So if you’re familiar with Cafe Rio, a Utah-based fresh Mex chain that’s kind of starting to spread throughout the rest of the United States, you may have seen this chicken recipe floating around the Internet. I’ve done some poking and prodding and I’m not exactly sure WHERE it originated, but if you google Cafe Rio chicken, invariably a WHOLE BUNCH of blogs will pop up with a recipe for Crock Pot chicken and Italian salad dressing and a packet of Ranch.
Which is cool, because it’s super delicious.
But I’ve eaten a lot of Cafe Rio chicken in my days and I’m pretty sure this isn’t actually Cafe Rio chicken (I think it’s the cumin…shhhh.).
Which is cool because even if it’s not really Cafe Rio chicken (who am I to say that? Maybe it is. Maybe I’m wrong. It happens sometimes…), it’s family friendly and SO good and versatile and something everyone should know how to make because it’s something you’ll make for company and something you’ll make on busy nights, something to fill tortillas with and make taco salads with and maybe enchiladas or even our famous taquitos.
You’re going to need 2-2 1/4 pounds of boneless skinless chicken breasts (which I don’t normally do in a slow cooker because they’re so lean that they tend to dry out, but when you add the other stuff, you’ll be fine), Italian salad dressing (I use Kraft, not fat-free; I wouldn’t use low-fat, either, but I tend not to be a wild rebel when it comes to chicken and salad dressing), a packet of Ranch dressing (yes, yes, we are aware that we’re poisoning the world one packet of Ranch dressing at a time. Sometimes that happens and it’s unfortunate.), water, chili powder, cumin, coriander (this is where I veer off into adaptation territory), a whole bunch of fresh garlic, and dehydrated onion.
Place the chicken breasts in your slow cooker and add the spices.
Fill a liquid measuring cup with 1/2 cup of water and add the Ranch.
Whisk the ranch into the water and then pour it over the chicken. Add 1/2 cup of Italian dressing and the garlic.
Cook for 5-6 hours on LOW or until the chicken shreds easily with a fork. When done, shred the chicken with two forks and sprinkle with the juice of one lime. Taste and season with salt and Chipotle Tabasco Sauce (it’s smokey and a little milder than the original Tabasco Sauce, so it’s perfect here) to taste. Serves 8-10.
So…what can you do with it??
My favorite thing is to set up a taco bar with this chicken, shredded cheddar cheese, crumbled cotija cheese, tortillas, chopped romaine lettuce, tomatoes,
(I just had to throw this pic in because they were so perfect and pretty. Carry on.)
avocados or guacamole, pico de gallo (or mango or pineapple pico de gallo), Pineapple Cilantro rice, rinsed black beans, Lime-Cilantro Vinaigrette, and Creamy Lime Cilantro Dressing (if you really want to complete the experience, you could throw in this green enchilada sauce and this mint limeade). Then people can make whatever they want–tacos, salads, enchiladas, burritos. I’m not a total overachiever and don’t do ALL of that every time (because, after all, this is supposed to be an easy meal!), but I guess what I’m trying to say is that you have options.
You can ALSO use this to make loaded up quesadillas with chicken, beans, corn, chopped green onions, whatever you want to throw in there. Or you can use it in this Chicken Tortilla Soup. Or you can just eat it straight out of the crockpot. You know I won’t judge you.
Nutritional Information (per 4 ounces):
WW Points Plus: 5
South Beach Phase 1, 2, & 3
Slow Cooker Taco Chicken
Recipe adapted by Our Best Bites
2-2 1/4 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup Italian salad dressing (I use Kraft)
1 packet Ranch dressing
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
6-8 cloves smashed garlic (don’t worry about actually chopping it…unless you want to…)
1 tablespoon dehydrated onion
Juice of 1 lime
Salt to taste
Chipotle Tabasco Sauce to taste (optional)
Place all the ingredients except for the lime, salt, and Tabasco sauce in your slow cooker and cook for 5-6 hours on LOW or until the chicken shreds easily with a fork. When done, shred the chicken with two forks and sprinkle with lime juice. Taste and season with salt and Chipotle Tabasco Sauce (it’s smokey and a little milder than the original Tabasco Sauce, so it’s perfect here) to taste. Serves 8-10.
