C is for Cafe Rio

Driving in Costa Mesa the other day,  I was thrilled to see a Cafe Rio sign shining out like a beacon of yumminess.  Cafe Rio is a Utah-based chain of Mexican restaurants with locations all over the West. The decor is kitschy, the food is delicious! It’s been compared to Chipotle or Baja Fresh, but what sets Cafe Rio apart from Chipotle (and the like) is the handmade corn and flour tortillas. Their sauces and guacamole are also freshly prepared.

You’ll find all the usual Mexican dishes–tacos, enchiladas, burritos, tostadas and quesadillas–on Cafe Rio’s menu. Using fresh ingredients, they make your meal right in front of you.

My favorite thing on the menu is the Shredded Chicken Salad–a handmade tortilla, rice, beans, chicken, lettuce, pico, guacamole, tortilla strips, cojita cheese, cilantro and lime and your choice of a creamy tomatillo house or cilantro-lime vinegrette dressing (both are delicious).

Cafe Rio is famous for their Sweet Pork Barbacoa–it’s excellent in salads, tacos and burritos. The fire-grilled steak and chicken are also really good. The fire-grilled salmon tacos are also really tasty. I also love their fresh drinks–I’m partial to the Raspberry Lemon-Lime, but the Horchata is also good.

The line is usually about 10 minutes at lunch and 15 minutes at dinner. Most items run between $6 and $8. Make sure to ask for a Frequent Diner Card. If you buy 10 meals, you get the 11th free!

Don’t listen to the detractors who dismiss Cafe Rio is faux-Mexican food. I don’t think it matters if it’s authentic when it tastes so good!

**Helpful hint – if you go at dinnertime, especially on the weekend, have one of your party hold a table while someone else orders.

Orange County locations:

Cafe Rio
24312 Rockfield Blvd.
Lake Forest
949-334-9292

Cafe Rio
253 E. 17th Street
Costa Mesa
949-335-6800

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