Mexican Pasta Salad

This Mexican Pasta Salad is vibrant, fresh, and satisfying with the best dressing! It will be everyone’s favorite dinner or potluck side!

This Mexican Pasta Salad is all your favorite Mexican inspired ingredients packed together in one fabulous bowl of YUM!  It’s always a crowd pleaser for potlucks, picnics and parties and is a quick chop and throw together recipe that can be made 100% percent ahead of time for a stress-free win!  This Mexican Pasta Salad is bursting with grilled sweet corn, crunchy red bell peppers, juicy tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, hearty black beans, creamy avocados, zippy red onions, zesty cilantro and salty Cotija all doused in intoxicating Creamy Salsa Dressing!  You can dress this Mexican Pasta Salad up or down by adding more or less of your favorite ingredients and even make it a meal by adding chopped chili lime chicken, chipotle chicken or cilantro lime chicken.  No matter how you serve it, this pasta salad recipe is destined to be a repeat favorite!  

Pasta salad recipes aren’t only a hit at potlucks, they make the best sides to practically every meal!  Try out these favorites:  Italian Tortellini SaladGreek Pasta SaladOrzo Pasta Salad, Cowboy Pasta Salad, Pesto Pasta Salad and Creamy Bacon Pea Pasta Salad.  Now add this Mexicana Pasta Salad to the list to serve with all your Mexican inspired dishes!

how to make Mexican pasta salad video

top view of Mexican pasta salad with tomatoes, avocados, black beans and corn in a glass bowl with wooden spoons

pin this recipe to save for later

About this PASTA SALAD RECIPE

Can you believe summer is around the corner – and so is Memorial Day – the perfect time to take this Mexican inspired pasta salad for a spin! It’s a hypnotic blend of fresh, vibrant, hearty, creamy, crunchy AKA it’s addicting. The kind of salad you just keep sneaking one more forkful from the fridge, and one more and one more…Here’s why you’ll fall in love with this Mexican Pasta Salad recipe:

Why this pasta salad recipe works:

  • The best dressing! You will be obsessed with the dressing!  The dressing truly makes or breaks a pasta salad and this one is SO flavorful and creamy made with spicy salsa, sour cream, mayo, lime juice, garlic, cumin, chili powder and smoked paprika.  It’s a kicking dressing that transforms each bite into a hypnotic symphony of savory perfection.
  • Texture heaven. The best pasta salads have TONS of texture and this one has it in spades.  It’s a vibrant rainbow of crunchy veggies, creamy avocados, juicy tomatoes, al dente pasta, and sweet bursts of corn all swaddled in the luxurious, silky dressing.
  • Versatile.  You can customize your pasta salad recipe with any of your favorite add-ins or omit what you don’t like or have on hand. You can also add chicken, carne asada or any other protein to make it a complete meal.
  • Quick and easy.  If you know how to chop and boil water, you can make this pasta salad recipe!  Just chop up the veggies, boil the pasta, whisk up the dressing, then toss everything together in a bowl.  
  • Make ahead – or NOT.  What I love about this pasta salad recipe is that it tastes fabulous right away – no chilling time required for sumptuous results.  But if you want to make the pasta salad ahead of time – you can do that too!  Make ahead Mexican Pasta Salad is perfect for lunch, dinner or potlucks without the last-minute hustle.
  • Great leftovers.  To that end, this pasta salad is delicious served immediately or it makes fantastic leftovers, so I promise none of it will go to waste. Even the avocados stay fresh thanks to the lime juice in the dressing.
  • Scale Up or Down. This pasta salad recipe can be cut in half or doubled, or tripled depending on your needs.
  • Crowd pleaser.  EVERYONE loves this Mexican Pasta Salad – it is guaranteed to steal the show!  It’s a favorite dish for potlucks, pool parties, picnics and HOME!

WHAT PASTA IS BEST for pasta salad?

