Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Growing up in So Cal all my life has given me the wonderful opportunity to have delicious and as close to as authentic Mexican food outside of Mexico as possible. I don't know if Cafe Río would really be considered super authentic and definitely not a mom and pop shop, but to my surprise I actually really liked what I got. For the longest time I saw the corner of Rockfield and El Toro of a store under construction and bright vans with the Cafe Río logo parked there. It finally opened up recently and I had wanted to check it out since it seems like a pretty big space with vibrant colors. They had been in the back of my mind for a while but I haven't been in a Mexican food mood until recently when the age old question of where to eat came up again with MBA. I gave her the choices of Thai or Mexican and she chose to try out Cafe Río since it was new.

When I walked in, I was a little hesitant to find that it is a chain restaurant and resembled Chipotle. The food is mostly already prepared and the food is made in an assembly line. I felt like I was in Rubios almost with a few touches of other chain restaurants for the decor. Still, I was already there and had to try out the food. While we were in line I saw that they offered fresh made tortillas and there was a lady making them right in front of us. I had to video tape this down. The fresh tortillas looked yummy and were pretty tasty, but I am jumping ahead.
There were signs posted everywhere talking about the supposed famous Cafe Río Salad with Pork Barbacoa. I was taking a big risk since I just had salad for lunch and I am not easy to please when I have to ingest healthy food. O=9 To my surprise the salad was actually full of flavor and had a lot of bite to it. The salad comes in a large fresh Flour Tortilla that's toasted with Mexican Cheeses. They start off by putting Rice in. Then they start adding Pork Barbacoa, followed by tons of Crisp Romaine Lettuce, a few scoops of Pico de Gallo, a small scoop of Guacamole, Tortilla Strips, sprinkles a little bit of Cotija Cheese, Cilantro, and finished off by adding a slice of lime in. I opted out of the beans because I detest beans, but asked for it on the side so that MBA could enjoy them. You get a choice between Pinto and Black Beans. For the dressing you can choose between Creamy Tomatillo or Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette. The lady recommended the creamy tomatillo, which was very rich and flavorful. I would only recommend those who like sweet dishes to try the pork barbacoa because it is pretty sweet but full of flavor. It is like your typical carnita but sweet. All the components come together like a party in your mouth. There is a touch of citrus with a huge chunk of sweet, but all of it is balanced and toned down by the lettuce. The crispy tortilla chips and lettuce add a crunch and bite to the palate along with the soft tortilla that is flavorful by itself. Everything in the dish worked together. Even without the dressing they all exploded in flavor, but adding the creamy tomatillo helped take it to a new level. I am sure that dressing is super unhealthy because it was tasty by itself.
My only qualm is that the salad was so huge that I found it hard to mix all the components together without making a huge mess. Luckily all the components are good by themselves. I even brought the leftover salad home and shared it with my aunt the next night. She is now a fan and I think we will probably be going there for dinner tonight. They gave me a stamp card where you get a free meal after 10 stamps. If my family gets addicted, I am sure it won't be hard to get that free meal. O=P
While I was paying, I saw that they offered Fresh Fruit Frescas, Agua Frescas. I was so excited by the prospect because I had the best Strawberry Fresca in SF recently, which I will post soon. Ever since then I had been dreaming and thinking about when I can get something that good again and cheap too! Here it wasn't cheap nor pricey, $2.50 a cup. That day they had Papaya Mango Fresca so I thought to myself that you can't go wrong with that mix of flavors. Alas it was not what I had imagined it to be. The drink was fine but I didn't think it tasted anything like papaya or barely had any mango flavor. It tasted like a sour lemonade mixed with pineapple juice. I even left it out for the night and it went even more sour which really brought out the pineapple flavor. Even though I wasn't impressed by the drink this time around, I will probably try them again if they have another appealing flavor.
Another item that caught my eye was Cafe Río's Famous Tres Leches. One of my favorite new desserts these days is tres leches. I have been eating it from CA to FL these days. Mmm Mmm Good! How is it here? Mehhh. Not bad but nothing to write home about. The outer layer was moist but the inner layer was a bit flavorless and a lot drier. For $3.50 I can get better cake elsewhere, but if you are here already for the meal it would not be bad to add this on. They asked if I wanted whipped cream and I said yes, but then they said they were out... lame!

All in all I was quite surprised at how good that salad was and MBA really enjoyed it too. My biggest issue with this place is that it is poorly run. The people were friendly but some seemed like they didn't know what they were doing. Also, the food is served pretty fast because everything is pre-made. So why the long line?? Well, they only have one slow person working the cash register when they have TWO registers. All their people are busy doing the food but no one is there to take the money! Even when pick-up orders come they are rung up by the same register, which pushes back the customers waiting in line already. Not a very solid plan, but hopefully they will fix that snafu and run more smoothly. Still, I liked the salad enough to overlook all this and will be back soon to take the family.

Cafe Río
24312 Rockfield Blvd
El Toro, CA 92630
(949) 334-9292
Cafe Rio on Urbanspoon


Cookie Sleuth said...

I've been wondering about this place, too. Thanks for the info! BTW, for a great tres leches, try Taleo in Irvine. Their flan is great, too. I don't normally like flan or tres leches, but both are unbelievable at Taleo.

Unknown said...

I really liked that they made their own tortillas right there. If we go back though, I would try a different kind of meat, maybe steak. I can't believe you ate salad twice in one day!

Kat said...

Thanks for the tip Cookie Sleuth. I hear that Felix is suppose to be really good too.

I know huh Arlene O=) I was being super healthy that day! lol That was my veggie count for the month! haha lol You know that salad must be good for me to actually praise it O=9

Anonymous said...

I hate to burst your bubble but their salads are close to 1000 calories with dressing. haha not too healthy, but delicious!

Kat said...

haha don't worry you didn't burst my bubble O=) I mean healthy as in me getting some veggies in. If it was super healthy, it wouldn't be as good! Nor would I really eat it. lol

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