Mexican Pizza is traditionally made with a crispy flour tortilla as the base. Flour tortillas are a staple ingredient in Mexican cuisine and are made from wheat flour, water, fat (usually lard or vegetable oil), and salt. When fried or baked, the flour tortilla becomes crispy and can hold up as the crust for dishes like Mexican Pizza.
The History of Mexican Pizza
The origins of Mexican Pizza can be traced back to Mexican street food fare. Crispy tostadas topped with various ingredients have long been popular street eats in Mexico. However, the dish we now know as Mexican Pizza was likely first created by Mexican immigrants in America.
In the 1970s, Mexican restaurants and fast food chains in the Southwest began putting their own twists on Mexican street food. Places like Taco Bell played around with hard taco shells and crispy tostadas, layering refried beans and taco fixings on top. This style of crispy, loaded tostada or Mexican Pizza grew in popularity through the 70s and 80s. The pizza-shaped meal likely got its name from the restaurant industry looking to market the dish to American customers as a Mexican version of pizza.
Flour Tortillas as the Crust
While corn tortillas are the traditional base for street tostadas in Mexico, most Mexican Pizzas in the US are made with flour tortillas. Flour tortillas lend themselves better to preparing a crispy pizza-like crust.
Corn tortillas are made from masa, or cornmeal dough. They have a soft and pliable texture that doesn’t crisp up. While deep-fried corn tostada shells are crunchy, they can also be fragile and prone to breaking when loaded up with thick, heavy toppings.
Flour tortillas, on the other hand, can be fried or baked to form a crispy, sturdy crust for Mexican Pizzas. Their slight chewiness also mimics the texture of pizza crust. Most restaurants and chains use a wide, thin flour tortilla as the base for their Mexican Pizzas.
Frying vs. Baking the Crust
Authentic Mexican Pizzas are made by frying flour tortillas to create the crispy crust. The tortilla is briefly fried in hot oil or lard, typically just on one side. This yields a crispy, golden crust that remains a bit soft and pliable on the interior.
However, many Americanized Mexican Pizza recipes call for baking the flour tortilla instead. This allows for an equally crispy crust without the extra fat from frying. To bake, simply spray or brush the tortilla lightly with oil and bake it in the oven at 350°F or higher until browned and crispy.
While creative riffs on Mexican Pizzas abound, the classic topping combo includes:
- Refried beans spread as a base layer
- Seasoned ground beef or shredded chicken
- Shredded lettuce
- Diced fresh tomatoes
- Shredded Mexican cheese like cheddar, cotija, or queso fresco
- Sliced black olives
- Chopped green onions
- Sour cream
- Crumbled cotija or shredded cheddar cheese sprinkled on top
This combination mimics classic taco flavors – seasoned meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, olives, and sour cream. The layers of beans, meat, and cheese mimic pizza layers. Some versions also add a red or green enchilada sauce between the beans and other toppings.
Other Tortilla Options
While flour is traditional, corn tortillas can also be used as the crust for Mexican Pizzas:
Deep Fried Corn
Frying crispy corn tostada shells and using two to create a pizza crust is probably the most authentic option. However, these crispy shells often crack and break when loaded up with heavy toppings.
Double Layered Corn
Another way to use corn is to take two corn tortillas and lightly fry them or toast them. Layer the two together to create a sturdier crust for toppings.
Always keeping corn tortillas warm and steamy as they would be served fresh allows them to remain soft and pliable. However, letting them cool completely causes corn tortillas to become rigid and crispy. Letting corn tortillas cool and then crisping them lightly in the oven or toaster oven makes them sturdy enough to hold toppings.
Unique Flavor Twists
While traditional ingredients make a delicious Mexican Pizza, some chefs and home cooks like to get creative with flavors. Some fun twists include:
- Using both ground beef and shredded chicken as meats
- Adding diced jalapeños or chili peppers for spicy heat
- Using black beans instead of or in addition to refried pinto beans
- Adding grilled veggies like onions, bell peppers, zucchini, or mushrooms
- Topping with pineapple, mango, or avocado
- Swapping ranch dressing for the sour cream
- Adding bacon bits or chorizo crumbles
- Using pepper jack cheese instead of cheddar or cotija
Letting your imagination run wild opens up lots of possibilities for Mexican Pizza combinations!
Making Mexican Pizzas at Home
Making homemade Mexican Pizzas is easy and fun. Start with the largest flour tortillas you can find – 10-12 inches across is ideal. You want a thin tortilla, not a thick or doughy one.
Lightly fry the tortilla in oil just until its starts to crisp and puff up. Remove and let any excess oil drain off. Or spray the tortilla with cooking spray and bake at 375°F for 8-10 minutes, flipping halfway through.
Next, spread about 1/2 cup of refried beans evenly over the tortilla. Top the beans with about 1 cup of seasoned taco meat, chicken, or other fillings. Sprinkle with 1-2 cups of shredded cheese like cheddar or Mexican blend cheese.
