Cafe Rio Dressing

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No wonder Cafe Rio Dressing is all the rage in the States — is there anything better than this creamy cilantro-lime dressing?! Our flavor-packed restaurant copycat version is ridiculously easy to make. (Throw it all in the blender and let it whirl!)

Next time, try another one of our favorite Cafe Rio copycats — this Fideo!

Cafe Rio Dressing in the jar

Our Favorite Copycat Cafe Rio Dressing

 Cafe Rio is an American casual restaurant chain started in Salt Lake City, Utah, and has branched out all across the country. Its specialty is Mexican cuisine and it is known (among other things) for sweet pork and creamy cilantro ranch dressing. The pork with saucy black beans and Mexican rice on a bed of lettuce with loads of this dressing is unbeatable — one of my favorites! (If you know about Chipotle, but haven’t heard of Cafe Rio, the two are very similar.)

As far as I know, there isn’t anywhere you can buy Cafe Rio Dressing, and so I’ve resorted to creating my own. This one gets the stamp of approval from the kiddos and my husband and everyone I’ve served it to says it tastes identical — score!

QUICK TIP

Try some of our favorite recipes with a variation of this dressing — these Shrimp Tacos, this grilled Honey-Lime Chicken, or these one-pot Chicken Burrito bowls.

Process shots-- images of the ingredients being added to the blender and it all being blend together

Cafe Rio Dressing Ingredients

The ingredients in this Cafe Rio Cilantro Lime Dressing are fairly straightforward, but I’ll break them down below, along with a few specific ingredient tips:

  • Packaged ranch mix. We love the original Hidden Valley® ranch seasoning mix best (not the buttermilk mix which tastes a little different). Other brands just haven’t lived up to the flavor of Hidden Valley (not sponsored).
  • Mayo. A good, high-quality, full-fat mayonnaise is going to deliver the best flavor. Hellmann’s/Best Foods® is hands-down my favorite brand.
  • Sour cream. We’ve used both low-fat and regular sour cream — there’s not too discernible of a flavor difference. Greek yogurt is too tangy for our preference.
  • Cilantro. Fresh cilantro stems — just pinch off half a bunch and loosely measure — are great and have loads of flavor as well.
  • Garlic. Use already minced for a quicker prep time
  • Lime juice and zest. Use a microplane and a citrus reamer or this citrus juicer to make getting lime zest and juice quick and easy.
  • Jalapeño. If you’re sensitive to spice, leave out the seeds; and if you love heat, add them in! 
  • Salsa verde. Cafe Rio Tomatillo Dressing has tomatillos in it, but I prefer to add salsa verde instead. Salsa verde is made from tomatillos, but the tomatillos are typically roasted or browned to get more flavor before adding being blended into a salsa. By using the salsa, you can have a superior tomatillo flavor with no extra work on your end. Alternatively, coarsely chop 1 tomatillo and throw it in the blender for this dressing. Plus, you can use the leftovers in this salsa verde soup!
  • Buttermilk. This is the perfect finishing touch to this dressing. If you don’t have any on hand, you can use regular milk (or a “DIY” buttermilk) instead– but promise me you’ll try it with real buttermilk at some point! 🙂 

Images of the cafe rio dressing getting buttermilk added and then it being poured into a jar

How To Make Cafe Rio Salad Dressing

This recipe is as easy as throwing everything in a blender and letting it whirl. That said, the secret to a creamy, thick dressing is to blend the ingredients in stages. If the mayo and sour cream are blended with everything else, it will make the dressing much too thin.

Break up the blending into three different phases and be amazed by the results!

Overhead image of Cafe Rio Dressing drizzled over a salad

STORAGE

Can I Freeze This Dressing?

We don’t recommend freezing dairy-based dressings, since the texture will change significantly after freezing. It won’t be smooth and can even curdle or become lumpy as it thaws. Instead, we recommend cutting the recipe in half if it won’t be used within 5-7 days.

Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for 5-7 days and give it a good stir or shake before using again. It will thicken as it sits in the fridge, so thin it with additional buttermilk as needed. Make sure the dressing is tightly covered or it will absorb the odors of the fridge.

QUICK TIP

Looking for a vegan Cafe Rio Dressing or perhaps a more nutritious sauce with no mayo? You’ve got to try the sauce recipe that accompanies these Mexican Chickpeas. It’s ridiculously creamy and luxurious tasting, but made with better-for-you ingredients! (To make it vegan, use a plant-based sour cream and replace the honey with agave.)

