Need an easy meal that will feed a crowd? Our Taco Pasta Salad with ground beef, tomatoes, cheese, and lettuce fits the bill! Whether you make it for an easy summer dinner or bring it along to the neighborhood cookout, this pasta salad is always a hit.
Tacos or Pasta...Who Says You Have to Choose?
If you haven’t already noticed, we like to combine different types of meals around here.
Sure, classic lasagna is great, but why not try Lasagna Soup or Tortilla Lasagna?
You could go through the drive thru and grab a Big Mac, OR you could make an incredible Big Mac Sloppy Joe or Big Mac Salad?
And, yes, of course, tacos are awesome in any form, which is why we love Taco Spaghetti, Walking Taco Casserole, AND this Taco Pasta Salad.
We love to have fun and combine our favorite dishes, and this recipe is no exception.
Here’s why we think you'll love this mash up as much as we do:
- It serves 10-12 people. This recipe will feed a crowd. It’s perfect for parties, potlucks, and company, but it’s also great for leftovers. Make this for dinner, and eat it for lunch tomorrow!
- It’s hearty and comforting. There’s nothing like a meaty, cheesy pasta dish to make you (and everyone you serve it to) feel at home.
- No oven necessary. All the cooking in this recipe is done on the stove top. Is it 90 degrees outside, and you don’t want to heat up your house with the oven? Don’t sweat it (haha). Just make our Taco Pasta Salad, and avoid the oven altogether.
- It's full of flavor! We just adore this zestier take on traditional pasta salad. The Mexican flavors are a welcome surprise!
Key Ingredients for Pasta Salad with Ground Beef
- Rotini pasta. You could also use bowtie or penne pasta for this recipe, but we would highly recommend rotini. It soaks up the dressing and holds all the taco flavors really well.
- Ground beef. You’ll need one pound of ground beef, lean or not-so-lean will work.
- Taco seasoning. Store-bought taco seasoning works just fine, but if you want to make your own, check out this Homemade Taco Seasoning. I keep a jar of it on hand all the time.
- Fixins. Tomatoes, cheese, peppers, onion, cilantro, etc. We like a lot of toppings in our Taco Pasta Salad, but you can customize these according to your taco preferences.
- Dressing. We use sweet and tangy Catalina dressing to tie the pasta salad together. Don't sleep on Catalina, y'all! It's the secret sauce!
How to Make Our Ground Beef Pasta Salad
- Make the pasta. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook to al dente, about 8 minutes. Pour the cooked pasta into a strainer and rinse with cold water. Set aside while the remaining ingredients are prepped.
- Cook the beef. Add the ground beef to a skillet over medium heat. Cook until browned, about 7-10 minutes. Drain all but a tablespoon of the fat from the cooked beef.
- Season. Add ⅔ cup of water and the taco seasoning. Return to the stove over medium low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened. Remove from heat and let the beef cool for 10 minutes before adding to the pasta.
- Combine. Add the cooked pasta to a large bowl. Add the beef and tomatoes to the pasta and stir to combine. Add the cheese, green pepper, onion and cilantro and stir again. Finally, add the lettuce and catalina dressing and stir until evenly incorporated.
- Serve immediately, garnished with corn chips or Doritos.
Is Taco Pasta Salad supposed to be warm or cold?
It can be served warm or cold, but we really love the contrast of warm ground beef and cold lettuce.
How long does pasta salad last in the fridge?
This pasta salad will last for several days in the fridge. If you know you're planning to eat the salad over a longer period of time, we recommend omitting the lettuce.
Can I make taco pasta salad ahead of time?
Yes! Prepare the pasta salad up to 2 days in advance, but do not add the lettuce, dressing or chips until right before serving. The pasta can be tossed with a little oil to keep from sticking until ready to assemble.
Store the pasta in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to eat.
Why is my pasta salad dry?
As pasta salad sits, the pasta soaks up the dressing. This gives it great flavor, but can also make it seem dry. If your leftover pasta salad is too dry, simply add a little more dressing to your liking!
What toppings go with taco pasta salad?
We love the combination of toppings we've included here, but you could also add black beans, corn niblets, sliced radish, or even pickled jalapenos to your version.
More Taco Recipes
We’re really into tacos. Here are some of our more traditional taco recipes: Ground Beef Taco Salad, Easy Ground Beef Tacos, and Crock Pot Taco Meat.
And some taco recipes that have a twist: One Pot Taco Spaghetti, Creamy Taco Soup, Taco Burgers, Taco Tater Tot Casserole, and Layered Taco Dip.
More Pasta Salad Recipes
Summer = Pasta Salad Season.
Check out these amazing variations: Italian Bowtie Pasta Salad, Greek Pasta Salad, and Southwest Pasta Salad. You won’t regret adding them, along with this Taco Pasta Salad, to your dinner rotation.
Taco Pasta Salad Recipe
- 12 ounces rotini pasta
- 1 pound ground beef
- ⅔ cup water
- 1 package taco seasoning (3 tablespoons)
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes (sliced in half)
- 1 ½ cups shredded cheese
- ½ cup green pepper (diced)
- ½ cup onion (diced)
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
- 2 cups shredded lettuce
- ¾ cup catalina dressing
- Corn chips or doritos for topping (optional)
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook to al dente, about 8 minutes.
- Pour the cooked pasta into a strainer and rinse with cold water. Set aside while the remaining ingredients are prepped.
- Add the ground beef to a skillet over medium heat. Cook until browned, about 7-10 minutes. Drain the fat from the cooked beef.
- Add ⅔ cup of water and the taco seasoning. Return to the stove over medium low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened. Remove from heat and let the beef cool for 10 minutes before adding to the pasta.
- Add the cooked pasta to a large bowl. Add the beef and tomatoes to the pasta and stir to combine. Add the cheese, green pepper, onion and cilantro and stir again.
- Finally, add the lettuce and Catalina dressing and stir until evenly incorporated.
- Serve immediately, garnished with corn chips or Doritos.
- If you are using homemade taco seasoning, add 2 Tablespoons of flour to the ground beef mixture to thicken the sauce.
- Do not cook the pasta past the al dente stage or it will break up as it’s stirred with the other ingredients.
- The pasta will soak up the dressing as it sits. If you’re preparing this well in advance, you may need to add more dressing before serving.
- Other ingredients that can be included or substituted: black beans, corn niblets, etc.