Bake the pizza at 350°F just until the cheese melts, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and top with all your favorite taco toppings – lettuce, tomato, onion, olives, jalapeños, etc.
Drizzle with sour cream or ranch dressing. Add any other toppings you desire. Cut into wedges and serve immediately, while nice and hot!
Making Mexican Pizza at home lets you customize it just how your family likes it. The crisp, cheesy crust and taco flavors are sure to make this fun pizza night dish an instant hit.
Where to Get Authentic Mexican Pizza
Of course, nothing beats authentic Mexican street food. So where can you find the real deal when it comes to Mexican Pizza? Here are some options:
- Taquerias – Small, street-style taco shops and taquerias in Mexico often serve classic tostadas piled high with meat, beans, lettuce, cheese, cream, and salsa. These mini open-faced tacos likely inspired the Mexican Pizza.
- loncherias – Mexican loncherias are essentially fast food stands serving quick bites like tacos, tortas, and tostadas. Many loncherias have tostada options that are similar to Mexican Pizza.
- Street Carts – Roaming food carts are common on streets throughout Mexico, selling classic antojitos (street snacks) like tacos and tostadas. Watch them construct tostadas in front of you with fresh, made-to-order ingredients.
- Authentic Mexican Restaurants – Locally owned Mexican restaurants and taco shops, especially in border states like California, Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico, serve more authentic cuisine. Look for “street-style” or “original” Mexican Pizza on menus.
Venturing to Mexico itself offers a whole world of street eats, taquerias, loncherias, and carts where you can sample traditional Mexican Pizza in its truest forms.
Mexican Pizza provides a tasty fusion of Mexican and American flavors. But how does it stack up nutrition-wise? Here is the nutrition info for a 6 slice serving of Mexican Pizza:
As you can see, a serving of Mexican Pizza provides nearly half the recommended daily value of sodium. It is also high in cholesterol and saturated fat from all of the cheese and meat toppings. On the flip side, it does provide ample protein and a decent amount of fiber from the beans and tortilla.
Overall, Mexican Pizza would be considered more of a high calorie treat than regular everyday fare. Those looking to make it a bit healthier could load up on veggie toppings and use reduced fat cheese and meat options.
Cost of Mexican Pizza
If you want to enjoy Mexican Pizza without cooking at home, what’s the typical price range? Here’s what you can expect to pay:
- Fast Food Chains – Taco Bell currently charges $4.49 for their Mexican Pizza, making it one of their pricier menu items. Competitors like El Pollo Loco charge around $5.00 for their Mexican Pizza.
- Fast Casual – Fast casual Tex-Mex chains like Baja Fresh and Rubio’s charge slightly higher fast food prices, around $6 to $8 for Mexican Pizza.
- Sit-down Mexican Restaurants – Expect prices to go up when dining in, with most full service Mexican restaurants charging $10 to $15 for Mexican Pizza entrees.
As with most foods, homemade is the cheapest route. A 12-inch flour tortilla costs well under $1. Beans, ground beef, and cheese can all be bought very affordably. Toppings like lettuce, tomatoes, and onions are also cheap. You can make a Mexican Pizza at home for under $5 in most cases.
Is Mexican Pizza Authentic Mexican Cuisine?
When digging into a ooey-gooey slice of Mexican Pizza, most people aren’t concerned with how authentic it is. But food anthropologists looking at Mexican cuisine may disagree on whether this cheesy crispy concoction qualifies as true Mexican fare.
On the one hand, the individual components of Mexican Pizza – beans, meat, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, etc. – are certainly staples of Mexican cooking. Stacked together as they are on Mexican Pizza, however, some would argue this is more Mexican-American hybrid food than truly authentic south-of-the-border cuisine.
The case against Mexican Pizza being truly Mexican stems from a few key points:
- The pizza shape and format were likely invented by American restaurants, not in Mexico.
- Using flour tortillas instead of corn tortillas departs from tradition.
- The concept of layering components doesn’t have strong roots in Mexican cuisine.
- Cheese and heavy creams are used less frequently in authentic Mexican cooking.
Despite these points, others argue Mexican Pizza still qualifies as an authentic Mexican-American food. The ingredients and inspiration from street vendors are decidedly Mexican. First-generation immigrants creating variations on their traditional food in a new country is also authentically part of the Mexican-American experience.
Debates of authenticity aside, Mexican Pizza has undoubtedly become a beloved menu item, especially in the American Southwest. Its crispy/chewy texture and satisfying layers of beans, meat, cheese, veggies, and cream speak to an inherent flavor combination that resonates with many palates.
This mashup of Mexican ingredients and American pizza tradition has created a comforting, craveable dish enjoyed on both sides of the border. And while food anthropologists nitpick at its origin, fans of Mexican Pizza will keep happily biting into this crispy, meaty, melty goodness.