How to make a Topopo Salad

How to make a Topopo Salad

When I was in college at Michigan State University, we used to go to El Azteco Restaurant for our Sunday dinners, when the cafe was closed. El Az offered bean and cheese burritos at a fair price for a college student in the late 1980s: $1.50 each. Since I graduated many moons ago, they’ve moved to a better location – and I’m able to afford more than a bean and cheese burrito.

One of my favorite dishes at El Az is the Topopo Salad. Piled high on a plate, it’s a crunchy green salad with chicken and peas, limey dressing, refried beans, and cheesy chips. It’s very easy to make (and adapt) at home. Use what you have – tonight, I was out of cilantro (what?!), but did have some lovely colored sweet peppers to throw in.

You’d like to toast your own tortillas but you don’t know how? Check out my instructions how to warm tortillas

The recipe is flexible in terms of ingredients and quantity. It is not good left over, so if you think you chopped too much, only put the dressing on what you’ll eat tonight.



  • Equal parts olive oil, lime juice, and white wine vinegar (rice vinegar works well, too)
  • Minced garlic to taste
  • Salt to taste

Mix this all up in a mini food processor or jar. Now, I like my salad lightly dressed, while our daughter likes more dressing on hers. Keep the jar handy for those that like more.



  • Iceberg lettuce (I know, this is the only time I buy this lettuce. Trust me – you need crunchy lettuce)
  • Cooked chicken, chopped
  • Cilantro, chopped
  • Tomatoes, chopped
  • Avocado, chopped (or guacamole, if you feel like making it)
  • Green onions, chopped
  • Frozen peas, thawed and crisp (or edamame, if you have them and would like extra protein)
  • Colored peppers, chopped
  • Salad
  • Beans
  • Tortilla Chips
  • Grated Cheese (we love the Tillamook extra sharp. Quality is important here)
  • Chips with cheese

You can use a can of refried beans or you can fall in love with Orangette’s creamy black beans and use those instead, like I do (if you make one can, instead of four at a time for her larger recipe, you can finish the beans in the time it takes to chop everything).


  1. Get your beans ready, either by cooking the black beans or heating up the refried beans.
  2. Chop everything for your salad. Combine in a large bowl with the dressing, quantity to taste.
  3. Spread enough tortilla chips on a pan for whoever is joining you for dinner. Top with plenty of shredded cheese, and slide into a 350 oven for 5-8 minutes. You want the cheese gooey, not crispy
  4. Divide the chips up onto the plates. Top with beans (spread them around a bit) and then you can go one of two ways, depending on how you like it:
    1. Pile the salad on top of the chips and beans (photogenic, Instagram-ready)
    2. Put the salad next to the chips and beans (no wet chips, more scooping of prized ingredients)
  5. Now is the time to have people add things they love but others don’t – avocado, banana or jalapeno peppers, olives, chopped onion, etc.
  6. Serve and enjoy.

This salad is the best thing you can have in the winter. Or summer. Or spring or fall. It’s perfect for a crowd, and I always try to keep the ingredients on hand for when our teen has friends drop by and they are hungry enough to devour everything in my kitchen. El Azteco knew what they were doing.