The best Taco Salad is filled with perfectly seasoned ground beef, fresh salad greens, shredded cheese, tortilla strips, and drizzled with a light lime vinaigrette. Versatile, delicious, and ready in just 30 minutes, the whole family will love this fresh take on the classic all-American Taco Salad!
The Best Taco Salad Recipe
My first memories of taco salads reach far back into my childhood. My mom loved to make the Doritos version with homemade Italian dressing, or, on busier nights, order taco salads from El Pollo Loco where they would come served in a taco bowl topped with sour cream, guacamole, and drowning in ranch dressing. As a kid, they were the best. But now, as an adult, I like my taco salads less…smothered.
Less cheesy chips, more greens, lighter vinaigrette, but the same amazing Tex-Mex flavor!
Ready in just 30 minutes, this taco salad recipe is perfect for busy weeknights, hot summer evenings, or anytime you’re looking to clean out the fridge. Gather everything into one giant bowl or set up a taco salad bar station and let everyone assemble their very own version of the perfect taco salad!
What Goes in a Taco Salad
This taco salad recipe can be easily customized to be vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free, etc.
- Meat – Lean ground beef is the most common meat (or protein) used to make taco salads. Other options include,
- Ground turkey or chicken – leaner alternative to ground beef.
- Ground pork, lamb, bison, etc.
- Tempeh – made from fermented soybeans, tempeh is surprisingly delicious and a fantastic high-protein plant-based meat alternative.
- Black Beans – the consistency will be a bit different compared to ground beef, but fry some beans with taco seasoning, onions, and tomato sauce (and perhaps some crushed cashews) and you’ve got yourself a delicious high-protein vegan alternative to ground beef.
- Taco Seasoning – Taco seasoning is pretty important for taco meat. I always like to make my own homemade taco seasoning that way I know it’s free from MSG and yeast extract, but feel free to use whatever you love.
- Greens – Traditional taco salad recipes came served with iceberg lettuce. Iceberg lettuce is just fine but lacks the vitamins and nutrients that are found in other greens. I often mix a combination of 2 or 3 different greens such as,
- Romaine – my go-to when making taco salad.
- Kale – I will usually mix this with Romaine.
- Cabbage – I love the crunch!
- Cilantro – If you’re a cilantro lover like me, chop a bunch and dump it in there!
- Vegetables – This list, as you may imagine, gets fairly long. As such, I’m going to break it down into the more common versus less common (and yes, I know that some of these are not exactly a vegetable).
- More common – tomatoes, red onion, green onions, bell pepper, black olives, etc.
- Less common – jicama (just trust me on this one, so good), sliced jalapeño or green chiles, cucumber, shredded carrots, corn, etc.
- Cheese – Must have cheese (unless you’re vegan or dairy-free, of course). The most common is shredded cheddar, but Monterey Jack, Colby Jack, or Jalapeño Jack are also delicious.
- Toppings –
Taco Salad Dressing
For this particular salad, I made a light, refreshing, zesty lime vinaigrette. The ingredients are simple,
- Olive oil
- Fresh lime juice and zest
- Red wine vinegar
- Dijon mustard
- Salt and Pepper
Often, however, I don’t add any dressing at all. Instead, I add a little extra salsa, avocado, and sour cream with a squeeze of fresh lime juice for a perfect balance of creamy and tangy.
How to Make Taco Salad
- Cook the ground meat: Soften the onion in a large skillet set over medium heat. Add the ground beef and use a large wooden spoon or spatula to break the beef into smaller pieces. Fully cook the ground beef then drain 3/4 of the liquid and fat from the skillet. Add the taco seasoning and tomato sauce to the ground beef and continue to cook over medium heat, stirring often.
- Prepare the vinaigrette
- Assemble: Transfer all greens to a large salad bowl. Top with the ground beef, veggies, tortilla strips, shredded cheese, avocado, sour cream, and any other additional toppings you wish.
- Serve: Divide the salad into individual salad bowls and drizzle with the lime vinaigrette or your favorite dressing.
