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Iowa’s Fascination With Taco Pizza + Recipe

It’s the food pairing you didn’t know needed to be done: Pizza and tacos. Funny thing is, this unusual matchup with its legion of fans originated in the Quad Cities. Legend has it, Lawrence Joseph “Happy Joe” Whitty invented taco pizza for his shop, Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream Parlor in Bettendorf, Iowa, in 1972.

Why combine pizza and tacos? We may never know.

What does it taste like? That, we can answer. There’s a recipe, and a few pizza shops still serving it if you want to taste the creation and not have to do the dishes.

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What is in a taco pizza?

Taco pizza is essentially pizza topped with your favorite taco toppings.

Traditionally, that calls for pizza crust topped with refried bean and tomato blend, cooked ground beef, and all the taco trimmings your can dream of (cheese, salsa, lettuce, sour cream) and then, for a crunch, some crushed tortilla chips.

There’s no definitive type of crust to use, but it seems the current preference is thin crust.

I like how Ann Friedman described her hometown favorite, the Taco Joe from Happy Joe’s, with great detail:

“The taco pizza is a textural experience. It’s crispy on the bottom and puffed around the edges, blistered with a thin layer of tomato paste. Above that, refried beans, cheese, and tomato sauce melt together into a gooey sameness. Then there’s seasoned ground beef and sausage (although you can also order it without the meat, which I always do) topped with crunchy lettuce and cubed tomato. And, over everything, a blanket of crispy slightly crushed tortilla chips. These chips are the subject of much local speculation. They might be Doritos “taco” flavor or perhaps a generic “nacho cheese flavored chip.” Online, some have wondered if they are a proprietary item made just for Happy Joe’s, but that theory doesn’t hold up. A regional pizza chain is not manufacturing its own flavored tortilla chips. (Update: The chips are, the chain confirms, “a proprietary item made just for Happy Joe’s.”)”

Where is the best taco pizza in Iowa?

Declaring the “best” of anything is rather bold, but there are a few restaurants and gas stations – yes gas stations – that consistently show up on “best of” list for taco pizza. Here they are, in no particular order:

  • Casey’s, various locations throughout the state
  • The OG, Happy Joe’s at 2430 Spruce Hills Drive, Bettendorf, and now there are several franchise locations
  • Zipp’s Pizzaria, 301 Audubon St., Adair (voted No. 1 on a 2016 Travel Iowa poll)
  • Pizza Counter, 610 Veterans Memorial Highway and 225 W. Broadway, both in Council Bluffs

A few resources I referred to: Best taco pizza in Des Moines, Iowa and Taco Pizza

Classic Iowa Taco Pizza

Everything you love about tacos but on a pizza.
5 from 1 vote
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 2 12-inch pizzas


  • 2 12-inch 2 – 12 inch premade pizza crusts (thin crust is best)
  • 1 lb Lean ground beef, browned
  • 1 oz Taco seasoning packet 
  • Water (according to taco seasoning packet instructions)
  • ½ cup Refried beans
  • ½ cup Taco sauce
  • 2 cups Shredded mozzarella, divided
  • 2 cups Shredded Monterey jack cheese, divided
  • 2 cups Iceberg lettuce, chopped, divided
  • ½ cup Diced fresh tomatoes, divided
  • 4 handfuls Nacho cheese tortilla chips, crushed, divided
  • 2 cups Shredded cheddar cheese, divided


  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (or the appropriate temperature for your premade crust). 
  • In a large skillet over medium heat brown ground beef until no longer pink. Season with a packet of taco seasoning, and add water if necessary. Remove from heat. 
  • In a small bowl mix together refried beans and taco sauce. 
  • Top with half of the taco meat. Sprinkle 1 cup of mozzarella and monterey jack cheese.
  • Bake for 10-15 minutes (or according to the crust directions). 
  • Remove from oven and top with 1 cup lettuce, ¼ cup tomatoes, 2 handfuls of crushed nacho cheese tortilla chips, and 1 cup cheddar. Enjoy immediately. 
Keyword Pizza
Recipe Rating

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Brian Jansen

Tuesday 27th of June 2023

Doesn't get much better than a Happy Joe's Taco Joe pizza. Casey's is a great alternative if no Happy Joe's in your area. Many locations have closed in recent years.

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