Could you use a pork sirloin roast in place of the chicken? I’ve done this a few times and haven’t done this with pork roast. It’s on my menu for tonight and I opened my freezer to realize I’m out of chicken! ?
You could always give it a try–I bet it would turn out great!
Have this in the crock pot right now for dinner tonight. Smells great, so if it’s half as good as it smells, we’re in for a treat!
By 2 2 1/4 lbs of chicken do you mean 4.5 lbs total?
No, that’s a range- so anywhere between 2 and 2 1/4-ish pounds of chicken is great.
How would the cooking time change if I wanted to double the recipe?
Cooking time should stay about the same 🙂
We just made this and loved the flavors. We have a bunch left so if you do as well when ready for leftovers pop it in again and add some cream cheese and let it melt and heat through.
I made this earlier in the week and have been enjoying the leftovers ever since. I cooked it for the full six hours, and the chicken turned out very moist and flavorful. No dryness problems at all. Thanks for the great recipe!
So so good! This was truly delicious. Had it last night for dinner in tacos and again for lunch in quesadillas. Will definitely be added it to the regular routine. Thanks for the recipe! And it was super moist. No problem at all with the chicken drying out.
This is one of our family’s go-to weekly meals now! Whenever I serve this to guests they rave about it for days! My husband is so in love with this meat! This makes enough that we can have it in tacos one night and then in a Cafe Rio-style salad later in the week and still have leftovers to stuff in quesadillas for lunch. This recipe has also made me fall crazily in love with coriander. Thank you for this incredible recipe!
Just wanted to let you know I’m making this for the millionth time tonight! It has become my go-to for having friends over, served “build your own burrito bowl” style. Thanks a bunch!
i was hesitant to try this as well, fearing dry chicken would be the result. sadly, that’s what happened. i cooked for 5 hours and it is very dry. i might try it again, but will probably stick to OBB’s amaaaaazing sweet pulled pork. 🙂
This was a hit with all 6 family members! Served it with homemade refried beans and homemade salsa along with shredded cheddar, sour cream & tomatoes. Gave everyone a choice of either flour tortillas or tortilla chips. My husband agreed that it’s company worthy. Thanks!
I’m making this for some company this weekend. Can’t wait to try it! Thanks Kate!
For those of you who don’t want to use a store bought ranch packet, I’ve made my own using this recipe and it’s perfect.
Tried this tonight and it was amazing. My normally picky daughter even liked it. I had mine topped with the pineapple pico de gallo (pineapples are 10 for $10 this week so i have a ton to use up. Thanks for a great use for them btw).
This came at just the right time! I hosted a big family get together yesterday and made this. Set out a taco bar just as described above and it was a HUGE hit. This chicken is so moist and flavorful!! I really did not think that 2 1/4 lbs of chicken would feed a family our size, but I even had some leftover for today. I cannot wait to make this again! Another winner!!
This will definitely be a new staple for Sunday dinner. My husband actually asked why I hadn’t made this before … As in we have been missing out, so I told him I got to it as soon as I could since it was just posted Friday 🙂 the variations are really endless and so amazingly easy … Especially for how flavorful it turns out. Thanks for sharing another new family favorite!!
Oh and I need to add the Chipotle Tabasco Sauce is an amazing addition and I don’t even really like Tabasco. And I was lucky to get it yesterday because all the Tabasco flavors were fully stocked except for the chipotle which was cleared out to the back of the shelf and I scored the second to last one 🙂 a clear sign (in my book) that Kate and Sara just used it in a new recipe. Really, so good 🙂
I love your humor also! Your comment about thighs and breasts made me giggle. Ü
I don’t know much of anything about MSG, but I buy the Western Family brand packets of ranch, mainly because they are so much cheaper, but MSG is not listed as an ingredient. It tastes the same as Hidden Valley to me. I have used it for years now. My kids still think I buy Hidden Valley. Boy have I pulled one over on them.
