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Kalyn's Kitchen

Cafe Rio Dressing, Chicken and Rice

Since my sister Sandee first took me to Cafe Rio, I’ve discovered there are imitators springing up all over. They specialize in salads which start with a tortilla, then layer on cooked beans, rice, lettuce, specially seasoned chicken, cheese and a cilantro ranch dressing that is delicious.

My brother-in-law Kelly made the version below for my sister Pam for Mother’s Day. Pam is a real Cafe Rio fan and she pronounced it tasting “just like Cafe Rio” so I thought I would pass it on, with a few recommended changes if you want to make it better for South Beach dieters.

Café Rio Dressing
(In 2009 I added this to Recipe Favorites and posted step-by-step photos of how to make Cafe Rio Creamy Tomatillo Dressing.)

1 buttermilk ranch dressing packet (make as per recipe)
2 tomatillos (tomato like vegetable with a husk around them)
½ bunch of cilantro
1 clove garlic
Juice of 1 lime
1 jalapeño (Use the seeds too if you like it spicy. You could substitute a few drops of green tobasco for the jalapeno.)

Use a food processor to blend all the ingredients well. Refrigerate.

Cafe Rio Chicken
1 small bottle Kraft Zesty Italian Dressing
1 T chili powder
1 T cumin
3 cloves garlic—minced
5 lbs chicken breast

Cook all together in a crock pot for 4 hours on low, shred meat and cook 1 additional hour.

(Kraft Zesty Italian Dressing has 2 grams of sugar per serving. I try to avoid dressings with sugar, but this is a very small amount. You’re only using 8 ounces of the dressing per 5 pounds of chicken if you follow this recipe, so it should be fine, even for South Beach Dieters.)

Café Rio Rice
(Edit – Jan. 2008 – Thanks to a sharp-eyed reader who noticed that the proportions for this rice recipe are not right for regular rice. When I called my sister, I found out that the original recipe called for Minute Rice (instant rice). I didn’t know that when I posted the recipe, but it explains why it uses 3 cups water to 3 cups rice. I’m not sure why the cooking time said 30 minutes, which doesn’t seem right for Minute Rice? I would recommend using regular rice, about 2 cups rice to 4 cups water. If anyone has tried making this rice and adapted the recipe to work, let us know in the comments.)

3 c water
4 t chicken bouillon
4 t garlic –minced
½ bunch cilantro
1 can green chiles—or equivalent fresh
¾ t salt
1 T butter
½ onion
3 c rice (see note)

Blend cilantro, green chiles and onion together in food processor. Bring water to a boil and add all ingredients, simmer covered 30 minutes.

(For South Beach diet, use Uncle Ben’s Converted Rice to make this, which is very low on the glycemic index. I would still use the rice sparingly on my salad.)

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88 comments on “Cafe Rio Dressing, Chicken and Rice”

  1. Sorry, but I have not made this for a while and have no idea how much you'd need for 30 people.

  2. Kalyn, I'm using your recipes to cater a small luncheon (I teach a cooking class at a high school and we are catering for some teachers). I am planning on serving about 30 people. Any idea how much chicken I should cook? I haven't tried these recipes before and I'm wondering how many people you usually serve with one crock pot… how much should I increase the recipe to feed the masses? Thanks!

  3. Hi Kari,
    I talk about this in the FAQ. I chose South Beach to manage my weight so I wouldn't have to calculate calories, carbs, or points, and since I'm already spending hours each day working on the blog, I simply can't add one more thing to the features I'm providing in each recipe.

  4. Hi Kaylyn;

    I love your recipes… However, I am currently on weight watchers and have to calculate my daily points intake. Do you have WW point values for your recipes listed? If so, it would be so helpful as it seems to take me forever to calculate a whole recipe with a long list of ingredients.



