Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Barbacoa Salad

Happy Cinco De Mayo. I hope you have a fun fiesta planned for today. I know I do.

My family loves Cafe Rio. If we’re going out to eat Mexican, it’s the only place my husband wants to go. Cafe Rio claims to be the #1 Mexican Restaurant in the Nation for overall customer satisfaction. Which sort of made me chuckle because Cafe Rio is only in six Western States. But it is Mexican fast food at it’s finest. It is consistently good and we Utahns love our Cafe Rio.

Everything is made fresh daily. The tortillas are hand made and you watch them bake them on a circulating stone while you order.  They make your order in front of you as you’re herded along the counter with a throng of other hungry people waiting to get their Cafe Rio fix. Do you want your salad with pork, chicken or beef, black or pinto beans, cilantro lime rice, pico de gallo, Cotija cheese, cilantro, sour cream, guacamole, tortilla strips, and Creamy Tomatillo or Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette Dressing? It’s a huge salad served in aluminum tins. My husband and I always share one and still come home stuffed.

I recently made Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Barbacoa Salads for my twin’s birthday party. It’s the perfect way to feed a crowd because everyone can fix it just the way they like it. Frieda from Lovin’ from the Oven recently posted a copycat recipe for the Pork Barbacoa, which she adapted from Favorite Family Recipes. My version below is a combination of both of their versions. Like Frieda, I cut the amount of Coke and brown sugar I used in the recipe and it was still plenty sweet. I’ve also included Favorite Family Recipes copycat versions for the rice, black beans and tomatillo dressing.

Sweet Barbacoa Pork


  • 2 lbs. boneless pork ribs
  • 1 12 oz.. can Coke (not diet – can use caffeine free)
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • dash garlic powder
  • 1/4 c. water


Put the pork, 1 can of Coke and 1/4 c. brown sugar in a Ziploc bag to marinade. Marinade for a few hours or overnight.

Pour meat and marinade into crock pot. Cook for 4 hours on high or 8 on low. Keep lid on to retain liquid.  Drain liquid. Shred meat with 2 forks when done.

Put shredded pork and Barbacoa Enchilada Sauce in crock pot and cook on low for 2 hours.

Barbacoa Enchilada Sauce


  • 1 cup Coke
  • 1 can diced green chilies
  • 1 cup red enchilada sauce
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar


In a food processor or blender, blend Coke, chilies, enchilada sauce and 1/2 c. brown sugar.

Cilantro Lime Rice

Cilantro Lime Rice from Favorite Family Recipes Recipes


  • 1 c. uncooked rice (long-grain, white rice)
  • 1 tsp. butter or margarine
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 can (15 oz) chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 3 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro


In a saucepan combine rice, butter, garlic, 1 tsp. lime, chicken broth and water. Bring to a boil. Cover and cook on low 15-20 minutes, until rice is tender. Remove from heat. In a small bowl combine lime juice, sugar and cilantro. Pour over hot cooked rice and mix in as you fluff the rice.

Black Beans

Black Beans from Favorite Family Recipes


  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 1/3 c. tomato juice
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh chopped cilantro


In a nonstick skillet, cook garlic and cumin in olive oil over medium heat until you can smell it. Add beans, tomato juice, and salt. Continually stir until heated through. Just before serving stir in the cilantro. (Next time I make the beans I’ll use less tomato juice.)

Creamy Tomatillo Dressing

Creamy Tomatillo Dressing from Favorite Family Recipes


  • 1 packet TRADITIONAL Hidden Valley Ranch mix (not BUTTERMILK)
  • 1 c. mayonnaise
  • 1 c. buttermilk
  • 2 tomatillos, remove husk, diced
  • 1/2 bunch of fresh cilantro
  • 1 clove garlic
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 jalapeno (I used some jalapeno slices from a jar)


Mix all ingredients together in the blender.

Note: The meat and the beans are both very saucy, which is nice if they are being served buffet style because it keeps them really moist, but be sure and use slotted spoons to serve them.

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    Leave a Comment:

  1. Brandon says

    I made this today for 10 people. I have to admit I didn’t measure anything, but it turned out FANTASTIC! The entire group ate until they were in a “food coma!” I made the meat in a different location and had it brought to me so I didn’t have time to cook for the additional two hours after shredding and adding the sauce, so I combined the ingredients in a saucepan and simmered for “a long time” poured it over the shredded meat just before serving and turned out perfect still!! Thank you SO MUCH for posting this! We will enjoy this weekly at my house now!!

  2. Fawn says

    Do you know how many these recipes should feed? I’m looking to do a large gathering soon and would like to do this for our meal!

  3. Chef BoyRVee says

    I know of two locations in California. One is in Newport Beach and the other is in Lakewood.

