It’s a curious thing: an abomination to both Mexican and Italian cultures, and a head-scratching inclusion on a menu that largely hews toward the traditional dishes of tacos, burritos and nachos. Maybe that’s why my young eyes were drawn to it more than two decades ago. Or maybe it was my dad, who found the bastardized tostada (or tlayuda?) and its bizarre name to be fundamentally amusing but still delicious.
How could it not be? It’s refried beans and seasoned taco meat, sandwiched between two crisp tortillas and drenched in a generic red enchilada-style sauce and a blizzard of melty cheese. Frankly, it looks and tastes nothing like a pizza, and the dual-shell configuration seems like a pointless addition of fried carbs, as tostadas are served open-faced. Why fix something that ain’t broken?
However, as with superb engineering or great modernist art, this humble assemblage of stock Taco Bell ingredients is much more than the sum of its parts. More flavorful than a taco, with more texture than a burrito and more elegant than nachos: Such is the nexus of the Mexican Pizza. And now Taco Bell’s gone and ruined all of it, discontinuing the speciality for good under the guise of “saving paper.” Okay, the Mexican Pizza did have its own unique box, but was this really the pivot to environmentalism we needed?
While other discontinued items, notably potatoes, have made a return to the Taco Bell menu after public outcry, there appears to be no new life on the horizon for the Mexican Pizza. The mourning party wails on, in an 80,000-strong online petition and elsewhere across the meme economy. Lost souls now wonder why Taco Bell can afford to debut a bizarro chicken sandwich trend-chaser but cut the Mexican Pizza over cost concerns. I lie awake at night, pondering whether this loss is a referendum on the illusion of choice within capitalism and the tyranny of the market.
(My more primal concerns are best summed up in this comment from one distraught petitioner: “MY KIDS SHALL EAT THIS ITEM IN THE FUTURE DON’T DO IT TO ME YAAARRRRRR!!!”)
Perhaps, one day, Taco Bell CEO Mark King and overlord Yum! Brands will see the light and take mercy on Mexican Pizza fanatics everywhere. In the meantime, I think the best way to celebrate the legacy of the Mexican Pizza is to pay homage to it at home, which is to say, replicate it as closely as possible. The most challenging part about this is getting a flour tostada or tortilla that fries up as airy and crisp as the OG ingredient. The rest is dead simple — and even if the tostadas aren’t perfect, the final dish ends up pretty delicious. Here’s how to make one.
Mexican Pizza Recipe
Makes three or four portions
Meat (adapted from Todd Wilbur)
- 1 pound ground beef (one riff popular with vegans and the South Asian American community is substituting more beans instead of ground meat filling)
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup minced onion
- 2 tablespoons of chili powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 cup water
Combine all ingredients except for water in a bowl and mix thoroughly, leaving no pockets of flour. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat, then add the water. Mix in the meat, stirring frequently to break up clumps. Cook over medium high heat, mashing the meat until it’s fully broken up and browned, but not dry (about 10 minutes). Add more water if necessary — you want a thick but spreadable consistency.
- Two crisp flour tostadas, about six inches wide (here’s a recipe to use at home)
- Refried beans (from a can is fine; I used Ortega)
- Red enchilada sauce (again, it’s Taco Bell, and canned is fine; I’m fond of Rosarita)
- White and yellow shredded cheese (often labeled as a “Mexican” blend)
- Diced tomato (get one of those under ripe supermarket tomatoes for accuracy’s sake)
Lay down one crisp tostada, then spread a layer of refried beans onto it.
Add a thicker layer of meat, top with the second tostada and add a layer of red sauce (make sure to leave a clean rim).
Sprinkle with a handful of shredded cheese and a pinch of diced tomato, then melt the top by using either a 400-degree oven, broiler, toaster oven or blowtorch.
Cut into four pieces and eat.