Cafe Rio Copycat Creamy Tomatillo Dressing

CATEGORIES: Latin, Salad Dressings, Sara

If you’re looking for the perfect Cafe Rio Copycat Creamy Tomatillo Dressing, look no further. This is the place.

Cafe Rio Copy Cat Creamy Tomatillo Dressing from Our Best Bites

There are millions of recipes out there for this type of thing and a lot of the good ones call for fresh tomatillos. However, after experimenting quite a bit, I decided, in this instance, I didn’t like the fresh tomatillos. For one thing it’s not something I have laying around my kitchen on a regular basis, so I have to plan in advance to buy them. Then I didn’t like the weird, watery texture they added to the dressing. So I started using a much easier substitution: green salsa.

Green salsa in Cafe Rio Copy Cat Creamy Tomatillo Dressing from Our Best Bites

Green salsa is made primarily from tomatillos and other things like jalapeños, limes, garlic…basically, some of my favorite things. And it’s different than “green sauce” like Pace for example. Make sure to check the ingredient list and see that tomatillos are listed as the top ingredient. We love La Victoria, but there are a lot of really awesome green salsas now that weren’t around 10 years ago when we originally wrote this post. You can also make your own–we have one for fresh tomatillo salsa and another for roasted tomatillo salsa, so if you’re feeling ambitious, this might be the way to go. I always have green salsa lying around, so I can whip up this dressing any time the craving comes along. And it comes along often!

This really only takes about 60 seconds to make, and then allow for a bit of time for it to set up.  Just pop everything in a blender!. (I’m using my Blendtec for this. If you’re in the market for a new blender, we are both hugely loyal Blendtec fans!)

You’re going to need a 1-ounce packet of Ranch dressing (Hidden Valley is super easy, but if there’s a brand you love, you’re free to use that), buttermilk, mayonnaise (light is fine), your favorite hot sauce, and green salsa.

Ingredients for Cafe Rio Copy Cat Creamy Tomatillo Dressing from Our Best Bites

You’ll also need cilantro, 1-2 fresh limes, and some fresh garlic.

Fresh ingredients for Cafe Rio Copy Cat Creamy Tomatillo Dressing from Our Best Bites

Place the dressing mix, buttermilk, mayo,

Adding buttermilk to Cafe Rio Copy Cat Creamy Tomatillo Dressing from Our Best Bites

green salsa, lime juice,

Adding lime to Cafe Rio Copy Cat Creamy Tomatillo Dressing from Our Best Bites

and garlic in the jar of the blender. Blend until well combined. Add in the cilantro and pulse a few times or until the cilantro is mixed well into the dressing. Season with hot sauce to taste. If desired, you can thin out the dressing a little with milk or buttermilk until the desired consistency is reached.

It’s obviously awesome on salads, and also as a dip for things like chicken fingers, veggies and steak fries.  If you’re making our Baked Creamy Chicken Taquitos, this is pretty much required to go along with them.

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Cafe Rio Copycat Creamy Tomatillo Dressing

  • Author: kate jones


This Cafe Rio Copycat Creamy Tomatillo Dressing is a tangy, flavorful must-have for all sorts of Mexican food! From salads to taquitos to everything in between, this dressing (made from fridge and pantry staples) will become a favorite!



1-ounce package ranch dressing mix (ignore directions on package
1 cup mayonnaise (light is fine)
1/2 cup buttermilk (plus more if necessary to thin out the dressing)
12 limes (enough for 2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice)
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/4 cup green salsa
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Hot sauce, to taste


Place buttermilk, mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons of lime juice, and ranch mix in a blender. Add the garlic and cilantro and blend until smooth. Add the cilantro and pulse until the cilantro is well combined. Add hot sauce to taste. Chill for several hours before serving (if possible.)

If you love Cafe Rio/Costa Vida-type salads, you’ve got all of the ingredients to make an Our Best Bites version right here. Start with a fresh homemade tortilla, layer on some lime-cilantro rice (pineapple optional) and black beans, then some crispy romaine lettuce. Top with either taco chicken or lime-chili steak, some fresh Pico de Gallo and guacamole and fried tortilla strips for the big finish. Smother it in this salad dressing or this vinaigrette and you’ve got a salad ready to send you to food heaven!

