How many calories are in a taco salad shell from a restaurant?

A taco salad is a popular Tex-Mex dish that typically consists of a fried tortilla bowl filled with lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, seasoned ground beef or chicken, beans, and other toppings. The crispy, fried tortilla shell that holds all the ingredients is often one of the highest calorie components of a taco salad.

Calories in Taco Salad Shells

The number of calories in a taco salad shell can vary greatly depending on the size and thickness of the shell, as well as how it is prepared. Here are some general estimates for taco salad shells from popular restaurants:

  • Taco Bell – 180-300 calories
  • Chipotle – 300-500 calories
  • Qdoba – 300-400 calories
  • Chevys Fresh Mex – 460 calories
  • Chilis – 510 calories
  • On the Border – 400-500 calories

As you can see, a taco salad shell alone from a restaurant can contain anywhere from around 180 calories up to over 500 calories. The smaller, thinner shells from places like Taco Bell tend to be on the lower calorie end, while the thicker, fried tortilla bowls from sit-down Mexican restaurants are often over 400+ calories.

Factors Affecting Taco Salad Shell Calories

There are a few key factors that determine how many calories are in a taco salad shell:

  • Size – Larger taco salad shells require more oil and batter to fry, so they tend to have more calories than smaller shells.
  • Thickness – Thicker shells soak up more oil during frying, resulting in higher calorie counts.
  • Frying Oil – The type of oil used for frying also impacts calories. Oils higher in saturated fat like lard or shortening have more calories per tablespoon than oils like canola or vegetable oil.
  • Batter – Some shells are battered and fried for extra crispiness, adding extra calories from the batter.

Lower Calorie Options

If you’re looking for ways to lighten up your taco salad, here are some lower calorie substitutions to consider:

  • Request a smaller tortilla shell.
  • Order a soft taco shell instead of a deep-fried shell.
  • Use lettuce leaves as taco shells.
  • Build your taco salad in a bowl without the shell.
  • Look for grilled or baked tortilla bowl options.
  • Use low-fat tortillas to make your own shells at home.

Healthiest Taco Salad Options

Building a healthier taco salad with lower calorie ingredients can help offset some of the calories that come from the fried shell. Here are some tips for lightening up your taco salad:

  • Choose grilled chicken or shrimp instead of beef.
  • Load up on veggies like tomatoes, peppers, onions, and avocado.
  • Use small amounts of reduced fat cheese.
  • Use black beans or other legumes instead of refried beans.
  • Ask for light salad dressings on the side.
  • Skip fatty toppings like sour cream and guacamole.
  • Use salsa as a dressing instead of creamy sauces.

Calorie Breakdown for a Typical Taco Salad

To get an idea of the full calorie count for a typical restaurant taco salad, here is an approximate calorie breakdown:

Ingredient Calories
1 taco salad shell (400g) 400
85g ground beef, cooked 200
1/4 cup cheddar cheese 110
1/4 cup black beans 60
1 cup lettuce 10
1/4 cup salsa 15
2 tablespoons sour cream 60
Total Calories 855

As you can see from the breakdown, the taco shell itself makes up nearly half the calories in a typical restaurant taco salad. Choosing lower calorie ingredients can help reduce the calorie count of your meal.

How Many Calories Should You Eat in a Meal?

So how many calories should you aim to stay under for a meal like a taco salad?

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), here are some general daily calorie goals for meals and snacks based on your age, gender, and activity level:

Gender Age Sedentary Moderately Active Active
Female 19-25 400-600 calories per meal 500-700 calories per meal 550-850 calories per meal
Female 26-50 400-600 calories per meal 500-700 calories per meal 550-800 calories per meal
Male 19-25 500-750 calories per meal 600-900 calories per meal 700-1,000 calories per meal
Male 26-50 500-700 calories per meal 600-900 calories per meal 700-1,000 calories per meal

Based on these guidelines, a taco salad from a restaurant can easily end up containing over half your recommended calories for an entire meal, just in the shell alone. Being mindful of portion sizes and ingredients can help keep your taco salad within a healthy calorie range.

Healthy Taco Salad Recipe

Making taco salad at home allows you to control the ingredients and calories. Here is a recipe for a healthier homemade taco salad:


  • 1 (6 inch) whole wheat tortilla
  • 3 cups chopped romaine lettuce
  • 1/2 cup diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3 ounces grilled chicken breast, diced
  • 2 tablespoons shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 tablespoons sliced avocado
  • 1 tablespoon light ranch dressing
  • 1 tablespoon salsa


  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut tortilla into wedges and arrange on baking sheet. Lightly spray with non-stick cooking spray and season with a pinch of salt.
  2. Bake for 5-7 minutes until lightly browned and crispy. Allow to cool.
  3. In a bowl, combine lettuce, tomatoes, black beans, chicken, cheese, and avocado.
  4. Drizzle with ranch dressing and salsa.
  5. Place tortilla wedges around salad and serve.


This homemade taco salad provides a nutritious 400 calorie meal full of lean protein, fiber, and nutrients. Here is the nutrition breakdown for 1 serving:

Calories 400
Total Fat 12g
Saturated Fat 3g
Cholesterol 55mg
Sodium 520mg
Total Carbohydrate 36g
Dietary Fiber 10g
Protein 29g


In summary, the number of calories in a taco salad shell can range widely depending on the restaurant and preparation methods, but is typically between 300-500 calories for a standard fried tortilla shell. Choosing smaller shells, baked shells, or building your salad without the shell are lower calorie options. Topping your salad with lean protein, lots of veggies, and lighter dressings can also help reduce the calorie count while still providing a nutritious and satisfying Tex-Mex meal.

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