You can find variations on the Taco Joe at pizzerias all over the Quad Cities region, anchored by Rock Island and Moline, Illinois, and Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa. Not everyone agrees on the origins of taco pizza, but many credit Happy Joe’s founder Joe Whitty, who claimed that he created the now-classic style in Davenport in 1974, just as Taco Bell was entering the Midwest. Inspired by a franchisee who suggested that he add tacos to a crowd-pleasing menu anchored by pizza and ice cream, he layered his chewy crust with tomato sauce, refried beans, cheese, sausage, and taco-seasoned beef, then topped the pie with lettuce, tomatoes, and crumbled “taco” chips, for added flavor and crunch. The Taco Joe isn’t the only taco pizza that matters, but it’s an essential taste of the Quad Cities and the Midwest, and it’s now available at sixty-one Happy Joe’s locations, from St. Louis to Minot, North Dakota. —Titus Ruscitti
Titus Ruscitti is a lifelong Midwesterner who’s blogged about restaurants in the Chicagoland area and beyond for more than a decade at chibbqking.blogspot.com. He’s been featured in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Reader, and Newcity and has contributed to the Southern Foodways Alliance, Eater Chicago, Travel Wisconsin, Thrillist, Serious Eats, The Hamburger Show, and more. He lives in Chicago with his wife, and he’s always plotting their next trip. Regional food specialties are his obsession. Follow along on Instagram.
Kevin Necessary is a freelance illustrator and editorial cartoonist. He is currently the editorial cartoonist for The Cincinnati Enquirer. His cartoons are syndicated by GoComics, and his cartoons have been published in a variety of publications such as The Week and Politico. A Cincinnati native, Kevin will fight to the death defending Cincinnati chili. He lives with his wife, Julie, and three cats, Huckleberry, Grayson, and Bonnie.