Cafe Rio Dressing (Cilantro Ranch Dressing)

4.99 from 56 votes

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This Cafe Rio Creamy Tomatillo Ranch Dressing is so incredibly good! Try it over Cafe Rio style salads, burritos, quesadillas, and more!

Cilantro Ranch Dressing being poured over a salad
Featured With This Recipe
  1. Ingredients in Cafe Rio Dressing
  2. What Goes with Cafe Rio Dressing?
  3. The #1 Site For Cafe Rio Copycat Recipes
  4. Getting The Right Consistency
  5. Recipe Tips
  6. Check Out These Comments From Our Readers:
  7. Frequently Asked Questions
  8. More Cafe Rio Copycat Recipes
  9. How to Make Cafe Rio Dressing
  10. Cafe Rio Creamy Tomatillo Ranch Dressing Recipe

If you’ve followed us for any time at all, you will know we are big fans of Mexican cuisine. When Cafe Rio first opened in 1997 in St. George, Utah, we were some of the very first customers and quickly became their biggest fans. Now they have locations all over the western United States and Maryland, but back in the day, when we lived in California, Nevada, and Washington there were no Cafe Rio’s close by. Because of this, many of our first copycat recipes were from Cafe Rio trying to achieve the “Fresh Mex” flavors at home. We’ve had some success, if we do say so ourselves. Please let us know if you agree!

Ingredients in Cafe Rio Dressing

  • Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix (traditional flavor, not buttermilk)
  • Mayonnaise – we like Best Foods / Hellmann’s mayo the best
  • Buttermilk
  • Tomatillos (they look like small green tomatoes wrapped in a husk)
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Lime
  • Jalapeño peppers (if you don’t like spice you can leave the jalapeño out)

What Goes with Cafe Rio Dressing?

Most people say that their favorite menu item at Cafe Rio is the Sweet Pork, but I say without a MOMENT of hesitation that mine is the Creamy Tomatillo Ranch Dressing (also known as creamy cilantro lime dressing, tomatillo dressing, or Cafe Rio house dressing)! It is spicy and tangy and SO GOOD. What I love most about it is that it is so versatile! It can be way more than just a salad dressing. I seriously put it on everything — our Cafe Rio Burrito and Cafe Rio Salad for sure, plus quesadillas, tacos, nachos, sandwiches, I even dip veggies in it! I can’t keep it in the fridge for more than a few days before the bottle gets licked clean!

The #1 Site For Cafe Rio Copycat Recipes

Our Cafe Rio recipes are what first made our site take off. We posted the recipe for Sweet Pork and people went crazy over it. Little by little we figured out more recipes and now we have a huge collection! We get great feedback and positive comments from our fans out there. Check them out and you will see why we are the #1 site for Cafe Rio recipes! Make sure to send us your feedback, too! We have had some great feedback and very positive reviews on all the recipes! Check em’ out and then add your own comments after you try them! We love hearing from our readers! ENJOY!

Read Next: All The Best Cafe Rio Recipes in ONE Place

Cilantro Ranch Dressing in a jar

Getting The Right Consistency

We’ve had some comments about the dressing being too runny. This is easy to prevent. Remember, it is much easier to thin a dressing than try to thicken it later without messing up the flavors. Follow these tips for perfect dressing thickness every time.

  • If you are picky about consistency, add the buttermilk a little at a time while blending until you get the right consistency. You may not want to use all the buttermilk if you want a thicker dressing.
  • Use real buttermilk – not a substitute. If you don’t have buttermilk and need to substitute milk with lemon or vinegar, start with only ½ cup of the substitute in the blender and then add a little at a time until your preferred consistency is reached.
  • Limes can vary in size and juiciness. Typically a juiced lime will yield 2 tablespoons. Start with 1 teaspoon in the blender. After blending, continue to add 1 teaspoon at a time until the consistency is right for you.

