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
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
With love, from our simple kitchen to yours.
Other Pasta Salad Recipes
Best Ever Taco Pasta Salad
- 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
- 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.)
- 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.
- The quantities of the different vegetables, herbs, and cheese can be adjusted to taste.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Originally published July 2018, updated and republished July 2023
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