Did you hear that?
That sound was the uproarious cries of elation when Taco Bell announced its Mexican Pizza would reappear on its menu less than two years after removing it. But shortly after, there were cries of dismay from Taco Bell fans when again, the fast food chain removed the dish from its menu due to it selling out … everywhere.
In Sept. 2020, Taco Bell announced it would be discontinuing its immensely popular Mexican Pizza because it no longer aligned with the brand’s long-term environmental impact goals. All told, the packaging from Mexican Pizzas contributed over seven million pounds of paper waste annually.
But the social media backlash from even eco-conscious millennials – whose generation was just starting when the dish was introduced in 1985 – was so swift and strong that the brand could not ignore it. A Change.org petition garnered more than 170,000 signatures, imploring Taco Bell to bring the Mexican Pizza back.
On May 19, the beloved dish returned to the drive-through. Taco Bell lovers rejoiced. But on May 31, in a letter to fans, Taco Bell announced it was once again pulling Mexican Pizza from the menu, with hopes of bringing the beloved dish back … in the fall.
With fall feeling pretty far away, Taco Bell fans are curious: Can you make a Mexican Pizza that’s drive-through quality at home? To find out, Yahoo Life did a deep dive into what a Mexican Pizza is and how it’s made.
A culinary contradiction – neither Mexican or pizza
There’s nothing in Mexican food culture that looks or tastes anything like Taco’s Bell’s cult classic.
If you want to get kind of close, you can look to tlayudaa fried tortilla topped with beans, chicken and cheese and served open-face, usually with guacamole.
In fact, the YouTube channel MaMah, which has nearly 500,000 subscribers, released a video of real Mexican mothers trying the Mexican Pizza on May 25. In it, three women share their varied reactions to taste-testing the dish. The moms were stumped: One even likened it to “scrambled chilaquiles,” the breakfast dish made from tortilla chips tossed with sauce and served with a fried egg, tomatoes and cheese on top.
Another said, “This isn’t pizza. This is a bean quesadilla,” which is probably the most accurate description out there.
“I can see why they were crying about this. I don’t mind eating it. It’s really delicious,” said one of the women. “I just wouldn’t call it pizza.” The main complaint: the enchilada sauce, which tasted obviously canned or jarred to the taste testers.
The unsung fans of Mexican Pizza – South Asian Americans
Unless you’re a part of the community, you might not know how beloved Mexican Pizza is to South Asian Americans like Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani-American populations. In fact, it was Krish Jagirdar, an Indian-American, who started the Change.org petition to bring back the Mexican Pizza. In an interview with NPR about the Mexican Pizza’s triumphant return, Jagirdar said as a kid, like in many Indian-American families, fast food was off the table at mealtime.
“The one place we were allowed to go, that we did often go to, was Taco Bell,” he explained. “The Mexican Pizza was… hugely popular amongst Indian Americans.”
It’s the heavy spice content, according to Jagirdar, that drew South Asian culture to the Mexican Pizza. “It’s kind of as close as they can get to, like, Indian fast food while still being obviously part of American culture,” he said, explaining that there’s even a vegetarian version of the dish that’s very popular with many South Asian households that stick to a vegetarian diet, one that adds potatoes to the bean layer instead of seasoned ground beef.
When Taco Bell made the decision to bring the dish back, they even got in touch with Jagirdar and told him they appreciated everything he did to stoke the revival.
So, can you make it at home?
To make the Mexican pizza at home, I enlisted the help of Chef Ryan Manning, who owns MX Taco Restaurant in Orlando, Fla. When the Mexican Pizza came back in mid-May, he immediately took to social media with his own take on the dish and added it to his menu as a special.
His version isn’t “cheffy,” and it’s definitely something you could do in 10 minutes for lunch – about the same amount of time it would take to go through the drive-through. It uses canned black beans, lightly mashed with a fork, flour tortillas, ground beef seasoned with taco seasoning, shredded cheese, tomatoes and – sorry taste-testing moms – jarred enchilada sauce.
Manning’s Mexican Pizza recipe
To make Manning’s Mexican Pizza at home, first add vegetable oil to a hot pan and drop in a tortilla flour. Next, spread a few tablespoons of enchilada sauce on top, then cover the sauce with shredded Mexican three-cheese blend and top with fresh tomatoes. Put the lid on the pan and let the cheese melt on medium heat for about five minutes while you work on the bottom layer.
In another hot pan, add another tablespoon of vegetable oil and another tortilla flour. Spread the mashed black beans and seasoned ground beef – or potatoes if you’re going veggie – and let the sides of the tortilla crisp a bit before using a spatula to take the sauce-and-cheese tortilla and place it on top of the bean and beef layer.
Slide the Mexican Pizza onto a cutting board or plate and cut into quarters. Chef Manning added some pickled jalapenos and fresh cilantro to the top just for some kick and color, but that’s optional (though way more delicious than without).
I had it for lunch, and was completely satisfied. In fact, I want it again today. The trick to the hack is slightly frying the flour tortillas in the oil so they bubble a little and the edges are crisp. If you want to make a gluten free version, use corn tortillas instead of flour.
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