Quick And Easy Catalina Taco Salad Recipe

We know that salad isn’t always the most popular meal choice. When you tell someone you’re making salad for dinner, you might be met with comments such as ‘I don’t like vegetables’ or grumbling about ‘rabbit food’. 

Catalina Taco Salad Recipe

However, we’re here today to show you that salad doesn’t have to be bland or unappealing. In fact, our taco salad recipe features ground beef, Doritos, and a delicious Catalina dressing! 

This salad is sure to convert even the most adamant hater of greens with its complex flavor profile, filling ingredients, and incredible freshness. 

Read on to find out how to make an amazing Catalina taco salad easily in just 30 minutes!

Ingredients For Catalina Taco Salad 

  • Lean ground beef (1 lb) 
  • Romaine lettuce (1 head) 
  • Dorito chips (11 oz)
  • Pinto beans (1 can)
  • Taco seasoning (¼ cup) 
  • Catalina salad dressing (⅓ – ½ cup)
  • Water (¾ cup)
  • Seeded jalapeño pepper (1 or ½) 


We recommend using ground beef for your Catalina taco salad, since this is the meat most often used in tacos.

However, you can also substitute ground beef for a different kind of ground meat with great results. Ground chicken or ground turkey are both good alternatives, especially when infused with the flavor of the jalapeño. 


Dorito chips are the most obvious choice for a taco salad, but if you’re not a fan of these chips or don’t have any to use, you can easily swap them out for any other crunchy corn chip. Fritos, for example, work really well in this salad. 


We’ve listed pinto beans in the ingredients, but you can use various different kinds of beans to make a taco salad. Red kidney beans are a good option, as are black beans. Ranch-style beans will also do the trick. 

Although we’ve specified that you should use one can of beans, you can also use 1 ⅓ cups of fresh beans and cook them from scratch. 


Romaine lettuce can be substituted for iceberg lettuce or green leaf lettuce. You could even use several kinds of lettuce in the same salad to create variety. As long as the leaves are healthy and crisp, the salad should be delicious. 


If you want to keep things simple, you can just use taco seasoning out of a packet. However, if you have time on your hands, you could also make the taco seasoning from scratch using a combination of onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, paprika, and chili powder. 


You’ll be using the Catalina dressing to add more flavor to the meat and beans before adding them to the salad. Make sure to save some for later, though, since you’ll also want to drizzle it over the salad once you’ve either tossed or layered it. 

Toppings (Optional) 

We’ve already listed all of the core ingredients of the Catalina taco salad. You could serve your taco salad with only the ingredients listed above, but we personally like to make our taco salad a little more interesting by adding a variety of delicious toppings. 

If possible, we recommend using all of the following toppings, but you can also just choose the ones you prefer.

  • Cherry tomatoes (1 pint) 
  • Black olives (½ cup) 
  • Avocado (1) 
  • Red onion (¼ cup) 
  • Red bell pepper (⅓ cup)
  • Radishes (2) 
  • Fresh cilantro (¼ cup)
  • Cheddar cheese (½ cup) 
  • Ranch dressing 
  • Sour cream 

Ranch And/Or Sour Cream 

You’ll already have the Catalina dressing to add flavor and creaminess to your taco salad. However, if you’d like to add some more, you can use sour cream or ranch (or both). Sour cream, in particular, will help to add extra flavor thanks to its tangy aftertaste. 


You can either chop up your cherry tomatoes, or add them to the salad whole, since they’re small enough not to need slicing. 


As with the tomatoes, you can choose to chop up your olives or not, depending on your personal preference. If you’d like to get a hint of olive flavor throughout the salad, dice them up small. Alternatively, just sprinkle whole olives into the salad. 


You can add pieces of chopped avocado into the taco salad to add some healthy fats and subtle creaminess. Alternatively, you could get an extra avocado and chop them both up to make some guacamole, which you can either layer into the salad or have in a bowl on the side. 


We’ve recommended red onions for this taco salad because we personally feel that they add the most flavor. However, if you prefer green onions, there’s no reason why these wouldn’t work just as well. Whether you want to dice or slice your onion is entirely up to you. 

Bell Pepper

You can use any color of bell pepper you like, but we recommend red pepper because it contrasts nicely against the orange chips and the green lettuce leaves.

No matter what kind of bell pepper you choose to use, make sure to dice it up rather than slicing it into long strips, since this will make the salad easier to eat. 


A taco salad just wouldn’t be a taco salad without cheese! Cheddar cheese is the obvious choice, but you could also use Monterey Jack or Colby. If you feel like adding more than one type of cheese, go for it, as long as the flavors compliment one another!


It’s best to use fresh cilantro leaves in this taco salad because they will be more flavorful and look more appealing as a garnish compared to dried cilantro. 


Radish may not be to everyone’s taste, but if you’re a fan of strong flavors, slice a radish thinly and stir the disks into your salad. 

Instructions For Catalina Taco Salad

Catalina Taco Salad Recipe

Cook The Meat

  1. Take your pound of ground meat and brown it at medium heat in a large skillet. Using a skillet will make it easier to drain out any excess fat before you add more ingredients. If you’re planning to use the jalapeño pepper for extra flavor, now is the time to mince it and add it to the pan. 
  2. Pour the water into the skillet along with the taco seasoning. Stir thoroughly to make sure the water and seasoning are evenly combined with the meat. 
  3. Add Catalina salad dressing. You may want to use ½ a cup if you want your meat to be extra saucy, or you can just use ⅓ of a cup. 
  4. Drain your can of beans and add the beans to the skillet, stirring well for 3 more minutes. The beans need to be warm before you remove the skillet from the heat. 
  5. Once you’ve taken the pan off the heat, cover it and put it to the side for later. 

Prep The Other Ingredients 

  1. Now that you’ve got the cooking part out of the way, turn your attention to your lettuce. Before you do anything else, make sure the lettuce is washed thoroughly, as well as the bell pepper, tomatoes, and radish. 
  2. Chop up the lettuce, dice your peppers, and cut your radish into thin disks, ready to add to your salad. 
  3. If you want to cut up your tomatoes and olives before adding them to the salad, do this now. Also, either dice or slice your onions. 
  4. Cut up your avocado (or mash it if you’re making guacamole) and mince the fresh cilantro leaves.
  5. You won’t want to have to navigate whole Dorito chips when you’re trying to eat your salad, so crush them into smaller pieces. 

Layer Or Toss the Salad 

You should now have all of your ingredients ready to construct your taco salad. However, at this point, you’ll need to make an important decision: are you going to layer your salad, or toss it? 

Once again, this is a matter of personal preference, but there are good reasons to construct your salad in layers, as well as reasons why tossing it might be the better option. 

When you layer a taco salad, you’re making it easier for everyone to see at a glance that the ingredients are. The presentation of a layered salad is also generally nicer to look at. 

However, the downsides of this method of presentation is that serving the salad can be a bit more difficult. You may find that all the meat and other ingredients at the top end up being taken, leaving the lettuce and vegetables at the bottom, which is not ideal. 

On the other hand, while a tossed taco salad may not look as appealing as a layered dish, it is going to be much easier to serve. Just bear in mind that storing your leftovers might be more difficult because you can’t easily separate the ingredients. 

Method 1: Layering 

  1. Take a sizable serving dish and add the lettuce to the bottom as the first layer. 
  2. Next, sprinkle the crushed chips over the lettuce. 
  3. Add the beans and meat.
  4. Time for the vegetables! Your next layer should consist of tomatoes, olives, red peppers, avocado, radish, and onions. 
  5. Sprinkle a generous amount of cheese over the top of the vegetables. 
  6. Pour your remaining Catalina dressing (plus sour cream and ranch, if you’re using these as well). 
  7. Use fresh cilantro leaves as the final touch. 

Method 2: Tossing 

  1. Just as you would for a layered salad, start by adding the greens to your serving bowl. 
  2. Add your vegetables next instead of the chips. Toss the tomatoes, olives, avocado, onions, peppers, and radish through the lettuce so that they are well combined.
  3. Next, add the beans and meat along with the crushed chips. Use a wooden spoon to stir everything together. 
  4. Sprinkle cheese over the top of the salad and, once again, mix it through so that the cheese is evenly distributed throughout the salad. 
  5. Finish with your Catalina salad dressing, and any other dressings you have chosen to use. Don’t mix these through the salad before serving, though. 
  6. Finally, add the fresh cilantro leaves as a garnish. 

Serving Your Salad 

This salad is filling and delicious enough to be a meal all by itself. After all, it’s got plenty of fiber, healthy fats, micronutrients, and protein. With that being said, you can also use it as a side dish. 

Here are just some of the foods you could serve alongside your Catalina taco salad: 

Mexican Fruit Salad 

Want to get your fruits and vegetables for the day in a single meal? Then why not pair your taco salad with a fresh and flavorful fruit salad?

It’s up to you which fruits to include, but extra-hydrating options like watermelon and pineapple can be refreshing alongside the strong flavors of the taco salad.


Quesadillas are a beloved Mexican dish, and they pair perfectly with our taco salad recipe.

The beauty of Quesadillas is that you have plenty of options when it comes to the filling, so you can choose the ingredients that go best with the salad. Avocado and cheese Quesadillas are our favorite.

Mexican Street Corn 

Either slice the corn off the cob, or serve the entire cob alongside your taco salad. Corn doesn’t feature in our taco salad recipe, but the subtle sweetness of this popular side works beautifully with the flavors in the salad itself. 


Cornbread is a simple side to serve with your Catalina taco salad. You can enjoy it warm with some butter, or even sweeten it with a layer of honey. 

Mexican Rice

You can’t go wrong with a rice dish! Mexican seasoned rice (Taco Bell seasoned rice, for example) is easy to prepare, and the flavors compliment those of the salad really well.

Dips and Salsas 

If you think the salad will be filling enough on its own, but you’d still like to add some extra flavor, why not serve a few dips and salsas on the side? 

We’ve already recommended making some guacamole to go with the taco salad, since it’s rich and creamy and will help to balance out the spices.

However, if you’d like to add even more heat to your salad, consider a chili dip or pico de gallo salsa. Mango salsa is an excellent way to add some sweetness. 

Storage Options 

As we mentioned earlier, your storage options will be different depending on whether you chose to toss or layer your taco salad. 

Rest assured that you can still eat the leftovers regardless of how you chose to present your salad, but you’ll need to take this into consideration when it comes to storing those leftovers properly. 

Storing Layered Taco Salad 

Assuming you managed to leave the layers of your taco salad intact throughout the serving process, it shouldn’t be difficult to store the ingredients separately. 

It’s best to store the individual taco ingredients separately because when you refrigerate them all together, you end up with fat residue on your lettuce, and you have to choose between cold meat or warm lettuce. 

Separate the toppings as much as you can and put them all into individual airtight containers. You can combine all the vegetables in one container, but the meat, lettuce, and chips all need to be in their own container. 

Before you seal the avocado in its container, add a dash of lime juice. This should stop it from turning brown overnight. Remember to separate the cheese as well, and put it in a zip-lock bag in the refrigerator.

 The chips don’t need to be refrigerated, but they should also be stored in an airtight container at room temperature. You can use a Tupperware, but the best way to prevent any air from making the chips go stale is to use a sealable bag and press all the air out of it. 

Storing Tossed Taco Salad 

Now, if you tossed your taco salad before serving it, or the ingredients got all mixed up during serving (it happens), you’re going to need to make some tough decisions on how to store these leftovers.

If all the ingredients have been combined, it’s not realistic to separate them into their own containers. The lettuce is probably coated with beans and meat anyway. So, your only option is to store the salad in the same container in the refrigerator. 

When you open the container the following day, be prepared for a not-so-appetizing sight. The chips will likely be soggy, and if there was any fat left in the skillet after you cooked the meat, it may have solidified on the other ingredients. 

The only way to get rid of solid fat residues and make the chips less soggy is to reheat the entire salad. This will, of course, mean that your lettuce will be warm as well.

Personally, we would prefer to endure warm lettuce as opposed to soggy chips and stone-cold meat, so this is the option we tend to go for, especially since the warm lettuce isn’t that noticeable when mixed with the other ingredients. However, it’s ultimately up to you. 

Make sure not to overheat your salad. Warm lettuce may not be the end of the world, but you definitely don’t want it to be scalding hot. You should heat the salad just enough to warm the meat, which should only take a couple of minutes. 

Bear in mind that if you’ve used avocado in your salad, you might end up with browning. The only way to try and avoid this would be to add some lime juice to the entire salad, or pick out individual pieces of avocado to store separately with lime juice. 

The first option will probably make your chips even soggier, and will add a citrus flavor to all the other ingredients. The latter method is pretty time-consuming, and may end up being a waste of time because browning sometimes happens even if you add lime juice. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

How Long Does This Taco Salad Take To Prepare?

In total, this Catalina taco salad takes 30 minutes to make. That includes 15 minutes of prep time (slicing the vegetables, shredding the cheese, and getting the other ingredients ready), 10 minutes to cook the meat, and 5 minutes to assemble the salad.

So, you can have this salad ready in half an hour. 

What Is The Nutritional Profile Of Taco Salad?

Per ½ cup serving, this salad contains 463 calories. There are 41 grams of carbohydrates, 9 of which are from fiber, and 8 from sugar.

You’ll also get 24 grams of protein, 23 grams of fat (6 grams of saturated fat) and 680 mg of sodium. There is 108 mg of cholesterol in every serving of Catalina taco salad.

How Long Can You Keep Leftover Taco Salad?

You can keep the leftovers of your taco salad overnight and have them the next day.

However, we wouldn’t recommend keeping the leftovers for longer than this, since the chips will get soggier the longer they sit, and the avocado will definitely brown if left for more than 12–24 hours, regardless of whether or not you add lime juice. 

Can I Make This Catalina Taco Salad Vegan? 

Making the Catalina taco salad vegan-friendly will require a few changes, but it’s definitely possible!

The good news is that Catalina dressing doesn’t usually contain any non-vegan ingredients, and plain Doritos are suitable for vegans. So, the main swaps you’ll need to make involve the meat and cheese. 

You can either omit the cheese entirely, or use a vegan cheese alternative. These are becoming more and more popular, so it shouldn’t be difficult to find a vegan cheddar replacement.

When it comes to the meat, you can swap the ground beef for a vegan mince, or you can use crumbled up tofu instead. 

Ranch dressing and sour cream are, of course, dairy-based. However, there are vegan versions of both that you can use instead.

If you can’t find vegan sour cream or ranch dressing at the store, there are ways to make your own, or you can enjoy the salad with just the Catalina dressing – it will still be delicious!

What Can I Use To Cook The Meat Without A Skillet?

A skillet is a fairly specific kind of pan, and not everyone will own one. Thankfully, you don’t necessarily need to use a skillet to cook the ground meat for your Catalina taco salad. You can use a regular frying pan instead, or even a saucepan in a pinch. 

Can I Freeze The Leftover Taco Salad?

We wouldn’t recommend freezing your taco salad leftovers. For one thing, lettuce does not react well to being frozen. Freezing will cause ice crystals to form in the cells of the plant, and it won’t thaw out properly. Some cheeses will also lose their texture when frozen. 

This is why we recommend storing your leftover taco salad in an airtight container in the refrigerator, and using it up within a day. Taco salad is, unfortunately, not suitable for long-term storage.

However, since it’s so easy and quick to make, you can easily re-make this taco salad as often as you want!

Final Thoughts 

Catalina taco salad is quick and easy to prepare, and in addition to being delicious, it’s a balanced meal full of many different nutrients. 

You can choose to add additional toppings to your taco salad, or swap out certain ingredients for others based on preference or dietary needs. 

Remember, if you layer the salad before serving, it will be easier to store the leftovers in a way that keeps them all fresh and allows for easy reheating. However, if you think the salad will be eaten in one sitting, go ahead and combine the ingredients!

Mark Williams
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