Taco Salad

Taco Salad

With a taco salad, you get the best of both worlds: the delicious ingredients of a taco and the healthful vessel of a salad. Though it sounds simple, there’s actually a lot of skill that goes into an excellent taco salad. Thankfully, there’s nothing complicated involved, just a little know-how about building a great salad and choosing the right components.

Building a great taco salad is all about contrasting textures and flavors. You need greens that can stand up to the toppings, a bean, fresh and/or roasted veggies, a salty, crunchy element, a dressing to tie it all together, and something creamy. This is a taco salad that doesn’t shy away from generous amounts of toppings, which, of course, you wouldn’t want in a regular taco. Thankfully, with a taco salad, you’re not limited by the size of the tortilla or its weight-bearing load. So get out your biggest bowl and get ready to pile it all on.

When, though, does the salad become a taco salad? It is the sum of its parts, something that only becomes itself when the ingredients are assembled.

Here are the components of a great taco salad:

Leafy Greens

Some might argue with the need for greens in a taco salad, but without them, the taco salad is in fact, just a burrito bowl without rice, or a deconstructed taco, if you’re feeling fancy. Leafy greens are the foundation upon which the structure of the taco salad is built, and so, like any good foundation, they should be sturdy. Shredded romaine lettuce is a common pick for taco salad, but you would do just as well with curly kale (massage the greens with some salt and a little oil at least 30 minutes before assembling to remove the bite), wedges of little gem, or even a mixture of romaine and radicchio, if you like a hint of bitterness in your bowl. Very thinly shredded cabbage would work, if you want an extra-crunchy taco salad.

A spiced protein

You can’t go wrong with spiced ground beef in your taco salad, but there’s no need to stick to the script. Grab a rotisserie chicken for a no-cook version of taco salad, or top your bowl with sauteed shrimp, instead. If you want a vegetarian taco salad, try it with spiced mushrooms. Oyster mushrooms spiced with chili powder will take on a surprisingly meaty flavor. Of course, you can skip protein entirely and focus on the beans and veggies.


In keeping with the taco salad’s Mexican and Southwestern flavors, a black bean or pinto bean is ideal for a taco salad. Skip refried beans when making a taco salad, unless you’re not afraid of mush. If you’re cooking ground beef for your taco salad (or another spiced topping) add the beans to the drippings to infuse them with flavor.

Fresh and/or Roasted Vegetables

Tomatoes and corn are popular picks for a taco salad, but they’re by no means essential. Grilled zucchini and summer squash would be at home in your bowl, as would radishes, red onion, or TK. Add other green, herby things like sliced scallions, cilantro, chives, and mint, if you like.

Salty, Crunchy Element

Godspeed if you want to serve your taco salad in a bowl made of a tortilla like you’re at a chain restaurant, but for the less ambitious, you can simply crumble up some tortilla chips and scatter them over the bowl. Don’t shy away from Fritos here. Or, opt for corn nuts, as long as your molars are intact.


A spoonful of pico de gallo and a wedge of lime are more than enough to brighten up your taco salad, but if you want to go with a proper salad dressing, there are several routes open to you:

  • A bright, citrus dressing with chopped herbs
  • A smoky sour cream-based dressing with chopped chipotles in adobo
  • Simple olive oil and lime dressing to coat the lettuce

Flavorful extras

Finish the bowl off with a few extra elements that will really take your taco salad up a notch. Grated cheddar or crumbled cotija are welcome, as is a dollop of sour cream or some cubed avocado. Pickled red onion brings a touch of brightness, and a beautiful color, too. Pickled jalapeños bring both heat and acidic balance to each bite.

The key to making a great taco salad is starting slow. Start with just a little of each topping and pile on from there. You can always add more toppings, but it’s difficult to take them off. Experiment with different combinations of ingredients and enjoy!