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Cafe Rio-Style Pulled Chicken Salad (with Creamy Tomatillo Ranch!)

Round 2 of Cafe Rio copycat recipes!

Cafe Rio-Style Pulled Chicken Salad (with Creamy Tomatillo Ranch!) | #recipeYes, there is more than one this time. Actually, this one includes three: their pulled chicken, their cilantro-lime rice, and their famous creamy tomatillo ranch dressing (my personal favorite).

After today, I promise I’ll shut up about Cafe Rio for a while. Well…I mean I’ll have to considering I won’t be near one of the restaurants for almost a whole month—yikes, how will I survive?

The salads are my very favorite thing to get at Cafe Rio, and it’s totally because of their dressing. The stuff is ridiculously good. So good, in fact, that I have actually seen people order burritos, and then ask for the dressing to be poured over top enchilada-style. It makes people crazy.

Cafe Rio-Style Pulled Chicken Salad (with Creamy Tomatillo Ranch!) | #recipeI tried my hand at making a version of their salad, with a few small changes: I used a much smaller tortilla, I left out the beans, and I swapped guacamole and pico for sliced avocado and cherry tomatoes. Um, it was AWESOME. You can also make the salad with the Sweet Pork Barbacoa that I posted, yesterday (actually that’s how I usually order the salad, but the chicken is super tasty, as well).

The chicken is even easier to make than the pork, because there is only one step: pour it all into the slow-cooker and forget it for 5 hours. There’s no marinating, or swapping out the liquids, like with the pork. I will say, this recipe used ingredients that I’m usually a bit freaked out about cooking with—bottled zesty italian dressing and ranch seasoning—but, it turned out so freaking tasty that I don’t even care.

Cafe Rio-Style Pulled Chicken Salad (with Creamy Tomatillo Ranch!) | #recipeThe rice is flavored with fresh lime juice, cilantro, and green chilies. It’s super flavorful, and would be great served with just about anything. I like it in the salad because it kinda soaks up the chicken juices and extra dressing. Okay, and can we just talk about this dressing for a second? It’s creamy, and yet refreshing. It’s loaded with fresh cilantro, lime, and tomatillos, and has a little kick from just a single jalapeño. This also makes use of the Ranch dressing seasoning packets, and I have to say, after this, I’m 100% on board with those, now.

One thing you totally can’t forget in your salad is a flour tortilla with melted, shredded cheese on it. In the restaurants, they serve the salad inside of a giant one that lines your bowl. It’s perfect for scooping up your salad, or making a little salad burrito.

Cafe Rio-Style Pulled Chicken Salad (with Creamy Tomatillo Ranch!) | #recipe

Cafe Rio-Style Pulled Chicken Salad (with Creamy Tomatillo Ranch!)

Yield: at least 8 servings

Cafe Rio-Style Pulled Chicken Salad (with Creamy Tomatillo Ranch!)


    for the chicken:
  • 1/2 cup zesty italian dressing
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 packet Ranch dressing mix
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • for the rice:
  • 2 cups basmati rice
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp chicken bouillon
  • 1/3 cup chopped cilantro
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1 4-oz. can of green chiles
  • for the dressing:
  • 1 packet Ranch dressing mix
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup mayo
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 medium-sized tomatillos
  • 1/2 cup packed cilantro
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • for the salad:
  • flour tortillas
  • shredded Mexican cheese blend
  • chopped romaine
  • sliced avocado
  • halved cherry tomatoes


    for the chicken:
  1. Add all of the ingredients (except the chicken) in your crockpot. Mix well so that the ranch dressing mix is incorporated. Add in the chicken.
  2. Cook on high for 5 hours (or low for 7).
  3. Once done, remove the chicken a shred with two forks before pacing it back into the juices.
  4. for the rice:
  5. Add all of the ingredients to your rice cooker and cook according to manufacturers' directions (or for 20-30 minutes in a covered pot).
  6. for the dressing:
  7. Add all of the ingredients to your blender and puree until smooth.
  8. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.
  9. for the salad:
  10. Sprinkle your tortillas (one for each person) with the shredded cheese and place under the broiler until melted.
  11. Add some rice and lettuce to your plate. Top with the chicken, tomatoes, avocado, and dressing. Tuck the tortilla into the side. Serve!


chicken slightly adapted from here rice from here dressing from here

Cafe Rio-Style Pulled Chicken Salad (with Creamy Tomatillo Ranch!) | #recipe


4 Responses to “Cafe Rio-Style Pulled Chicken Salad (with Creamy Tomatillo Ranch!)”

  1. Andj — May 6, 2014 at 8:02 am

    So I would basically like to put that sauce on everything from now on. Also, love "little salad burritos". Great recipe!

    • Rachael replied: — May 6th, 2014 @ 8:23 am

      You and me both! Also, seriously, salad burritos are so good, hahah!
      Thank you!

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