My favorite pasta for this Mexican pasta salad is rotini but you can use any medium pasta such as: 

  • Fusilli
  • Bowties / Farfalle
  • Penne
  • Macaroni
  • Gemelli
  • Large shells

INGREDIENTS FOR MEXICAN pasta SALAD

In addition to pasta, you need all of the bells and whistles to make a truly great pasta salad. Here’s what I add for my perfect bite, but keep in mind you can customize the salad how you like:

  • Corn: you will love the addition of sweet corn!   You can char the corn on the grill or in your skillet (instructions included) for a tantalizing sweet and smoky addition or if you’re short on time, you can slice the corn straight off the cob into the pasta salad.  I highly promote fresh corn in the spring/summer months but you can get away with using canned or frozen corn in the winter.  If using canned corn, take care to rinse and drain it first. If using frozen corn, you don’t need to thaw it before you add it to the hot skillet to char.
  • Red Bell pepper:  I use red bell pepper because it is sweeter than other colors, but you can also use yellow or orange.
  • Tomatoes: use cherry or grape tomatoes because they boast the best texture and are the perfect bite-size juicy morsels when halved.  Use whichever is riper between cherry and grape tomatoes at your grocery store.
  • Cucumbers:  I use English cucumbers so you don’t have to bother peeling them, but you may also substitute with a peeled, slicing cucumber.
  • Red onion:  I like the fresh pop of red onion but you may also use green onions.  If you’re not a fan of raw red onions, you can submerge them in a bowl ice water for 10 minutes to tame the zing. Make sure to dry well before adding to the pasta salad.  
  • Avocados:  add satisfying creamy bursts to complement the crunchy textures.  Make sure you use ripe avocados but not overly ripe or they will turn to mush.  To tell if an avocado is ripe, squeeze it gently. A ripe avocado should yield slightly to pressure but not feel overly soft.  If your avocados ripen before you are ready to use them, they can be stored in the refrigerator which will dramatically slow down the ripening process.  For more detailed information on how to select avocados, see my guacamole recipe.
  • Black Beans:  rinse and drain first.  You may also substitute red kidney beans, pinto beans etc. 
  • Jalapeno:  add a subtle kick of heat or you can season to taste with cayenne pepper.  To use the jalapeno, remove and discard the seeds and the white membranes because they carry most of the heat. Finely dice the remaining jalapeno.
  • Cilantro: adds a tangy, zesty, citrus flavor.  If you’re one of the 4-14 percent who thinks cilantro tastes like soap, just skip it.
  • Cotija cheese: is Mexican cheese made from cow’s milk that’s salty and crumbly, similar to Parmesan.  It adds wonderfully salty flavor and is worth splurging for.
Mexican Pasta Salad in a glass bowl with wooden spoons

pasta SALAD DRESSING

Many other Mexican Pasta Salads can be dry or flavorless because the dressing is lacking – not this dressing!  This pasta salad dressing is luxuriously creamy, tangy, zippy, sassy, and spicy. But don’t worry, it won’t make your pasta salad spicy.  It just needs a lot of oomph to flavor the entire pasta salad and marry all of the textures together. And the best part?  No blender required!  Simply whisk all the ingredient together in a bowl in just minutes! It can also be made days ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator until ready to use.  You will need:

INGREDIENTS FOR pasta salad DRESSING:

  • Salsa:  use your favorite salsa or my homemade 5-minute blender salsa is spectacular.  I suggest medium or spicy salsa.  If you use mild, your entire pasta salad will taste like it’s missing something so you’ll want to amp up the flavor with cayenne pepper.
  • Sour Cream or Greek Yogurt:  I prefer sour cream in this dressing but Greek yogurt works well because we are making a tangy dressing.  If the dressing is too tangy by using Greek yogurt, add a teaspoon or so of honey.  Fat-free sour cream or yogurt both work great as well, just don’t use regular yogurt because it is not nearly as thick as Greek yogurt.
  • Mayonnaise:  provides the creamy base of the dressing and binds all of the ingredients together.  Even if you don’t like mayo, I don’t suggest skipping because it prevents the dressing ingredients from separating – and your dressing will not taste like mayo! 
  • Olive Oil:  adds extra creaminess and ensures the pasta salad doesn’t taste dry. Use extra virgin olive oil for more flavor.
  • Lime Juice:  awakens all of the flavors!  Use fresh or bottled lime juice and use more or less to taste.
  • Garlic:  fresh garlic is fantastic but you can substitute with ¾ teaspoon garlic powder.
  • Seasonings:  chili powder, ground cumin, smoked paprika, and salt round out the flavor profile.  Use more or less of any of the spices to suit your personal preference.

possible recipe VARIATIONS

This Mexican Pasta Salad is extremely customizable.  Here are a few possible recipe variations:

