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My Favorite Cafe Rio Copycat Recipes!

cafe rio pork salad

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 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 sign Cafe Rio is Mexican-style restaurant chain located primarily in the Western United States. The food is inspired by the traditional cooking of Northern Mexico’s Rio Grande, Southern 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!

cafe rio sweet barbacoa pork
Photo courtesy Cafe Rio

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 of a 14 oz can enchilada sauce
  • 1 c. brown sugar

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.)

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.)

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.

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!

cafe rio pork salad

Sweet Pork Barbacoa

Jill Nystul
Inspired by Favorite Family Recipes
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 4 hours
Refigerate 3 hours
Total Time 8 hours
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 8 servings
Calories 504 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 2 pounds pork I like to use the pork butt – my butcher concurs
  • 24 oz Coke NOT diet
  • 1/2 c brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp garlic salt
  • 1/4 c water
  • 4.5 oz diced green chiles
  • 10 oz enchilada sauce
  • 1 c brown sugar

Instructions
 

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Nutrition

Serving: 8servingsCalories: 504kcalCarbohydrates: 52gProtein: 19gFat: 24gSaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 81mgSodium: 621mgPotassium: 404mgSugar: 50gVitamin A: 265IUVitamin C: 7.5mgCalcium: 58mgIron: 1.8mg

 

cafe rio divider

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 several years back.

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

cafe rio pulled chicken
Photo courtesy Cafe Rio

Cafe Rio Chicken

  • 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!!!

cafe rio pork salad

Cafe Rio Chicken

Jill Nystul
from Life As A Lofthouse... Gotta love another crock pot, naturally gluten free, chicken recipe!
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 6 hours
Total Time 6 hours 15 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Mexican
Servings 8
Calories 182 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 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

Instructions
 

  • 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.

Nutrition

Serving: 8servingsCalories: 182kcalCarbohydrates: 1gProtein: 32gFat: 4gCholesterol: 96mgSodium: 211mgPotassium: 605mgVitamin A: 425IUVitamin C: 2.2mgCalcium: 25mgIron: 1.6mg

 

cafe rio divider

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 chile roast beef
Photo courtesy Cafe Rio

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.

cafe rio pork salad

Cafe Rio Beef

Jill Nystul
Cafe Rio Beef is also delicious.  It's really hard for me or my family to decide which one is our favorite.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 8 hours
Total Time 8 hours 15 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Mexican
Servings 8 servings
Calories 315 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 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

Instructions
 

  • 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.
  • 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.

Nutrition

Serving: 8servingsCalories: 315kcalCarbohydrates: 1gProtein: 33gFat: 19gSaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 117mgSodium: 252mgPotassium: 608mgVitamin A: 30IUVitamin C: 0.8mgCalcium: 41mgIron: 4.1mg

 

cafe rio divider

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
Photo courtesy Cafe Rio

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, leaving 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

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.

 

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

 

cafe rio divider

creamy tomatillo dressing
Photo courtesy Cafe Rio

Creamy Tomatillo Dressing

  • 1 packet Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing mix
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 cup 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, seeded or not

Throw it all in the blender and BLEND!  Refrigerate.

 

Creamy Tomatillo Dressing
Author: Jillee
Adapted from Cafe Rio
Ingredients
  • 1 packet Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing mix
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 cup 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, seeded or not
Instructions
  1. Throw it all in the blender and BLEND!
  2. Refrigerate.

 

cafe rio divider

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 park city
Cafe Rio – Park City, Utah

 What’s YOUR favorite Cafe Rio fare?


Jill Nystul Photo

Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.
I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

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Food & Recipes

  • Chicken Tortilla Soup…they put guacamole, fresh cilantro, skinny tortilla strips, loads of chicken and the stock is beyond good. You get a rolled up soft flour or corn tortilla to dunk in this cup of goodness. It’s my favorite!

  • I live in Germany, so each trip to the Western US must have a stop at a Cafe Rio. MUST! I always feel blessed when the daily special just happens to be shrimp tacos. The. Best.

  • Jillee: I first met Cafe Rio in Utah, then Nevada … it’s my favourite Mexican place, bar none! Living in London, however, I can’t eat there except on our annual visits to the States. So I was really looking forward to using your recipes, Jillee—until I came up against 2 types of problems: ready-made ingredients like “zesty Italian dressing” or “ranch dressing mix”, and non-specific amounts such as “1 small can of …”. These present great problems when I try to improvise with basic UK ingredients! Please can you say, for example, “1/4 cup of …” or “3-oz can” which will give me a better idea of amounts and proportions. As for packet mixes, it’s anybody’s guess. I do love your inspired ideas and they get my mouth watering, so please don’t leave me with my tongue hanging out!!!

    Also, could you post your version (if you have one) of Cafe Rio’s Chicken Tortilla Soup, great for diabetics who love food that tastes of something! I don’t know if Joan’s comment, above, is the complete recipe. Many thanks.

