My Cafe Rio “Favorites” . . . All In One Place.

Friday was a CRAZY day around here! I won’t bore you with all the details…because none of it was really all that exciting…there was just a LOT of it!

But here are the HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Major garage cleaning (supposedly the hubster’s “project”…but he managed to wrangle me into it several times!)
  • Last Day of school (Oh Lordy…not sure if I’m ready for this!)
  • Basketball Camp for my 2 boys and 3 of their friends (over an hour away!)
  • Trip to Home Depot for garage organization paraphernalia
  • Trip to IKEA to pick up a new bed for No. 3 son (his finally gave up. We’ve had it for longer than I can remember!)
  • Lunch at Cafe Rio with 5 hungry, tired, cranky, (sweaty) boys after basketball camp.
OK…the last one wasn’t all that bad. As a matter of fact, it was really the only thing that saved this day from being a COMPLETE drudgery.
lunch at cafe rio

Post Basketball Camp lunch with 5 HUNGRY boys!

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing Cafe Rio…let me first offer you my condolences…and second, a little background.

Cafe Rio

Cafe Rio is Mexican-style restaurant chain located primarily in the Western United States with locations in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, Maryland, Montana, Utah, Virginia, Idaho, and Wyoming. The menu is inspired from the Rio Grande Valley regions of Northern Mexico, Texas and New Mexico, and you will find endless “copycat recipes” on the internet from people who have tried their food and LOVED it and now want to be able to make something similar at home.

As I was driving home from lunch at Cafe Rio on Friday (about an hour-long drive), I got to thinking about what I was going to post today and it occurred to me that I had several of my own “copycat Cafe Rio recipes” posted on this website…but they were all scattered about. So for my OWN benefit (as WELL as yours) I decided to combine them all into one big Cafe-Rio Favorites post for today. This way when the mood for Cafe Rio (at home) strikes….we’ll have it all in one place. :-)


First off….my FAVORITE of my favorites…….Sweet Pork Barbacoa!  No matter how you have it…in a burrito, on a salad, in a taco, etc….it’s sooooooo delicious!

Pork Salad

Sweet Pork Barbacoa

Inspired by Favorite Family Recipes

  • 2 pounds pork (I like to use the pork butt – my butcher concurs)
  • 2 cans Coke (NOT diet)
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp garlic salt
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 1 can diced green chiles
  • 3/4 can enchilada sauce (I used Old El Paso 14 ounce can)
  • 1 c. brown sugar

Pork Salad

Put the pork in a reclosable bag to marinate, pour in one of the cans of Coke and 1/2 c. brown sugar. Marinade for a few hours or overnight. (I’ve done both…they both work.)

Pork Salad

Drain marinade and put pork, 1/2 can of Coke, water, and garlic salt in crock pot on high for about 3-4 hours. Remove pork from crock pot, drain off liquid, shred pork. (I use two forks because I’m too impatient to wait until it’s cool.)

Pork Salad

Mix together (in a bowl or in the blender) other 1/2 can of Coke, can of chiles, enchilada sauce and brown sugar.

Put shredded pork back in the crock pot, cover with sauce, heat just until warmed through.

Cafe Rio Pork

I have made this recipe literally dozens of times (not too often lately….I need to remedy that!) and it has definitely achieved family favorite status at our house!


I haven’t made the Cafe Rio Chicken copycat recipe nearly as much (which is odd because we LOVE chicken! I guess we just love the Sweet Pork MORE!)…but it is also delicious.  I found this version at Life As A Lofthouse.

Gotta love another crock pot, naturally gluten free, chicken recipe! :-)

Cafe Rio Chicken

from Life As A Lofthouse

  • 2 lbs chicken breasts
  • 1/2 a small bottle of zesty italian dressing
  • 1/2 Tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1 pkt ranch dressing mix (mixed with 1/2 cup of water)
  • 1/2 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 1/2 Tbsp. ground cumin

Place all ingredients in a crock pot. Cook on High 5-6 hours OR on Low 8 hours. Shred with fork and serve in salads, burritos, tacos…etc. You can also double or triple this to make extras for freezing. Then simply thaw and reheat for a lickity split meal.
This chicken is great in tacos, burritos, salads, etc etc etc! Just add cheese, lettuce, sour cream….the usual suspects….and ENJOY!!!


And last, but certainly not least….Nick at Whatcha Got Cookin? shared his copycat recipe for Cafe Rio BEEF that now makes it REALLY hard for me or my family to decide which one is our favorite. :-)

Cafe Rio Beef

  • 3 lb Chuck Roast
  • 1 Can Green Chile Sauce
  • 1 C Beef Broth
  • 1 Small Can Tomato Sauce
  • 1 T Cumin
  • 1/2 Onion
  • 3 Cloves of Garlic, Minced

Place chuck roast in crock pot, pour green chile sauce, beef broth, & tomato sauce over the top and add cumin & garlic. Cut an onion in half a place full onion rings on top of the roast to flavor…they will be removed when the roast is cooked and discarded. Cook on low for 8-9 hours, or until meat falls apart easily. Shred meat into a different container, strain juices from the crock pot and pour over shredded beef.


