Cafe Rio-Style Sweet Pork Salad

If you live in the great state of Utah, or have visited here in the past ten years, you know about Cafe Rio. Or Costa Vida. Mexican food with a Southwest flair.
This recipe is a great option for feeding a crowd,  because there's something for everyone. Don't like meat? Have a meatless salad. Don't like meat or salads? Have a tortilla with cheese, rice, dressing, pico  and beans.  Everyone builds their own. It's worked for me when cooking for a crowd of 30-300.
There are loads of copycat recipes on the Internet for Cafe Rio/ Costa :  rice, beans, dressing and the fan favorite/flagship item-Sweet Pork.  I'm posting my family favorite copycat recipes this week. I know I'm a few years behind this trend, but it will save me jumping around from site to site, looking for the recipes, or searching for the crumpled pieces of paper with my scribbles written all over. They'll all be here, in one place.  Ole!

To Build a Cafe Rio style Sweet Pork salad:
print instructions/grocery list

Cafe Rio style Sweet Pork- find it here
Cafe Rio style Black Beans-find it here
Mexican Rice with Cilantro Dressing - find it here
Cafe Rio style Cilantro Dressing- find it here
Pico de Gallo - find it here
Our favorite Chunky Guacamole- find it here

Other items you will  need/want to make a Cafe Rio style salad:
Romaine lettuce, washed and chopped
Cheese, Mexican blend and/or Cotija (Mexican cheese) for sprinkling on top, if desired
Flour Tortillas, we like the type found in Costco in the refrigerated section, grill for a few minutes on each side at home, or you may use grilled corn or regular grocery store flour tortillas, warmed
corn tortillas and vegetable oil- cut the corn tortillas into strips, fry over medium high heat, drain on paper towels, sprinkle with salt
Sour cream for topping salad
Fresh cilantro to top salad
lime slices, to top each salad
8 or 9" disposable foil tins found in baking section of grocery or the dollar store, or plates work too

Place all items on serving table in this order:
Tins or plates, tortillas, beans, rice, meat, lettuce, cheese, pico, guacamole, dressing, sour cream, tortilla strips, cilantro and lime slices.

Cafe Rio Sweet Pork for a crowd
A Bountiful Kitchen
print recipe

For roasting meat:
13.5 lb Pork Shoulder* (yield approx 6 1/2 lbs cooked, fat removed, shredded pork)
2 teaspoon onion salt
fresh ground pepper
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine or crushed
1 can or approx 12 oz Coke or Dr. Pepper, not Diet (see reader comment below by Bonnie)

For sauce after roasting:
3- 4 oz cans diced (mild to medium) green chilies
1-28 oz can red enchilada sauce
2 cups light brown sugar
2 cans or 24 oz Coke or Dr. Pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place rack in bottom third of oven.
If making a full recipe and using a piece of meat larger than 6 lbs, cut the meat into at least two or more  pieces to insure meat will be cooked through.
Season the pork with onion salt and ground pepper on all sides.  Rub the top of the pork with crushed garlic cloves.
Place the pork in a large heavy roasting pan or crock pot.  Pour Coke around the sides of roast.
Cover tightly with foil, so no steam escapes. Roast at 350 for 2 1/2 hours. Do not open oven. Turn oven to 200 roast for 2 more hours. Alternately, Place the pork into two large crock pots. Follow directions, except cook on low for about 10-12 hours.
After roasting, remove meat. Let cool for about 15 minutes, or cool enough to handle. Pull meat apart with hands, removing any visible fat remaining on meat. Discard fat and drain remaining liquid from pan.
Place meat back into roasting pan, shred with forks.
Prepare sauce by placing green chilies, enchilada sauce and brown sugar into a blender.  Blend until smooth. Add the Coke, stir with spoon. Pour the sauce over the meat, and heat the meat again before serving. Do not stir too much, this makes the meat a mushy mess. Visualize the icky barbecued meat in the frozen section at the grocery. I prefer to pour sauce on top and leave the meat alone :) Using tongs helps tremendously.
Yield: about 35 servings.

-*Important: Make sure to buy Pork Shoulder or Pork (Boston) Butt.  Pork Roast or Pork Loin does not have enough fat to produce a product that will shred properly. I like Pork Shoulder best for this recipe. A large Pork Shoulder can be found at Costco for approximately $2.00 per pound.
-This recipe may also be used as a taco filling or for burritos.
-If preparing ahead, follow directions until meat has been shredded. Refrigerate or freeze meat at this point. When ready to serve, prepare sauce and pour over meat. Heat up in oven or on stove top at low heat.
-This recipe freezes well. When I have leftovers, I freeze the meat and drain off the sauce. When I want to use the frozen meat, I let it thaw in the fridge overnight; then place the meat in a pan on top of the stove. I make fresh sauce but only prepare 1/3 of the recipe above.
-If the sauce is too thick for your liking, you may add water, 1/4 cup at a time.
-If you are looking for a recipe that is scaled down to 6 servings, read this post at Family Favorite Recipes. The recipes are a bit different than mine, but the quantities are smaller for the pork. Fam Fav Recipes also does a great job of thoroughly explaining the assembly process in making the salad. 


