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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. Bikinime, Cafe Rio is such a Utah favorite that I guess I assumed people would know how to make it! I have no idea how they make their beans, except they have a choice of black or pinto beans (this isn’t actually my recipe, I was just passing it on when I got it from my sister.) But I can tell you how to assemble the salad. In a flattish bowl, put a tortilla (Cafe Rio even has whole wheat tortillas now), then beans, rice, chicken, and lettuce. At the restaurant they put salsa, sour cream, guacamole, and tortilla strips on the top of the salad and serve the dressing on the side. When you eat it, you mix the whole thing up with the dressing, with the tortilla as kind of a “bowl.” Hope that helps.

    It’s really delicious. I skip the rice when I go there, but even with just the black beans I love it.

  2. Hi Kalyn — this question is so basic, I almost hate to ask — no, actually, I do hate to ask, but I really need the info as I plan on trying this recipe next week. 🙂

    How do I assemble the salad?

    You mention beans and a tortilla in the description, but I don’t see those items in the recipe.


  3. WOW I am impressed that you all have decoded the recipes! I am actually enjoying their pork burrito right now when I found this site! THANK YOU!!! my standing ovation!

  4. A reader e-mailed me this recipe which she got from someone who claims it’s exactly like Cafe Rio’s sweet pork, so I’m posting it here for anyone who wants to try it:

    2 1/2 lbs Pork
    1 bottle honey barbeque sauce
    1 20 0z bottle of coke ( use diet I guess for calorie check)
    1 tablespoon honey.

    She didn’t get any recipe directions except to pour this mixture over the pork and cook it. If anyone tries the recipe, let us know how it turns out.

    (Even with diet Coke, this isn’t a South Beach diet recipe with honey barbecue sauce and honey in the sauce.)

  5. I have a VERY easy recipe for their sweet pork! For each pound of pork roast, add 1C Brown sugar and 1/2 C salsa (whatever kind is your favorite). I think the non-chunky salsa works the best, but if your favorite salsa is chunky just strain the chunks out before you shred the roast. I cook it on low in my crock pot for 8 hours, then shred it and put it back for the remainder of the day. Each day you let it sit, it gets better. I eat at Costa Vida all the time and I swear this tastes just like it. It is a lot of sugar…but I tried the recipes with Coke and the flavor was way more mild than the restaurants is! Good luck!

  6. I have made this rice a few times now and its WAY too much rice. It doesn’t take near 30 minutes to cook either!

  7. Does anyone know how to make the Cafe Rio soup? I have to eat gluten free, and I LOVE their chicken soup – thanks!

  8. I have a slightly different recipe for the Cafe Rio pork if anyone wants to try it.

    5-6 lb pork roast
    1 cup brown sugar
    1 Tbsp cumin
    20 oz Coke
    12 oz red taco sauce

    Place roast in crockpot and coverh alfway up with water. Cook on low for 12 hrs. Add remaining ingredients to roast and cook an additional 4 hours. Take out roast and shred. Put back in sauce and cook for an additional 2 hrs.

  9. Anonymous, I’m wondering about that claim about the diet Coke. I’ve used diet sprite in marinades and then grilled the meat many times, and it’s never made me sick.

    Still, if you’re worried about it, don’t use Diet Coke, simple as that.

    And remember South Beach Dieters, this whole thread of ideas for sweet pork are not from me. I don’t know anything about any of these recipes in the comments (although some sound great.)

  10. about the diet coke the reason for not using it is if it reaches a certain temperature it can make you sick (I think it has something to do with nutrasweet). During desert storm some diet coke was sitting out in the hot sun before it was cooled down and the soldiers who drank it got sick.

  11. I was wondering if anyone knows what there green sauce is. Its there mild sauce I LOVE it!!! I love salsa but am allergic to tomatos so this sauce is wonderful!

  12. Hi Julie, thanks for the recipe. Anyone who’s a South Beach Dieter, be sure to use Splenda instead of brown sugar if you try this. You could use part Splenda, part amber agave nectar also for South Beach.

  13. Here is a good sweet pork recipe that tastes a lot like costa vida and cafe rio

    Pork Roast (cook in crock pot until tender enough to shredd)

    Boil these ingredients
    1 16oz taco sauce
    2 cans Dr. Pepper
    1 1/2 cup brown sugar
    1 tbs cumin

    Shredd the pork and add the sauce into the crock pot. The longer you let it cook, the better it tastes

  14. Ohana, I think the flavor of tomatillos is quite distinctive in this dressing, so I don’t know if I would make it without them. Some people do say that green tomatoes are a substitute for tomatillos if you wanted to try that. If it were me, I’d try to find frozen or canned tomatillos, which are both made by quite a few companies. Maybe you could get a store to order then for you, or possibly even find them online. Good luck finding some.

  15. I live in Hawaii and some specialty vegetables are hard to find such as : tomatillos. Do you have a substitute? thanks

  16. Hi, the pork recipe sounds great. Any luck on finding the burrito sauce recipe from cafe rio?

  17. does anyone know the recipe for cafe rio’s mild (green) enchilada sauce?

  18. Jamie, thanks. Will pass this along to some people in my family and probably try it myself too.

  19. oh Yeah, sorry… Use a blender for the cilantro vinegarette.

  20. oh I forgot add the oil too

  21. I Have a Recipe for cilantro vinigarette dressing wich bypasses cafe rio 10 times. Got It from My old Waitressing job at a mexican restaraunt. 3 Large bunches cilantro, 1 C oil,1/2 C Red whine vinegar, 6 Crushed garlic cloves,1 egg yolk,1/4 onion, 1 or 2 jalpenos, white pepper and salt, water. Blend vinegar,garlic, egg,onion,salt and pepper to taste. add water (a tablespoon at a time) till desired consistancy. makes a great dip too.

