I have a coworker who has a problem. The problem is she is a vegetarian. Gross, right? But not by choice. You see she is lacking the enzyme that breaks down meat in her body, so the simple act of eating meat makes her violently ill. It’s really the only acceptable form of vegetarianism, yet there is one place she will always eat meat, stomach be damned. That place is Cafe Rio. It’s a seemingly generic Mexican place that I have driven past many times in Manhattan Beach and brushed off. But little did I realize that Cafe Rio is huge in Utah. Like real huge. And it’s about to get even huger. There are currently 40-something locations, but they are planning an expansion on the scale of 100 restaurants. So when one opens across the street from you, remember you read about Cafe Rio on The Unvegan first. With my coworker in mind, we finally stopped at Cafe Rio to what all the meat fuss was about.
The place is set up in an assembly line format similar to Chipotle, but with a whole lot more options. Looking at the menu, apparently we made it pretty well-known that we had never been before. Suddenly, we were greeted by a guy working there who explained everything on the menu and offered us samples of any meat we wanted. And first he gave us a sample of their fresh-made tortillas to test out. It was delicious. The menu said their Sweet Pork Barbacoa was their specialty, so I tried some of that, their Chile Roasted Beef, their Fire Grilled Chicken and their Fire Grilled Steak. I was surprised to find my favorite to be their Chile Roasted Beef, which somehow beat out the Fire Grilled Steak due to some amazing flavoring. The barbacoa was my second favorite and another customer told us their secret: they cook it in Coke.
So I went with the Chile Roasted Beef burrito for $6.75. In it, I had them add pinto and black beans, lime-cilantro rice, cheese and hot salsa. Then, they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. This was to have them splash more salsa on top of the burrito, top it with cheese, heat it up and make it a wet burrito. Um, yes please. But I wasn’t yet sure how hot the salsa was, so I had them douse my burrito in medium. It was a beautiful sight and I couldn’t wait to dig in.
And when I did, what I tasted was nothing short of amazing. Stomach aches? Weak. I would risk kidney stones to down a burrito such as this. The flavor of the beef is beyond comprehension, but all at once it’s semi-sweet, salty, juicy and meaty. The meat was definitely the centerpiece to the burrito and while the rice, beans and cheese were all nice, they had nothing on the meat. Which brings me to the salsa. I quickly discovered that the salsa within the burrito was not too spicy at all and could have easily been the salsa for the burrito to swim in. But, I’m glad I tried the medium salsa, because it was awesome. In fact, it was literally sweet. Coupled with the savoriness of the rice, beans and cheese, this salsa added a strange, yet delicious balance to the burrito. Next time, I’ll swap the salsas and get that sweetness on the inside.
And there will be a next time. And a time after that. And a time after that. Because Cafe Rio is awesome. From the amazing customer service (seriously, everyone there seemed to feel honored to work there) to the meat to the salsa, it was a burrito to remember. Move over, Chipotle.