Best Ever Taco Pasta Salad (Easy 25-Minute Recipe)

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Taco Pasta Salad is hearty and filling, featuring all of the best Tex Mex flavors. Create a fusion of flavor with tender rotini noodles and all of your favorite taco fillings! Prep ahead or have this pasta taco salad recipe ready to serve in 30 minutes!

taco pasta salad, close up


 

When it comes to pasta salad recipes, you’re going to love the Mexican flavors of this one! It’s loaded with all your favorite taco toppings and can easily be a complete meal.

Taco fans agree that this cold pasta salad is a great dish for your next gathering! 

It’s like having all the best parts of a taco right in one delicious bowl.

You can also easily change up the look and taste of this flavorful taco pasta salad to make it exactly like you want for taco night.

I make this all the time during the summer months and warm summer nights, and it’s a great addition to the dinner table. 

Those juicy tomatoes and tender pasta make a killer main course! You can also make this delicious taco pasta salad doubled or tripled in size to feed large crowds.

With a cooking process that is as easy as this, this new recipe will soon become one of your favorite recipes! 

I promise that once you make this creamy pasta salad, it’ll be one of your favorite things!

Gather the simple ingredients to make this easy taco pasta salad recipe and don’t forget to top it with crunchy Doritos!

It has all the classic taco flavors you could want in the main dish, with everything combined to enjoy in a small bowl.

Top with fresh lime juice – and enjoy! (I also add some chili powder for heat!) 

everything needed for taco pasta salad

Taco Pasta Salad

There’s plenty of cheesy goodness in this pasta taco salad recipe from cheddar cubes and nacho Doritos, plus fresh veggies provide plenty of texture and crunch.

Seasoned ground beef makes the dish extra filling, and everything is tied together with tangy Catalina dressing for one delicious bite you won’t forget!

Pasta salads are so easy to throw together for a last-minute meal, and there are so many flavor options to choose from!

BLTssteak fajitas, or a Big Mac burger — no matter what you’re craving, there’s a pasta salad recipe for you!

Serve taco salad with Catalina dressing alongside all of your backyard BBQ favorites. It’s also filling enough to be eaten as an easy weeknight meal.

Need a grab-and-go option for parties? You’ll love this recipe for Walking Tacos

Guests can enjoy their meal right out of the bag, which means no plates and utensils to clean up afterward.

ingredients for taco pasta salad in large bowl

Ingredient Notes and Substitutions

  • Ground beef – Be sure to drain off all of the grease and allow this to cool completely before mixing into the salad — same goes for the pasta. 

    If you have leftover ground beef, you can get away with as little as ½ or ¾ pound in this taco pasta salad if needed. 

    Or, swap in any of your other favorite taco meats like ground turkey, carnitas, or grilled chicken.
  • Catalina dressing – Follow the measurements carefully! 

    Because the flavor is stronger, you won’t need as much as other salads tossed with vinaigrette or Italian dressing. 

    However, the Catalina dressing will absorb into the other ingredients the longer it sits. Have some extra on hand if you won’t be serving immediately. 

    French dressing is a great substitute.
  • Veggies – This pasta taco salad recipe calls for grape tomatoes, bell pepper, sliced black olives, and fresh avocado. 

    You can adjust the amounts to your taste or swap out anything you don’t like.
  • Cheese – Medium cheddar adds enough flavor to Catalina dressing taco salad without overpowering the other ingredients. 

    Colby or Monterey Jack would make a great substitute.
  • Doritos – Use the classic Nacho Cheese flavor or Spicy Nacho for an extra kick. If those are too cheesy, try corn chips like Fritos instead.
  • Herbs and seasoning – I love fresh cilantro in many of my Tex Mex recipes. However, feel free to omit it if you’re not a fan. 

    You can also use more or less of the taco seasoning for the ground beef if desired.
mixing taco pasta salad with wooden salad spoons

Prep Ahead Instructions

This recipe is perfect for a potluck taco pasta salad! Cook the pasta and the meat ahead of time and store them in the refrigerator. 

Be sure to rinse the noodles well in cold water so they don’t stick together.

You could also cut up all of the veggies and cheese in advance, then assemble and toss the taco salad with Catalina dressing before you head out the door! 

I recommend cutting the avocado at the last minute so it doesn’t brown.

Kitchen Tools You Will Need

  • Large Pot and Strainer for the rotini
  • Skillet – This is my go-to pan that I’ve had for over a decade!
  • Quality Knives and a big solid Cutting Board make prepping a breeze and are well worth the investment.
  • Large Bowl – A clear bowl will show off all of the incredible ingredients in this taco pasta salad recipe.

Taco Dorito Salad FAQ

What can you substitute for rotini in pasta salad? 

