If someone were to write a book about Utah’s culinary history, I’m guessing there would be a whole chapter devoted to Café Rio. I can’t think of another restaurant that caused quite as big of a stir in the Salt Lake valley as this Southwestern eatery. And, judging from the array of knock-off recipes for Rio’s famous creamy tomatillo dressing or shredded chicken filling the pages of recipe blogs and local cookbooks, imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery.
Below is my take on homemade Cafe Rio. This meal is perfect for serving at a large gathering or party because everything is simple to make and can be prepared in advance, plus you lay out the components and let guests assemble everything themselves so that you don’t have to deal with catering to the needs of picky eaters and the like.
I serve the following recipes with these accompaniments:
Tortillas (preferably the cook-and-serve kind)
Salsa or pico de gallo
Shredded romaine lettuce
Grated cheddar cheese
Sliced avocado or fresh guacamole
Café Rio-style Pork
This pork doesn’t have the syrupy texture of Café Rio’s, but the flavor is really similar. I’ve had other recipes made with soda and all kinds of random ingredients, but I still like this simple one the best.
2 pound pork roast (I use tenderloin)
1 cup pace picante sauce or similar salsa (something runny, tomato based, and relatively free of chunks)
1 cup brown sugar
1) Mix brown sugar and salsa together and pour over roast.
2) Cook meat in a well-greased crockpot on low for ~5 hours, or until pork shreds easily*
3) Shred meat with two forks and mix with the rest of the sauce.
*The original recipe I was given says to cover the roast and bake at 350 degrees for 3 hours, but I’ve never tried this method so I can’t vouch for it.
Creamy Tomatillo Dressing
My approach to this recipe is pretty loose. Sometimes I use a whole bunch of cilantro, sometimes 3 tomatillos, etc. I just taste as I go and adjust to my liking- I suggest you do the same.
1 pkg Hidden Valley buttermilk ranch dressing mix*
1 cup Buttermilk
~3/4 cilantro bunch, chopped (I use the leaves only)
½-1 small jalapeno, seeds removed
1 cup mayonnaise (I use this homemade version)
1 tsp. lime juice
¼ tsp. minced garlic**
1) Blend all ingredients in a blender or food processor
2) Refrigerate for at least one hour
*This stuff is expensive and contains MSG and other nasty chemicals, so I’ve been meaning to replace it with the dried herbs from this homemade ranch (minus the dill). If you try it, let me know how it goes.
** Most of these imitation dressings go way too heavy on the garlic. I’ve had a few where all I could taste was the garlic flavor and not the tomatillos. The original recipe I had called for one whole clove, and it was absolutely disgusting the first time I made it. So if I have one word of advice it’s this: go easy on the garlic! You can always add some more later if you feel it needs it, but remember that garlic gets more pungent as it sits so give the dressing some time in the fridge before you add more.
If you want to make this closer to Cafe Rio's, try adding a small can of diced green chiles.
4 T butter
2 ½ cups white rice
4 ½ cups chicken broth (I sometimes use half broth, half water)
1 ½ tsp. salt
4 T lime juice
4 T chopped cilantro (I usually add more- I heart cilantro)
½ tsp. cumin
Combine all ingredients in a rice cooker and cook on normal setting OR
Combine all ingredients in a pot, bring to a boil, then cover with a tight-fitting lid and simmer until rice is done.
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