I’ve said it before that I don’t buy in to the Cafe Rio mentality (stand in line like a herd of cattle, wince when they holler at you in Spanish when you can’t decide what to order, move down the line to the cash register, pay up, and sit in a very noisy crowded place to devour your order. Here’s your alternative - eat in - and enjoy the silence. Better yet - make the same food to take to someone you love.
The best part about making this at home is that you don’t have to eat it with a plastic fork! I’ve heard Cafe Rio described as the most “Ute-tex-mex-ifornian” experience - and I (sheepishly) have to admit that it has grown on me a bit.
Last week my brother-in-law died unexpectedly - leaving everyone stunned. My sister’s family came home as quickly as they could to make plans for his funeral. In addition to the usual stress of having a houseful of family staying together - the added pressure of making meals for that many people can be hard during a time of grieving. I wanted to do something to help - and about all I’m good at is making food (in mass).
I’ve made Cafe Rio-type fare before, and I’ve not been bowled over with the results. So I decided to try the top-rated “copy-cat” recipe on the web. I adjusted the amounts to serve 20 people - and they seemed to enjoy it (it was all consumed - that’s the best evidence)
I kept out a small portion for myself and my mother to try. I have to admit (as a Cafe-Rio non-fan) that it really was pretty good. My son dropped in during the day to inform me that the sweet pork was spot-on. I especially enjoyed the beans. I would recommend holding the salt until the cooking is complete - as it gets saltier as it cooks down.
I always keep the half-size steam table pans on hand for taking meals to someone. Sam’s Club carries them in a 30-count for a very reasonable price. They also have foil lids that keep the food contained as you transport it - a real plus (so much better than foil!)
As the pork cooked slowly during the day - I prepared a large bag of romaine, crumbled the cojita cheese, squeezed the limes, minced the garlic, chopped (a ton of) cilantro, and had plenty of time to do other things. The nice thing about a project like this is that it keeps me home where I can actually get things done - besides making me feel like there is actually something I can “do” for those I love who are hurting.
This meal is good with guacamole, sour cream, shredded mexican-blend cheese, crumbled cojita, crisp tortilla strips, olives, romaine lettuce, pico de gallo, etc... I purchased a package of uncooked flour tortillas and quickly cooked them in my non-stick skillet. I then wrapped them in paper towels and heavy duty foil - and they stayed warm for almost an hour. You can then use them to make burritos, or as flat-bread with a salad made from your choice of the other components.
Prepare to scroll - this is a long set of recipes! You'll find all of them (sweet pork, black beans, cilantro lime rice, & cilantro ranch dressing) at: