This is the best classic taco salad recipe that everyone LOVES. You’ll also find lots of ways to adapt it and make it just the way you like it!
Why you’ll love it: It’s a classic (and I’ve made it a bit healthier).
How long it takes: 25 minutes
Equipment you’ll need: skillet, sharp knife, large bowl, measuring utensils
There is just something about the classic taco salad recipe that is so appealing to me. Whoever originally decided to crush up Doritos and put them into a salad with all the taco fixings deserves a medal.
I put my own spin on this classic recipe to make it a touch healthier by using homemade Catalina dressing. Of course, you’re more than welcome to use the bottled dressing, too. I may or may not have a bottle in my fridge right now as a back-up plan. No judgment here!
I’ll also, as usual, suggest some ways to make this your own or tweak it to fit a certain diet or make it a tad healthier. I wanted to start with a really classic version of taco salad though, because it’s just so great in that form. It’s a universal crowd pleaser (although I’m sitting next to my mom right now and I’m willing to bet if I asked her, she’d probably turn her nose up just a bit at the ground beef and Doritos – going to ask her, stay tuned), and it’s a picnic and BBQ staple.
So let’s start with the basics.
What’s in a taco salad?
Clearly, this is up to you. You’re the boss! Here are the basics, and then we’ll talk about how you can switch it up.
- Seasoned Ground Beef
So those are the ingredients, boiled down to the very basics. But it’s a salad, and salads are made for fixing up and making them just the way you want them.
How to make taco salad
I’ll tell you how I like it but I’ve included lots of ways to change it up.
As always, the printable recipe with measurements and instructions can be found at the end of this post.
- Lettuce: Obviously lettuce is the base of the recipe, and usually iceberg lettuce is the standard option. I choose romaine because I like my lettuce to be a little more green than iceberg typically is. Either one will work! Leaf lettuce is also a good choice.
- Cheese: I like the bold taste of sharp cheddar. Like things a little hotter? Try a pepper jack. Wanna get a little fancy? Try cotija or queso fresco.
- Ground Beef: I go with an extra lean ground beef, but ground turkey or ground chicken are great if you’re not into red meat (thinking of you, mom!). The beef is flavored with taco seasoning. I, of course, always use my recipe for homemade taco seasoning. You can also make a vegetarian taco salad by leaving out the meat and doubling up on the beans.
- Beans: I always choose pinto. Black beans also work well.
- Green Onion: Not a classic add-in, but I love the flavor onions add. Chopped red onion or vidalia onion is really good, too.
- Dressing: I use my homemade Catalina but you could also do store-bought. French dressing is a good choice (store-bought or homemade). Or try homemade Thousand Island for a creamier salad.
- Doritos: I just love Doritos but any tortilla chip is good. I think they’re what makes this salad so irresistible, but if you want to leave them out, go for it! Fritos are delicious too, if you want to mix it up a little.
- Add-ins: I go with the classic sour cream and tomatoes, but try adding cilantro, jalapeño, chopped bell peppers, or whatever your heart desires!
The “don’ts” of taco salad
Of course, there are lots of things you can do, but there are a few things you shouldn’t do.
- Lettuce: This is not the place for fancy microgreens or even a spring mix. They’ll get trampled by all the other salad mix-ins here. You need a sturdier lettuce to hold up to all of that. Stick with romaine, romaine hearts, leaf lettuce, or good ol’ iceberg lettuce.
- Don’t mix in the chips until immediately prior to serving. They’ll get soggy and gross and the point of the chips is to add that great crunch.
- That’s all really!
PS: I asked my mom and she embarrassedly admitted, “Oh yeah, I actually really do like taco salad. There’s just something about it.” There really is just something about it. It’s so stinking good.
This taco salad is definitely best when it’s either room temperature or cold. Heating it up would totally destroy the texture of the lettuce.
Nachos are served hot, with melted cheese (or cheese sauce) over tortilla chips. Nachos generally don’t include lettuce like a taco salad, or have a dressing. If you like nachos, try Vegetarian Nachos with Creamy Cilantro Lime Drizzle or Cauliflower Nachos.
Make Ahead Tips
Thinking ahead? Make the salad as directed up to the point of mixing in the dressing. Make sure the meat is well cooled before adding it to the lettuce. Stir up the dressing and refrigerate the salad and dressing in separate containers for up to a day. Just before serving, add the dressing, toss the salad, and then add the chips and toppings.
More main course salads
Don’t you just love a salad that’s a meal? Here’s more ideas:
- Roasted Romaine Salad
- Southwestern BBQ Chicken Salad with Sweet Barbecue Salad Dressing
- Southwestern Farro Salad with Roasted Poblanos
- Fattoush (try adding shish tawook or chicken kofta)
- Zucchini Noodle Salad with Beans, Feta, and Lemon
- Grilled Shrimp Salad
- Lentil Salad with Recipe with Feta, Lemon and Parsley
- Creamy Southwestern Orzo Salad
- Zucchini Noodle Salad Mason Jar Salad with Farro and Mozzarella
- Steak Salad from Fifteen Spatulas
- Southwestern Cobb Salad from Food & Wine
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 2 tablespoons taco seasoning (or one 1.25 oz package)
- 1 head iceberg or romaine lettuce, washed and chopped
- 1 can (15.5 oz) pinto beans, rinsed and drained
- 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 2 cups halved grape tomatoes
- 3 green onions, finely chopped
- 10 ounces Catalina dressing (1 1/4 cups)
- 2 cups crushed nacho cheese tortilla chips (Doritos) (more if desired)
- Salsa and sour cream for topping, if desired
- In a frying pan or skillet, brown ground beef over medium-high heat until fully cooked. Add taco seasoning and 1/4 cup of water and cook until the water has evaporated and seasoning is distributed. Set aside to cool.
- In a large bowl, combine lettuce, pinto beans, cheese, tomatoes, and green onions. Add cooked and cooled ground beef.
- If serving immediately, add dressing and chips. Otherwise, wait to add those two ingredients until immediately prior to serving. Top with sour cream and salsa if desired.
- Commercially bottled French dressing may be substituted, if you prefer.
- Ground turkey may be substituted for ground beef.
- Black beans may be substituted for pinto beans.
- If you prefer, plain tortilla chips can be used instead of nacho cheese Doritos.
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition data is gathered primarily from the USDA Food Composition Database, whenever available, or otherwise other online calculators.