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Cafe Rio Dressing

5 from 10 votes
No wonder Cafe Rio Dressing is all the rage in the States -- is there anything better than this creamy cilantro-lime dressing?! Our flavor-packed restaurant copycat version is ridiculously easy to make (throw it all in the blender and let it whirl!).
Print Recipe

Cafe Rio Dressing

5 from 10 votes
No wonder Cafe Rio Dressing is all the rage in the States -- is there anything better than this creamy cilantro-lime dressing?! Our flavor-packed restaurant copycat version is ridiculously easy to make (throw it all in the blender and let it whirl!).
Course condiment, Dip, Salad, Vegetarian
Cuisine Mexican, Vegetarian
Keyword Cafe Rio Dressing
Prep Time 15 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Servings 12 servings (1-1/2 cups)
Calories 99kcal
Cost $5.32

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons (17g) packaged ranch mix Note 1
  • 3/4 cup (12g) lightly packed cilantro (1/2 of 1 bunch)
  • 1 teaspoon (6g) minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons (29g) fresh lime juice (plus 1 tsp zest -- optional)
  • 1 tablespoon (10g) coarsely chopped jalapeño Note 2
  • 1/4 cup (58g) salsa verde (or 1 tomatillo -- Note 3)
  • Fine sea salt & pepper
  • 1/2 cup (105g) mayo Note 4
  • 1/2 cup (115g) sour cream (lite works great too!)
  • 1/3 cup (79g) low-fat buttermilk

Instructions

  • FIRST BLEND: In a blender or food processor, combine the dry ranch mix, cilantro, garlic, lime juice, zest (if using), jalapeño, and salsa verde. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (I add 1/4 teaspoon of each, but the seasoning mix may be seasoned enough for your preference!) Blend until ingredients are well incorporated and cilantro is broken down.
  • BLEND AGAIN: Then add in the mayo and sour cream. Blend just until incorporated -- don't over-blend or over-mix--that will thin the dressing. Finally, add in the buttermilk and pulse just to mix through. If you'd like a thinner dressing, add a few additional tablespoons of buttermilk until you reach desired consistency.
  • SERVE: Taste and add any additional seasonings to preference. Chill until ready to serve. As you chill the dressing it only gets more flavorful-- the flavors intensify!
  • STORAGE: Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for 5-7 days and give it a good stir or shake before using it again. It will thicken as it sits in the fridge, so thin it with additional buttermilk.

Recipe Notes

Note 1: Ranch mix: We love the original Hidden Valley® ranch seasoning mix best (not the buttermilk variety, which tastes a little different). Other brands just haven't lived up to the flavor of Hidden Valley (not sponsored). Don't prepare the mix according to packet directions (just use the dry powder) and only add in 2 tablespoons (1 packet is about 3 tablespoons).
Note 2: Jalapeño: If you're sensitive to spice, leave out the seeds and if you love heat, add them in! Add slowly; you can always blend in more if you'd like more heat.
Note 3: Salsa verde: Salsa verde is made from tomatillos, but the tomatillos are typically roasted or browned to get more flavor before being blended into a salsa. By using the salsa, you can have a superior tomatillo flavor with no extra work on your end. Alternatively, coarsely chop 1 tomatillo and throw it in the blender for this dressing.
Note 4: Mayo: A good, high-quality, full-fat mayonnaise is going to deliver the best flavor. Hellmann’s/Best Foods® is hands-down our fave

Nutrition Facts

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 99kcal | Carbohydrates: 3g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 9g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 2g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 10mg | Sodium: 298mg | Potassium: 48mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 184IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 21mg | Iron: 1mg

We do our best to provide accurate nutritional analysis for our recipes. Our nutritional data is calculated using a third-party algorithm and may vary, based on individual cooking styles, measurements, and ingredient sizes. Please use this information for comparison purposes and consult a health professional for nutrition guidance as needed.

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17 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    That is so bizarre.

    I just came here to see if you had any good dressing recipes, as I’m making a tortilla thing with split peas and lentils tonight for dinner and this looks perfect. Can’t wait to try it out 🙂 Thanks.

  2. I’ve never heard of cafe rio dressing before, but this does look delicious! I love that it’s easy to adjust the spices to your preference. I think I would pour this dressing over everything!

  3. Oooh, this looks yummy! I’m not familiar with cafe rio, but I trust that this is delicious! Thanks for sharing Chelsea!

    1. About 5-7 days, but you will need to re-blend/stir it up after a day of sitting in the fridge 🙂

  4. If this is Cafe Rio Tomatillo dressing, why aren’t there any tomatillos in it? Tomatillos are healthy.

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