*Disclaimer: this post includes affiliate links.


  1. Thanks for posting that you use green salsa instead of tomatillos- I’m in a part of the world where there seems to be no tomatillos, so yay- now I can make this dressing!

  2. Mmmmmmmm I LOVE this dressing. Word to the wise… don’t bother trying to make it with light mayo… it RUINS it!
    I love it on salads and as a dipping sauce for flank steak… YUM!

  3. I love this dressing at Cafe Rio and have tried other versions of the recipe. I like the substitution you made with the salsa and no tomatillos – can’t wait to try it! Thanks!

  4. I’ve made the dressing with tomatillos and love it, but this does look much easier.

    I’m making 20 pounds of Bajio chicken for a RS dinner tomorrow, so I might just have to buy some of that green salsa-thanks for the idea!

  5. Kara, I have a recipe for the sauce that’s pretty similar! Shoot me an email and I’ll send it to you! 🙂

  6. I’ve seen several recipes for this type of dressing–yours could be the winner! I haven’t had luck with tomitillos so this could be the answer! Thanks!

  7. Just wanted to say that I found your site through foodgawker- and I LOVE THIS DRESSING- I put it on a salad of romaine, red onions, and oven roasted grape tomatoes and fresh jalepeno slices- it was absolutely heavenly. Thanks so much for the recipe!!

  8. Melanie-

    It’s just the normal ol’ pack of ranch dressing. Is it .4oz?? I swear I looked at the package when I wrote out the recipe! I may have made a typo- I’m not home right now to double check, but you could totally be right. If it’s just the normal sized one from the grocery store (I think it only comes in one size) then you’ve got the right one! I’ll double check that and fix the recipe when I get home again.

  9. okay, I think I figured out this little conundrum! The different “styles” of Hidden Valley Ranch packets have different weights/volumes. So it doesn’t really matter, you just need one regular packet. The instructions should call for 1 cup liquid (either milk or buttermilk) and one cup mayo. It looks to me like the regular ranch mix is 1 oz and the buttermilk mix is .4

  10. hi sara! i'm a sara too and i love LOVE this dressing! i have finally been able to get my picky family to eat salad! two nights in a row even! :O amazing! lol
    Question – how long does the salad dressing last once it's made? I would like to make a double batch and eat it at the beginning of the week and then the weekend… any ideas?

  11. Oh ya Olivia, it's definitely good for a week, even longer actually. Although I can't tell you how much longer because it doesn't last very long in our house! I'm so glad you like it.

  12. Wow, this dressing is so good! My husband wants salad every night just so he can eat more of this dressing!

    I did make one small adjustment because I'm weird about large amounts of mayo- I subbed half of it with fat-free plain greek yogurt and it was so amazing, and a tiny bit better for us. 🙂

    Thanks for the great recipe; it is already a new staple in my kitchen!

  13. I can't get enough of this stuff. Seems like I'm making it every other week. Question about the cilantro: Do you mostly try to use only the leafy part, or are the stems equally as good if you're gonna blend it all up anyway?

    Another question. How do you feel about people stealing pictures from your blog? I'd like to put a link to this recipe on my own blog and thought a picture would be nice. I could easily take one of my own, but it's not going to look nearly as yummy as this one of your pitcher of dressing sitting on a blanket lime and cilantro goodness!

  14. Shayla- so glad I'm not the only once addicted to this! To answer your questions:

    1. don't pick off the leaves of the cilantro, just bundle it all up and cut it stems and all. Just stop cutting when you get about 2/3 of the way down, or when you start seeing more stem than leaf. There's a good picture (of parsley, but same concept) in this chimichurri post:

    2. You are welcome to use our pictures, as long as you say they came from our site and you place a link back here. Steal away!

  15. I've tried a lot of knock-offs of Cafe Rio's dressing, and this one is by far the closest… almost hard to tell the difference! Not to mention the green salsa is a HUGE convenience factor.


