Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Knockoff

Published Date: August 16, 2022 | Last Updated: May 14, 2024
I’ve been playing around with this box of carnitas for while now, trying to doctor them up and make it taste like Cafe Rio pork. I finally settled on this combo and was floored by how similar this tastes to actual Cafe Rio sweet pork. This hack makes it SO EASY to feed a crowd! And honestly, it’s so good! 
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Cafe Rio is a Utah favorite and has expanded all over the country. This Mexican-ish food restaurant is best known for its Sweet Pork Barbacoa. You can find tons of copycat recipes online, and while they’re great, I knew I wanted to make a shortcut version. 

I’ve been playing around with pre-cooked Del Real carnitas for a while now, trying to doctor them up and make it taste like Cafe Rio pork. I finally settled on this Cafe Rio Pork recipe and was floored by how similar this tastes to actual Cafe Rio sweet pork. This hack makes it SO EASY to feed a crowd! And honestly, it’s so good! 

How to Make Cafe Rio Pork

Making Cafe Rio Pork is so easy with this hack. Basically, all you have to do is heat these three ingredients together on the stove until it’s all warm and combined. That’s it!

Carnitas

The star of the recipe is Del Real Carnitas! If you can get your hands on one or two of these, your Cafe Rio Pork will come together faster than you can say “delicioso”.

This brand is sold at Costco, Sam’s Club and other local grocery stores. The pork is fully cooked which makes the cooking process quick and easy! 

Enchilada Sauce 

For this recipe, I used Las Palmas enchilada sauce. It’s one of my favorite red sauces, and shouldn’t be hard to find at your local grocery store. You could try your favorite brand, but this specific enchilada sauce made this pork taste just like Cafe Rio.

Brown Sugar 

If you’ve tried Sweet Pork Barbacoa, you know that it is very, very sweet. If you’re scratching your head at the amount of sugar in this recipe, I totally get it. But it’s so yummy, so give it a try! 

Cafe Rio Salad Toppings 

Tortillas

Some people like to go grab tortillas from Cafe Rio. They actually will sell them to you in bulk if you want! But if you’re like me and don’t need to make a separate trip specifically for tortillas, I just use Tortilla Land uncooked tortillas. They come totally uncooked and you cook them up fresh. You can get them at Costco or most grocery stores.

Rice 

A Cafe Rio Salad is not complete without Cilantro Lime Rice. It’s a little spicy, a little tart, and so yummy.  I have two ways to make some solid Cafe Rio rice. There’s delicious and flavorful Copycat Cilantro Lime Rice and then the quick version (still delicious!).

Copycat Cilantro Lime Rice: This recipe is actually pretty quick as well and really flavors up your Cafe Rio salad with all it’s delicious add-ins. 

Quick Cafe Rio Rice: If you don’t have the time or ingredients, this is another great option. It doesn’t taste exactly like cafe rio, but it pretty good! Here’s how to do it: 

  1. Make parboiled rice with chicken broth instead of water
  2. Add a jar (more or less depending on the amount of rice) of salsa verde

Either option is totally delicious!

Beans

I absolutely love homemade pinto beans. They’re so much better than canned beans. My recipe is easy, cheap and so, so delicious. Plus, they end up better for digestion than regular old canned beans! Haha. Make these Crockpot Pinto Beans in the low cooker or in the Instant Pot. They only take about 5 minutes of hands-on prep time. 

You can totally use canned beans though if you’re in a pinch!

Lettuce

It’s not a Cafe Rio salad without some chopped romaine lettuce. I really wouldn’t swap this for another green. It won’t taste the same! 

Tomatillo Ranch

When feeding a crowd (like I often do with Cafe Rio Salads) I will take all the help I can get with hacks, shortcuts and cheats for convenience!

This homemade tamatillo ranch is just that. It doesn’t taste exactly like Cafe Rio tomatillo ranch but it is pretty dang close!! And it’s so yummy! 

My friend Melanie taught me this one. Just combine equal parts of Lighthouse Ranch dressing with avocado salsa to make a really great tomatillo ranch dressing! 

The hard part is finding the avocado salsa. I get mine at Sam’s Club. Walmart may have it and Costco used to carry it but mine stopped (why?!). Super worth it if you can find it at a store near you.

Pico de Gallo 

Pico is a must. Grab my homemade recipe here, or pick some up from the store.

Tortilla Chips

Top with some crushed tortilla chips for a little crunch! 

Guacamole 

And finally, GUAC! My homemade recipe is delicious and easy. I love a chunky guac. For this and the pico I love to use my favorite vegetable chopper. It makes it so easy to make pico and guac FAST! 

Feeding a Crowd

Costco sells a 40 oz box of Del Real Carnitas that is absolutely perfect for feeding a crowd! If you’re using 40 oz of meat, use the adaptions below: 

40 oz box of Deal Real Carnitas

2.5 cups Las Palmas red enchilada sauce

1 cup brown sugar 

Happy Cooking!

I hope you love this recipe as much as I do.

If you make this, I appreciate if you would sharing and link it to social media, and tag me on instagram @amberskitchen. Thanks in advance!If you want to follow along on my cooking adventures, follow me on Instagram @AMBERSKITCHEN

Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Knockoff

The flavor is as close to Cafe Rio Sweet Pork as I've ever had! And it's cheaper, faster and easier than making it from scratch. 
5 from 3 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Dishes
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Additional Time: 3 minutes
Total Time: 38 minutes
Servings: 7 servings

Ingredients

  • 15 oz box of “Del Real” Carnitas
  • 1 cup “Las Palmas” red enchilada sauce
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar

Instructions

  • Warm all ingredients together, unclump the meat as it heats, and just heat until it begins to simmer. Serve with tortillas, rice, beans, lettuce, tomatillo ranch, pico de gallo, and tortilla chips! ENJOY!

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Recipe Rating




  1. 5 stars
    This recipe just makes me so happy! I love sweet pork but the recipes out there are intimidating and long to make. This is so fast and my family loves it! I love to also make her pinto bean recipe to go along with the pork for pork taquitos, nachos, salad or tacos!

Ambers-Kitchen-Sourdough-Bread-2

Hi! I'm Amber

I'm obsessed with all things food and a mom to five. Baking bread and using my instant pot are my favorite things to do in the kitchen, and I can't wait to bring all that I have learned to you! Connect with me on Instagram because there's where I basically live these days.