    • Wow–all the way from the UK–& Becky from Germany–that’s some love for Cafe Rio. Here’s a few of the sizes & substitutes I would use. Hope this helps.
      Cans: a can size we, Americans use for the most part is 15 oz. or so. Large can say of tomatoes would be 28 oz. Number 10 can is the super big restaurant size can.
      Bottled dressing: Kraft brand & most others of dressings: Large bottle mostly 24 oz. Small bottle 16 oz.
      As for those ridiculously expensive, chemical laden packets– For the ranch packet I would use 1 TB of just the spice mixture from Jillee’s earlier post “An Ode to Homemade Ranch Dressing”. Jillee has a two other posts you might want to check out.
      “Store Bought Kitchen Staples You Can Make Yourself” & “Seasonings’ Greetings” Store bought packs usually hold between 1-2 TB.
      For more of the DIY pre-packaged stuff try this site:
      http://chickensintheroad.com/cooking/making-homemade-side-seasoningmixes/
      http://chickensintheroad.com/cooking/homemade-hamburger-helper/
      The rest is experimentation. Happy Cooking.

      • copying this recipe for my own file with my own style of shorthand & it made me think. The TB is a US measurement–TB stands for tablespoon. You probably knew that but, just in case–because I had a friend ask me & she is American.

    • Janet…these recipes are courtesy other blogs…as I have noted…but I will see what I can do to make them a little more readable/understandable. :-)

      And I’ll be on the lookout for a copycat Chicken Tortilla soup recipe too!

    • Hi Janet!

      Jillee can correct if I’m wrong, but these are sizes I would use as the “typical” sizes for what she put.

      enchilada sauce…usually about a 14-oz can
      small tomato sauce….8 oz
      zesty Italian dressing…..8 oz is the small bottle

      Here’s a link to a recipe for DIY ranch dressing mix….
      http://allrecipes.com/recipe/dry-buttermilk-ranch-mix/

      HTH!! And thanks, Jillee, for the awesome recipes!

  • Jillie, my daughter lives in Murray, UT and I’ll be there visiting next month. I can’t wait to try Cafe Rio while I’m there. It’s great to know if I love their food, you have made it possible for me to enjoy all year long. Thanks and I love your blog!

  • These sound yummy! Has anyone tried substituting chicken for the beef in the CAFE RIO BEEF without modifying the recipe in any other way? I have a bunch of chicken to do something with… Thanks!

  • Hi Jillee,
    I live in northern CA and I have some how never heard of this restaurant. I will be looking it up.
    The recipes look great! What kind of rice do you use? I would have assumed white, but the picture looks more like a wild rice.
    I hope you are having a wonderful weekend.

  • Oh my gosh, those recipes look great. I don’t think we have Cafe Rio in CA, but I will look it up. My family is going to love me a lot more now….thanks for making me look great. I am headed back east next week for 10 days and will leave them some of these yummies.
    I am so glad I found your blog!

    • Denise! I live in SoCalif. and we now have at least 2 Cafe Rios in Orange Co. One is in Mission Viejo and the other is in Tustin on 4th Street and Newport Blvd. That’s the one we always go to. They are GRRRREAT! We discovered them in Provo, Utah, when our daughter was going to Brigham Young University. She took us there for lunch and it was just packed with people. We were totally sold on it that day and eat at them as often as possible. They are all over Utah. If you ever travel to Salt Lake City, there are restaurants in St. George and Cedar City right off of I-15! Hope this helps!

  • Thanks for the refresher–cleaning out the odds & ends of the freezer and found a Dump Chicken. Bet these would make a great Dump Chicken/Beef freezer do ahead. Once the freezer is empty my re-stock will definitely include “Dump Rio”
    I cannot tell you how much I rely on those Dump recipes you posted a while back. BTW I found I like the dump chicken best when I rinse & pat dry the chicken first.

  • Jill! Thanks for reposting these! The pork barbacoa is my favorite too but I’ve never tried making it at home. You deserve a day off once in awhile! See you soon sweetie!

  • I am currently waiting till mid June for one to open near me. And by near me I mean 90 minutes away. Now to be fair basically everything is 90 minutes from me. I am so excited it has been years sense I have been able to go. I will defiantly be trying some of these out.

  • i have two questions.. on the receipe of sweet pork barbacoa, you put 1 can of diced green chiles..is that a 4 oz can.. the second question is on the receipe of café rio beef you put I can green chile sauce, would I find that in the Mexican isle…is it like enchilada sauce..

  • We celebrated my son’s 25th birthday last night so when I read these recipes in the morning, I was so excited to try them!! I only made the Cilantro Lime Rice and the Creamy Tomatillo Dressing, but they were a hit!! Already passing on the recipes:) Thanks so much, Jillee, for sharing great ideas. Your timing couldn’t have been better:)

  • Wow; that pork recipe reads more like a dessert; that’s a boatload of sugar!

