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Taco Pasta Salad

This irresistible Taco Pasta Salad recipe is bursting with vibrant colors and bold flavor. This dish combines tender pasta with zesty homemade taco seasoning, creamy sour cream, and tangy ranch dressing. From there, it’s topped with a generous sprinkle of grated cheese and crispy tortilla strips. This is perfect for potlucks, picnics, or easy weeknight dinners.

taco pasta salad with chips, cheese, and lettuce, in a white bowl
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Why You Will Love This Recipe

  • Flavorful Twist: Taco pasta salad combines the flavors of traditional tacos with the comforting elements of pasta salad, offering a unique twist.
  • Easy to Customize: You can adjust the ingredients and seasonings to create a salad that’s perfect for your preferences.
  • Simple to Make: This recipe doesn’t require any complicated cooking techniques. It’s a great option for busy weeknights or when you’re short on time but still want a satisfying meal.
  • Make-Ahead Option: This salad can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve it. It’s a convenient option for meal prep or for packing lunches for the week.
diced onions, lettuce, tortilla strips, grated cheese, and canned diced tomatoes and chilies on a flat surface

Key Ingredients

  • Pasta
  • Ground Beef
  • Diced Tomatoes and Chilies (Rotel)
  • Onions
  • Ranch Dressing
  • Sour Cream
  • Homemade Taco Seasoning or store-bought
ranch dressing and plain Greek yogurt in separate glass bowls
homemade taco seasoning spices in a white bowl

What Type of Pasta to Use

You should use a pasta shape that can hold the dressing and mix well with the other ingredients. Here are some options:

  • Rotini: With its corkscrew shape, is a popular choice for pasta salads. Its twists and turns help to capture the dressing and ingredients, ensuring that each bite is flavorful and well-coated.
  • Penne: Penne has tubular shape and ridges. The nooks and crannies hold onto the dressing and other ingredients, providing great texture and flavor in every bite.
  • Farfalle (Bowtie): It has a unique shape and its flat surface allows it to hold onto the dressing and other ingredients.
  • Fusilli: I see this shape at Trader Joe’s a lot. Its twists and turns hold onto the dressing and ingredients.
rotini pasta in a glass bowl

What Type of Meat to Use

I used ground beef because it’s a classic choice that adds savory flavor and texture to the salad. Here are more options:

  • Chicken Breasts or Chicken Thighs
  • Rotisserie Chicken
  • Ground Turkey
  • Shrimp
  • Salmon
  • Smoked Pulled Pork
  • Tofu
raw ground beef in a glass bowl

How to Make Taco Pasta Salad

Detailed measurements and full instructions can be found in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.

  1. Cook the pasta in accordance with the instructions on the package.
  2. Use the same pot used for the pasta or use a skillet and place the pot/pan on medium-high heat. Add the diced onions.
  3. Cook for 2-3 minutes until fragrant. Add the ground beef.
  4. Cook until the beef is fully cooked and no longer pink.
  5. Add all of the spices/seasoning and diced tomatoes and chilies. Stir.
  6. Add the sour cream (or yogurt) and salad dressing to a large serving bowl.
  7. Add in cooked pasta, ground beef, and grated cheese. Stir to combine.
taco pasta salad with ground beef in a glass bowl

More Salad Dressing Ideas

  • Creamy Avocado Dressing: You can typically find store-bought versions at the grocery store. To make your own, blend ripe avocados with lime juice, cilantro, garlic, and a touch of plain Greek yogurt or sour cream.
  • Chipotle Ranch Dressing: Mix ranch dressing with pureed chipotle peppers in adobo sauce for a smoky, spicy kick that pairs well with the taco-inspired ingredients. Check out my Southwest Salad Dressing recipe.
  • Salsa Verde Dressing: Combine salsa verde with lime juice, olive oil, and a touch of honey or agave syrup for a tangy and flavorful dressing that adds a zesty punch to the salad.
  • Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette
  • Taco Sauce: Use store-bought or homemade taco sauce as a quick and easy dressing option. It adds a bold and savory flavor with hints of chili, cumin, and garlic.
  • Sour Cream and Salsa: Mix equal parts sour cream and salsa for a simple yet delicious dressing that provides creaminess and tanginess with a hint of spice.

