Cafe Rio’s Sweet Barbacoa Pork

This Cafe Rio’s Sweet Barbacoa Pork is one of our favorite Mexican meals!Cafe Rio's Sweet Barbacoa Pork - one of our favorite Mexican meals!

Living on the east coast I go through major Cafe Rio withdrawls. Back in our Provo days John and I would sometimes do a double header: Cafe Rio then Tracy’s Peanut Butter Cup at Leatherbys.

The double header always sent me into a food induced coma afterwards and I would fall asleep at my computer at school. Please Cafe Rio people, come franchise out here.

You would make some major money – if not from me alone!!

I have tried a bunch of copycat recipes to get my “fix” but this combo of Cafe Rio dishes is my favorite. You can make a lot of it ahead of time so it was great to eat right after John’s game.

If you make this you need this Cilantro Lime Rice and this Creamy Tomatillo dressing to go along!
Cafe Rio’s Sweet Barbacoa Pork
Prep Time
21 hrs 58 mins
Cook Time
21 hrs 58 mins
Servings: 12 -15 servings
Author: Christy Denney
  • 7-8 lbs. boneless pork butt or shoulder make a 3-4 lb pork roast if you are just doing your family
  • 4 cups root beer
  • 5 8oz cans tomato sauce
  • 4 Tablespoons molasses or honey
  • 3 teaspoons minced garlic
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 - 3 cups brown sugar
  • pepper to taste
  • 4 teaspoons cumin
  1. Salt and pepper the pork and cook in crock pot 8 hours or overnight on low in a little water. In the morning remove the roast from the crockpot and pull apart with fork, removing fat. Drain all the water in the crockpot. Don't overshred the pork or it will turn mushy.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients to the crockpot and add the shredded pork. Stir to combine. Cook another 3-4 hours in crockpot on low. Serve with a slotted spoon.
  3. Traditionally this meat is served over a salad or in a burrito.
  4. To make a Cafe Rio salad layer: tortilla (I warm mine in aluminum pans like cafe rio in the oven with cheese), cheese, Cilantro Lime Rice , Black or Pinto Beans, Pork, chopped Romaine or green leaf lettuce, sprinkle tortilla strips on top, and grated Parmesan cheese
  5. Serve with sides of: Pico de Gallo , Guacamole , fresh cilantro, fresh lime slices, drizzle with Creamy Tomatillo Dressing .
Recipe Notes

Recipe Note: The above sauce makes a ton! So if you have a 3-4 lb pork roast, half the sauce.

Source: a mix between Martha McMullin's and Sheri Denney's recipes.

Speak Your Mind



  1. Can I tell you how much I love your recipe blog. I have a friend who saw it from my blog and she made your chicken tortilla soup last night for enrichment. I will try these recipes, they are similar to what I use but I see some differences. Do you get the tortillas from Costco? They are the best!

  2. I love it to! Me and Royce have missed it so much we want to open a costa vida I know not as goo but they franchise! I going to try these reciepes for sure! Thanks You are great!

  3. We too have had to resort to making our own Cafe Rio Pork Salads. They have been so yummy and always a hit when we invite people who have lived in Provo before. Bob loves to make this!

  4. Question: For your pork recipe, how many oz of tomato sauce do I need?

  5. I am so excited! The recipe I have takes coke, and I love the idea of using root beer instead. Thanks for these recipes!

  6. Hey Christy! I dont know if you remember me from our old ward in Provo? Anyways Nicole Goggins told me about your amazing food blog. I love it! your such an awesome cook! I make the cafe rio salad all the time but the only problem I have is that whenever I make the dressing its really runny not as thick as the actual cafe rio dressing. Is yours the same way? just curious if Im doing it wrong or if thats just how it is? Tastes great though! Thanks! And hope everything is going well with you and your family!

  7. Hello. I just wanted to let you know that I made this recipe today and blogged it. But not to worry because I gave you the credit. You can check it out here,

    I love your blog by the way and haven’t even had a chance to save all the yummy recipes yet. Yum!

  8. Very nice blog and I think this’ll be my next recipe… seriously, I will do my best effort to make it alone but I guess it’s going to be difficult because this is my first time in this culinary blog. 23jj

  9. Cafe Rio has been rumored to be starting a small chain in the VA and DC areas!!! I am super excited!

  10. We made this tonight and it was amazing!

  11. @Allie,
    I totally remember you. Just saw this comment sorry…years later. The dressing is runnier than cafe rios but it depends how much water your tomatillos have in them I think.

  12. They have a cafe rio in Virginia and Maryland.

  13. I moved from Salt Lake about a year ago and I’m CONSTANTLY craving Cafe Rio! Thanks for the recipes!!

  14. @Allie,
    I figured it out! Sometimes I used the .4 ounce package and sometimes I used the 1 ounce dressing packet. Use the 2 ounce and it will be perfectly thick!