Recipe Tips

  • Use Best Foods / Hellmann’s Mayonnaise. It has the best flavor and consistency.
  • If you want a lighter version of this recipe you can always use Greek yogurt instead of mayo. Keep in mind the consistency and flavor won’t quite be the same but it will still taste delicious.
  • Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Stir well before serving.
  • This recipe does NOT freeze well. Freezing will cause the dressing to separate and ruin the creamy consistency.

Check Out These Comments From Our Readers:

“Loved Cafe Rio, moved to Ohio, then California (NO Cafe Rio!) so I have been making this a lot over the past few years. A funny thing happened. I was visiting Utah and we went to Cafe Rio and I was totally disappointed! I think I have perfected my Cafe Rio cooking skills to the point where I prefer these recipes to the original. Thank you so much! Note- I roast the tomatillos and the jalapeno in the oven for the dressing. I also buy raw tortillas a cook them at home. I think it makes a huge difference.” – LIZ

“Wow!!! This was simply amazing! I made this 4 nights ago to try on my mock Cafe Rio chicken salad and my husband and I were just sitting in our chairs going Mmmmmmmmm the whole time we ate. Guilty confession: I have had this everyday since for lunch because he dressing it so divine. Haha. I am going to try more of your recipes – way to go!!!” – ASHLEY

“Couldn’t love this recipe more. I live in NC and there are NO Cafe Rio’s OR Costa-Vida’s. Makes me so sad, so we make this recipe a lot, and have educated all of our friends on its deliciousness!” – ALEESHA

Frequently Asked Questions

The recipe is seriously so simple — just toss all the ingredients in the blender and blend away! But, here I will answer some questions we’ve had from our readers over the years.

How do I increase/decrease the spiciness?

The spiciness is all in the jalapeño seeds. You can eliminate the seeds completely for no spiciness at all, or add as many as you want to turn on the heat.

What is a tomatillo?

A tomatillo is a small, tomato-shaped, green fruit with a leaf-looking husk for an outer layer. It is also known as the Mexican husk tomato for this reason. Tomatillos have a similar taste and texture to tomatoes, but they are less sweet and more acidic. There are tomatillos in the photo above on the bottom left.

How do you prepare a tomatillo for this dressing?

Remove the husks from the outer layer. You’ll find the tomatillo has a sticky skin on it. Rinse it under warm water and then dry with a dish cloth. Use a sharp knife to remove the stem, then dice as you would a tomato.

Can I use a buttermilk substitute?

Yes. But, a substitute is usually a thinner consistency. Make the substitute by adding 1 tablespoon of either vinegar or lemon juice to a 1 cup measuring cup. Fill the remaining cup with milk – preferably whole. Stir and let sit for 5 minutes. Add only ½ cup of the buttermilk substitute to the blender. Blend. Gradually add a little at a time until the dressing is the consistency you prefer.

How many carbs in Cafe Rio dressing?

This recipe only has 3g carbs per serving (2 tablespoons).

How many calories are in Cafe Rio dressing?

There are 133 calories per serving in this Cafe Rio dressing recipe.

More Cafe Rio Copycat Recipes

To view ALL of our Cafe Rio / Costa Vida copycat recipes, click HERE.

How to Make Cafe Rio Dressing

Dressing being poured over a salad

Cafe Rio Creamy Tomatillo Ranch Dressing

4.99 from 56 votes
This Cafe Rio Creamy Tomatillo Ranch Dressing is so incredibly good! Try it over Cafe Rio style salads, burritos, quesadillas, and more!
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 0 minutes
Refrigerate 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Course Dip
Cuisine Mexican/Spanish
Servings 16 servings



  • Blendtec Blender


  • 1 (1-ounce) packet Hidden Valley Ranch Seasoning (original, not buttermilk)
  • 1 cup Best Foods mayonnaise
  • 1 cup buttermilk (If you like a thicker dressing only use ½ cup)
  • 2 tomatillos, husked and diced
  • ½ bunch fresh cilantro fresh
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 jalapeno, stem removed


  • Add all the ingredients to a blender.
    Ingredients in a blender
  • Blend until smooth. Chill for 1 hour.
    Tomatillo Ranch Dressing in a jar
  • Serve as a dressing over salad or as a dip for veggies and chips.
    Dressing being poured over a salad


If you like thicker dressing, use only ½ cup buttermilk. If you like your dressing mild, remove the seeds from the jalapeno. I like it spicy, so I keep the seeds in it. 

