Whole30 “Cafe Rio” Salad

cafe rio salad

The very first, and very small, Cafe Rio restaurant was in St. George, Utah. Back in the day, there was more outdoor seating than indoor seating at this spot. We ate there for the first time in 1999 and were smitten from day one. While the location has changed (several times) in St. George and Cafe Rio has grown in popularity and to so many states, our love for the flavors has only grown.

The second Cafe Rio location EVER was in Provo, Utah. When it first arrived, we may have eaten there several times in a week, with zero shame about it! Each location has an open air kitchen so you can see all your food being made and be mesmerized while standing in line watching all those tortillas being made.Talk about wetting your appetite!

On one such occasion, that open air kitchen happened to be making their famous “creamy tomatillo” dressing. Literally right in front of me. One large pouch of this, another large pouch of that, toss in some of this. It was one of those moments when you look around to see if anyone is watching you “watch them” just in case you got caught! One of the managers very quickly scooted this worker out of sight, but the damage was done and you better believe I took a mental note of all it. Mischief managed! Of all the people to make that dressing in front of, how could they be so careless!!

cafe rio tomatillo dressing

Guess what I did the next day? I totally recreated the CREAMY TOMATILLO dressing and made a marinade that is spot on as well. Has the evolution of this salad and the dressing changed over the years at our home? You betcha! The original dressing recipe I made back in 2004 came from pouches and cans too, filled to the brim with so many preservatives and artificial ingredients. Fast forward to 2014 and a recipe revamp was required.

MARINADE NOTE: For ease, we suggest whipping up a batch of our SMOKEY SPICE RUB, then you only need to add that to the lime juice and avocado oil with the cilantro. We use that spice rub often, so you might as well stir up a batch and keep it on hand. If you don’t have it on hand, the spices you can add are listed below!

We think this iteration is spectacular! The combination of the marinade and dressing keeps our taste buds happy and our tummies even happier!

A few of our other grilled recipes:

“Cafe Rio” chicken salad

Recipe by MichelleCourse: main dishCuisine: southwesternDifficulty: Easy


Prep time


Cooking time



like that resturant we all love, but so much better!


  • 2-3 chicken breasts (or try flank steak)

  • marinade
  • 1 cup fresh lime juice

  • ¾ cup avocado oil

  • ¼ cup smokey spice mix

  • Handful of cilantro, roughly chopped (opt)

  • spices, if not using spice mix! Don’t add these ingredients if you’re using the spice mix!
  • 1 tsp ground cumin

  • 1 tsp chili powder

  • ½ tsp garlic powder

  • ½ tsp onion powder

  • ¼ tsp chipotle chili powder

  • ¼ tsp chipotle chili flakes (opt)


  • Place the chicken in a non reactive container w/ a lid or a zipper bag.
  • Mix all the marinade ingredients together then pour over the chicken. Let it marinate for at least 6 hours & overnight for maximum flavor.
  • Mix up the dressing while the meat marinates by placing all the ingredients in a high powered blender (or use an immersion blender) & blend until completely smooth. Taste & adjust with more salt or lime juice if needed.
  • Remove the chicken an hour or so before grilling. Room temperature meat grills better than meat right out of the fridge.
  • Grill until chicken is done, no longer opaque and juices run clear, remove and rest for about 10 minutes before slicing. Letting the meat rest before cutting keeps it more moist & tender. Be patient, it’s worth the wait!
  • To serve, slice the chicken into strips, palace the salad greens on a plate (salt them), add the chicken, pico, guacamole & tomatillo ranch dressing.


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