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Bring the flavor of Cafe Rio to your dinner table with these CopyCat Sweet Pork Salads! Made entirely in the Instant Pot, each bit of pulled pork is tender, juicy, and sweet thanks to sparkling water and a touch of maple syrup. Serve with black beans, cilantro-lime rice, and toppings of choice over a big bowl of romaine lettuce for the best results.
I might not come from a large immediate family, but growing up in an actively religious household meant we were always attending large social gatherings growing up. These events were most-often potlucks, so I learned a few recipes that could feed a crowd; one of those was copycat Cafe Rio!
No matter who my family was serving, homemade Cafe Rio was always a huge hit for a couple of reasons:
1. It’s TexMex – and what American doesn’t like a good TexMex dish?
2. It’s filling – the pulled pork with all the mix-ins never left anyone hungry!
3. It’s customizable – each guest could make their dinner exactly how they wanted it, no matter if they had dietary needs or picky preferences!
What’s in a Cafe Rio Salad?
Cafe Rio is an American restaurant that serves TexMex food, including burritos, enchiladas, salads, tostadas, tacos, and quesadillas. Their salads usually come with a large tortilla, your choice of meat or protein, black or pinto beans, cilantro-lime rice, romaine lettuce, and toppings such as guacamole, pico de Gallo, cotija cheese crumbles, fresh cilantro, chunky salsa, or tortilla strips.
This recipe’s major ingredients are pretty similar to the original, but I’ve made a few alterations to increase the nutrition content and ease the preparation process. For this salad, you’ll need: • Pulled pork: we’re going to make it in the Instant Pot for ease and convenience! Lots of yummy flavors and spices will be added too. I recommend a boneless pork shoulder or boneless pork tenderloin (the leaner option).
• Romaine lettuce: the choice of greens for this salad
• Black beans: my preference of beans over pinto beans, but their nutrition profile is essentially the same!
• Cilantro lime rice: there are a few different companies that sell ready-made cilantro lime rice, so find the one that is in your local grocery store. For this recipe, you’re going to need 8 cups of cooked rice to feed 8 people.
• Bolthouse Farms Cilantro Avocado Dressing: a healthier replacement for the traditional tomatillo dressing. It’s made with Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise to cut 70% of the calories and 80% of the fat. It’s incredibly delicious too!
• Toppings of choice: I make these salads with sliced avocado, pico de gallo, cotija cheese, tortilla strips, and fresh cilantro. Feel free to use some, all, or different variations of these toppings!
How to Make Sweet Pork Salads
I love this recipe for feeding a crowd because everything comes together so easily. Your big appliance like an Instant Pot or a slow cooker will take care of the meat, the stovetop will take care of the rice and beans, and that leaves you for five minutes of prep for the toppings. Follow along below to see step by step how to cook and season your pork for delicious results:
Cut your pork into large chunks. This will make arranging the pork in your appliance easier and allow for better cooking and shredding.
Season your pork with salt and pepper, then place in the Instant Pot. Pour the sparkling water over the pork, making sure most (if not all) of the pork is covered. Close the lid, seal the valve, and set to HIGH manual pressure for 70 minutes. Allow for 10 minutes of pressurization and 10 minutes of natural pressure release (for a total of 90 minutes).
To manually release, turn the valve to “vent” and let all the steam out. Remove the lid and transfer your pork chunks to a stand mixer. Shred with the paddle attachment. If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can shred the pork in a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer or two forks.
Transfer your shredded pork back to the Instant Pot and mix in tomato paste, green chilis, maple syrup, cumin, and chili powder. Leave the Pot on “keep warm” mode to allow the flavors to combine and keep the meat warm. Serve when ready.
1. Can I make the pulled pork ahead of time? Yes! You can prepare the pork up to 48 hours before your event. Make sure to store in an airtight container in the fridge until you’re ready to reheat. To reheat, place in your Instant Pot on “keep warm” with the lid sealed until you’re ready to serve.
2. Can I use shredded chicken instead? Yes! I recommend buying two rotisserie chickens to save you time and money. Feel free to use the same seasonings listed in the recipe card to season your chicken!
3. Can I use different beans or rice? Of course! I’ve always served these salads with black beans, but canned pinto beans will work just fine. You can also make your own cilantro lime rice instead of buying ready-made rice.
4. Aren’t canned beans unhealthy? Not necessarily! The only ingredients in the can should be beans, water, and a touch of salt. If there is an option, always choose the “no salt added” cans.
5. Are these salads diet-friendly? They can be! For gluten-free diets, use your favorite GF tortillas (or omit them completely) and skip the tortilla strips. For dairy-free diets, omit the cotija cheese or use your favorite vegan cheese. For vegetarian diets, the rice and beans together are a source of complete protein, so leaving out the pork isn’t a big deal!
6. Can I make my salad a burrito? Yes! This is how my dad and my husband prefer their homemade Cafe Rio. To ensure your burrito wraps well and stays closed, serve smaller portions of each ingredient and omit the lettuce altogether.
I know you’ll love these salads even more than the original because you made them yourself! I can’t wait to see you try them. If you do, be sure to leave a comment and rating so others know how you liked it! Your feedback is valuable to other readers and recipe developers.
For the Pork
- Cut the pork into large chunks, about 4-5 inches long. This will make arranging the pork in your appliance easier and allow for better cooking and shredding. Season pork with salt and pepper, then place in the Instant Pot. Pour the sparkling water over the pork, making sure most (if not all) of the pork is covered. Close the lid, seal the valve, and set to HIGH manual pressure for 70 minutes. Allow for 10 minutes of natural release (the display will read L:10) before manually releasing it.
- To manually release, turn the valve to “vent” and let out all the steam. Remove the lid and transfer pork chunks to a stand mixer. Shred with the paddle attachment. If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can shred the pork in a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer or two forks.
- Transfer your shredded pork back to the Instant Pot and mix in tomato paste, green chilis, maple syrup, cumin, and chili powder. Leave the Pot on “keep warm” mode to allow the flavors to combine and keep the meat warm. Serve when ready.
For the Salads
- Empty black beans into a medium-sized saucepan. Cover with a lid and simmer on medium-low heat for 30 minutes.
- Prepare rice according to package instructions.
- Wash and chop the lettuce into bite-size pieces. Place in a large serving bowl. 4. Add desired toppings to individual bowls.
- To serve, place a tortilla in the bottom of an aluminum pie pan, then layer lettuce, beans, rice, pork, and toppings in order.
- 4 lb. pork shoulder or pork loin
- 12 oz. sparkling water
- 4 oz. tomato paste
- 4 oz. diced green chilis
- 1/4 C maple syrup
- 1 Tbsp cumin
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 8 tortillas
- 3 heads Romaine lettuce
- 3 cans black beans
- 4 packets Uncle Ben’s ReadyRice Cilantro Lime Rice
- 16 oz. pico de Gallo
- 2 avocados (or pre-made guacamole) + desired seasonings
- 8 oz. tortilla strips
- 4 oz. cotija cheese
- 1 bunch cilantro
- 1 14-oz. bottle Bolthouse Farms Cilantro Avocado Dressing
- 8 aluminum pie pans (optional)