  22. Shannon, thanks for sharing the recipe. I just want to be sure that people who read the blog looking for South Beach Diet recipes realize that this recipe is NOT South Beach friendly with coke and brown sugar. (Sounds delicious though!)

  23. Café Rio Pork
    3 lb. pork roast
    16 oz. salsa
    1 can of Coca Cola
    2 cups brown sugar

    Fill your crock pot with just the roast, and fill it half way with just the water.
    Cook on high for 5 hours.
    Take the pork out after the 5 hours, and drain the liquid down the drain.
    Cut the roast into 3 or 4 sections and place back into the crock pot.
    Puree the salsa in the blender and transfer to a bowl.
    Add the Coke and brown sugar and mix.
    Pour over the roast and cook on high for 3 more hours.
    Shred with a fork.
    My recommendations:
    I also added ½ pack of fajita seasoning, 1 can green chilies, and about 2 tablespoons of taco seasoning during the last hour of cooking.
    Also, when it was done cooking, I drained out most of the liquid and reduced it in a saucepan so it was thicker. With my additions, it tasted AMAZING!

  24. Derrick, I’m merely passing on a recipe I got from someone who liked it. I never claimed it was exactly like Cafe Rio’s recipe, although others have told me they think it’s close. I’ve probably gotten as much e-mail on this recipe as any recipe on my blog, plus all the comments here. If you have a better recipe, please share it with us.

  25. You are so far off on the Cafe Rio items. Nice try!

  26. When you use soda in a crock-pot I have read that you do not want to use diet. I am not sure why, but I have read this a couple of different times. Just thought you might want to know. Also, I have a pork recipe that calls for Dr. Pepper and it tastes a lot like Cafe Rio’s.

  27. I think the tip about roasting the tomatillas and peppers is a great idea! Thanks for sharing.

  28. I have made the Cafe Rio dressing recipe with one change that really helps- I roast the jalepeno peppers and tomatillos in the oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. I will then squeeze out most of the seeds and liquid from the tomatillo before adding it to the blender. This gives a slightly smokey taste and gets rid of the weird raw flavor this dressing has for the first 24 hours. It also keeps it from getting too runny and having just a few seeds is nice too.

    I love your version of this dressing and have made it (with the above adjustments) many, many times. Everyone raves when I bring this to a group activity.

  29. I don’t mind if people leave questions here about other Cafe Rio Recipes like the sweet coke, as long as you realize that I don’t know anything about any of these other recipes or whether the people who left these other comments will ever come back here and answer your questions.

    By the way, if you’re on South Beach, be sure to use DIET COKE for the recipe.

    If anyone finds some of the other Cafe Rio recipes somewhere online, e-mail me at kalynskitchen AT comcast DOT net and I’d love try the recipes, (making them South Beach friendly if needed) and post them.

  30. did you add 1/2 the can of coke after ther pork was cooked or did you cook the pork in the coke?

  31. I followed the recipe for the sweet pork but added about 1/2 cup of coke and IT TURNED OUT GREAT!! I started laughing it tasted so much like Cafe Rio. My husband totally agreed and it is now going to be one of our favorite recipes.

  32. This recipe is for the chicken, not sweet pork. Keep in mind that something with Coke would not be South Beach friendly if you care about that.

  33. Add a can of Coca Cola to the sweet pork recipe. I watched them make it one day and they really pour coke into it.

  34. Does anyone have the recipe for Cafe Rio’s steak?

  35. Andrea, a blender would work fine here.

  36. If you don’t have a food processor, can you blend the ranch dressing in a blender??

  37. Costco sells uncooked tortillas which taste similar. They come in a large pack, I just cook them on my griddle for a minute until they’re browned.

  38. I made the recipe for the Dressing, and to me it was just like the real thing. I used regular hidden valley mix (not the buttermilk) and it still tasted exactly the same. Thank you so much! Now I can eat Cafe Rio at home! Woo hoo!

  39. How about the recipe for Cafe Rio’s fresca salsa?

  40. Anyone know how to imitate their tortillas?

  41. Pico de Gallo is easy just chop up some tomatoes (I usually use roma), white onion, jalapeno, cilantro, and add some sea salt and fresh squeezed lime.

  42. While we’re searching recipes…Does anyone know how to make they’re pico de gallo? Or close to it?

  43. I have made the salad dressing and it definitely comes close! I have also tried to “replicate” the chicken burritos. What I do is I put them in the crockpot with whatever beans we like (either pinto or black), a packet of taco seasoning, and a can of green sauce. After a few hours on low, I shred the chicken and mix it all back together. It turns out very yummy!

  44. After much searching online I found Cafe Rio’s Sweet Pork recipe. I haven’t tried it yet, but you basically slow cook 2 1/2 pounds of pork in 1/3 cup water with a pinch of salt, pepper and garlic salt. Then you drain and pull the pork and stir in 1/2 cup green chili sauce and brown sugar. I hope it’s as good as the real thing!

  45. I’d love to hear from anyone who knows how to get any of the other recipes, but the only ones I have are the ones shared here.

  46. I too would like the Cafe Rio or Costa Azul cilantro lime vinaigrette recipe.

  47. Any idea how to make their Hot Enchilada sauce? Or a recipe for their Pork?

  48. Do you have a recipe for their other salad dressing? I love the Cilantro Lime!

  49. Thank You!!! I love their salad dressing. My mother in law is going to be so impressed, she goes to the “Cafe Rio” all the time and I love to tag along.

  50. delicious, i think this is very close to the real thing and i to am i huge cafe rio lover. thanks for your help in discovering this little peice of heaven!!!

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