Taco Salad with Catalina Dressing (and Fritos)

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Catalina Frito salad is a delicious main dish with plenty of crunch!

Chopped iceberg lettuce tossed with fresh tomatoes, onions, hot chili beans — and plenty of sharp cheddar cheese — gets tossed with crunchy FRITOS® corn chips and tangy Catalina dressing. Add taco meat and this Taco Salad with Catalina Dressing is a hearty and filling meal!

catalina taco salad in a bowl with a fork on a table.

The first time I had the pleasure of eating this tasty Catalina Frito Salad, I thought the combination of ingredients seemed a bit strange, but I found that they really work well together.

This salad takes less than 15 minutes to put together and makes enough to serve a crowd. Make it with taco-seasoned ground beef or leave the meat out entirely for a vegetarian option.

Catalina Taco Salad with FRITOS® corn chips and Catalina salad dressing is always a big hit at pot luck dinners and picnics!

My family loves it! I bet it will become your family’s favorite taco salads, too!

ingredients for making catalina taco salad on a table.

Key ingredients and substitutions for Frito Taco Salad recipe

  • Lettuce — Iceberg lettuce is often used in chopped salads, but you can use a mix of iceberg and romaine lettuce, or other salad greens, if you prefer. Keep in mind, the other ingredients are heavy and may weigh down more delicate greens.
  • Tomatoes — Cherry or grape tomatoes are nice, or use your favorite variety — just be sure the tomatoes are bright red and ripe for the best flavor!
  • Onion — Choose a sweet onion like Vidalia or slice a few scallions to add the onion flavor.
  • Hot Chili Beans — If you’re not familiar with these, hot chili beans are simply canned red beans in a hot chili sauce. Can’t find them? Substitute a can of red kidney beans, black beans, or pinto beans instead.
  • Cheese — Sharp cheddar is my preference, but you could certainly use a mild cheddar,, Monterey Jack, or Pepper Jack cheese if you like.
  • Frito Corn Chips — You’ll love the crunch! Mix it up and add nacho cheese Doritos (for a Dorito taco salad) or use a bag of tortilla chips (slightly crushed).
  • Salad Dressing — I used a bottle of Kraft Catalina dressing for this recipe, but homemade Catalina dressing is super easy to make and delicious, too! French dressing is a close second, but if you’re not a fan of tangy salad dressings, a bottle of Ranch dressing will do just fine.
  • Meat — Add lean ground beef, ground turkey, or chicken for more protein in this dish.
  • Taco seasoning — Pick up a packet of your favorite brand or make a batch of this easy homemade taco seasoning with pantry spices.

How to make this Taco Salad with Catalina Dressing

Catalina Salad is best eaten immediately after it has been tossed together, so follow my tips if you plan to transport the salad to a picnic or potluck for assembling the salad on site.

STEP 1 | Rinse, spin, and chop

It’s important to dry the lettuce as much as possible. After you rinse the lettuce, chop it into bite size pieces and place in a salad spinner — remove as much water as you can.

Dice the tomatoes and onion, and add to the bowl with the chopped lettuce.

Next, empty the can of hot chili beans into a colander and rinse under cool running water. Again, drain off as much water as possible.

Use a box grater to shred the cheese and set aside in another bowl for now. I prefer grating my own cheese as the bags of shredded cheese are coated with powdery flour. Fresh is tastier!


  • Making the salad ahead of time? Once you’ve finished prepping and chopping, store the ingredients separately in ziploc bags or bowls with tight fitting lids. This will ensure the lettuce doesn’t get soggy from everything else in the bowl!
  • More veggies! Dice up a red bell pepper or cut an ear of fresh corn off the cob to add even more goodness to this salad. If you like a bit more heat, prep a few fresh jalapeno slices, too!

STEP 2 | Cook the taco meat

Heat a large skillet over medium heat, then swirl a tablespoon of canola oil in the bottom of the pan. Crumble a pound of lean ground beef into the skillet, breaking it up with a spoon. Continue cooking and stirring until the meat is no longer pink.

