Taco Pasta Salad

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This easy Taco Pasta Salad combines pasta, taco-seasoned meat, iceberg lettuce, black beans, and veggies. A homemade creamy chili-lime dressing is the perfect complement to this salad.

Overhead image of Taco Pasta Salad

Taco Pasta Salad

It’s no secret my obsession for tacos runs deep; from these meatless healthy tacos to shrimp tacos to this chicken taco salad to taco bowls and about 30 other taco recipes in between, there are a lot of taco recipes on this website. So, of course there was a need to combine tacos with a pasta salad.

Enter: Taco Pasta Salad.

I’ll say it right now: this is not your typical taco salad, loaded with store-bought Catalina or French dressing, crushed up Doritos, and packaged Cheddar. While I’m all for using shortcuts and purchased dressings when it makes sense, I’ve just never been a fan of those types of taco salads in the past. To be fair, it’s most likely because I’m not a huge fan of commercial Catalina or French dressings, and always find myself craving a more “homemade” taco salad. 

So this salad came to be. It has taco-seasoned ground beef, thinly sliced iceberg lettuce, black beans, veggies, fresh herbs, and the most crave-worthy creamy chili-lime dressing.

Process shots-- images of the ground beef being cooked; the lettuce being chopped and washed; pasta being cooked and drained; and everything being combined.

Taco Pasta Salad tips

  • Use textured pasta. Choose pasta that has plenty of nooks and crannies to hold that delicious chili-lime dressing. If you can’t find bowtie pasta, I recommend miniature shells, rotini, or fusilli. 
  • Don’t use all the pasta. Most pasta salads call for an entire box of pasta, so it’s easy to go on auto pilot and fix an entire box. However, this recipe calls for only 3 cups, so make sure to measure that out before boiling the pasta.
  • Salt the pasta water. Since this pasta is eaten cold, the flavors tend to get muted. Make sure the pasta is well-salted as it cooks, since salting is the only chance you have to season the actual pasta. Don’t be afraid to add more salt to the finished dish if it needs it. Read about how to properly salt your pasta water here. As a general rule of thumb, I add 1 teaspoon salt to 4 cups of water.
  • If you have time, make the dressing in advance. This dressing improves if it’s made in advance and chilling in the fridge; the flavors meld together and intensify, plus, it’s just better chilled! 
  • Assemble this salad right before eating. This is not a pasta salad that sits well with the dressing. The dressing wilts the lettuce quickly, giving it an unpleasant texture. If making in advance, store salad separately from dressing and combine the two right before eating. Only dress what will get eaten the same day. 

Process shots-- images of the dressing being made and being tossed with all the salad ingredients.

Homemade taco seasoning

Since Taco Pasta Salad is a bit more involved than similar recipes (we’re making a homemade dressing), I call for a packet of taco seasoning in the recipe. That said, if you’ve got extra time or would prefer homemade, I have a go-to recipe to replace a taco seasoning packet.

Here’s the recipe to make your taco seasoning from scratch:

  • 1 tablespoon ground chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon each: ground cumin, ground paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon each: onion powdergarlic powder, dried oreganosalt, and pepper
  • 1/2 tablespoon beef bouillon powder (optional)

Stir the seasonings together and use in place of the taco seasoning packet when cooking the ground beef.

Up-close overhead image of Taco Pasta Salad.

Recipe notes

  • Corn. If you’re using frozen corn, I’d recommend letting it thaw and then cook in a dry skillet to slightly char it. For fresh corn, cut the corn off the cob and add straightaway to the salad, or you can grill it first. To see grilling directions, follow the directions in this Elote recipe.
  • Lettuce. I use iceberg lettuce in this salad, since it’s a typical lettuce found in tacos; feel free to swap it with romaine lettuce if you prefer. If this pasta salad is going to sit in the dressing for a bit, I’d recommend leaving out the lettuce entirely. It wilts very quickly with the dressing. One other note with the lettuce: make sure it is 100% dried before adding it in; otherwise, it makes the dressing watery. I love using a salad spinner to thoroughly dry lettuce.
  • Make this recipe healthier. With a few swaps, you can ramp up the nutrition in Taco Pasta Salad. I recommend making the homemade taco seasoning mix listed above, swapping lean ground turkey or chicken for the ground beef, and using fat-free sour cream in the dressing.
  • Add some crunch. If you’re craving something crunchy or a tortilla texture in your salad, feel free to add in some crunchy tortilla strips — either homemade or from the store. 