  • Use tortellini:  tortellini is one of my favorite pastas to use in pasta salads. You can use any type of cheese tortellini and I even think sausage tortellini would be yummy!  Make sure you use fresh, refrigerated tortellini and not dried tortellini on the shelf.
  • Swap dressing:  swap the dressing for Cilantro Lime Dressing or Avocado Ranch.
  • Make it spicy:  use spicy salsa in the dressing and 2 jalapenos or cayenne pepper to taste.
  • Add olives: black olives offer a delectable tanginess.
  • Add pickled jalapenos:  are fabulous, spicy, tangy additions in place of the fresh jalapeno.  Star with just a little and stir in more to taste – you don’t want to ruin your entire pasta salad by making it too spicy!
  • Add other veggies: you can anything your heart desires such as broccoli, cauliflower, jicama, roasted sweet potatoes, etc.
  • Add bacon:  because bacon makes everything better.  I recommend thick-cut bacon so its wonderfully meaty texture doesn’t get lost in the salad. 
  • Add cheese:  add cubed pepper Jack, Monterrey or sharp cheddar or shredded Mexican cheese blend.

make it a MAIN DISH pasta SALAD!

You can easily transform this Mexican Pasta Salad recipe into a main dish by adding by adding a protein. Any of the following options would be delicious:

HOW TO MAKE MEXICAN pasta SALAD

You are going to love how easy this Mexican Pasta Salad is to make!  Here’s how:

  • Cook pasta:  cook the pasta according to package directions in generously salted water. Rinse, drain and add to a large bowl.
  • Chop ingredients:  while the pasta is cooking, chop the veggies and add all of the pasta salad ingredients to a large bowl.
showing how to make Mexican Pasta Salad by adding all of the pasta salad ingredients (tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, black beans, jalapenos, cilantro, corn, Cotija Cheese) to a glass bowl
  • Make dressing: whisk all of the Creamy Salsa Ingredients together in a bowl. 
a collage showing how to make Pasta Salad dressing by adding sour cream, mayonnaise, salsa, lime juice, garlic and spices to a glass bowl then whisking to combine
  • Combine:  pour half of the dressing over the pasta salad and toss to combine. Refrigerate pasta salad and remaining dressing separately until ready to use. When ready to serve, toss with remaining dressing then dig in!
showing how to make Mexican Pasta Salad by adding the pasta salad dressing to the ingredients in a glass bowl
showing how to make Mexican Pasta salad by tossing the dressing and the ingredients together in a glass bowl

HOW TO CHAR CORN FOR pasta SALAD

For this Mexican Pasta Salad, you can use corn straight off the cob or you can grill it.  I love grilling corn because it results in deeply sweet, succulent, smoky corn, instead of just sweet corn.  If you don’t have time, don’t worry about it, if you do, you will LOVE it!

You can char your corn directly on the grill (no foil needed) or you can sizzle it a hot cast iron skillet.  Here is how:

TO GRILL CORN ON THE COB:

  • Peel the corn
  • Remove all the silk
  • Lightly brush all over with olive oil
  • Grease and heat grill to high heat
  • Grill corn over direct heat for 10-12 minutes, turning until lightly charred on all sides, closing the lid in between rotations.

TO CHAR CORN IN A SKILLET:

If you don’t have corn on the cob or have access to a grill, you can still char frozen, canned, or fresh corn in a cast iron skillet:

  • Heat one tablespoon olive oil in large cast iron skillet over high heat.
  • Add the corn and cook, stirring occasionally, until corn starts to char, approximately 5 minutes (a few minutes longer if frozen).
  • Transfer kernels to a large bowl to cool so they don’t continue to cook.

TIPS AND TRICKS FOR THE BEST mexican pasta SALAD

This pasta salad recipe is pretty straightforward, but here are some helpful tips and tricks:

  • Don’t overcook the pasta.  No one wants mushy pasta salad!  Take care to test the pasta 2 minutes before the time on the box says. You want the pasta cooked al dente meaning it has a little bite to it.
  • Cool pasta.  After the pasta is cooked, rinse it with cold water to prevent it from continuing to cook.
  • Toss pasta with olive oil.  After the pasta is drained, immediately add it to a large bowl then toss it with some olive oil.  If you skip this step, the pasta can clump and dry together and tear when tossed.
  • Use fresh corn immediately.  Fresh corn is the sweetest and juiciest used within the first 1-2 days.  The sugars begin converting to starch soon after the corn is harvested. Make sure you store your corn in the refrigerator to stall this process.
  • Do I have to char my corn?   I highly recommend charring your corn for added complex smokiness and it soaks in more flavor from the dressing.  That being said, if you are in a hurry, raw corn is also sweet, juicy and delicious. 
  • Customize ingredients.  The pasta salad ingredients and measurements are simply suggestions.  You can use add/swap any ingredients for your favorite veggies.  You can also add protein to make it a complete meal.
  • Season to taste.  Always adjust the finished dish to make it right for YOU!  The salsa you use, how heavily you salted the pasta water and personal taste will determine if you want it saltier, tangier or spicier.  I found the measurements in the recipe just right for me when the pasta salad was immediately served but liked it with additional salt and cayenne pepper after it had been refrigerated.
tossing Mexican pasta salad together in a glass bowl

HOW LONG CAN pasta SALAD SIT OUT?

Pasta salad made with sour cream and mayo shouldn’t sit out any longer than two hours.   

PREP AHEAD PASTA SALAD

You can prep the pasta salad ingredients ahead of time if you want to get more than 24 hour jump start, otherwise use the make ahead instructions to follow.

  • Vegetables:  can be chopped 48 hours in advance and stored in separate airtight containers in the refrigerator.  Wait to chop the avocados until read to serve.
  • Corn:  can be grilled and the kernels cut off of the cob 48 hours ahead of time; store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  • Pasta:  can be made 48 hours in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator tossed with a drizzle of olive oil.
  • Dressing:  can be made 72 hours in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

MAKE AHEAD PASTA SALAD

This Mexican Pasta Salad can be made 100% in advance if serving within 24 hours, otherwise follow the prep ahead instructions.  Even the avocados can be added to the salad – they don’t turn brown due to the lime juice in the dressing.

  • Gently toss the pasta and all of the salad ingredients together with only HALF of the dressing. If you use all of the dressing initially, your pasta may soak up all the dressing and will taste dry.
  • Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.  Store the rest of the dressing separately.
  • When ready to serve, toss the pasta salad with the remaining dressing.  You may need to add additional olive oil if the salad appears dry and additional lime juice to brighten the salad – as always, taste first!  I found additional salt and cayenne pepper were necessary to amp up the flavor of make ahead salad.  Start with a little and add more to taste as needed.
  • Bring the pasta salad to room temperature before serving by letting it sit on the counter for 30 minutes or so.  

HOW LONG DOES PASTA SALAD LAST IN THE FRIDGE? HOW TO STORE?

Cover the leftover Mexican Pasta Salad with plastic wrap or transfer it to an airtight container.  Store in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. The longer the pasta salad is refrigerated, the drier it can become.  If your leftovers taste too dry, then drizzle with additional olive oil to taste.  You may also want to perk up the salad with salt and cayenne pepper to taste.

WHAT TO SERVE WITH this pasta SALAD recipe?

I often am asked what to pair with my Mexican recipes and the answer is this Mexican Pasta Salad! Here is a summary of my favorite combinations but please do not limit yourselves to my list alone:

showing how to serve Mexican pasta salad by adding to a small bowl and garnishing with cilantro and Cotija cheese
showing how to make Mexican Pasta salad by tossing the dressing and the ingredients together in a glass bowl

Mexican Pasta Salad

This Mexican Pasta Salad is all your favorite Mexican inspired ingredients packed together in one fabulous bowl of YUM!  It’s always a crowd pleaser for potlucks, picnics and parties and is a quick chop and throw together recipe that can be made 100% percent ahead of time for a stress-free win!  This Mexican Pasta Salad is bursting with grilled sweet corn, crunchy red bell peppers, juicy tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, hearty black beans, creamy avocados, zippy red onions, zesty cilantro and salty Cotija all doused in intoxicating Creamy Salsa Dressing!  You can dress this Mexican Pasta Salad up or down by adding more or less of your favorite ingredients and even make it a meal by adding chopped chili lime chicken, chipotle chicken or cilantro lime chicken.  No matter how you serve it, this pasta salad recipe is destined to be a repeat favorite!
Servings: 8 -12 servings
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 8 minutes