Then, sprinkle the taco seasoning mix and water over the meat and continue cooking according to the package directions. Keep the taco meat warm until you are ready to assemble the salad. If you are transporting to a picnic, a small Crock Pot should work.

tossing ingredients for catalina taco salad in a large salad bowl.

STEP 3 | Toss and serve

When you’re ready to assemble the salad, add the lettuce, and veggies to a large salad bowl. Then, add the drained beans, corn chips, and cheese, and toss gently.

adding cooked taco meat to a bowl of catalina taco salad.

Top it off with the taco meat and pour over a cup of Catalina dressing — or as much as you like! Toss again until all ingredients are coated. Remember, if you do this step too early, the salad and chips will get soggy — yuck!

If you like, finish the salad by adding some a few grinds of fresh ground pepper on top and serve with a dollop of sour cream. Let’s eat!

close up view of a tossed catalina taco salad.

Frequently asked questions

Is Catalina dressing the same as French dressing?

Almost. French dressing is made with tomatoes and paprika, while Catalina dressing has more ketchup in the mix. Normally, French dressing is a paler orange while Catalina dressing is a bright red and is usually a bit thinner. Both are tangy and good substitutes for the other.

Is this a gluten free taco salad?

This taco salad is gluten free with a minor substitution! Fritos are not technically gluten free, but many Tostitos products, including Simply Organic Yellow Corn Chips are. Kraft Catalina Dressing is gluten free, and most brands of taco seasoning are as well — check the label of your brand to confirm.

Serving suggestion

Having a party? Make this easy salad into Walking Tacos! Buy single serving bags of Frito chips. Toss the corn chips in the salad and toss it up. Then, refill the bags with the taco salad and grab a fork to eat it all right out of the bag.

You can do this with single serving bags of Doritos, too. How fun is that?

catalina taco salad served in a individual size Fritos bag with a plastic fork.

Catalina Frito Salad: behind the recipe

When our girls were little, we were members of a vibrant young couples church group and at least once a month we were gathering together for a picnic, pool party, or game night.

Everyone brought a pot-luck dish to share — there were plenty of good cooks in our group! As a result, I acquired a lot of tried and true crowd-pleasing recipes with this Frito Salad from Miss Donna being one of the best!

Armed with a big  salad bowl, a large bag of FRITOS®, and a bottle of Kraft Catalina salad dressing, she would laugh and entertain everyone around with her jokes and antics as she tossed the fiesta salad “table-side” just before the meal was served.

This Catalina Salad recipe makes a big ‘ole bowl of salad which makes it perfect for large groups. I think Miss Donna would be proud that I’m sharing her recipe with all of you!

catalina taco salad in a bowl with a fork on a table.

Taco Salad with Catalina Dressing (and Fritos)

Taco Salad with Catalina Dressing (and Fritos) is a hearty entree salad plenty of delicious crunch, tomatoes, and cheese!
4.27 from 129 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Course Salad
Cuisine American
Servings 8 servings
Calories 370 kcal


  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1 pkg. taco seasoning mix
  • 1 head lettuce cut in layers, then chopped
  • 1 large tomato diced
  • 1 large sweet onion diced
  • 1 can hot chili beans drained and rinsed
  • 12 oz. sharp cheddar cheese shredded
  • 1 9-1/4-oz. bag Fritos corn chips
  • 1 cup Kraft Catalina salad dressing


  • Warm a large skillet over medium heat. Add the canola oil and swirl to coat the pan. Crumble the ground beef into the skillet, cooking and stirring until no longer pink.
  • Drain off any grease, then add the taco seasoning packet and water and continue cooking per packet instructions. Keep warm until ready to serve.
  • Meanwhile, toss together the lettuce, tomatoes, onions, beans, and cheese.
  • Add the bag of Fritos, partly crushed, and toss with 1 cup Catalina dressing (add more dressing, if desired). Serve immediately.


  • Making the salad ahead of time? Once you’ve finished prepping and chopping, store the ingredients separately in ziploc bags or bowls with tight fitting lids. This will ensure the lettuce doesn’t get soggy from everything else in the bowl!
  • More veggies! Dice up a red bell pepper or cut an ear of fresh corn off the cob to add even more goodness to this salad. If you like a bit more heat, prep a few fresh jalapeno slices too.