  1. Every time I see tjsi sentence above comment:Tell us how you feel thsi song comes in my mind :I feel good nanananna.Maybe after I read your great food recepies even I feel best nananan

  2. I was printing the recipe before I even finished reading it all! Sounds just wonderful and perfect for all those times I do need to feed a crowd. Only one question -- if you choose to use a crockpot, do you cover the meat with foil?

  3. Hi Rosemary, If you are using a crockpot, just use the lid to the crockpot to cover the meat. Happy cooking!

  4. love cafe rio salads! I need to make this super soon :)
    thanks for the recipe.

  5. My favorite. I used a copycat recipe that swore Cafe Rio uses Dr. Pepper and I like it, thought I had it just right. Then one day I was at Cafe Rio and watched an employee fill a Huge 20 galloon vat full of Coke from the coke machine out front for the Pork. OOPS. I guess I need to switch my soda.

  6. Bonnie,

    thanks for the tip! I'm going to mark the recipe and refer to your comment...

  7. You are my new best friend. Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Salads are a personal fave of mine. I can't wait to try this!

  8. We are going to do this for a stake youth dinner...we are planning for 300...we figured more chicken and less pork. How much chicken and pork would you buy?

    1. Hi Style sisters, unfortunately, I didn't see your question until way after the fact. glad we were able to email and talk about this...yes, I always plan on more pork, less chicken. I am a fan of the chicken, but most people prefer this pork about 3:1. Thanks for reading!

  9. We are making this for a Relief Society dinner, how many pounds of cooked pork do I need to feed 70 ladies?

    1. Hi Nicole. This recipe feeds about 35. So I would suggest doubling the recipe. The meat pre-cooked is about 13.5 pounds, after cooking the yield is about 6.5 lbs of meat per recipe. Doubling would produce about 70 servings total. Let us know how it turns out!

  10. any suggestions if I don't want to use Coke or Dr. Pepper? I'm just not a fan of either... thanks!

  11. I have not tried omitting the soda all together. I think the color of the soda, along with the sugar is what makes it work in the sauce. As an option, you may want to try root beer. You may have a little extra fizzing, as root beer tends to foam and fizz more than coke. Let us know if you try it!

    1. I haven't found Root Beer here in Mexico, so I opted to use a bottle of maple syrup and it works great! I cook the meat for 6+ hours and it comes out perfect. Thanks for sharing the recipe. I make this about every three months for 22 people and I rarely have leftovers! Thanks again!

  12. I worked at Costa Vida for 3 years and yours is the closest recipe I've come across to what I ate for those 3 years. :)

    1. Tay, Thanks! great to get feedback on this!

  13. I have the exact recipe and I wish I could just spill the beans but can't. But I can say you are very close but missing a couple things as well as there is one thing to remove. Sorry I can't say more but I don't want to get in any trouble.

    1. Anon, I amended the original recipe I found to suit my taste. Now I can't remember what I changed...It is great to get your feedback on how close we are to the original! Thanks for commenting. We'll keep this a secret ;)

  14. I tried this over the weekend.. It was Awesome. My picky hubby loved it and vowed to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner until all the meat is gone. That is how much he loved it. I made it exactly and did not change a thing. Thank you for sharing this recipe.

  15. I am working on the pulled pork today and have a question. Is there a disadvantage to adding the sauce in the morning after shredding & letting it marinade until it's time to heat it for dinner?

    1. No I think it's fine to do that. I would take care to not over stir the meat so it does not get a mushy consistency after you add the sauce. Happy cooking!

    2. When I make this I put the meat in my crockpot, and add all the ingredients and let it cook for 6-8 hours. I shred it close to the end when it is thoroughly cooked and easy to shred. It's great!

  16. We're having this burrito style tonight but without the beans and rice, I tasted the meat earlier and the dressing, it's gonna be sooo good! Never had it before! But I put some in the freezer as well!! :)

  17. If I am making a smaller serving of meat (about 2lbs) how long should I roast it? It seems like it might be too long for such a small amount of pork...thoughts?

    1. Jenna,

      Here is a link for a pork carnitas recipe using a smaller portion of meat. I suggest you use a bit larger roast, as the fat that will cook off is significant. If you use a 2 lb piece, probably about 1 1/2 hours at 350 will work, or you could cook it longer and slower at about 275-300 for three hours. The slower you cook the meat will affect the way it shreds. longer, slower at a low temperature will produce meat that shreds better. Happy cooking!

  18. Has anybody ever tried this with chicken?

  19. Hi Jill, I have not tried this sauce with chicken, but I'm sure it would work well. I would cook the chicken in a crockpot on low for about 3-4 hours. Or in an oven for about 2 hours at 300 covered tightly with foil. Check to see if it is done after 2 hours. Chicken breast meat dries out much quicker than the pork called for in this recipe.


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