How to Make a Healthier Taco Salad
- Trade the ground beef for lean ground chicken or turkey.
- Skip the ground meat altogether and add baked chicken breasts instead.
- Swap the sour cream for Greek yogurt.
- Hold off on the dressing and add salsa instead.
- Make your own baked tortilla chips! Simply brush several corn tortillas with olive oil and season with salt. Slice into wedges (or strips) and transfer to a greased baking sheet. Bake for approximately 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees F turning once halfway through.
- Less cheese, more veggies.
Tips and Tricks
Here are a few simple tips and tricks to make the best taco salad recipe ever!
- Prepare the ground beef ahead of time – Ground beef loves to be prepared ahead of time and reheats perfectly. If I know I’m going to have an especially busy week, I’ll make a big batch of ground beef taco meat (or ground turkey taco meat) and have it ready for tacos, pasta, or stuffed bell peppers.
- Prepare the vinaigrette ahead of time – Make it the night before and let it hang out in the refrigerator until you’re ready for it.
- Save even more time and buy pre-made dressing, vinaigrette, salsa, and guacamole. Homemade is great, but sometimes convenience is better.
- Unless you have your own garden, purchase pre-cut and pre-washed lettuce for super-fast prep time.
- Freshly grated cheddar cheese is better than pre-shredded. I know, I’m all about saving time, too, but the anti-caking stuff all over the cheese? No thanks.
- If you suspect that you’ll have leftovers, only add the ground beef, dressing, sour cream, salsa, or guacamole once the salads have been individually plated. This way you can save the leftovers.
Have you tried making this taco salad recipe?
Tell me about it in the comments below! I always love to hear your thoughts. And tag me #theforkedspoon on Instagram if you’ve made any of my recipes, I always love to see what you’re cooking in the kitchen.
Taco Salad Recipe
For the Ground Beef Taco Meat
For the Taco Salad
- 8 cups Romaine lettuce - (or iceberg) chopped
- 2 large tomatoes - cored, seeded, diced
- ½ cup green onion - chopped
- ½ cup black olives - halved
- 1 medium jicama - peeled and chopped
- 1 cup corn kernels
- 1 cup tortilla strips
- 1 cup cheddar cheese - shredded
- 1 large avocado - peeled, pitted, and sliced or (homemade guacamole)
- ½ cup sour cream
- Salsa, black beans, diced bell pepper, jalapeño, Spanish rice, etc. - optional toppings
For the Ground Beef Taco Meat
- Sauté the onions – Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and diced onion and sauté for 4-5 minutes, or until the onions are soft. Stir often to prevent burning and reduce heat to medium if needed.
- Cook the ground beef – Add the ground beef to the skillet. Use a large wooden spoon or spatula to break the beef into smaller and smaller bits and pieces. Fully cook your ground beef before draining approximately 3/4 of the liquid and fat from the skillet.
- Add the seasoning and tomato sauce – Return the skillet to medium-high heat. Add the taco seasoning and tomato sauce to the beef and mix well to combine. Continue to cook for an additional 5 minutes or so, stirring often.
For the VInaigrette
- Add all ingredients for the vinaigrette to a jar or container with a tight-fitting lid. Shake vigorously to combine. Season with additional salt and pepper, to taste.
For the Taco Salad
- Assemble – Transfer lettuce to a large salad bowl. Top with the cooked ground beef, tomatoes, green onions, black olives, jicama, corn kernels, tortilla strips, shredded cheese, avocado, sour cream, and any other additional toppings you wish.
- Serve – Divide salad to individual serving bowls and drizzle with the fresh lime vinaigrette or a desired salad dressing of choice.
- The vinaigrette is optional, however, it is a delicious, tangy, fresh addition that goes really well with this salad. I grew up eating taco salad with sour cream, guacamole, and homemade Italian dressing, but also enjoy it with Homemade Ranch dressing or creamy Catalina dressing.
(Nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and specific brands of ingredients used.)