Ingredients

PASTA SALAD

  • 16 oz. rotini pasta
  • 1 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 ears corn on the cob or 1 can corn, drained (see notes for grilling)
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 English cucumber, sliced and quartered
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded deveined, diced
  • 2 large avocados, chopped
  • 1/2 cup packed cilantro, chopped
  • 1/3 cup finely grated Cotija cheese

CREAMY SALSA DRESSING

  • 1 cup medium or spicy salsa
  • ¾ cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
  • ¾ cup mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 ½ tsp EACH ground cumin, chili powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika

Instructions

  • Cook pasta according to package directions just until al dente. (You can chop your salad ingredients while the pasta is cooking.) Drain, rinse with cold water then toss with a drizzle of olive oil to prevent it from sticking together.
  • Add the pasta and all of the pasta salad ingredients to a large bowl.
  • Whisk all of the Creamy Salsa Ingredients together in a bowl.
  • Pour half of the dressing over the pasta salad and toss to combine (or all of the dressing if serving immediately). Refrigerate pasta salad and remaining dressing separately until ready to use (best served the same day). When ready to serve, toss with remaining dressing. Season with salt, cayenne pepper and lime juice to taste. Dig in!

Video

Notes

Storage

Cover the leftover Mexican Pasta Salad with plastic wrap or transfer it to an airtight container.  Store in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. The longer the pasta salad is refrigerated, the drier it can become.  If your leftovers taste too dry, then drizzle with additional olive oil to taste.  I found additional salt and cayenne pepper were necessary to amp up the flavor of make ahead salad.  Start with a little and add more to taste as needed.

HOW TO CHAR CORN

You can use corn straight off the cob or you can grill it.  I love grilling corn because it results in deeply sweet, succulent, smoky corn, and soaks up the dressing better.  You can char your corn directly on the grill (no foil needed) or you can sizzle it a hot cast iron skillet.  Here is how:
TO GRILL CORN ON THE COB:
Peel the corn, remove all the silk and lightly brush all over with olive oil.  Grease and heat grill to high heat. Grill the corn over direct heat for 10-12 minutes, turning until lightly charred on all sides, closing the lid in between rotations.
TO CHAR CORN IN A SKILLET:
If you don’t have corn on the cob or have access to a grill, you can still char frozen, canned, or fresh corn in a cast iron skillet. Heat one tablespoon olive oil in large cast iron skillet over high heat.  Add the corn and cook, stirring occasionally, until corn starts to char, approximately 5 minutes (a few minutes longer if frozen). Transfer kernels to the serving bowl to cool so they don’t continue to cook.

Make it a Meal!

Did You Make This Recipe?

Tag @CarlsbadCravings and Use #CarlsbadCravngs

Leave a Review, I Always Love Hearing From You!

Reader Interactions

leave a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

8 Comments

  1. Ramya says

    Will be making this soon can i use vegan cotija cheese / coconut cream and vegan mayo as am a vegan can i skip corn / red bell pepper and jalapeno as am not a big fan of them i love pasta sooooooooooooo much i never had mexican food and salad before perfect for my after office meals will dm you if i make this and let you know how it goes Thanks Ramya

    • Jen says

      Thanks Ramya, I’m excited for you to try it!

  2. Joshua says

    Amazing recipe. I made it Thursday and I had to make it again today. I used spicy chili powder and left out the avocado and black beans. It was such a hit that most of the leftovers were snuck out by our guests!!!!

    • Jen says

      LOL! Love the visual of guests sneaking pasta salad leftover! I’m thrilled it was a huge hit, thank you!

  3. Jennifer Fulk says

    Hi Jen! This dressing was so delicious! I was wondering if you ever used it on the Doritos/ ground beef taco salad? I was thinking it would be so good. What is your opinion on this?

    • Jen says

      Yes, I think it would be wonderful on Doritos taco salad!

  4. Ekta says

    I have made this several times and it is always a hit. Recently I made this with vegan mayo, no sour cream or cheese because I could not find vegan version but it worked out fine due to the texture of vegan mayo. It was still delicious! Thank you so much Jennifer your lovely recipes.

    • Jen says

      I am so pleased this recipe is on repeat! That is awesome to hear you’ve successfully made it vegan!