  4. Brad says

    I’ve had better luck adding additional coke and we just use salsa (1 Cup). The whole thing can be added into the crock pot. We usually cook on low for about 5-6 hours and then shred the pork roast. After that we add the coke, brown sugar to taste and salsa to taste. We then cook it on high in the crock pot for another couple of hours until it tastes right and we do not drain any juices.

    • says

      Hi Brad – Sounds like a delicious option. I’m planning on developing a pressure cooker version soon that cooks up in a fraction of the time.

  5. Jennifer says

    Thanks for posting this recipe. The sweet pork quesadillas are my boys’ favorites and I can’t wait to try them at home. On a different note, Cafe Rio really is not Mexican food, more like Tex Mex meets Utah. But it’s still tastes wonderful!

    • says

      Hi Sue – I don’t know anyone who has tried root beer, but I think with all the other flavors in this recipe you probably wouldn’t notice much difference using root beer instead of coke.

      If you try it let me know.

  6. Jack says

    I have read your recipe for the Sweet Barbacoa Pork. At the end, it says to combine it with the enchilada sauce and then put all in a crock pot…etc. Am I right in assuming that I would prepare the enchilada sauce ahead of time? Also, when I have had Barbacoa Pork at Cafe Rio restaurants, I never saw (or noticed) green chiles in the meat. Are they there and I just didn’t notice them?


    • says

      Thanks for your question. The green chiles are blended in a blender with the other enchilada sauce ingredients so you would not notice them. If you have all the sauce ingredients at hand it comes together quickly so no need to make it ahead of time.


  7. Barbara Bakes says

    Colleen – I used a small 4 ounce can, but you're right, if you like it spicier, use more. I hope you enjoy it.

  8. Colleen says

    What size can green chiles did you use in your Barbacoa Enchilada Sauce? Here in Santa Fe, we can get chiles in several different sizes of cans. I suppose it doesn't matter–pick the size can according to your desire for that good old chile kick, right?!

  9. Amy @ cookbookmaniac says

    I ♥ Mexican food. We are lacking in decent mexican restaurants in Sydney. There are more misses than hits thats for sure! this looks so wholesome and delicious!

  10. bake in paris says

    Love Mexican food! So interesting this Sweet Barbecoa Pork actually consists Coke? :-) I like to try this… Thanks for sharing

    Sawadee from Bangkok,

  11. tasteofbeirut says

    I love Mexican food and I love all the dishes that you presented; that being said, i was wondering if I have a Cafe Rio in my area here in Dallas!

  12. JG says

    Cafe Rio sounds like a fun place! It's not located in MA. We like pulled pork, so I will be taking out my slow cooker to make your Sweet Barbacoa Pork. Thanks!

  13. teresa says

    i've only ever had cafe rio once, but i loved it so much that i grieve the fact that we don't have one in philly! now i can use this and make it myself!

  14. Bridgett says

    This would not last long on my plate. The flavors here sound wonderful and now I am wishing we had a Cafe Rio here in California!

  15. Kim says

    What is not to love about shredded pork ribs? This sounds delicious and definitely a great way to celebrate cinco de mayo. My husband and I would love this.

  16. Sue Sparks says

    Mexican food is my husband's favorite! It seems everyone in Utah loves Cafe Rio:) All the recipes sound great! My grandma used to make homemade tortillas:) Muchas gracias for your comment on my blog;)

  17. sweetlife says

    great recipe, I could eat mexican food everyday..yum but then again I do..haha

    coke with pork sounds tasty

  18. Lynn says

    Mmm, I am such a fan of shredded pork. Your version looks delicious. Happy Cinco de Mayo! We're having chicken and artichokes for dinner; a pretty American meal, I believe 😮

  19. lisaiscooking says

    I wished I'd planned a meal of Mexican food for dinner tonight! I forgot all about it being Cinco de Mayo. Your salad looks fantastic!

  20. Kathleen says

    This sounds amazing! I can't wait to try it> I think I could eat Mexican food everyday of the week!

  21. Bonnie says

    We love this pork. I make another variation but I like to use Dr. Pepper instead of Coke. I know someone who used to work at one of the original restaurants, before they franchised and they told me that is they used when they worked there. Either way, this is a winner.

  22. Darlene Young says

    Thanks for the recipe! And now, can you just figure out how to make their green mild enchilada sauce? How I love that stuff . . .

  23. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella says

    Happy Cinco de Mayo mum! 😀 I seem to have some strange love for recipes that involve Coca Cola so I really like the sound of this sauce! 😀 xxx

  24. The Double Dipped Life says

    Who would've thought that they used Coke?? I hate Coke- does it taste like coke? I'm abnormal- I'm a Utahn that really doesn't care for Cafe Rio! There are other places that are just better. Oh well! I will try your tomatillo dressing recipe though!

  25. Cathy says

    We love Mexican food and I know this pork and sauce will be a big hit. Pork ribs have so much flavor and cooking them in the crock pot is perfect. Yum. Gracias.