Yesterday I was invited to a taste-test of Cafe Rio’s new Spicy Green Chile Pork versus its super-popular Sweet Pork Barbacoa.
Which is better? If you want to see for yourself, I’m hosting a prize drawing for free Cafe Rio meal cards and T-shirts at the end of this blog post.
Since Cafe Rio was founded in 1997 in St. George, Sweet Pork Barbacoa has been a signature menu item, and it’s the top protein choice among Utah customers. But as the chain has grown to over 90 locations, more customers have requested pork with less sweet and more heat. The restaurants have always offered various hot sauces that people can use to doctor up their dinner. But, consumer demand won out for a more spicy option.
Jennifer Burns, a spokesperson for Cafe Rio, said the company worked over two years on the Spicy Green Chile Pork before launching. Company officials wanted to avoid a fiasco like the “New Coke” rollout in the ’80s, when people rejected the new product and demanded their classic Coke back.
Cafe Rio rarely rolls out new menu items, although they do have daily specials that offer some variety.
“Our menu has been the same since we opened,” said Stacey Young, Cafe Rio’s community relations director. “So this was really important to us. If you love the sweet pork, we think you will like this.”
She said some customers are pairing a half-portion of the sweet with a half-portion of the spicy.
Of the ten taste-testers in our group of food writers, and food lovers, most said they liked the new pork. Nobody deemed it “too hot.” At first bite, I caught a savory chile flavor, finished off with a little more heat at the end. One taster poetically referred to it as a “journey of flavor.” (Once a food writer, always a food writer!)
I personally prefer food that’s not so mouth-searing hot that you can’t really enjoy the flavors of spices. So the new pork works for my taste buds. In fact, when tasted side by side, the Sweet Pork seemed cloyingly sweet. (Sorry to my Sweet Pork-loving friends!)
Some tasters thought the new pork didn’t kick up enough heat to warrant the term, “spicy.” But the company also rolled out a new habanero sauce that you can add to give it more kick. When I tasted the sauce, I felt a burst of heat at the beginning, then a little burn at the back of my throat. It wasn’t the mouth-numbing, sweat-inducing experience I feared it would be. And I’m OK with that!
And now for the giveaway: The folks at Cafe Rio gave me four T-shirts to give away — 2 medium, 1 large and one XXL. Each one has a tag sewn on the bottom good for a free meal. You (or someone who can fit into it) just wear the T-shirt in to a Cafe Rio and show them the tag. (The tag must be attached to the T-shirt to be valid).
To enter the prize drawing, leave a comment about Cafe Rio at the end of this blog post. Such as – What’s your favorite protein choice? Do you think the Sweet Pork is too sweet? Do you think it’s not hot enough? If you’ve already tried the Spicy Green Chile Pork, what did you think of it? If you could choose another menu item for Cafe Rio to develop, what would it be? (I’ll tell you my opinion right now, I’d like some fajita-style onions and bell peppers similar to Chipotle’s! )
On Friday, Aug. 5, I’ll pick four lucky winners. It’s will be up to you to send me your snail mail address so I can put it in the mail. Sorry, I can’t guarantee you’ll get the T-shirt size of your choice. But, if you can’t squeeze yourself into it, I’m sure it’s OK to just bring it in.
Some past posts about Cafe Rio: