This Classic Taco Salad with Catalina Dressing is loaded with crunchy iceberg lettuce, seasoned ground beef and beans, diced tomatoes, creamy avocado, and crushed tortilla chips. It’s all topped with zesty Catalina dressing for a tangy and sweet twist to the classic Mexican flavors.
It seems fitting that this classic Taco Salad with Catalina Dressing was the very first recipe published on this blog back in 2011. It’s based on a beloved circa 1970’s family recipe that got us all in the kitchen, side-by-side, chopping vegetables and shredding cheese. An instant party starter!
Like so many recipes that were popular during that time, this taco salad recipe calls for simple ingredients, has easy prep, and makes enough to feed a family.
This is one of many recipes I took with me when I first left home and started cooking on my own. It sort of fell by the wayside after our babies arrived, but not for long. My husband is the one who brought it back to me. I was working on my menu one week when I asked him if there was anything he was craving and he said “taco salad”. And, just like that, 70’s style Taco Salad was back!
If you love vintage recipes, be sure to check out my entire collection of Classic Recipes.
Table of contents
The Best Taco Salad Recipe
The Taco Salad I make today is slightly modified from the original. I add a can of saucy chili beans to the simple ground beef taco meat for even more flavor. With all the meat and beans, this is a substantial salad that satisfies all appetites.
I’ve also included the original version and lots of other fun options in the variations section below.
- Ground beef – 85% to 90% lean ground beef.
- Seasoning – Do yourself a favor and mix up a batch of my Homemade Taco Seasoning. You can use a packet of the store-bought mix if you prefer, but the flavor is SO much better with homemade.
- Beans – A can of chili beans in sauce, like Bush’s Chili Beans in Mild Sauce, is cooked with the taco meat and red kidney beans are mixed in with the other salad ingredients.
- Lettuce – Iceberg lettuce is in important component to this recipe if you really want an authentic, old-school taco salad. I also like to add some crunchy romaine.
- Tomato – I like to use a large hothouse tomato for this salad. Roma tomatoes are a good choice too but you’ll likely need several if they are small.
- Green onions – White and green parts, thinly sliced.
- Sliced black olives –
- Cheese – Shredded cheddar cheese is a must. I also like to add some Monterey Jack or pepper Jack cheese.
- Avocado – A large Haas avocado or a couple of the smaller variety.
- For serving – Kraft Classic Catalina Salad Dressing, sour cream, and crushed tortilla chips.
Is French dressing the same as Catalina dressing?
If you look at a bottle of Kraft French Dressing and Kraft Catalina Dressing side by side, you’ll immediately notice the color difference. Catalina gets its vibrant red color from tomato paste while French dressing is a creamier orange color which comes mostly from paprika. They both have vinegar for tang but the Catalina also has dried onion and a zestier flavor than French dressing. The distinctive, sweet flavor of Catalina is the perfect complement to classic Taco Salad.
How to Make Taco Salad with Catalina Dressing
This is a quick overview of how to make this recipe. You’ll find detailed instructions in the recipe card at the end of this post.
Make the Ground Beef Mixture
- Cook the ground beef in a large skillet, breaking it up with a spoon, until crumbled and browned. Drain off the grease, then add the taco seasoning and water.
- Cook, stirring occasionally for about 2 minutes to allow the beef to absorb flavor from the seasoning.
- Add the chili beans with sauce and continue to cook (it should be bubbling), stirring occasionally, for 4 to 5 minutes, or until most of the sauce has cooked off
- Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool while preparing the salad. If the beef mixture is too hot, it will wilt the salad so this is an important step.
Assemble the Taco Salad
- Add the chopped lettuce to a large salad bowl.
- Add the kidney beans, tomato, green onion, olives and 1 cup of the shredded cheese. Toss well to combine.
- Top with the slightly cooled meat and bean mixture and toss lightly.
- Garnish with the avocado and the remaining cheese. Serve with Catalina dressing, crushed tortilla chips, and additional shredded cheese on the side.
Classic ground beef option: The ground beef can be cooked without the saucy chili beans, if desired. Just omit the beans and follow the directions as written.
Repurpose taco meat: Cook a double batch of my recipe for Easy Ground Beef Tacos and freeze half of the taco meat to use to make Taco Salad on a busy day.
Greens: You can really use any combination of greens you like for this salad. Even kale! I will frequently mix in some chopped romaine with the iceberg lettuce.
Dressing: Catalina is a classic choice and my mom used to serve it with Thousand Island dressing too. Nowadays, we love it with a drizzle of jalapeno Ranch. Traditional Ranch dressing is also a great choice.
Protein: Swap out the ground beef for ground turkey. Taco Salad is also delicious with grilled chicken or chopped rotisserie chicken.
Beans: Black beans or pinto beans can be used in place of or in addition to the kidney beans.
Toppings: While sour cream and crushed tortilla chips are the classic toppings for Taco Salad, the possibilities are limitless! More delicious topping choices include salsa, jalapenos, cilantro, and diced bell peppers. Instead of tortilla chips, try it with crushed nacho cheese Doritos or Fritos corn chips.
Tips for the Best Taco Salad
Chopped salad: Use a knife to chop the lettuce instead of tearing it with your hands for well chopped lettuce. The tomatoes and other ingredients should be chopped small. A little bit of everything in each bite is the goal!
Serve immediately: Taco Salad is best served just after assembling. If you’d like to get some of the prep done in advance, you can chop the tomatoes, slice the green onions, and shred the cheese. Transfer the prepped ingredients to zippered plastic storage bags and refrigerate until you’re ready to assemble the salad.
Dressing on the side: To keep the salad fresh and prevent the ingredients from getting soggy, serve it with the dressing on the side. This way, everyone can choose their favorite dressing and each bite will be crisp and flavorful.
Transfer leftovers to an airtight container and refrigerate promptly. Leftovers keep surprisingly well for a day or two as long as you don’t toss the salad with the dressing. We love leftover Taco Salad for an easy lunch the next day.
Taco Salad with Catalina Dressing
- 1 pound 85% to 90% lean ground beef
- 2 tablespoons homemade taco seasoning mix
- ¼ cup water
- 15 ounce can chili beans in sauce, like Bush’s Chili Beans in Mild Sauce (see notes below)
- 3 cups iceberg lettuce, well chopped (about ⅓ a head)
- 3 cups romaine lettuce, well chopped (about ⅓ a head)
- 16 ounce can kidney beans, lightly rinsed and well drained
- 1 large tomato (hothouse), chopped
- 4 green onions, chopped
- 2.25 ounce can sliced black olives, drained
- 1 ½ cups shredded cheddar and Monterey jack cheese (or pepper Jack), plus additional for topping
- 1 large avocado, chopped
- ¾ cup Kraft Catalina Salad Dressing
- crushed tortilla chips
- sour cream
- Coat a large skillet with nonstick cooking spray and place it over MEDIUM heat. Add the ground beef and cook, breaking up the beef with a spoon, until crumbled and browned. Drain well.
- Return the pan to MEDIUM heat and add the taco seasoning and water. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 2 minutes. Add the chili beans with sauce and continue to cook (it should be bubbling), stirring occasionally, for 4 to 5 minutes, or until most of the sauce has been absorbed by the beef or cooked off. Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool while preparing the salad.
- Chop the lettuce, tomato, and green onion. Drain and rinse the kidney beans and drain the olives. Shred the cheese.
- Add the lettuce to a large serving bowl. Add the kidney beans, tomato, green onion, olives and 1 cup of the shredded cheese. Toss well to combine. Top with the slightly cooled meat and bean mixture and toss lightly. Garnish with the avocado and remaining cheese.
- Top individual servings with a little salad dressing, some crushed tortilla chips, a dollop of sour cream, and additional cheese, if desired.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated using generic ingredients, and is an estimate not a guarantee. For more accurate results, please refer to the labels on your ingredients at home.
This post was originally published on August 14, 2011. It has been updated with new text and images.