Giant Pork Burrito Chain Challenge: Cafe Rio

Once again, here are the rules: I will only be reviewing pork burritos because, well, it's me.  Also, it saves me from having to take places like Taco Time and Taco Bell into consideration.  I will not be purchasing any premium add-ons; if it isn't available as a standard choice, I ain't getting it.  I'll only be reviewing burritos from fast food chains, because bringing restaurants and taco trucks into it just casts too wide a net.  And because this is a series about a specific food item from fast food chain eateries, I won't be using my standard rating system for the atmosphere, service and so on (though I may mention those things in passing).  Also, keep in mind that I'm rating this stuff for what it is, not measured against authentic Mexican food or restaurants, so an A+ doesn't mean it's the best food ever.  And now...

To be honest, I almost decided against including Cafe Rio in this series when I discovered that their only porcine option was sweet pork barbacoa.  You see I've never tried sweet pork before because, frankly, I didn't find the idea appealing.  I dropped by one day just to grab a menu, and what I saw from inside the place convinced me they'd be worth a try.  Like Chipotle, they feature online ordering, and I utilized it when I finally got around to trying them.  I'd have to say that the atmosphere is definitely superior to Chipotle, albeit a little cheesy.  Unlike the pure assembly line joints where meat waits on a steamer table to be utilized, Cafe Rio's entire kitchen is open.  There's something about watching meat being grilled that tends to enhance the appetite.  At least for us carnivorous types.  Like most of the burrito joints in town, they brag (and rightly so) about using fresh vegetables, quality meats, and making their own sauces by hand, and you will not see a microwave or freezer anywhere on the premises. 

Tortilla - One of the things that sets Cafe Rio apart from Chipotle and most, if not all, of their other competition is their tradition of hand-rolling and cooking each tortilla to order.  Personally, I prefer tortillas that have been grilled or fried or toasted.  I understand the logistical advantages of steam-pressing them, but it really does turn them into nothing more than a chewy, damp, flavorless wrapper.  I'm very happy to report that you won't see that affect here.  Grade: A

Filling - This was the hardest thing for me to grade here.  Just like I suspected would be the case, I did not like my first experience with sweet pork.  I mean I REALLY didn't like it.  For me, the tender and obviously high quality pork, the black beans, the rice, the Santa Fe green chili sauce, the lettuce, the cheese and everything else were completely dominated by the sweet barbecue sauce the pork was swimming in.  I hated the flavor like poison, but on the other hand the ingredients themselves were terrific.  Despite how much I disliked the flavor of their pork I'm sure it's exactly what they were going for, and I would return to Cafe Rio without a second thought.  I'd just choose a different protein.  Still, this is a pork burrito challenge, and since none of the available options for sauces (which other than types of beans and rice are the only options you can control unless you want to start subtracting ingredients) can get rid of that sweet sauce...  Grades: A for quality, D+ for customizability.

Balance - I'm not even sure what to say here.  As I said, the sweet barbecue sauce overshadowed everything else, but it couldn't really help but do so.  If you look inside the burrito itself, you can see that you're pretty much getting a little bit of everything in every bite, and the proportions are good.  Grade: A

Fine-tuning - Near the soda fountain, napkins and plastic flatware, you'll find the most extensive collection of types and brands of hot sauce that I've ever seen in a fast food place.  Superior to Chipotle's Tabasco trinity to be sure, but that's where the options end.  Grade: C+

Portability - Practically nil.  Order it to go and it comes in a foil tray.  Eat this with a fork or you'll be getting messy.  Grade: D

In the end, that damn barbecue sauce coupled with somewhat standard issues at these chains such as lack of portability and customization options are going to make me rank this place lower than it deserves as an eatery, even if it deserves the lower grade for this particular menu item.  If you want a pork burrito, go somewhere else.  Bear in mind though, the transparency of their cooking set-up and the quality of their ingredients are definitely worth a visit if something on the menu catches your eye.  Final Grade: C

Cafe Rio on Urbanspoon

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