Of course there are lots more wonderful Cafe Rio copycat recipes out there….including their Black Beans, Pico de Gallo and Guacamole….just give Google a quick look.

But MY all-time favorites (after the pork, chicken and beef) are the Cilantro Lime Rice (YUM!) and their Creamy Tomatillo Dressing! I actually don’t make ANY of the “meat” dishes unless I also make the rice AND the dressing.  They just BELONG together. So I’m including them here…..once again as much for ME and anyone else. :-)   Now when I want to make any of these recipes….I will only have to pull up ONE post on my laptop/recipe book.  Yay me!

Cilantro Lime Rice

Cilantro Lime Rice

  • 1 cup. uncooked rice
  • 1 T oil
  • 1 tsp minced garlic (I use the jarred kind)
  • 1 tsp fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 2 cups water (or chicken broth – leave out bouillon)
  • 2 tsp chicken bouillon granules (or 2 bouillon cubes)
  • 1 T fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 3 T fresh chopped cilantro

Cilantro Lime Rice

In a saucepan combine rice, butter, garlic, 1 tsp. lime, chicken broth and water. Bring to a boil. Cover and cook on low 15 minutes, until rice is tender. Remove from heat. In a bowl combine lime juice, sugar and chopped cilantro. Pour over hot cooked rice and mix in as you fluff the rice.


Tomatillo Dressing

Creamy Tomatillo Dressing

  • 1 packet Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing mix
  • 1 c. mayonnaise
  • 1 c. milk
  • 2-3 tomatillos, remove husk, cut in 1/2
  • 1 bunch of fresh cilantro (cut off most of stems)
  • 1 generous tsp of minced garlic
  • juice of 1 lime (I use two!)
  • 1 jalapeno (I’m a wimp so I remove the seeds, leave them in if you like it SPICY!)

Tomatillo Dressing

Throw it all in the blender and BLEND!  Refrigerate.


There you have it! All MY Cafe Rio Favorites in one place.

A big THANK YOU to Cafe Rio for inspiring such wonderful copycat recipes that we can ALL enjoy…..not just those LUCKY enough to live near one of your wonderful restaurants.  We are forever grateful…and of course we’ll keep coming back for the one-and-only ORIGINAL Cafe Rio fare  :-)

Cafe Rio

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  1. Susan says

    We’ll have to hit Cafe Rio…there are at least 2 in town and I am not sure why we’ve never been (usually because we go to Inca’s) but anyway….I’m going to try making it in my rice steamer…I LOVE that sucker.

  2. says

    Oh yum! We don’t have Cafe Rio here, but the recipes look like ones I want to make. I think I’ll do this for Sunday when some of the kids will be home (with grandbabies!). Thanks for the inspiration.

  3. Brenda DeGood says

    I noticed in the beginning of your post, that you were talking about shredding the pork with two forks because it was too hot. Well, I found a little trick that works wonders for chicken, and, I can only assume it would work well for pork, too!!! Place the chicken (pork) in a bowl, use a mixer to shred it while it’s hot!! I actually just toss the intended meat into the glass bowl of my KitchenAid mixer, and, turn the mixer onto the 2 or 3 setting!!! But, before my wonderful Hubby bought me my KitchenAid for my birthday, I used a hand mixer with equally amazing results!!! Hope this helps!!!

    • Lauren says

      I 2nd this trick – LOVE it, and chicken is freakin perfectly shredded this way!

    • says

      Jessica…..if you decide to make any of the meat dishes into a salad (which I highly recommend!) the dressing is DELICIOUS on it! :-)

    • Amy says

      I have never ate at Cafe Rio, because I live in Nebraska, but I have made the tomatillo dressing before after having found it on the internet a couple summers ago. Let me say that it is my very favorite dressing to have on anything. I love it on just plain spinach salad with cottage cheese or on top of any taco, enchilada or burrito. It is really good in the place of sour cream. I have made the sweet pork before, but it is just too sweet for my taste buds, I would rather have spicy.

  4. Rachel Loveridge says

    I meant, in their enchiladas. Not burritos. That’s what I get for posting at 6am.

  5. Rachel Loveridge says

    Wow, do they really use Coke in their pork? Had no idea. Love that stuff in their burritos.
    I think that restaurant is the only place where I can say, “I love this rice!! I wish I had the recipe.” I think part of the trick with the rice might also be that they put some green salsa over it? Not sure.

    • Sherri McNeeley says

      Dr. Pepper is actually my fave for pulled pork, inspired by a 3-time World Champion Grill Master pal.

    • Kylie says

      I worked at Cafe Rio in high school and they actually use the Dr. Pepper in their Pork. Also, they do put some of the mild sauce in their rice. SO delicious!