Southwest Pasta Salad

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Quick Summary

This Southwest Pasta Salad is the perfect cold pasta salad for potlucks, parties, or a quick and easy meal. It can be made in advance and Your friends and family will love this pasta salad recipe!

Southwest Pasta Salad in bowl.

We LOVE making and eating pasta salads during the hot summer months because they don’t require much cooking, you only have to cook the pasta, which only takes about 10 minutes.

Plus, pasta salads can be made in advance. I always love having one in the fridge for easy lunches and dinners.

This Southwest Pasta Salad is a family favorite and always a crowd pleaser. It is simple to make and the flavors are fresh and delicious.

It has all of my favorite ingredients in one bowl. Pasta with tomatoes, avocado, corn, peppers, olives, cilantro, and MORE! This one is loaded with goodness and the refreshing lime dressing is so nice!

Southwest Pasta Salad on wooden spoon.

Pasta Salad Ingredients

I love the Southwest inspired flavors in this pasta salad:

  • pasta
  • tomatoes
  • black olives
  • corn
  • yellow bell pepper
  • red onion
  • cilantro
  • avocado
  • Cotija cheese

The salad also has a simple lime dressing that pulls all of the flavors together. It is light and refreshing, which makes this salad perfect for summertime.

How to Make Southwest Pasta Salad

  • Use small pasta, Ditalini pasta works best. You can find this cut of pasta at pretty much every grocery store. If you can’t find it you can use elbow macaroni. You want to use small pasta so the pasta is the same size as the other ingredients, making the pasta salad easy to eat. Our boys love the small pasta, it is very kid friendly.
  • Cook the pasta, drain it, and rinse with cold water, and drain again, making sure you shake off all of the water. This is a cold pasta salad.
  • While the pasta is cooking, chop up all of the ingredients and make the dressing.
  • Use fresh sweet corn for best results. If you can’t find good corn, you can use frozen corn.
  • If you want to bulk up the salad, you can add black beans or chicken.

How to Store

You can make this pasta salad in advance, just wait to add the avocado and Cotija cheese. When you are ready to eat and serve, add the avocado and cheese, and stir again. The pasta salad will keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Southwest pasta salad in bowl with wooden spoon.

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Southwest Pasta Salad

This Southwest Pasta Salad is great for potlucks, parties, BBQ's, and easy meals! It is a summer favorite!
4.72 from 25 votes


For the pasta salad:

  • 8 oz small pasta
  • 1 small red onion, diced (about ½ cup)
  • 3 cups grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeds removed and chopped
  • 1 ear fresh corn, kernels removed
  • 2.25 ounces sliced black olives, drained
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 large avocado, pit removed and chopped
  • 1/3 cup Cotija cheese

For the dressing:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil, can use avocado oil
  • 1/3 cup fresh lime juice, about 4 limes
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper


  • Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse well to cool.
  • While the pasta is cooking, combine the onion, tomatoes, pepper, corn, and olives in a large mixing bowl.
  • In a glass measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together the oil, lime juice, honey, garlic, salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper.
  • Add the cooked pasta to the bowl with the vegetables, and pour the dressing over the pasta and vegetables. Stir until all of the ingredients are well coated. Sprinkle cilantro over the pasta and stir again. Cover with a lid and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Add avocado and cheese right before serving and gently stir.


This salad will keep covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. For vegan, leave out the cheese and for gluten-free use gluten-free pasta.


Calories: 244kcal, Carbohydrates: 23g, Protein: 4g, Fat: 15g, Saturated Fat: 2g, Cholesterol: 4mg, Sodium: 301mg, Potassium: 308mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 2g, Vitamin A: 520IU, Vitamin C: 33.6mg, Calcium: 42mg, Iron: 0.7mg
Keywords pasta salad

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I'm Maria and my husband is Josh. We share a love of cooking, baking, and entertaining. We enjoy creating recipes that are simple, fresh, and family friendly. We love sitting around the table with good food, good conversation, and good friends and family! Our kitchen is always open!
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Recipe Rating


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  1. 5 stars
    I’m so happy you like the cookbook and that you enjoyed the salad! (And I’m loving that you added avocado. I’m going to try that next time for sure!!) Have a great rest of the week!

  2. Love how this makes such a large batch! Perfect for summer BBQs! 🙂

  3. 5 stars
    This pasta salad screams summer in such a wonderful way! Love those southwest flavors going on!

  4. It doesn’t say in the recipe if you COOK the corn first. Surely you don’t put raw corn into the salad!

    Please advise if you cook it first!!

    1. Yes, I add raw corn, you don’t have to cook it first. You can if you want to, but it isn’t necessary!

  5. Delicious pasta salad.  I wanted a break from mayo laden pasta salads, and this hit the spot.  My husband, son and I devoured it.  No leftovers so I will be making a new batch very soon.  Thanks for the yummy recipe.  

  6. 5 stars
    This salad was wonderful!! Loved it and will remain a staple for our summer days!! I was weary about the half cup lime juice but it all blended and was Perfecto! Thank you!!

  7. I had been making your older version of southwest pasta salad for years. It was always a crowd favorite!
    This one is good, but I like the dressing from the older version better. Could you possibly reshare that version? Thank you!

  8. 5 stars
    This is so flipping good!! I did add 50% more pasta, (12oz instead of 8oz) and an additional 1/2 tsp of smoked paprika and a smidge more cotija than called for. Insanely delicious and perfect on this 90°F Minnesota summer day!

  9. 5 stars
    I have no words, both me and my wife think this is the best salad of any sort we have ever had. I was making it to make the vegetarian wife happy, but I was unconvinced, garlic, lime ,stinky cheese? Then I ate a bite and was hooked for life. New must for family gatherings, and modifying it for my keto ( minus pasta plus shredded chicken) . Dunno how ya did it but congrats on this one and thank you.

  10. 5 stars
    This is the BEST pasta salad I have ever eaten and the two people I served it to really liked it. Fresh corn was not available, so cooked frozen corn, cooled it and added it. Also added white meat chicken pieces and served it as a main dish. It did take a few minutes longer than15 minutes of prep time, but the extra time was well worth it. I added Certainly will make it again.
    Thank you for a very tasty recipe.

  11. 5 stars
    I made this pasta salad two times. It takes a little time to make, but oh, so worth it. I will keep this with spring, summer recipes. Thank you for a fantastic recipe.