More Substitutions and Vegetables You Can Add

How Long Can The Salad Sit Out

It can sit out 1-2 hours. It takes about 2 hours for bacteria to start to grow to dangerous levels. In warm temperatures, that time shrinks. You can read the Food Safety Guidance from the FDA here. If you’re serving pasta salad at an event or picnic, consider keeping it chilled in an insulated cooler with ice packs to maintain a safe temperature.

taco pasta salad with chips, cheese, and lettuce, in a white bowl

Can You Make it Ahead/How Long it Will Last in the Fridge

If stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, the salad can last for about 3-4 days. However, the quality will likely start to decline after the first day as the pasta becomes softer.

If you plan to reheat the dish or save leftovers, I recommend storing the pasta separate from the ground beef. I personally prefer warm ground beef with a chilled salad. I also recommend storing toppings like lettuce separate as well. Add your toppings when you serve the salad.

How to Keep it Creamy

If preparing the salad in advance, add the ingredients for the dressing just before serving to prevent the pasta from absorbing too much moisture and becoming dry. This will help maintain the creamy consistency of the salad.

If the salad seems dry after refrigeration, add a little more ranch and/or sour cream (plain Greek yogurt) and gently toss to coat. Avoid adding too much dressing at once to prevent the salad from becoming overly wet.

Can You Freeze It?

You can freeze it, but I wouldn’t recommend it. In general, ranch, yogurt, and sour cream do not freeze well and usually develops ice crystals.

More Salad Recipes

Dill Pickle Pasta Salad
Bow Tie Pasta Salad with Italian Dressing
Seafood Pasta Salad with Shrimp and Crab
Salmon Pasta Salad
Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad
Creamy Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad
Broccoli Salad with Bacon and Cheese

Taco Pasta Salad

This irresistible Taco Pasta Salad recipe is bursting with vibrant colors and bold flavor. This dish combines tender pasta with zesty homemade taco seasoning, creamy sour cream, and tangy ranch dressing. From there, it's topped with a generous sprinkle of grated cheese and crispy tortilla strips. This is perfect for potlucks, picnics, or easy weeknight dinners.
Save this recipe here.
Course dinner, lunch
Cuisine American
Keyword taco pasta salad, taco pasta salad with Doritos
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes
Servings 5 servings
Calories 596kcal

Ingredients

  • 8 oz rotini pasta
  • 1 pound ground beef or turkey
  • 1/2 cup diced onions I used red onions.
  • 15.5 oz canned diced chilies and tomatoes Drained.
  • 1 cup grated cheese Cheddar, Cheddar Jack, or Monterey Jack Cheese.
  • 1/2 cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4-1/2 cup ranch salad dressing
  • shredded lettuce
  • tortilla strips or crushed chips

Homemade Taco Seasoning (You can also use store-bought seasoning blends if you wish).

Instructions

  • Cook the pasta in accordance with the instructions on the package.
  • Rinse the pasta in cold water and dry completely.
  • Use the same pot used for the pasta or use a skillet and place the pot/pan on medium-high heat. Add the diced onions.
  • Cook for 2-3 minutes until fragrant. Add the ground beef.
  • Use a meat chopper or spoon to break down the ground beef. Cook until the beef is fully cooked and no longer pink. Drain any excess fat.
  • Add all of the spices/seasoning and diced tomatoes and chilies. Stir.
  • Add the sour cream (or yogurt) and salad dressing to a large serving bowl. Stir to combine.
  • Add in the cooked pasta, ground beef, and grated cheese. Stir to combine. Taste repeatedly and adjust the spices, salt, and pepper as necessary.
  • Top with lettuce, tortilla strips, and any of your other favorite toppings.

Notes

If you plan to reheat the dish or save leftovers, I recommend storing the pasta separate from the ground beef. I personally prefer warm ground beef with a chilled salad. I also recommend storing toppings like lettuce separate as well.
For a creamier salad add more ranch or sour cream (or plain Greek yogurt).
Recipe Tools Used in this RecipeAs an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Nutrition (displayed with net carbs)

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 596kcal | Carbohydrates: 39g | Protein: 32g | Fat: 33g
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Nutrition DataMacros are provided as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. This information is calculated using MyFitnessPal.com. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator. You are solely responsible for ensuring that any nutritional information provided is accurate, complete, and useful.
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