    Thank you!

  16. Have you ever made this with your own ranch dressing? (which we're newly addicted to, btw. I used to make my own ranch with fresh herbs but yours is SO much easier–and way tasty!) And if so, how much? I have a newly made batch o' ranch in the fridge and would like to try this sans using a packet mix. I guess I'll just experiment, but wondered if you had already! Planning on making the taquitos tonight!

  17. Anne-
    I have been meaning to try it with my ranch, but I have yet to do so! I'm sure it will work great. If I were you, I would just cut the buttermilk down a bit, maybe in half, and then add more in if the dressing is too thick. Let me know how it turns out, I'm interested to know!

  18. I made the dressing it came out great. I also made for dinner shrimp scampi with linguine.. I forgot the salad fixings at the store so I thought I could pour some of the dressing over the shrimp pasta dish. It was AMAZING….

  19. This dressing is AMAZING! I didn't use the hot sauce, however, because the green salsa that I was able to find at my grocery store was pretty hot. I will never stop making this, thanks for the recipe! 🙂

  20. Tried your recipe tonight for some shrimp tacos I made and loved it. I did change it a bit. I used a half cup of sour cream and half cup of Mayo instead of one cup of Mayo and it came out great. I will definitely make this sauce more often. I'm addicted to it now. Thanks.

  21. Help! I live 2 hours south of the middle of nowhere….went to make this & there was no fresh cilantro at the store! I was able to get some dried cilantro in the spices. Can I use this (and how much?) Or do I need a new dinner plan?

  22. Thank you! Right after I got your answer I had a little "aha!" Moment and remembered a little Mexican market. Sure enough, they had some! DELICIOUS STUFF! I served it with your creamy baked chicken taquitos & they were a HUGE HIT with my picky family!

  23. I don't often comment on recipe blogs- but I just had to tell you that I just made this and it's AMAZING! My husband, who ate at Cafe Rio 5-6 times a week his senior year in high school, tried it and exclaimed "that's Cafe Rio dressing!" Thanks for the awesome (and easy) recipe!

  24. Ok, love this dressing but HATE Mayo, I could still taste it in the dressing too and it made me a little queasy. So, substituted plain greek yogurt and it was awesome! And way healthier too! 🙂

  25. Hi!!

    I was wondering if there was any way if you could add a “recipe box” function to your site. I have so many recipes I’d like to have all in one place.


    1. hey kate!
      Your idea was great but for now, just copy and paste the recipes into one document and then in order t find a recipe open the find and replace box then type in the name of the recipe! Hope this is a help! 😀

  26. Hi!!

    I was wondering if there was any way if you could add a “recipe box” function to your site. I have so many recipes I’d like to have all in one place.


  27. WOW! I can’t believe I just barely found your site!!! We made the Creamy Chicken Tacquitos last night, along with this dressing, and can I just say AMAZING! But you know that! Thanks for all the great recipes! I can’t wait to make more!

  28. Made this dressing and put it on a Pasta Chicken Salad and it oh-so-o-good! My son suggested that I might also make it thicker with maybe Sour cream so that he can eat it like a dip with chips. Whatever works! Thanks for your great site!!

  29. I made this dressing yesterday and tried it side by side with the dressing from Cafe Rio I’d gotten a day or two earlier. It was almost identical except this recipe is missing one thing: grated Cotija cheese. Add a tablespoon or two of this and it’s perfect. So, so good. Thank you!!!

  30. WOW!!! love this recipe! i made it, and took it to my sisters house, and they gobbeled it all up! you ladies are awesome! thank you

  31. Does anyone know about how many servings this recipe makes? We are making “costa vida/cafe rio” type salads for a bridal shower and we need enough for 75-100 people. Thanks!

  32. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to make this (I’ve made the chicken tacquitos numerous times) but Oh My. I had to exert some serious self control to drink this from a glass. This is definitely one if my face on your site!

  33. YUM! I wanted to point out to anyone who might make the same mistake I did the first time…it’s important to use DRESSING mix & not the ranch DIP mix. The 1st time I made this recipe I grabbed the dip mix, which has 1 oz. in the envelope & is typically mixed w/ 2 cups sour cream, instead of the DRESSING mix, which has .4 oz & is typically mixed w/ 1 cup mayo. The DIP mix made it WAY TOO salty, and I love salt. Go with the dressing mix as stated in the recipe & it’ll be a HIT!

    P.S. I think it would be great made as a dip with the DIP mix, but use 2 cups sour cream or mayo mixture to dilute all that salt in the DIP mix. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your awesome recipes!

  34. This is a random question, but is it possible to make this with dried cilantro? As strange as it is, I am allergic to fresh, but can eat dried cilantro. Thanks for you help and all your great recipes!

    1. Miriam, you certainly could. It definitely will taste different, but if you have an allergy to the fresh stuff, go for it. Generally the rule of thumb is to use 1 part dry for every 3 parts fresh. I would start with that and then add more if you need to for flavor (and I suspect you will need a bit more).

  35. Using this dressing with your Taco Chicken is excellent. Have you come up with anything similar to Cafe Rio’s pork barbecoa? (I think I spelled that right) I just LOVE that stuff!

  36. This is the best dip I have ever had. It is so versatile; I use it for tacos, chips, veggies and I’m guilty of eating it just by the spoonful. I would highly recommend this dip!

  37. Since this is one of my favorite salad dressings ever, I “healthified” it so I can have it guiltlessly on my salads all the time. I use 1/2 cup of mayo and 1/2 cup of plain 2% Greek yogurt. It is just as creamy and delicious, and quite a bit lower in calories and fat without having that nasty taste that some low fat dressings can have. I haven’t dared to go 100% Greek (and no mayo) yet, but I’m thinking I’ll give it a try with my next batch.

  38. Is this recipe similar to El Pollo Loco’s recipe? I’ve never eaten at Cafe Rio (where is it BTW?) but it sounds delish! I love El Pollo Loco’s recipe but the only one who claimed they were close was charging for the recipe and I’m just not willing to pay, even if its only $0.79.

  39. this dressing/sauce is amazing! i have also made it using the spicy ranch packets – giving some extra spice – and actually prefer it 🙂 thank you for all the wonderful recipes 🙂 love, love the cookbook as well!

  40. Made this dressing tonight for our taco salads and it was a huge hit! I did add a chunk of fresh jalapeno for some extra kick and used 1/2 cup sour cream and 1/2 cup mayo instead of a whole cup of mayo. I can’t wait to dip my lunch veggies in it tomorrow! Thanks!

  41. Holey moley, this dressing is so good! Im serving it tomorrow to feed my family and the missionaries in a green salad, along with the creamy baked chicken tostitos! Can’t wait:)

  42. I haven’t made this yet but I’m sure I’ll love it because it has some of my favorite things! Ranch? Check. Cilantro? Check. GREEN SALSA? Check check! It looks divine 😀

  43. My husband wanted a steak salad today – we normally pick one up from our local gastro-pub. I figured we could try it ourselves but I couldn’t find the right dressing, it’s a chili something dressing on romaine with tomato, thin-sliced green apples, brownsugar coated toasted walnuts with red onions. I found this dressing instead and tweaked the salad (took out the apples and walnuts and added cucumbers). OMG! This dressing is soooooo good! I added a little pepper to mask the ranch (it was strong to me) but man this was soooo good! Even my kids ate it on their salad and I was (hoping/thinking) they’d eat ranch. They’re 9, 14 and 16 and they’re requesting it on the chicken wrap tomorrow, too 😉 THANK YOU! Bookmarked your site for this foodie 🙂

  44. I made with last night for my husband’s birthday party. It was a huge hit! I’m so excited I came across your website. We can’t wait to try other recipes.

  45. This dressing is amazing! I’m doing roughly 1700 calories a day, so I had to substitute the mayo with fat-free sour cream, and the milk with skim milk. IT CAME OUT AMAZING. I am not even kidding. Kroger’s store-brand of fat-free sour cream is a little runnier than normal sour cream, so the texture was perfect. The only other thing I tweaked was a little extra cilantro, because honestly – who doesn’t love cilantro?

    I’m not exaggerating when I say this is the best dressing/dip I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying. 🙂 Swapping out the mayo and whole milk made it much, much, much healthier, for those of us on more restricted diets. 🙂

    1. We sub the mayo with the Greek yogurt. I dont know if that fits in your restrictions, but its just as creamy 🙂

  46. Hi Sara!
    I have recently moved from Meridian to Wyoming (I worked at DB and we visited a few times) I have a silly question for you. Is there a difference between the Green Salsa and Salsa Verde. Used to be able to buy the Green Salsa at Walmart and Albertsons … but now it isn’t on the shelves and all they have is the Verde. I am almost out of the Green Salsa in my food storage and I make this all the time….help!!! Thanks for the help 🙂

    1. Don’t know if it’ll help, but I used Salsa Verde in mine, and it turned out wonderful. I just checked to make sure tomatillos was very first in the ingredients before I bought. HTH

  47. I didn’t have enough mayo so I added cream cheese with it an yummy!!I was out of fresh cilantro but I had some y’all may see in tubes that is like a paste you squeeze out. Not as flavorfull as the fresh but way better than dry. LOVE this dressing! I had it with southwestern chicken wings.

  48. I had some leftover homemade buttermilk ranch dressing that I made a couple of days ago. I simply added the same amounts of cilantro, garlic, lime juice and green salsa and blended it. My family stuffed themselves on the Fish Tacos that I served it over tonight. LOVE this. Thanks so much!

  49. I made this last night to go on my homemade Cafe Rio-style taco salads and it was fabulous! I have to say I was a bit skeptical that it would taste the same as the real thing, but it was every bit as good, if not better. I’m definitely keeping this recipe around. Thanks!

  50. I just wanted to say I love your blog! I’m planning to make the lime chile steak salad and the apple pecan gorgonzola salad this weekend! Your tips and recommendations/comments are very helpful as well!

    Thanks so much!
    Kelly Shinton, Registered Dietitian

  51. Not sure if I missed this somewhere…but is there any idea how long it will keep? I’m only one person!! But it’s not worth wasting the cilantro to make a smaller batch!

  52. WOW!!! I have eaten at Cafe Rio several times and I can’t ever get enough of their dressing. This recipe is the closest recipe to the Cilantro lime ranch at Cafe Rio. Thank you!!!

  53. When I click on the print text only link it says I don’t have permissions to see that page. You might want to take a look at that.
    Can’t wait to try the recipe!

  54. My husband classified this with my chicken spaghetti and nothing has ever compared to that! This is so good and I have made 2 batches in 4 days! It is so delish on everything! We rubbed it on corn on the cob and dipped our green beans in it. I’m even guilty of putting it on my hotdog! It is so addictive!

  55. I have been missing Cafe Rio since moving to the east ( ok Utah a bit ;), and have made this dressing before..the harder way with the tomatillo’s and all that. The green sauce and the packet of ranch is not only easier, it tastes the same if not better!! Love it! Thanks!

  56. Thanks for the recommendation on the green salsa – I went looking for green salsa both for this and your creamy taquitos and couldn’t figure out what to get – I am also a wuss and they didn’t have any labeled as mild and I didn’t want to pay for something that I wouldn’t be able to eat. So excited to try this dip now (lol – I couldn’t wait for the taquitos and just ended up making it with regular salsa – still good – and they froze really well – I made a triple batch and ate the rest for lunches for the next month! Plus my kids really loved them too)

    Thanks again for this great site and great recipes!

  57. Try this to make it healthier! i made these substitutions and no one was the wiser 🙂

    Silken Soft Tofu instead of milk and only 1/8 a cup of mayo. 10X’s healthier and equally as tasty!!!

  58. This was so yummy. Took it to a party and it was a hit. BTW… I used fat free mayo and it was still yummy! I may even try using Greek nonfat plain yogurt next time and see if it’s still good! Thanks!

    1. Forgot to add that I bought a jar of Mayo with lime by McCormick a few weeks ago and when I got it home I didn’t even know why I purchased it, it just sounded good when I saw it…. Well you may have guessed by now, I used it in this recipe! Delicious!

  59. This was very good and I will definitely make it again but I will only use 1 clove of garlic next time. Although it was very tasty, the garlic after taste was SO over powering it was hard to get rid of it. So all in all I highly recommend it but omit from too much garlic.

  60. I made this tonight with the Baked Tequitos – YUM!!!! Even my picky 5 year old ate it up! This is totally going on the rotation! :D…. I think I’m going to go get some of the sauce and try it with carrots, and maybe some chips… 😉

  61. We have made this twice now. It’s so yummy on the chili lime steak salad. All the family members raved about it including my toddler and almost five year old.

  62. I made this today n it was soooo yummy, instead of the hidden valley powder mix I just used hidden valley Ranch dressing n all the ingredients as follow n turned out great..I will also be trying this creamy cilantro sauce when I make some fish taco ill keep you posted!

  63. Oh my goodness! I prepared the creamy lime cilantro ranch dip this evening. It was so delicious!!
    I had to stop myself from eating it. I also prepared ahead of time the creamy chicken taquitos, to have for dinner the next day. I thought preparing it the day before the ingredients would really make the dish more flavorful. A friend shared the recipe on Facebook, her son had made it. It looked so good I had to try it for myself. The dip/dressing could go with just about anything. I had something similar at a restaurant. This dip/dressing wins hands down! It is so good!

  64. I love love love this dressing but it does make a lot. How long will it last in the fridge? Do you think I can freeze it?

  65. yay! finally a recipe that doesn’t call for fresh tomatillos! I love this dressing and sorely miss Cafe Rio but way out in the Atlantic where I now live no one has ever even heard of a tomatillo, let alone sells them.

    I was just planning on trying to use the green salsa as a substitute and I’m so relieved to know it works 🙂

    The RS sisters in my branch will be so happy when they eat this at our RS birthday dinner next week.

  66. So happy to find a recipe that doesn’t involve me getting tomatillos myself! I love this recipe for the simplicity. It tastes very very very similar to the cafe rio tomatillo ranch dressing. Love it!

  67. I just made this and it’s the best!!!! I never leave any comments but this really tastes just like the cafe rio ranch and I love it and want to eat with everything, thank you for sharing!!!

  68. Love baking with little foil packets and especially with salmon. Copper River Salmon goes pretty quick as it’s season is gone before you can blink, but Costco usually carries it. This looks sensational. Thanks!

  69. Can I just kiss you ladies??!! I used this sauce on homemade steak street tacos tonight and it was beyond amazing!! Best tacos of my life because of this stuff ?. We’re making chicken tacos in a few days to use up the sauce- it’s sooooo good!!!

  70. I just came upon this recipe last week (can’t believe I hadn’t discovered you guys until now) and I am already about to make my third batch. Thank you so much for sharing and can’t wait to try your other recipes!

  71. I tried this as it is written and have gotten rave reviews from everyone who has tried it. Have also tried it with kefir instead of part of the buttermilk and cottage cheese for the other part of the buttermilk and added a little chipotle pepper powder. It is great!

  72. You had me at La Victoria Salsa Verde’.. Love that stuff…
    I make a copycat recipe for Taco Bell Meat.. like the old days.. and have Enchiritos, BellBeefers, Mexican Pizza’s, Etc…
    I Love TB’s Green Sauce.. Most have it.. heard some dont.. :0)
    La Victoria Salsa Verde tastes exactly like their Green Sauce..
    I LOVE Bean Burritos with Green Sauce, and Sour Cream…

  73. I love this recipe! I just use regular milk though and sometimes sub half the mayo for plain greek yogurt but it’s always delicious.

  74. I made this for probably the 10 time and realized that the recipe tells you to add garlic and cilantro and blend till smooth. Then add cilantro and pulse. I think you meant to write “ garlic and salsa” because salsa isn’t listed in the recipe but it’s in the ingredients.

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