How to make a perfect Taco Bell Mexican pizza

Taco Bell introduced the Mexican pizza in 1988 — a unique mix of two different styles, you could call it the first "fusion" dish to hit the mainstream and really stick. The Mexican pizza underwent a few changes throughout the years but at the heart of it the formula remains the same. Can we make a Mexican pizza at home? You bet we can. It's a lot easier than you imagine and it's something you'll undoubtedly make again.

Gather your ingredients

Here's what you need to make your own Taco Bell Mexican pizza: Tortilla shells, ground beef, onion powder, garlic powder, cocoa powder, chili powder, smoked paprika, cornstarch, water, red enchilada sauce, a can of diced green chilies, refried beans, mozzarella cheese, cheddar cheese, pepper jack cheese, and a tomato. The full ingredients list is at the end of this article, along with a step-by-step recipe.

What is the Mexican pizza?

If you've had a Taco Bell Mexican pizza before, but if you haven't had one in a while, you may be surprised to see it's undergone a few changes. The dish no longer features black olives, and it now comes cut into four "pizza" slices. It's basically done as a Chicago style pizza, with a "stuffing" in the middle of meat and beans, and a layer on top of sauce, cheese, and tomatoes. The tricky part is the sauce, and the easy part is the inside. Let's start easy.

We're making taco meat again

This is our third time making Taco Bell meat, so we've got this down to a science. If this is your first crack at reading one of these, here's the gist: Taco Bell's meat is only 88 percent beef, so we need a filler to "stretch" it out. That filler is oats. It works, and you can't taste any oat flavor at all. Just as before, the ingredients are a half-pound of ground beef, and one-eighth of a cup of oats. The spices come next: one tablespoon of smoked paprika, garlic powder and onion powder each, three tablespoons of chili powder, a tablespoon of cocoa powder (for color, not for chocolaty goodness), a cup of water, and two tablespoons of cornstarch. Tastes just like Taco Bell's 88 percent beef, 100 percent of the time.

Which three cheeses?

Taco bell uses three cheeses to make their pizza, and one seems obvious even though you'd never expect it. In addition to cheddar and pepper jack (which they officially refer to as "Monterey pepper jack"), the Bell goes a bit more traditional than you'd think; mozzarella. Just looking at the Mexican pizza you can see that there's more white cheese than orange, and the bite of the pepper jack is minimal.

Tortillas

There are too many shapes and sizes for tortilla shells today. The one you want is a soft taco shell — not the fajita, which is a little larger than what Taco Bell uses. Of course, you can make this as big as you'd like and use whatever you want, but if you want it like Taco Bell, go with soft taco shells.  

Tomatoes

I went into great detail last time about the Taco Bell tomatoes. The short version is that you can use whatever you want. Just make sure you get a good dicing of a fresh tomato for this.

Refried beans

We're not reinventing the wheel. Making homemade refried beans is something you can do from scratch — buying whole beans, soaking them, cooking them… it can be time-consuming. Of course you can just suck it up and buy a can of refried beans. Time is money, and the effort to replicate Taco Bell's beans from scratch isn't worth it; just buy a can of their stuff.  Take a can and heat it up however you'd like.

The Mexican pizza sauce

The key to the Mexican pizza is the sauce. It tastes like a cross between pizza sauce and a salsa. They do call it "pizza sauce" — which at its base is simply tomatoes and sugar. We're going to start with red enchilada sauce, then we'll add a little more flavor to make it just right. Most of what we need will be already in the red enchilada sauce, so we just need to give it an extra kick. To a can of that, add a teaspoon each of sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, and a teaspoon of the juice from a can of green chilis. Taco Bell uses diced chilis, but since we're making such a small amount there's no use in trying to take two little diced chilis and mincing them up to nothingness to add them here.  

Put all that into a small pot and warm on a medium-low setting to combine the flavors. We just want to bring everything together, not boil it. If it starts to bubble, lower the heat to a simmer.  

Cook time

Let's get the meat going. Take all the ingredients except the cornstarch and throw that into a pan on medium. You can dump them all in at once, including the water. The advantage of cooking raw, twice-grinded meat in water is that it will break up into even smaller pieces, and will resemble what Taco Bell has going on. Doesn't it look delicious? Yea, well, don't fret, it'll taste a lot better than it looks. Once it starts to come together, about three to four minutes into the cooking process, add the cornstarch and stir to combine. The entire cook time should be four to five minutes, depending on your stove. Let the mix come to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer to let everything tighten up. 

