Cafe Rio (or Costa Vida) Sweet Pork is super flavorful and easy to make at home in either the slow cooker or instant pot. It's perfect for eating out at home and recreating our favorite pork salads, burritos, tacos, and quesadillas since we don't live anywhere near a Cafe Rio or Costa Vida anymore!

We definitely love our Mexican food around here! After you try our Cafe Rio Sweet Pork, be sure to try some of our other popular Mexican recipes like Carne Asada or Slow Cooker Mexican Shredded Beef.

shredded sweet pork in an instant pot

Table of Contents
  1. Is it necessary to marinade the pork first?
  2. What You'll Need
  3. How to Make Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Barbacoa
  4. Tips & Tricks
  5. Frequently Asked Questions
  6. More Mexican Recipes
  7. Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Recipe
  8. More States I Have Visited in my American Eats Series

One of the things I miss the most from the many years we lived in Utah for college and law school is all the yummy food!

I've already posted about our favorite Chicken Tikka Masala from Bombay House in Provo, the awesome Roasted Red Pepper Sauce from the BYU institution of Brick Oven, the Sweet & Sticky Hot Dog Sauce from J Dawgs, which started just south of BYU campus, and my Copycat Waffle Love Liège Waffles. But the other place we often wish we could eat at when we aren't in Utah is Cafe Rio!

a Mexican pork salad on a plate

I have to admit that I'm not a huge salad person. I feel like I leave that disclaimer every time I post about a salad on the blog, but it's my way of explaining that if I'm going to share a salad recipe it has to be legitimately good. Like packed with plenty of flavors and textures.

It definitely doesn't hurt if there are plenty of protein and carbs like in this Cafe Rio pork salad that is loaded with cilantro lime rice, seasoned black beans, guac, pico de gallo, cilantro lime ranch dressing, crunchy tortilla strips, cotija cheese, fresh cilantro, lime wedges, and of course, plenty of juicy, tender sweet pork barbacoa! Oh, there's some fresh, crunchy romaine lettuce in there too. It is a salad after all.

an overhead shot of a copycat Costa Vida salad on a plate

Paul always orders a grilled steak burrito, enchilada style, when we go to Cafe Rio. But this slow roasted, saucy and sweet shredded pork is my longtime favorite, hands down. I like it in salad form best, followed by tacos, then in burritos.

It's a bit of work to make all of the components yourself at home, but this meal is perfect for doubling up and sharing with another family or making for special events like parties, reunions, or Sunday dinners.

an aerial view of cafe rio pork salad on a white plate with lime wedges cilantro and other ingredients

Is it necessary to marinade the pork first?

I have always marinated my pork roast the night before, but you can definitely skip that step if you just forgot or don't feel like it. It's such a large roast that typically the amount of penetration to the meat is probably minimal. But from everything I've read, it's how Cafe Rio and Costa Vida and the like prepare their pork before roasting it, so I do the same. The other reason I think it's okay to skip it is that the meat typically cooks for a long time in the marinade and it's own juices, which gives it plenty of time to absorb flavors.

But the coca-cola marinade is intended to help tenderize the meat before cooking it low and slow for hours and it certainly doesn't hurt anything, so if you have the time and remember to do it, I recommend not skipping the marinade.

Cafe Rio Sweet Pork in a white bowl

What You'll Need

It's pretty impressive how just a few pantry ingredients and a couple of cans of soda, green chiles, and enchilada sauce can make such delectable, juicy meat!

  • Pork Shoulder or Pork Butt: These two big pork roasts are well-marbled with fat and make for juicy, wonderful shredded sweet pork. Look for packaging labeled "pork butt", "Boston butt", or "pork shoulder". Also, note whether your pork is bone-in or boneless. Either work, but you will need to cut the meat off the bone is using the instant pot approach, and you will need a heavier roast to account for the bone if you are buying bone-in. I have heard that boneless pork ribs will work, although I haven't tried that cut yet with this recipe. I do not recommend using pork loin, which is just too lean and comes out flavorless and dry.
  • Coca-Cola: There are some people that say Cafe Rio marinates their meat in Dr. Pepper rather than Coca-Cola. I personally don't think it makes that much of a difference either way, although I always use Coca-Cola. I don't recommend using the diet version of either though. Go with original Coke or Dr. Pepper, whichever you choose.
  • Brown Sugar: I mean, it's sweet pork after all, so using brown sugar should come as no surprise, right? You can use light or dark brown sugar.
  • Salt & Pepper: These two are absolutely necessary because nobody likes bland meat! Plus, the salt balances out the sweetness of the brown sugar and soda in the sauce.
  • Spices: The heavy hitters are chili powder and garlic powder, which add excellent flavor and depth.
  • Diced Green Chiles: I always use the mild kind of diced green chiles since they add flavor without adding heat.
  • Red Enchilada Sauce: You can just use a can of enchilada sauce or make your own from scratch. I have used the enchilada sauce from this recipe and it is fantastic for this sweet pork, but the canned version from the store will work just fine and it's what I use if I happen to have it on hand.
a side view of a cafe rio pork salad on a white plate

