Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette (Cafe Rio Copycat)

4.91 from 20 votes
53 Comments

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This Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette is a fresh and zesty dressing for all kinds of salads. The perfect Cafe Rio and Costa Vida copycat recipe!

Cilantro Lime Dressing in a white serving bowl
Featured With This Recipe
  1. Ingredients in Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette
  2. What are Tomatillos?
  3. Additions and Variations
  4. Tips for Making Cilantro Lime Dressing
  5. Uses For Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette
  6. Storing Leftovers
  7. What Our Readers Are Saying About This Vinaigrette
  8. More Delicious Copycat Recipes
  9. FAQs About Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette
  10. How to Make Cilantro Lime Dressing (Cafe Rio Copycat)
  11. Cilantro Lime Dressing (Cafe Rio Copycat) Recipe

This Cafe Rio Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette recipe is so fresh and tasty, you’ll want to put it on every salad you eat! Our copycat version uses fresh cilantro, lime and tomatillos blended together to taste JUST like the Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette at Cafe Rio and Costa Vida. I have tried time and again to get this recipe just right, and I can happily report that after years of trying to figure out this recipe, I finally did it! Plus it’s a healthy, fresh alternative to bottled salad dressings. Try it and see for yourself how spot on this copycat recipe is!

Dressing being poured over a salad


Ingredients in Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette

  • Tomatillos
  • Cilantro
  • Garlic
  • Jalapeño peppers
  • Limes
  • Sugar
  • Balsamic Vinaigrette

What are Tomatillos?

One of the most important ingredients in this Cilantro Lime Dressing is tomatillos. They may look like unripe tomatoes, but these small, green fruits have a slightly more acidic, less sweet flavor than tomatoes and the texture is much thicker than tomatoes. You can find them in the produce section at your regular grocery store. To prepare, remove the tough outer husk, give them a quick rinse, then toss them in the food processor or blender and blend until smooth with the rest of the ingredients listed below. Tomatillos can be eaten raw or roasted, and their fresh flavor is perfect for a light, zesty dressing. If you love tomatillos (I know I do!) try our Homemade Tomatillo Salsa Verde next time you make Mexican food.

Additions and Variations

  • For a slightly healthier alternative, swap out the sugar for a little honey or maple syrup
  • Add extra jalapeño or some red pepper flakes for more of a kick
  • To make a creamier dressing, add an avocado or some Greek yogurt.
  • To make the Cilantro Lime Ranch Dressing, swap out the balsamic vinaigrette for ranch dressing or simply use our Cafe Rio Ranch Dressing recipe.
  • Add a little kosher salt and black pepper to the dressing if needed to make it more savory

Read Next: Cafe Rio Copycat Recipes

Cilantro Lime Dressing being poured over a salad

Tips for Making Cilantro Lime Dressing

  • Using the freshest ingredients available will make all the difference in how this dressing turns out. I can usually find good tomatillos in most grocery stores but you could venture out to a farmer’s market or try growing your own!
  • Look for fresh cilantro as well. You can find fresh bunches of cilantro in the produce section of your grocery store, but I love growing it in my garden. It’s easy to grow and it can be used in a million different recipes.
  • When you blend this dressing, make sure you mix it REALLY well to get rid of any chunks. This dressing is best served super smooth.
  • This recipe makes a huge batch of cilantro lime dressing. You can store it in a bottle or airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Use it for salads, a dip for veggies, or as a marinade for chicken, fish, or beef. It’s so delicious!

Uses For Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette

This vinaigrette doesn’t just have to be for taco salads, it can be used in a variety of ways! Try it over tacos, as as seasoning over rice, in burritos, as a dressing for bean salads, and more! When mixed with Greek yogurt it makes for a great dip for chips.

Dressing ingredients in a blender before being mixed

Storing Leftovers

Keep leftover dressing in a glass mason jar with a lid or an airtight container. Store in the fridge for up to a week. When ready to use, shake well before pouring over salad.

What Our Readers Are Saying About This Vinaigrette

“I was looking for a recipe for cilantro lime dressing for our church wide meal that wasn’t mayonnaise base when I found this. This is so good. It looks and taste like the dressing from Costa Vida. After the meal, all the helpers in the kitchen wanted to take some home. Since i made a triple batch, i had plenty leftover. Very yummy and good! It was a hit. this recipe is a keeper.” – Kelly

“Had this for dinner last night and it’s dead on! We made a salad with the dressing, but I also marinated some boneless, skinless chicken breasts in some of the dressing overnight and then browned it in a pan. The result was incredible. It’s just like Cafe Rio, but without sitting in traffic! I have a feeling this will be a new staple for our family.” – Emma

“I’m just going to write on this post, but I used ALL of your recipes… We made the pulled pork salad paired with some enchiladas and Mexican rice my brother in law and his wife made for our mother’s day dinner for my mother in law who is in love with cafe rio. OH. MY. GOSH. This whole thing is SO good. The guacamole is psychotically amazing, the pork insane, I made the tortilla strips fried in coconut oil and they were the best, and this dressing totally brings everything together. My husband and I love it so much that I’m making it again tomorrow just for us. Thank you so much for sharing your talent to know what flavors are being used to re-create these awesome dishes!!” – Melinda

More Delicious Copycat Recipes

We love a good copycat recipe, and we absolutely adore anything from Cafe Rio and Costa Vida! As much as we love going out to eat, there’s something so comforting about creating a homemade meal in your very own kitchen so are a bunch of our most scrumptious recipes straight from our favorite restaurant.

Even More Delicious Recipes to Pair with This Dressing

FAQs About Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette

What is cilantro lime vinaigrette made of?

A vinaigrette base (usually with olive oil and vinegar), fresh limes, cilantro, garlic, jalapeños (optional), and a pinch of sugar.

What is the difference between salad dressing and vinaigrette?

Vinaigrette is a type of salad dressing. Salad dressing can be defined as anything that you “dress” a salad with. A vinaigrette dressing is a type of salad dressing that is oil and vinegar based.

Is vinaigrette a type of dressing?

Yes, vinaigrette is one of the two common types of salad dressing, the other being “creamy dressings” such as ranch dressing or blue cheese dressing.

How to Make Cilantro Lime Dressing (Cafe Rio Copycat)

Cilantro Lime Dressing in a white serving bowl

Cilantro Lime Dressing (Cafe Rio Copycat)

4.91 from 20 votes
Cilantro Lime Dressing is a fresh and zesty dressing for all kinds of salads. The perfect Cafe Rio and Costa Vida copycat recipe!
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 0 minutes
Refrigerate 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 15 minutes
Course Dressing
Cuisine Mexican/Spanish
Servings 12

Ingredients

  • 2 tomatillos
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon diced jalapeño (remove seeds for less heat)
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lime juice (approximately 2 limes)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 cup balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing see recipe notes

Instructions

  • In a food processor or blender, combine tomatillos, cilantro, garlic, jalapeño, lime juice, sugar, and balsamic vinaigrette dressing. 
    Dressing ingredients in a blender before being mixed
  • Refrigerate for at least 2 hours (overnight is best).
    Cilantro Lime Dressing in a white serving bowl

Notes

  • Make sure you use balsamic vinaigrette SALAD DRESSING, not balsamic vinegar.
  • Store leftovers in a mason jar with a lid and shake well before serving.

Nutrition Information

Calories: 102kcalCarbohydrates: 3gProtein: 1gFat: 11gSaturated Fat: 2gSodium: 1mgPotassium: 24mgFiber: 1gSugar: 2gVitamin A: 40IUVitamin C: 3.9mgCalcium: 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.

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Comments

  1. Omgoodness! This is so delicious!! I made this tonight and it is so refreshing and so good!! I did use coconut sugar in place of regular sugar, you’d never know!! So tasty! Thank you so much!!
    *I also chose to use the bottled balsamic vinegar dressing from Panera (at my local Ralph’s in the cold salad dressing area by the produce). It came out bright green and so good!!! I saw some reviews that said their dressing wasn’t the same color as your photo but mine came out perfect, creamy lime green color.

    I put it on a salad about an hour after making it and it’s so good! I’m sure it’s going to be even better by tomorrow. Thank you so much for this wonderful wonderful dressing recipe.

  2. 4 stars
    It was tasty but not visually appealing and didnt quite taste like the real deal. My husband really enjoyed his salad (not ever having been to Cafe Rio himself), but the dressing turned out a terrible brown from the balsamic. I made a homemade balsamic salad dressing and all of the recipes I’ve found are brown from the balsamic. Your dressing looks beautiful in light green, maybe there’s something I missed? Tasty though!

    1. The balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing we use is really light. The dressing you used may have had a higher concentration of vinegar.

  3. 5 stars
    Thank you so much for sharing this amazing recipe! Will surely have this again! It’s really easy to make and it tasted so delicious! Highly recommended!

  4. 5 stars
    i was looking for a recipe for cilantro lime dressing for our church wide meal that wasn’t mayonnaise base when i found this. This is so good. It looks and taste like the dressing from Costa Vida. After the meal, all the helpers in the kitchen wanted to take some home. Since i made a triple batch, i had plenty leftover. Very yummy and good! It was a hit. this recipe is a keeper.

  5. 5 stars
    I love how light and refreshing this is! Plus, this is so allergy friendly for my son who is allergic to dairy and eggs!

  6. How do you get this the green color? Balsamic vinaigrette is dark brown mine tastes good but so gross looking.

    1. Oh interesting! I’m wondering if the dressing we use is lighter. Usually the tomatillo and cilantro are enough to turn it green.

    2. Yes, mine turned out more the color of the vinaigrette with just a touch of green. I’ve checked the recipe and am confidant I hollowed it to a T. Tastes great though.

    1. Feel free to post the actual recipe here 🙂 We would love to make adjustments to make it exact!

  7. Thank you so much!! We made the beans, rice, and dressing for a large party and everyone loved it!! The dressing is delicious!

  8. 5 stars
    Had this for dinner last night and it’s dead on! We made a salad with the dressing, but I also marinated some boneless, skinless chicken breasts in some of the dressing overnight and then browned it in a pan. The result was incredible. It’s just like Cafe Rio, but without sitting in traffic! I have a feeling this will be a new staple for our family.

  9. We have tried SO many different recipes for a cilantro lime vinaigrette and I have never been able to stomach them. This dressing is AMAZING!!! Thank you so much.

    1. I’m so glad you like it! We worked really hard on this one to get the taste just right. It really is a favorite!

  10. This looks great! But I’m just curious, I’m on a sugar free diet and I wonder if I can use substitute the sugar with honey, agave, or splenda? Thanks!

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