Any short noodle will do the job nicely. Choose from fusilli, bowtie, penne, or cavatappi.

I don’t recommend elbow macaroni or shells for Taco Dorito Salad, since they’ll get lost among the other ingredients.

How do you make taco pasta salad without meat? 

Swap out the ground beef with black beans, chili beans, or your favorite plant-based crumbles. 

I still recommend seasoning any of those options with taco seasoning, or you’ll lose out on loads of flavor.

What’s the fastest way to cut grape tomatoes? 

You’re in luck, because I have just the trick for you! Use two plasticware lids to hold your tomatoes in place, then slide a bread knife between them.

The lids will hold the veggies in place, and the serrated blade will create neatly sliced halves. You can use this hack for olives and grapes too!

adding catalina dressing to taco pasta salad

Storing Leftover Taco Salad with Catalina Dressing

Refrigerate leftovers covered or in an airtight container for up to 3 days. 

Add additional Catalina dressing to taco salad as needed if leftovers seem a bit dry.

Keep in mind that the chips in this taco Dorito salad will become soft over time. You could always store them separately and add a handful to each bowl before serving.

closeup of taco pasta salad

Enjoy!
With love, from our simple kitchen to yours.

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closeup: taco pasta salad with doritos

Best Ever Taco Pasta Salad (Easy 25-Minute Recipe)

Donna Elick
This taco pasta salad is hearty and filling, featuring all of the best Tex Mex flavors. Prep ahead or have it ready to serve in 30 minutes!
3 stars from 2 reviews
Tried this recipe?Please comment and review!
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Tex Mex
Method Stovetop
Servings 8

Ingredients
 

  • 16 ounces rotini pasta, cooked, drained, and cooled
  • 1 pound lean ground beef, I use 88% lean
  • 1/4 cup taco seasoning
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 8 ounces medium cheddar cheese, cubed
  • 2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 orange bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 cup sliced black olives
  • 1 cup Catalina dressing, more for serving
  • 2 cups crushed nacho cheese Doritos
  • 2 avocados, pitted, peeled and diced

Instructions
 

  • Cook pasta in a pot of salted, boiling water according to package instructions. Drain and run cold water over pasta. Set aside to cool.
  • Meanwhile, cook the ground beef over medium-high heat in a skillet until browned. Add taco seasoning and water. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until the liquid has been absorbed and the meat is evenly seasoned. Set aside to cool.
  • In a large bowl, mix together the cooled rotini, cooled taco meat, cheese, tomatoes, cilantro, bell pepper, ad black olives.
  • Pour the dressing over salad and toss to combine. Adjust seasoning to taste.
  • Just before serving, add crushed chips and diced avocado and gently toss to combine. Serve immediately.
  • The salad will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days (the chips will become soft.)

Donna’s Notes

  1. The Catalina dressing is much stronger than when you’re mixing a pasta salad with a vinaigrette or Italian dressing – you will not need as much. However, it will absorb into the pasta so if you toss with the dressing and do not serve the salad until later, you may want to have extra dressing on hand at serving time. French dressing can be substituted for the Catalina.
  2. The quantities of the different vegetables, herbs, and cheese can be adjusted to taste.
  3. Be sure to cool the pasta and the meat completely before mixing into the salad. You can make these in advance and chill in the refrigerator – be sure to rinse the pasta well in cold water before chilling in the refrigerator so that it doesn’t stick together.
  4. A full pound of taco meat isn’t needed – 1/2 or 3/4 of a pound will do just fine in this recipe – it can be a great way to use up leftover taco meat without needing a full pound. You can also swap in your other favorite taco meats like ground turkey, carnitas, grilled chicken, etc.

Nutrition

Serving: 2cups | Calories: 613cal | Carbohydrates: 63g | Protein: 28g | Fat: 28g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Cholesterol: 64mg | Sodium: 1348mg | Sugar: 13g | Fiber: 8g | Calcium: 234mg | Iron: 3mg

All nutritional information is based on third party calculations and is only an estimate. Each recipe’s nutritional value will vary depending on the ingredients used, measuring methods, and portion sizes.

Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
doritos taco pasta salad

Originally published July 2018, updated and republished July 2024

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6 Comments

  1. Just took this to a pot luck gathering……it was a hit! Actually making it again tonight for my sis! 👌👌👌

  2. 5 stars
    I loved the tex-mex taste of this pasta salad. It was a zesty and delicious dinner! I will have to try this again for my family!

  3. I was having friends visit last summer and made this with other things. it was a hit. I had so much left that I gave some to my daughter and family.
    getting together for New Years eve with my daughter. Making Chicken Enchaladas, and Beef Taco salad, they requested. 🥰

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