The recipe looks DELISH! I would love to try it, but where I live Kraft Italian Salad dressing is not red? I am so glad you included a picture of the ingredients! Any suggestions for an alternate ingredient? And Ranch doesn’t come in packets, only bottles … so how much should we be adding??? My whole family would love this so I look forward to your suggestions. I enjoy your blog and have tried many of your recipes and have always been able to adapt them to local ingredients, until now. Thanks 🙂
You should be able to find ranch salad dressing dry packets in the aisle with all the other dressings and marinades!
I’ll have another look at the grocery store, but I don’t live in the US and I have never seen ranch in a packet here. Only a few companies even sell ranch dressing LOL
The Italian dressing can be any type of Italian you can find at your grocer. Ranch dressing packets can be made at home. If you’re not making the dip you can just use the seasonings.
2 Tbsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried dill
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion flakes
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp pepper
I read this post at 5:30am and had all the ingredients so I threw everything in the crock pot (including frozen chicken breasts) before leaving for work. I cooked it on high for about an hour, then turned it to low for 8 hours. It’s delicious! I’m going to use it in your recipe for Chicken Tortilla soup tonight! It’s 18 degrees outside – it’s a soup night!
How dare you poison us with a packet of Ranch dressing!?! 🙂 Love your blog. Keep the deliciousness coming.
It’s pretty much become my life goal. 😉
Thank you for this recipe! It came at the perfect time. I’m hosting a family dinner tomorrow night and I’m having a nacho bar. I wanted something more than just hamburger taco meat. This chicken recipe will be perfect! Thank you again!
Oh this looks incredible!
Do you think the meat would freeze okay? Looks great but 8-10 servings is a lot! Thanks!
Yep, one of my favorite about this meal. I freeze it and use it another night.
Yep, for sure!!
Love the seasonings in this chicken. Can’t wait to try it!
Okay. I admit it. I’ve seen this on Pinterest and thought “Ew…ranch and taco seasoning?”. But since you’re vouching for it I’ll give it a whirl. I’m always up for quick, easy, do-ahead recipes.
HA! I’ll be completely honest and say I didn’t try it for a long time for the same reasons. 🙂
Looks delicious! I have chicken sitting in the fridge…it looks like something else just got bumped off of the menu, with this taking its place. 🙂 Thank you!
Thanks for your take on the cafe rio chicken. By the way, I love your your sense of humor.
Thank you 🙂
Sounds yummy!! Do you think chicken thighs would work for this recipe??
I would maybe do a mix of thighs and breasts (insert your own joke here) just to keep it from being too greasy. 🙂
This looks tasty! I’ve always been “chicken” to try poultry in a crockpot because of the dryness issue, but I’ll give this recipe a shot.
Just keep an eye on the chicken to make sure it’s not drying out, but honestly, I cooked this particular batch for about 6 hours the first night and then I reheated it on low for a couple more hours the next night and it was great. 🙂
Speaking of the ranch packet… that would send me into migraine land faster than anything courtesy of the MSG. Any reasonable substitutes? Thanks!
Maybe Penzey’s Buttermilk Ranch mix? http://www.penzeys.com/cgi-bin/penzeys/p-penzeysbuttermilk.html?id=nQ2BBPj2
You could try this recipe to make your own, but I’m not sure where you’d get dry buttermilk: http://www.momadvice.com/food/create_your_own_mixes. Her other recipes are good, but I haven’t tried this particular one.
You can get dried buttermilk at the grocery store; it is usually by the dried milk (which is usually the baking aisle) and comes in a tin a little bit bigger than a baking powder tin.
Carrie and Kari both made great suggestions–I’ve never tried them, so I can’t say for SURE, but they’re definitely worth a shot. You can also check the salad dressing aisle–there are a few different brands of Ranch and I’m fairly certain at least one of the main brands doesn’t have MSG. 🙂
I get Mrs. Dash Ranch packets from Salsa Express.com. They have Mrs. D Chile Mix and Taco Mix packets as well.
Delish! Right up my alley. You can totally kill me one ranch packet at a time. And throw in a chemical laden Route 44 Sonic Diet Coke while you’re at it. 🙂