  5. Anonymous I checked with my sister and she says use low. I will edit the recipe, thanks!

  6. On the chicken recipe… Cooking on high or low?

  7. Cook Family, how fun, and it makes me happy that I can give you a taste of Cafe Rio while you're away from home.

  8. Thank you so much for having these recipes!!! I have missed Cafe Rio these last 2 years. My husband is in the Army and we're stationed in S.Korea. Its funny how much we've missed Cafe Rio!! Thank you for having them posted so we can have a small taste of home! 🙂

  9. Mom to Many, thanks for sharing the tortilla recipe. I do want to caution though that for anyone who's a South Beach Dieter, this type of tortilla with all purpose flour wouldn't be suitable for the diet (along with many of the other recipes people have left in the comments here.) If you're not dieting though, go ahead and indulge!

  10. Tortillas-

    I've made tortillas all of my life. Mom learned to make them from an awesome Latin neighbor who was willing to teach her.

    Here is Maura's authentic recipe.
    Maura did not measure things, so Mom measured them as Maura made them and then wrote it down.

    6 cups all purpose flour
    1 cup all purpose shortening
    2 1/4 cups water
    1 tbsp salt
    1 tbsp baking powder

    Mix together well. I mix it in my Bosch.
    Test the texture. It should be sticky enough to feel a bit sticky to the touch, but not come off on your finger when you touch the dough. (I do not have a weight measure for this recipe. Weights are so much more accurate.)
    Roll into just larger than golf ball sized balls. Roll out with rolling pin. I use a marble one because I can roll them quick with because the pin is heavy.
    Toss onto a hot griddle. I use a round cast iron griddle made from steel. (My Dad made it when he was a R/R mechanic.) Lodge makes a flat cast iron griddle with a handle. Or in a pinch and large hot electric skillet would work well.
    Cook on one side until little brown spots appear on the underside. Flip the tortilla and cook until done on the other side.
    Lay a paper towel in the bottom of a large kettle. Lay the tortillas in the bottom and replace the lid between additions. A paper towel on the top prevents the top tortilla from becoming wet from condensation.

    These are a piece of heaven! I grew up eating the leftovers the next morning. Mom made these a lot. Our family LOVES this kind of food.
    Hope this helps you.

  11. This post was fun to read! I love everyones comments on the pork and the chicken and all of the yummy cafe rio taste-alikes! cheers to all of your helth and wellness, I am making all of these items this weekend for a big cabin retreat.

  12. Oh yay – I just moved to Texas from SLC & was missing Cafe Rio terribly (like dreaming about it at night…). I made the salad & dressing tonight & it was very close to the real thing (minus their yummy chewy tortillas). Thanks so much for sharing. This will help soften the blow of the move. 🙂

  13. Anonymous, I don’t get rice when I go to Cafe Rio, but I can’t think of any reason why green wouldn’t be okay. After all, the cilantro would make it green, wouldn’t it?

  14. When I have made the rice it turms green. I haven’t eaten at Cafe Rio but others say the rice isn’t green. How do I make it with the cilantro and not be gree? Or is green ok?

  15. Katie, it does sound good, thanks for sharing!

  16. Someone wanted the recipe for the tomatillo mild sauce. Although mine isn’t exactly the same, it is pretty close. I just take about 3 pounds of tomatillos (husks off) 1/2 onion, 3 cloves of garlic in a saucepan and just cover with water. Let boil until they are all soft. Stick the whole thing in the blender until smooth. Add back to the pot and add chicken base (not stock or boullion- you can buy chicken base at Costco) to taste. Usually 3 TBSP. Simmer and you are done. I usually add a couple peeled Anaheim Chiles to make this hotter. You can add a jalepeno or a can of green chiles if you want. It is wonderful. I promise!

  17. Please, for the love, does anyone have the recipe for the mild green enchilada sauce (I think it’s tomatillo sauce)? I would pay anything to be able to make this at home!

  18. Just fyi I always make the rice with 3 cups water and 2 cups rice and it turns out perfect. I’ve been making it for over 2 years that way…love it! Thanks for sharing it!

  19. Jenny, glad I could help with that craving!

  20. I LOVE YOU!!! Thank you!!!! You don’t know how badly I was craving this today!

  21. It’s not like you have to eat it every day, and it’s a lot better than some things are out there.

  22. Anonymous, I agree that the sweet pork recipe isn’t something I would personally eat or make, but I think people have the right to make their own food choices. I’m just offering the recipe for all the commenters who asked for it. I don’t feel like it’s my job to lecture or monitor what other people eat.

  23. Oh, my! Sorry, I don’t have time to state this “sweetly” :
    I just gained 20 pounds by reading about sweet pork! Cokes and CUPS of brown sugar? What are you gals thinkin’? Get your family hooked on sugar? Love dental bills? Trying hard to get diabetes?
    Why not add what can be near the TASTE of brown sugar (you can get that with anywhere from 2 TBS (1/4 cup) per 2 qts sauce.
    Coke? That is 8tsp more of sugar)! There are healthier recipes out there, please!
    No wonder we have health problems!

  24. A lot of people in the comments have asked for a recipe similar to Cafe Rio’s sweet pork. A reader named Teri sent this sweet pork recipe which she says is very similar. She calls it Sweet Shredded Pork. I haven’t tried the recipe (since it’s not South Beach diet friendly) but I’m sharing it here from Teri for anyone who wants to try it.

  25. I found this recipe elsewhere listed as Cafe Rio Chicken Burritos. We don’t have Cafe Rio here (in Missouri), so I can’t compare, but I do know these recipes, all together, make an amazing burrito!

    I didn’t have instant rice, so I used 4-1/2 cups water with just 2 cups of converted(parboiled) rice. I don’t know how long I cooked it; I cooked it until the rice was tender and all the liquid had been absorbed.

  26. Recipe sounds yummy. I think the not using diet soda in a recipe is because something about the chemical used to sweeten diet soda when heated turns to formaldehyde and is poisonous. Scary.

  27. Anonymous, actually I am pretty sure that Cafe Rio uses Cotija Cheese, a type of salty cheese from Mexico that tastes a lot like Feta.

  28. Anonymous, thanks for letting us know how you did it and that it turned out well.

  29. to the parmesan cheese question I believe it is feta cheese that they crumble on the top 🙂

  30. ok so I have made the rice one time before this and it was ok but even with two cups rice 4 cups water it didn’t seem right so this time I cooked the 3 cups of rice before and then added it to the recipe and followed the directions the same and it turned out awesome!

  31. Sixx, glad you liked it. I love the idea of using brown rice with this. When I go to Cafe Rio I get whole wheat tortillas and skip the rice; wish they would offer brown rice there too.

  32. Thank you so much Kalyn. I have tried and tried to duplicate their dressing and have never come close. This is extremely close and is so good, if not better than Cafe Rio’s! I love that I can make it at home. My family doesn’t eat refined flours or white rice, so I made homemade whole wheat tortillas and used brown rice and they were absolutely delicous! Thanks again!!!

  33. Does anyone know what kind of cheese they put on the salad? It looks like grated Parmesan, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t parm chs. Thanks

  34. Anonymous, I’d cook it on the stove with the heat as low as you can get it, but the cooking time will be shorter.

    (That is only a guess, since I haven’t cooked it.)

  35. If I don’t have a crockpot, is there something else I can use for the chicken?

  36. Oh, and I have a pork recipe that is very similar to the Cafe Rio pulled pork if you want it!

  37. We have been making this for about a year and a half now and we have been doing 4/12 cups water to the 3cups rice just using regular rice. We cook it for 30 minutes and it turns out perfect!

  38. Just wanted to add one more thing about the diet coke… I’ve been making my version of cafe rio sweet pork for about two years… I’m on Weight Watchers so I use the splenda brown sugar blend and a can of caffeine free diet coke. I’ve never gotten sick from it. And neither has my husband or four children… so if you like the sweet pork recipe and don’t want the sugar. Go ahead and try the diet coke, it’s great!!! Also, at Costco they have a really lean pork sirloin roast. It’s only 2 points for 4 ounces!!! (that’s really good by the way!)

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