Happy Joes slices. Their taco pizza is the one thing I always request when I come home to Iowa.
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.
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.
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!
I’m a chronic blog “browser”, except when it comes to The Veggies. Thanks for inspiring me to read AND try new recipes!
My husband was looking over my shoulder as I was reading this….I’m now going to be going to the store for the ingredients haha. Thanks for sharing
My friends did a homemade pizza party last Halloween and it was such a hit. I think I want to try hosting the same dinner idea and this recipe seems perfect!
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.
The stars have aligned! I have all these ingredients! (When does that happen?).
Yum, this recipe looks so delicious. I can’t wait to give it a try.
Tried this last night and it was DELICIOUS!!
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!
I just LOVE your writing and sentiments and of course, recipes!
Thanks for the recipe! It was, like so many of your recipes, so much greater than the sum of its parts!
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.
This has my mouth watering! I am going to try to make this tonight. I have never had it before. Thanks for sharing!
Dinner. Tonight. Done. I’m so glad I procrastinated and stopped here before getting down to work!
What an interesting recipe to recreate. It certainly looks colourful and filling and would be a hit ar at meal.
What a surprise for my husband! This might just knock his socks off.
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!
thank you. I like you.
One of the things I love about your blog is that so many of the recipes are down to earth enough that I can think about making them on weeknight. I eat dinner from your blog more than any other and this will probably be on my table within the week: it sounds fabulous.
Oh my goodness, I can’t believe I have not yet made taco pizza! This looks super fantastic!
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!
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!!
The pizza looks great, but your writing, as always, is the real reason I read your blog. Beautiful.
This perfectly combines the two things I love – tacos and pizzas. And, this looks delicious in every sense of the word.
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!
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!
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!
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
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.
You .. are all sorts of wonderful! Thank you!
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!
I made this in a flurry of inspiration last night – it’s wonderful! Thanks Ali, a year or so late. 🙂
My neighbor showed me your blog my freshman year of college (I was in a food writing class) and I’ve recently found you again, which I’m so glad about!
I was hesitant to try this because most reviews are five stars followed by “can’t wait to try!” Or “this looks amazing!” But despite that I did try it and it really is great. We are Iowa natives but live in GA and miss our taco pizza. We paired the recipe with the dough from “Sugar Spun Run- The Best Pizza Dough Recipe” and found it was very similar to Happy Joe’s. Thanks for the recipe, it’s now a new staple.