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This scratch-made taco mac and cheese is a delicious weeknight meal featuring cheesy pasta and your favorite taco seasonings. It’s comfort in a bowl!
Anyone with kids knows that macaroni and cheese is a staple food. I love it too — it’s creamy and always comforting, so I don’t mind honoring their requests to have it again.
Of course, I like to change it up sometimes, like in my cheeseburger mac and cheese, and in this taco mac and cheese.
When I was a kid taco mac and cheese simply meant adding taco seasoning and ground beef to the blue box.
My recipe is the grown-up version, adding fresh veggies, homemade cheese sauce, and a customized blend of spices to evoke the flavor of a ground beef taco even more.
If you’ve never made cheese sauce before, don’t worry. This version is really easy, and it uses cream cheese to make the sauce creamy but not stringy.
This is one family dinner everyone will love!
Ingredients for taco mac and cheese
Pasta – Choose your favorite pasta shape to make this dish. I like to use medium shells, but small shells, macaroni, rotini, or even farfalle (bowtie) will work.
Ground beef – Choose from ground chuck, ground round, or ground sirloin. Of these, ground chuck has the most fat, which will give you more flavor.
Onion – Use white or yellow onion.
Jalapeño – Jalapeño peppers can vary in heat intensity as well as size, so you’ll want to use the amount that fits your taste preferences.
For less heat, make sure to remove the seeds and inner membranes when chopping. You can also use other diced chiles like roasted hatch chile peppers.
Tomato – Use 1 to 2 tomatoes. You can also use extra tomato for garnish.
Swap in one can of petite diced tomatoes for the fresh tomatoes. Or, use a can of tomatoes with chiles to replace the fresh jalapeño as well.
Spices – Chili powder, cumin, paprika, Mexican oregano, ground coriander, and salt combine to evoke the classic taco seasoning flavors.
Butter – Fat is needed to create the roux for the cheese sauce. I prefer to use butter here.
Flour – Use all-purpose flour in the same proportions as the butter for the roux.
Milk – I recommend using 2% or whole milk when making cheese sauce.
Because skim milk has a low fat content, it will be harder to make a creamy sauce with it.
Cheddar cheese – Use mild, medium, or sharp cheddar. Freshly grated cheddar works best, as it does not have the additive used to keep shredded cheese from sticking together in a bag.
Cream cheese – For an incredibly creamy sauce, I add cream cheese.
How to make this recipe
Bring a large pot of water to a boil while you chop the veggies and measure the rest of your ingredients.
Once the water is boiling, cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot, off heat.
While the pasta is cooking, heat a large sauté pan or skillet over medium high and add ground beef. Use a spatula to break meat into small pieces and cook for about 5 minutes.
Add chopped onion and jalapeño. Cook until meat is browned and no pink remains, and veggies are softened.
Stir in the chopped tomatoes. Mix the spices together and sprinkle over the meat mixture.
Stir well, cooking for about 1 minute, until fragrant.
Scoop the taco meat into the pasta and stir. Cover to keep warm while you make the cheese sauce.
Using the same sauté pan (no need to wipe it out) melt the butter over medium heat.
Once the butter is melted, sprinkle over the flour, and whisk together to form a paste. Cook for 1 minute.
Add milk in a steady stream, whisking to combine. Whisk until blended, then let cook until slightly thickened.
This will take a couple of minutes, but be watchful because it can over-thicken quickly.
Once visibly thicker, remove from heat and add cheddar and cream cheese. Whisk until completely melted and smooth.
Pour the cheese sauce over the meat and pasta and stir to combine.
Serve immediately, garnished with your favorite toppings.
Swap the ground beef for ground turkey, ground chicken, or meat-free alternative. For a spicier, option, try with ground chorizo!
Top with chopped green onion, sour cream, chopped fresh cilantro, diced avocado, or pickled jalapeños.
Try with other cheeses, like pepper jack, Monterey jack, or smoked gouda.
Use roasted chile peppers like hatch chiles or roasted poblano peppers in place of the fresh jalapeño.
Instead of chopped tomato, you can also use tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes for a smoother texture.
Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.
To freeze, let the pasta cool, then portion into individual containers or a shallow casserole dish.
Seal, label, and freeze for up to 3 months.
Thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Individual portions can be reheated in the microwave.
Warm a casserole of pasta in the oven at 375°F for 30 minutes, or until heated through. Make sure to remove any plastic wrap first, and cover with a piece of foil to help contain moisture and prevent the pasta from drying out.
You’ll love this deliciously cheesy and zesty taco mac and cheese!
Love this recipe? Please leave a 5-star review below! It means so much when you enjoy my recipes, so let me know how it goes and leave a comment if you have any questions.
Taco Mac and Cheese
- 16 ounces macaroni
- 16 ounces ground beef
- ½ cup diced onion
- 2 jalapeños, seeded and finely diced (leave the seeds in if you want it hotter)
- 1 cup diced tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup milk
- 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, about 6 ounces
- 4 ounces cream cheese, cut into chunks
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook macaroni according to package directions. Drain and return to pot off heat.
- While the pasta is cooking, add the ground beef to a large skillet over medium high heat. Cook, breaking into small pieces, for 5 minutes. Add the onion and jalapeño and continue cooking until meat is browned and vegetables are softened. Stir in the tomatoes. Mix together the chili powder, cumin, paprika, oregano, salt, and coriander, then sprinkle over the meat. Stir well to coat and cook for 1 minute, until fragrant. Scoop the taco meat into the pot with the cooked pasta and stir.
- Using the same skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook 1-2 minutes, forming a paste. Pour in the milk in a steady stream, whisking until smooth. Cook until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and add cheddar and cream cheese. Whisk until completely melted and sauce is smooth.
- Pour sauce over the taco meat and pasta and stir to combine. Serve immediately garnished with your favorite taco toppings.
Nutrition information is provided as a courtesy and is an estimate based on online calculators. Any nutritional information found on Stetted should be used as a general guideline only.
I focus on fresh ingredients and easy methods, with spins that keep meals interesting. Dinnertime shouldn’t be stressful or complicated, and I’m here to help you enjoy the time spent in the kitchen. Read more…