  15. You’re kinda awesome ( :
    We have costa vida and chipoltles here in AZ. My son luuuvvvss the Barbacoa. This will save me $$.
    Thank you sweet girl who eats everything : D

  16. ahhh! i’ve had this link posted on pinterest for awhile. i made the chicken and we loved it so i came back to make it again but the chicken recipe is gone! what happened to it? any chance i could still get it? thanks.

  17. @Amy,
    Oh no. Shoot! I pulled it because I wasn’t in love with it. I’m not home for another week but when I get home I can look for it in my recipe box and send it to you.

  18. My sister just introduced me to your blog. Thank you, thank you, thank you… Love your recipes!

  19. wonderful! my email address is amynoel at gmail dot com
    i just remembered to check back on this. whenever you get a chance, that would be great. thanks!

  20. @Amy,

    I emailed it to you but here it is for anyone else that wants it.

    Cafe Rio CHICKEN

    5 lbs chicken breast, boneless, skinless

    1 small bottle zesty italian dressing

    1 Tablespoon chili powder

    1 Tablespoon cumin

    3 cloves garlic, minced

    Mix all ingredients together in a large crock pot. Cook on high for 5-7 hours. Remove chicken and shred. Reserve a small amount of juice and pour over shredded chicken. Keep warm.

  21. My daughter and I absolutly love Cafe Rio’s Sweet Barbacoa Pork….but since we live in Cleveland, Utah (close to Price, Utah) which is about an hour and a half from the nearest Cafe Rio… we are going to try this recipe out. Glad I ran across your blog 🙂

  22. Actually the term is not barbacoa….what you actually are cooking are carnitas. Barbacoa is something different. Does sound like a tasty recipe though.

  23. Hi I can’t wait to try this recipe this weekend! Thank you. Since I’m halfing the recipe, do you suggest I reduce the time in the crockpot as well?

  24. I have never been to cafe rio, but your recipes look amazing! My type of food for sure! Thanks for sharing!

  25. This was wonderful! Was looking for something different to make for a family get together and this hit the spot! Everyone loved it! Made the Cilantro Lime Rice and Creamy Tomatillo Dressing as well.

  26. Oh I am so excited to make this! I live in Tallahassee but I am a Utah girl and crave Cafe Rio on a regular basis! I am having some Sister Missionaries, who are from Utah, over for dinner and I think this will be the perfect dish to make! The only thing is that I don’t have a blender (crazy, I know). Is there any other way to make the dressing or do I have to nix it and just have plain old ranch (which I would hate to do because the house dressing MAKES the salad!).


    • Christy {The Girl Who Ate Everything} says:

      Do you have a food processor? The blender just makes the tomatillo and cilantro disappear in the dressing.

      • Thank you for your reply, Christy.

        I ended up going and purchasing a blender that day because the dressing was THAT necessary. It turned out delicious!! Next time I think I will use a little less buttermilk to make it thicker but the flavor was SPOT ON!

  27. I missing my Cafe Rio!! The one in Spanish Fork is my favorite!! I’ve tried other copy cat recipes but not yours! I’m definitely going to give it a try!!

  28. Hi Christy – I’ve made your Cafe Rio’s Sweet Barbacoa Pork 4 times now, in maybe 6 months, along with all the other dishes you suggested. Dressing (to-die-for!), rice, beans, salsa, guacamole (what am I forgetting??). The entire meal became an instant-favorite with DIL/son. So – I have a question … do you have any suggestions on the possibility of cooking the pork in the Instant Pot? And if so, suggested times? Seems like this would save lots of time. And yet, I do understand that some things definitely need to cook slow and long to be tender and juicy. Thanks! 🙂
    PS: Used to get your postings to my email. One day they stopped. Guess I need to re-sucscribe.

    • Shoot! Judy, I have no idea how to use an Instant Pot but I’m sure you can use it as I’ve seen others do so.

    • I just made it in the InstantPot tonight, and it turned out great! Cut the pork up into squares, as suggested above, season with salt and pepper, and place with 3/4 cup water in the InstantPot. Cook for 47 minutes and let it natural release. Then drain all the liquid and lightly shred the pork, and add in the rest of the ingredients (root beer-cumin) and cook for an additional 10 minutes under pressure.

  29. I do a 7-8 lbs. boneless pork butt or shoulder
    one package of brown sugar
    one can of Pace Salsa
    Slow cook all day & shred after 6 hours
    It is not the same 100% but it is sweet and tender, I notice that when I use soda it gets tough.
    (I have a recipe for the spicy ranch if you want it)

  30. If you only use a 3-4 lb (or even 1-2 lb. – it’s just my husband and I ☺️), do you half all of the other ingredients – like the root beer and sugar?