    I know your son is a diabetic, and I’m also type 1. Does he actually eat that stuff?

  • I tried the Cafe Rio pork recipe in the crock pot tonight, and I will admit this is my first time ever making any kind of pork. Is there some trick to shredding the meat?

    I made sure and asked the butcher at my supermarket to point me to pork butt, so I had the right cut of meat. I followed the recipe precisely, and used my meat thermometer to make sure the meat was done before taking it out to shred it. There was so much connective fatty tissue, it took me forever to shred the meat and my hands are sore and I even have a blister on one finger. Surely it shouldn’t be that hard to shred? Did I miss a step, or is there some trick to shredding pork?

    The end result WAS delicious, it was a welcome change to our normal ground beef taco routine, but if it’s so much work to shred the meat every time this is not something I would make again. I think I’ll try the beef or chicken one next time around.

  • Thanks for posting these all together. I just made the sweet pork again last night. It’s my families favorite meal! I was just wondering if you had an suggestions for meals to use up the extra dressing as we always have a ton of left over dressing. (Some suggestions so far was to pour it over ceviche or make a coleslaw) Also, I use buttermilk in the dressing rather than regular milk to give it a little more flavor.
    Another Cafe Rio recipe I would LOVE if you posted would be their tortillas. They are SO good and SO much better than the flour tortillas from the grocery store.

  • In reference to the American measurement abbreviations, I think it depends on your generation as to what is a common abbreviation.

    For instance, I grew up with a capital T used for tablespoon and a lower case t for a teaspoon. Then the recipe world became more precise conscious and started using the Tbs for tablespoon, and tsp for teaspoon. Now we see all different ways of writing it. Even cookbooks use the various styles, rather than conforming to one particular abbreviation.

    So for those who use metric, and just want to try an American recipe or for those Americans who may not be very experienced in the kitchen: just know that a capital T, Tb, Tbs or Tbsp all mean the same thing….tablespoon. And of course that means that a lower case, or small, t, ts, tsp all mean teaspoon.

    now get into that kitchen and start measuring!

    • And, I should also add that it doesn’t always have to be a capital Tbsp…it might be tbsp. Still means tablespoon. Every person has their own ‘shorthand’ when writing down a recipe and then the more we use it that way, the more ‘official’ it becomes. Is it any wonder some people have difficulty knowing for sure what something “really” means!! LOL

  • Ah snap! I am going to make this for dinner tonight (the pork) and all I have is diet Pepsi (my hubby works at Pepsi Lol!) Will it still work?

  • Thanks for posting these, Cafe Rio is the BEST! Quick question though, if I am making this for a crowd… I will probably be cooking about 8 lbs. of pork… do I need to up the quantities on everything else?

  • Hi Jillee! Thank you so much for posting all the recipes. I have a question: in the Cilantro Lime Rice recipe, the instructions say to put the rice, butter, etc… but in the ingredients you have 1 T oil. Is it one or the other or both? Thanks, I can’t wait to make my barbacoa salad and rice tomorrow!

    • My recipe uses butter. Same amount. I also used a rice cooker and only added the usual amount of water after the broth was added. Otherwise too much liquid.. just in case anyone was wanting to use a rice cooker..

  • We ate this at a church ladies get together and they gave everyone the receipe for the sweet pork, cilantro lime rice, black beans, and the cilantro ranch sauce (which I think it is really called something else) I Love this stuff! They recommended using Pork boneless ribs. I tried the country style. IT was very easy to shred with 2 forks. Hope that helps anyone for the shredding.. I use the costo burritos and put the pork in it and sour cream. served with the rice on the side. sometimes I put the green sauce on the rice too… I can just eat that sauce with a spoon!! Anyay I came across this trying to fiqure out how many calories are in the pork cause I can’t find it anywhere.

  • I made the Cilantro Lime Rice and the Cafe Rio Beef last night and it was AMAZING!! I live in Florida, so haven’t been to a Cafe Rio, but at Cafe Sally this was a big hit! I made a few changes to the beef with what I had on hand to throw into the crock pot before work. I used a can of tomatoes and green chiles with lime and a can of green chiles and a can of beef consomme along with the cumin, onion and garlic. It was OMG good! I used 1/4 cup of the broth from the beef with my chicken broth for the rice. THANK YOU for posting these LOVED it! :)

    • PS when I served I topped the rice with the beef, added a dollop of sour cream a few chopped jalapenos and a bit of salsa, crushed plain tortilla chips and some shredded cheddar. . .

  • To all those struggling to get shredded pork. In order for the connective tissue and fat to render out, it MUST be slow cooked for now earlier than 195*F internal temp. Pork is done at 165 BUT NOT SHREDDABLE at that temp. It will not dry out at 195. It is in liquid and will braise to perfection..

    enjoy

    check my website for more info

    http://www.grillofmydreams.blogspot.com

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