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Taco Pasta Salad

5 from 2 votes
This easy Taco Pasta Salad combines pasta, taco-seasoned meat, iceberg lettuce, black beans, and veggies. A homemade creamy chili-lime dressing is the perfect complement to this salad.
Print Recipe

Taco Pasta Salad

5 from 2 votes
This easy Taco Pasta Salad combines pasta, taco-seasoned meat, iceberg lettuce, black beans, and veggies. A homemade creamy chili-lime dressing is the perfect complement to this salad.
Course Salad
Cuisine American
Keyword Chicken Taco Pasta Salad
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 8 -10 as a side (4-6 as a meal)
Calories 242kcal
Cost $5.54

Ingredients

Dressing

  • 1/3 cup (65g) full-fat mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup (75g) sour cream (can use lite or fat free)
  • 3 tablespoons (40g) freshly squeezed lime juice + 1/2 teaspoon lime zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon EACH: ground cumin and garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon EACH ground chili powder, paprika
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce or Sriracha
  • 1/4 teach each: fine sea salt and pepper

Salad

  • 3 cups (170g) farfalle/bowtie pasta
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound (16 oz.) lean ground beef
  • 1 package (1 oz.; 28g) taco seasoning mix
  • 3 cups (150g) iceberg lettuce
  • 1 small red bell pepper, (~3/4 cup; 90g) chopped into small pieces
  • 2 cups (305g) cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 1/3 cup (20g) thinly sliced green onions (~3 onions)
  • 1/3 cup (15g) finely chopped cilantro
  • 1 can (15 oz.) black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup (145g) frozen or fresh corn, thawed or cut off the cob (See Note 1)

Instructions

  • DRESSING: Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a bowl. Whisk together until smooth. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
  • PASTA: Prepare the pasta according to package directions (don't cook all the pasta; only use 3 cups!). Make sure to generously salt the water (I add 1 teaspoon to every 4 cups of water). Don't forget to salt the pasta water or the whole salad will taste under-seasoned. Drain pasta, rinse under cold water, let cool and allow to dry.
  • GROUND BEEF: Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet. Add in the beef and cook, crumbling as you go, until browned and cooked through. Drain off any fat as needed. Add in the taco seasoning and stir until coated. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
  • SALAD ASSEMBLY: Stir together the cooled pasta and cooled beef mixture, lettuce, chopped peppers, quartered cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced green onions, finely chopped cilantro, drained and rinsed black beans, and corn (See Note 1). Gently toss to combine.
  • DRESSING: Give the dressing another quick stir and then pour over the salad. Gently toss to combine. Taste and adjust any seasonings to personal preference, adding more salt and/or pepper as needed. Enjoy immediately!
  • STORAGE: Salad is best enjoyed soon after being dressed; it does not sit well with the dressing.

Video

Recipe Notes

Note 1: If using frozen corn, I recommend letting it thaw and then cooking in a dry skillet to slightly char it. For fresh corn, cut the kernels off the cob and add straightaway to the salad, or it can be grilled first. To see grilling directions, follow the directions in this Elote recipe.

Nutrition Facts

Serving: 10servings | Calories: 242kcal | Carbohydrates: 33.6g | Protein: 18.5g | Fat: 3.8g | Cholesterol: 31mg | Fiber: 4.9g | Sugar: 3.6g

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10 Comments

  1. What a terrific recipe! I am a huge fan of pasta salads, especially for a summer barbecue. This is definitely a fantastic version 🙂

  2. Oh, I love this! Pasta and tacos. <3 I love any excuse to eat them together in the same meal! All of your quick and easy meals always look so great, Chelsea! 🙂

  3. 5 stars
    This recipe is so delicious and easy to make. Instead of a side dish, we ate it for our main course. I used spiral pasta, it turned out great. I’m sure it will be a repeated favorite. Oh, I added Doritos for that crunch we all like.

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