Cheese mix

I grate my own cheese. If you want to buy the pre-shredded stuff, have at it. You'll want a quarter-cup of mozzarella, a third of a cup of pepper jack, and a quarter-cup of cheddar. If you're shredding, it's that thin grade setting, and about 12 shreds of mozzarella, 8 of pepper jack, and 10 of cheddar. Very scientific, I know. But it works.

Prepare the shells

The shell process is a two-step procedure. In a pan heated on medium-low, cook a shell for about three minutes, and then remove it and set aside. That will be the "top" layer.  Put another shell down and cook for three minutes. That will be the bottom shell and from which we'll begin the build.

The bottom build

We need to work quickly in this build, and we're going to use the same pan to complete the dish. The first layer is the refried beans; spread those along the complete top of the bottom shell. It might be a lot easier to take the shell out of the pan to apply the refried beans, so don't be afraid to do that — it's not cheating.  

Next, add a scoop of meat — a little more than a tablespoon to the middle of the shell and spread it all around. You'll probably end up with a bit more than Taco Bell uses, but that's fine. Taco Bell's meat to bean ratio is "a lot of bean to little meat" — we're not going to alter it too much by giving this a little extra beef.

The top layer

The bottom is now complete.  Place the first tortilla shell we cooked right back on top of that and put down a layer of sauce. You want the shell to be pretty much covered as you would a real pizza, so don't take it to the outside edge, but leave a crust to grab on to.  

Add the cheese mix to the top, liberally spreading it on top evenly. Finally, the diced tomatoes — and we've built a Mexican pizza! There's one extra step to make this perfect; melt the cheese. A microwave seems like a logical step here, but if you do that it'll soften the shell too much and make this a floppy mess. Assuming you don't have a salamander in your kitchen, we need a quick way to achieve a gooey top. Take a pan lid and wet it —- not sopping wet but just enough moisture on there to create steam when heated — and put it on top of the pan and set a timer for three minutes. That will give us just enough melty goodness to make this perfect.  

The cut

After we've reached perfect melty-ness on top, remove to a cutting board and quarter it. Of course, The Mexican Pizza didn't always come cut, and back in the day you were left to your spork skills to actually cut it, so if you want to go old school traditional, skip the cut. For the rest of us, break out the pizza cutter and cut the pizza.

How close are we?

The meat still tastes just like Taco Bell, but the thing that makes this a twin the original is the  sauce, which tastes just like it. The layering makes all the flavors come together, and you'll be hard -pressed to notice a difference between the real thing and this. Now, let's not kid ourselves; the Taco Bell Mexican Pizza sauce is darker, but I'm telling you, this flavor is right there, the only difference is the color.

Directions

Prep time:  6 minutes

Cook time: 16 minutes

Makes: 4

Ingredients:

(For the meat)

  • ½ pound ground beef

  • ⅛ cup oats

  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder

  • 1 tablespoon onion powder

  • 3 tablespoons chili powder

  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika

  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder

  • 1 cup water

  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch

(For the sauce)

  • 1 10-ounce can of red enchilada sauce

  • 1 teaspoon sugar

  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1 teaspoon onion powder

  • 1 teaspoon juice from a can of green diced chilies

(For the rest)

  • 2 tortilla shells

  • 1 16-ounce can of refried beans

  • ½ tomato, diced

  • ¼ cup mozzarella cheese

  • ¼ cup cheddar cheese

  • ⅓ cup pepper jack cheese

Directions:

  1. Cook the can of refried beans, according to label's instructions, set aside.
  2. Combine all meat ingredients except cornstarch in a pan on medium-low heat.

  3. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until done, then add cornstarch.

  4. As it begins to bubble, reduce to simmer, and cook for two minutes until thickened, set aside.

  5. In a separate pan, combine sauce ingredients. Cook at medium-low until heated thoroughly. Set aside.

  6. Cook one tortilla shell in a pan at medium low for three minutes, set cooked shell aside. Repeat with second shell.

  7. Spread refried beans on the second cooked shell while it's still in the pan.

  8. Add one tablespoon of meat to the beans and spread evenly.

  9. Place the first cooked shell on top of meat and bean mixture.

  10. Spread the sauce on top of the top shell, almost to the edges.

  11. Top with the cheese mix, followed by diced tomatoes.

  12. Cover with a wet lid for about three minutes, until cheese is melted.

  13. Cut into quarters, and serve. Enjoy!