Taco Pasta Salad is the ultimate crowd pleaser bursting with bold, satisfying Tex-Mex flavors and the best Baja Catalina Dressing!
This Taco Pasta Salad is swoon worthy for lunch, easy dinners, potlucks, barbecues or parties and will have everyone clamoring for more! It’s flavor-texture fireworks of the best taco fixings such as chili spiced ground beef or turkey, juicy tomatoes, hearty black beans, creamy avocados, spicy jalapenos, zesty cilantro and the best part – crushed Nacho Cheese Doritos – all doused in creamy Baja Catalina Dressing. This Taco Pasta Salad is easy to customize with your favorite ingredients, is make ahead friendly and can be enjoyed cold, room temperature or warmed. No matter how you serve it, this pasta salad recipe is destined to become a treasured family favorite!
Pasta salad recipes are not only a hit at potlucks, they make the best sides to practically every meal! Try out these favorites: Mexican Pasta Salad, Italian Tortellini Salad, Greek Pasta Salad, Orzo Pasta Salad, Cowboy Pasta Salad, Pesto Pasta Salad and Creamy Bacon Pea Pasta Salad. Now add this Taco Pasta Salad to the list!
HOW TO MAKE taco pasta Salad VIDEo
Why you’ll love this pasta Salad Recipe
This pasta salad is ALWAYS a hit. Not sure what to bring to a gathering – Taco Pasta Salad is the answer! It’s the best of taco salad but even more fabulous with chewy, al dente pasta! It’s a favorite dish for potlucks, pool parties, picnics and HOME! And did I say Nacho Cheese Doritos already?
It’s texture flavor heaven. The best pasta salads boast TONS of texture and this one has it in spades. It’s a vibrant rainbow of juicy beef, al dente pasta, crisp veggies, creamy avocados, juicy tomatoes, and sweet bursts of corn all swaddled in the luxurious, silky, tangy-sweet dressing.
You will be obsessed with the dressing! The dressing is inspired by my Chicken Taco Salad with many readers commenting that it steals the show. This Catalina inspired dressing is delightfully creamy and tangy with a kiss of sweetness spiked with paprika and cumin. It’s the ideal enlivening complement to the smoky earthy beef.
Make it exactly how you like it! This Taco Pasta Salad is easy to customize with any of your favorite add-ins or omit what you don’t like or have on hand. Make it more spicy, less spicy, swap the beans, cheese, etc.
This pasta salad doesn’t have to be made ahead. 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 to eliminate the last–minute hustle – you can do that too!
It makes great leftovers. To that end, this pasta salad tastes great the next day, even warmed in the microwave! So, I promise none of it will go to waste.
Scale the recipe up or down. This pasta salad recipe may be cut in half or doubled, or tripled depending on your needs. Just use the recipe arrows next to the servings and the ingredient quantities will automatically change in the printable recipe card.
INGREDIENTS FOR TACO PASTA SALAD
This Taco Pasta Salad is a fusion of fiesta flavors and textures that is comforting, hearty, flavorful, and fresh all at the same time. Keep in mind as you look at the ingredients that you don’t need all of the bells and whistles to make a truly great pasta salad. Here’s what I add for my perfect bite, but you can customize the salad how you like:
THE PASTA OPTIONS
My favorite pasta for this recipe is rotini but you can use any medium pasta such as:
- Bowties / Farfalle
- Large shells
THE MEAT OPTIONS
PASTA SALAD DRESSING INGREDIENTS
This pasta salad dressing is luxuriously creamy, tangy, sassy with a kiss of sweetness. It’s essentially homemade French Dressing/Catalina Dressing commonly used in taco salad recipes, with a few fiesta seasonings. The dressing can be made days ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator until ready to use. You will need:
possible recipe variations
This Taco Pasta Salad is extremely customizable, make it perfect for YOU! Here are a few possible recipe variations:
how to make Taco Pasta Salad
You are going to love how easy this Taco Pasta Salad is to make! Here’s how (see full recipe in the printable recipe card at the bottom of the post:
- Step 1: Make the dressing. Make the dressing first so it has time to chill. Whisk all of the dressing ingredients together in a bowl then transfer to the refrigerator.
- Step 1: Cook the pasta. Cook the pasta according to package directions in generously salted water. Rinse, drain and add to a large bowl.
- Step 3: Chop the ingredients. While the pasta is cooking, chop the veggies.
- Step 4: Combine. Add all of the pasta salad ingredients to a very large bowl except the Doritos. Toss to combine with the dressing. Immediately before serving, add the Doritos and toss again. See the Make Ahead instructions if not serving right away.
Tips for MAking the Best Pasta Salad
This Taco Pasta Salad recipe is pretty straightforward, but here are some helpful tips and tricks:
IS TACO Pasta SALAD SERVED WARM OR COLD?
Taco Pasta Salad can be served at any temperature but I prefer mine at room temperature. For leftovers, consider microwaving servings for a minute or so – so good!
Prep Ahead Pasta SalaD
You can prep the pasta salad ingredients ahead of time if you want to get more than a 24-hour jump start, otherwise use the make ahead instructions to follow if serving within a few hours.
Ground beef: can be cooked 2-3 days ahead of time and refrigerated in an airtight container. I recommend reheating the beef slightly before tossing with the salad so it’s at room temperature.
Pasta: can be made 48 hours in advance, tossed with a drizzle of olive oil, cooled and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Vegetables: the corn, bell peppers, olives, tomatoes, jalapenos, lettuce, etc. can be chopped 48 hours in advance and stored in separate airtight containers in the refrigerator.
Dressing: can be made 5 days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Make Ahead Pasta SalaD
This Taco Pasta Salad can be made in advance if serving within 24 hours, otherwise follow the prep ahead instructions for the best results for serving a crowd.
1. Hold the lettuce and Doritos. The avocados can be chopped and added if you toss them in some lime juice first.
2. Gently toss the pasta with the rest of the salad ingredients along with HALF of the dressing. If you use all of the dressing initially, your pasta may soak up all the dressing and will taste dry.
3. Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Store the rest of the dressing separately.
4. Bring the pasta salad to room temperature before serving by letting it sit on the counter for 30 minutes or so.
5. When ready to serve, add the lettuce and the remaining dressing. Only add the Doritos as soon as you’re ready to serve.
HOW TO STORE pasta Salad
Cover the leftover Taco 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 stir in some sour cream. You may also want to perk up the salad with salt and cayenne pepper to taste.
You can enjoy leftovers cold, but I prefer microwaving servings for 30 seconds for room temperature or a minute or so for warmed (it’s so good warmed!).
WHAT TO SERVE WITH THIS PASTA SALAD RECIPE?
Taco Pasta Salad is practically a meal-in-itself with protein, veggies and carbs – the only thing left to add is fruit! I love to serve this recipe with juicy watermelon, Pina Colada Fruit Salad, Perfect Fruit Salad or Summer Fruit Salad.
This pasta salad is also delicious with all your potluck and grilled favorites such as BBQ Pulled Pork, BBQ Beef Brisket, Carne Asada, Marinated Flank Steak, Marinated Skirt Steak, Chipotle Chicken, Cilantro Lime Chicken and Best Grilled Chicken.
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Taco Pasta Salad
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- 1 pound lean ground beef (see notes for turkey)
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 ½ tsps EACH garlic powder, onion powder
- 1 tsp EACH ground cumin, salt
- 1/2 tsp EACH smoked paprika, dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 4 oz. can mild diced green chilies
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 pound rotini, or other medium pasta
- 1 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 ½ cups sweet corn (fresh or canned)
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 cup black olives, halved (optional)
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped
- 3 tablespoons diced pickled jalapenos (from 4 ounce can), more or less to taste
- 1 cup cilantro, chopped (measure before chopping)
- 2 cups Mexican cheese blend
ADD JUST BEFORE SERVING
- 3 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
- 2 avocados, ripe but slightly firm, chopped (optional)
- 1 9.5 oz. bag Nacho Doritos, crushed
CREAMY BAJA CATALINA DRESSING
- 3/4 cup mayonnaise
- 3/4 cup sour cream (may sub Greek yogurt)
- 1/4 cup medium salsa
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 tsp EACH smoked paprika, ground cumin, salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- Whisk together all of the Dressing ingredients in a medium bowl; refrigerate.
- Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions, just until al dente. Rinse with cold water and drain. Add to a very large serving bowl and toss with a drizzle of olive oil.
- Brown the meat in a large skillet over medium heat. Drain off excess grease. Stir in all of the spices, followed by 2 tablespoons water and green chiles. Set aside to cool while you chop your veggies.
- Add the beef and the pasta salad ingredients to the pasta (beans through the cheese blend).
If serving immediately:
- Proceed to add the avocados and lettuce. Toss with all of the dressing. Add the Doritos right before serving and toss again. Season to taste. If you expect leftovers, you may want to hold the Doritos and let everyone add them to their own servings; they will lose their crunch fairly quickly.
If not serving immediately:
- Hold the lettuce, avocados and Doritos. Toss the pasta salad with HALF of the dressing, cover and refrigerate. Bring the pasta salad to room temperature before serving by letting it sit on the counter for 30 minutes or so. When ready to serve, add the lettuce, avocados and Doritos. Toss with remaining dressing. Season to taste. If you expect leftovers, you may want to hold the Doritos and let everyone add them to their own servings; they will lose their crunch fairly quickly.
- Customize ingredients: The pasta salad ingredients and measurements are simply suggestions. You can use add/swap any ingredients for your favorites.
- Ground turkey: You can absolutely use ground turkey or chicken instead of beef. To still enjoy the beefy flavor, season the turkey with 2 teaspoons granulated beef bouillon, 2 crushed bouillon cubes or 2 teaspoons base like Better Than Bouillon or Zoup! If using bouillon, reduce the salt to ½ teaspoon then season to taste.
- Avocados: You can add chopped avocados to the salad hours ahead of time by first tossing with lime juice.
- Cheese: You can also use 2 cups of cheddar or one cup each of cheddar and Monterrey Jack.
- 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 you may need to adjust if the pasta has been refrigerated.
Prep Ahead Pasta SaladYou can prep the pasta salad ingredients ahead of time if you want to get more than a 24-hour jump start, otherwise use the make ahead instructions in the recipe card if serving within a few hours.
- Ground beef: can be cooked 2-3 days ahead of time and refrigerated in an airtight container. I recommend reheating the beef slightly before tossing with the salad so it’s at room temperature.
- Pasta: can be made 48 hours in advance, tossed with a drizzle of olive oil, cooled and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- Vegetables: the corn, bell peppers, olives, tomatoes, jalapenos, lettuce, etc. can be chopped 48 hours in advance and stored in separate airtight containers in the refrigerator.
- Dressing: can be made 5 days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- Cover the leftover Taco 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 stir in some sour cream. You may also want to perk up the salad with salt and cayenne pepper to taste.
- You can enjoy leftovers cold, but I prefer microwaving servings for 30 seconds for room temperature or a minute or so for warmed (it’s so good warmed!).
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