Nutrition Information

Calories: 113kcalCarbohydrates: 3gProtein: 1gFat: 11gSaturated Fat: 2gPolyunsaturated Fat: 6gMonounsaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0.03gCholesterol: 8mgSodium: 236mgPotassium: 43mgFiber: 0.2gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 67IUVitamin C: 3mgCalcium: 21mgIron: 0.1mg

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About the author

Erica Walker

Erica lives in Boise, Idaho with her husband, Jared, an attorney, and her three beautiful girls. Beyond the world of recipes, she loves adventuring with everything from kayaking, to cruising, to snowboarding and taking the family along for the thrill ride.

More about Erica Walker

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  1. 5 stars
    This recipe is amazing! I followed it exactly, but instead of 1 cup of buttermilk I did 1 cup of nonfat plain Greek yogurt. It gave the recipe the tang I’m sure buttermilk does, but also made it nice and thick. This is definitely my go to Cafe Rio dressing recipe from now on.

  2. Hi. I am REALLY THANKFUL for your site!!! Thanks for taking the time to do this and share with so many people. I saw that you have a recipe for the shredded chicken but just have not put it out yet. Can I please ask you to do it as soon as possible?!? My husband loves the chicken and I would love to make it for him but have no idea how! Thanks so much again!!!

  3. 5 stars
    So so so impressed with this recipe. I’ve tried to make a similar recipe myself for ages and it has never come out anywhere near this good. Brings me back to the days I went to college and always got extra sides of this dressing at Cafe Rio! Highly recommend!

  4. 5 stars
    Amazing and super easy!! All these cafe rio recipes are incredible- better than cafe rio actually!

    1. Thank you! So glad that you loved it and it was so good for you. It is always a favorite in our home too!

  5. 5 stars
    We’ve been using these cafe Rio recipes of yours for years and love them! I’m thinking of doing a cafe Rio bar for a family reunion next week, but want to make the food ahead of time. Have you ever frozen this sauce before? I’m worried it will have a weird texture when thawed. Thank you!

    1. Oh! I see a couple of pages down on the comments that someone else tried to freeze it and it separated. Thanks!

  6. 5 stars
    This was SO delicious! I filled exactly as is and it was so tasty! It was thin so I think next time I will lower the amount of buttermilk. But 100% the best dressing I’ve ever made!

  7. 5 stars
    Love making my own dressing and was excited to try this. Came out great! Easy and delicious. Will definitely be making this often

  8. Jalapeños vary in size and spiciness especially if you are using them from your own garden. Mine are typically about an inch to an inch-and-a-half long and skinny whereas the ones from the store are about two inches long ByAn they are fat. Should I just use two of the smaller ones that I grow myself? Any ideas?

    1. Since I don’t know how spicy the ones from your garden are, I can’t say for sure. Maybe start with one and taste it and then add another if you are looking for more spice?

  9. 5 stars
    Love this ranch dressing it was such a great added addition to my salad. Can’t wait to make and use again!

  10. Just tried this recipe. Always trying to find a lower carb, lower cal solution to dips and salads. I tried this recipe and used 16oz of 2% cottage cheese with 1 TBS of Hellman’s mayonnaise and 1 TBS of sour cream. Blended it till the consistency was just right. I have received several compliments. Thank you for the recipe! I have tried others but they reviews from the home crowd are not repeatable.

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