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Best Cafe Rio House Dressing Copycat (Tomatillo Ranch)

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This is it. The only copycat recipe w/the secret ingredient to this amazing dressing. Best Cafe Rio House Dressing Copycat (Tomatillo Ranch)

This dressing is one of the best dressings I’ve ever had. Creamy and deeply flavorful but light and fresh. And it goes perfectly on top of the Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Salad.

Back Story of this Best Cafe Rio House Dressing Copycat (Tomatillo Ranch)

For years I have been testing and attempting to make a perfect copycat recipe for Cafe Rio House Dressing. If you’ve been to Cafe Rio and had their salad, you know this is by far one of the best dressings in the world. It’s creamy and flavorful but light and almost drinkable. It has cilantro and tomatillos, and tons of fresh flavor but is still subtle and not too overpowering. You want to drench your salad in this dressing because it’s so delicious.

Problem is, the internet has not figured out the secret to it. I have made dozens of copycat recipes for this Cafe Rio House dressing over the years and none of them have matched that perfectly balanced flavor and texture you find inside Cafe Rio. None. Most have some mixture of ranch and cilantro and tomatillos, but they are all missing the secret ingredient.

Even I resorted – after years of trying to find a perfect copycat and failing – to just grabbing a bottle of ranch and pouring it in the blender with some cilantro and tomatillos and calling it good, because I couldn’t get it perfect.

Until the past couple weeks. A couple weeks ago I determined I would figure this recipe out. I’ve been craving it like crazy and we don’t have a Cafe Rio here. I started doing some reddit deep dives finding employees who had worked there and seeing if they divulged any secrets. Problem is, many employees are just mixing pre-made packets of ingredients together so they don’t know exactly what’s in it.

Until I found a note from one employee saying they knew there was something called Fresca in it. After some google searches, it turns out Fresca is just another name for Salsa Fresca, or Pico de Gallo. Lightbulb moment for me! When I read that, I realized that’s what gives the dressing so much savory flavor but also waters down the creaminess of the ranch. You wouldn’t think tomatoes are in it, because the dressing is green, but they are blended in and the cilantro color overpowers the tomato color. This gives it so much brightness, and is why it isn’t as heavy or pungent as a normal ranch. Pico de Gallo has a very high water content (but also contains so much flavor with fresh tomatoes, onions, serrano peppers, and lime juice). The fresh flavor and water cut down the heaviness of the mayo in ranch. They make it light. I had it – Fresh Pico de Gallo is the secret ingredient in Cafe Rio House dressing!

Now that I had this info, I just had to play around with some ratios. Several different ex-employees on reddit had different recollections of the exact ingredients. So I had to test some out to see. Some thought it had sour cream, others buttermilk, some both. All agreed it had mayo and dry ranch powder. I knew the dressing had buttermilk – you can taste it. It also has mayo but not overpowering. I played around with tons of bases – alternating between mayo and buttermilk, mayo and sour cream, and a mix of all 3. These were all tested with dry powdered ranch packets (I used the Hidden Valley kind), tomatillos, cilantro, and a couple I tested with canned jalapeno. Not only did I need to figure out the ingredients, but also the amounts. I played around with lots of testing and amounts. When I made my “ah-ha batch” the other day – the batch that was the “one” – I practically drank it! It had a light creaminess to it, with tons of flavor (honestly all made possible from the Pico de Gallo), and paired perfectly with the Cafe Rio Sweet Pork I made. I even called my sister to tell her I figured it out. Lol. This was like a treasure chest moment for me.

This will be the first time in my life I’ll be able to have jugs of this stuff in my fridge. We’ve already been eating it with everything. It tastes good as a dip, topping, or salad dressing. You can put it on breakfast tacos or baked potatoes or nachos, and of course it’s best on the Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Salad.

It’s honestly one of the best dressings I’ve ever had. I first had it when I went to college in 2002 and have been loving it for 20 years. Those Cafe Rio founders are geniuses. This dressing is delicious. (Not to mention everything else on the menu.)

So, without further ado, here is the Best Cafe Rio House Dressing Copycat (Tomatillo Ranch) Recipe:

Best Cafe Rio House Dressing Copycat (Tomatillo Ranch)

This is it. The only copycat recipe w/the secret ingredient to this amazing dressing. Best Cafe Rio House Dressing Copycat (Tomatillo Ranch)
Shannon Lyon
Serving Size 8


  • 1 cup mayo (I use olive oil mayo)
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons dry ranch powder (use Hidden Valley – it's about 1/2 a packet)
  • 1 small tomatillo (or half of a large one), rough chopped
  • 1 tablespoon canned diced jalapeno (I used the La Victoria brand)
  • 1/2 cup cilantro
  • 1 cup fresh premade pico de gallo * I got mine at my local Kroger store (Fred Meyer here). Be sure it includes tomatoes, onions, serrano peppers or jalapenos, and lime or lemon juice). I really think you need to buy this pre-made because it's been sitting and softening the ingredients and letting them marinate. You can make your own but you'll need to chill it for a couple days before using.


  • Add all ingredients except cilantro to a high-speed blender. Mix on high speed until completely blended.
  • Add cilantro last and pulse. You can blend it completely in, or you can leave small flecks of green cilantro throughout, if you want a little more texture. At Cafe Rio they leave some small flecks of cilantro in the dressing (very tiny) – adding the cilantro last will let you control how blended the cilantro gets.
  • Once it’s blended it is still not done… It will not taste just like Cafe Rio dressing until it has chilled for a couple hours.
    Last step – chill for at least 2 hours. Preferably 4-6 hours or overnight. You really want to let this dressing chill because it helps all the flavors come together. Once it is chilled it will taste just like Cafe Rio.
  • Enjoy over your Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Salad or on any other dishes you make!


*The type and liquid level of the Pico de Gallo you use can slightly impact the flavor. If you think it still has too much ranch flavor you can add a little more pico to the dressing. Play around with it until you get a consistency you like!

I hope you get a chance to make this Best Cafe Rio House Dressing Copycat (Tomatillo Ranch). You will love it. It’s the perfect thing to make for guests or for your own family. Be sure to tag me me @plumstreetcollective on Instagram if you make this dressing!

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  1. Allison B. says:

    5 stars
    I have always felt that most of the copycat Cafe Rio dressing recipes out there are just not quite right. They are all near-identical, and are just lacking that extra yumminess that Cafe Rio has. I finally I stumbled across this one and it’s the best one I have found! Thank you Shannon!!

  2. Do you roast the tomatillo or chop as is?

  3. I have been trying many different recipes for this dressing. I made this one tonight and you are right! I could drink this ! Thank you so so much,we love it . God bless you for your hard work.

  4. 5 stars
    I forgot to give you 5 stars,thanks again . Debbie

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