Serving: 1gCalories: 370kcalCarbohydrates: 13gProtein: 23gFat: 25gSaturated Fat: 10gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 0.2gCholesterol: 78mgSodium: 715mgPotassium: 335mgFiber: 1gSugar: 10gVitamin A: 1241IUVitamin C: 4mgCalcium: 318mgIron: 2mg

Life Love and Good Food does not claim to be a registered dietician or nutritionist. Nutritional information shared on this site is only an estimate. We recommend running the ingredients through an online nutritional calculator if you need to verify any information.

Keyword catalina dressing, fritos, iceberg lettuce
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was.
Sheila Thigpen, blogger

About Sheila Thigpen

Recipe Developer, Food Photographer, Food Writer

Sheila Thigpen is the publisher of Life, Love, and Good Food — a Southern food blog — and the author of Easy Chicken Cookbook and The 5-Ingredient Fresh and Easy Cookbook. After 20+ years in the publishing industry, she retired in 2018 to focus on her own creative endeavors full time. She and her husband live near the beautiful Smoky Mountains and have a precious little granddaughter who has stolen their hearts. As an influencer, Sheila has collaborated with brands like Creamette, Kroger, HERSHEY’S, Hamilton Beach, Garafalo Pasta, OXO, Smithfield, Valley Fig Growers, and more.

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    1. Elizabeth, that’s a great idea! In fact, I recently tried that myself — I just haven’t had time yet to update the post with the new photos and recipe notes I made. I’ll push it to the top of my to-do list 🙂

  1. 5 stars
    I’ve been making this salad since a colleague gave me the recipe in the early 1980’s. It is definitely a favorite! I usually use green onions or red onions sliced thin. I have always used chilled kidney beans, but will try next time with the hot chili beans. My husband likes taco seasoned ground beef added. I prefer the salad without meat, but eat both ways.

  2. 5 stars
    I prep mason jar salads each week to avoid my “hangry” feeling and that I have something quick to grab to eat. This salad is so good that I always have it in the mix at least every other week. Must try!

  3. 5 stars
    This is AWESOME! Great side dish or main meal. Seriously, will be my summer go to dish for cookouts — A MUST TRY!

  4. I make this salad. It’s great. I serve it with a ground beef Mexican casserole. They are the perfect pairing! Everyone always asked my mom to make this when there were potlucks and now I get the same requests.

  5. The recipe I have has an addition of a can of corn. ..drained. I usually grill corn on the cob and keep an extra to cut off the cob just for this salad. Also, the addition of grilled chicken (great use of left overs), cut into strips.

  6. Could I possibly use different types of lettuce, like Romaine, Arugula, etc. and have an assortment? I’m not a fan of iceberg lettuce. Thanks.

    1. Mindy, I would think chopped romaine would be a good substitute. Arugula may not work as well.

  7. I’ll tell ya, any salad topped with chips and smothered in delicious dressing is my kind of salad. This looks SO good! And it’s perfect for a summer picnic!

  8. This looks like the perfect potluck salad, and I’ll bet the corn chips add the perfect amount of crunch.

  9. Oh wow, very creative. I never thought of adding corn chips to it. I bet it brings some texture to it!!

  10. I bet this will go quick at potlucks! My son who hates salad might even eat this one. I’ll be trying it for one of our summer barbeques!

  11. I always forget about the Catalina dressing because I tend to opt for vinaigrettes, ceaser or ranch dressing. But oh how I love the Catalina dressing. Thanks for the reminder and the great salad to go along with it!

    1. Julie, I’m usually a vinaigrette fan, too, but this salad with Catalina is a nice change. Enjoy!

  12. I make something similar about every two weeks and it is seriously the BEST. Such a delicious salad!

  13. I would imagine that even folks who aren’t crazy for salads (I’m a salad lover) would enjoy this one. The addition of corn chips really makes this crazy good…and super crunchy!

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