How to Make Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Barbacoa

The approach will vary slightly whether you choose to make your shredded pork in the slow cooker or the instant pot. That's because the meat seems to release so much more liquid in the instant pot that the sauce gets diluted by the time you are ready to serve it, so I have found it best to make the sauce and add it after the meat is cooked in that case and instead just use a spice rub for cooking the pork in the instant pot.

In the Slow Cooker

This is the way I have traditionally made our Cafe Rio Sweet Pork for years. If you are doing it for a break event where you are feeding lots of people, it's really easy to borrow slow cookers from friends to make a lot!

  1. Marinate overnight: In a large, heavy duty Ziploc bag, combine the pork butt or pork shoulder with one can of Coke and ¼ cup of brown sugar. Seal completely and squish the soda and sugar all around the meat. Let it marinate in the refrigerator anywhere from 2 hours to overnight.
  2. Cook low and slow: The next day, transfer the meat and marinade to a crock pot. Add water and sprinkle salt, garlic powder, pepper and chili powder over the pork roast. Cover and cook for 6 to 8 hours on LOW or 3 to 4 hours on HIGH, until the pork is fall apart tender and shreds easily with a fork or meat claws. Transfer the meat to a large dish and shred, discarding the cooking liquid and any pieces of fat from the meat.
  3. Make the sauce: Blend one can of Coke with the remaining brown sugar, diced green chilies, and red enchilada sauce in a blender until smooth.
  4. Combine meat and sauce: Return the shredded pork to the crock pot, along with the sauce mixture. Cover and heat until warmed all the way through and the meat has absorbed the sauce, about 1 to 2 hours on LOW heat. Taste and adjust salt, if needed.
shredded pork and juices insde of a white bowl

In the Instant Pot

It took me years to jump on the pressure cooker bandwagon. I still don't love it for everything, but there are a few recipes where I think it excels, and large roasts are one of them. The recipe is almost the same, with a couple notable exceptions.

  1. Season the meat: You can go ahead and marinate the pork, if you feel like it, or just cut the roast into large chunks. Season them with a blend of spices, which will infuse flavor while the meat pressure cooks in the instant pot. You are welcome to add a little oil to the bottom of your Instant Pot and sear the meat in batches using the saute function, but I really don't think it adds a lot so I always skip that step.
pieces of pork shoulder covered in spices
  1. Cook on HIGH pressure for 50 minutes followed by a natural release: Add the meat to the Instant Pot along with 1 ½ cups of water or 1 can of regular Coke and place the lid on, making sure the pressure release valve is set to seal. Select the "pressure" function on your Instant Pot and cook on high pressure for 50 minutes. When the timer goes off, don't do anything! Let it slowly release (also known as a "natural release") for 45 minutes before setting the pressure release valve to vent any leftover pressure and removing the lid.
  1. Make the sauce: Blend one can of Coke with the remaining brown sugar, diced green chilies, and red enchilada sauce in a blender until smooth.
  2. Shred the meat and combine with the sauce: Remove the fall-apart tender meat from the Instant Pot and shred with forks or meat claws. Discard the cooking liquid, then add the shredded meat back to the Instant Pot, along with the sauce mixture. Use the saute function to heat until warmed all the way through and the meat has absorbed the sauce, about 15 to 20 minutes. Taste and adjust salt, if needed.
a close image of shredded sweet pork

Tips & Tricks

  • Don't skip the natural release or the meat will not be nearly as tender or shred as easily.
  • Be sure to buy the right cut of meat. A large, marbled pork roast like pork shoulder or pork butt is what you are looking for. If you buy bone-in and are cooking your meat using the Instant Pot method, you can ask the butcher to cut the meat off the bone for you, or you can do it yourself at home.
  • Be careful shredding the hot meat! It should fall right apart and shred easily with forks or tongs so you aren't burning your fingers. If it is not falling apart tender, you should pressure cook it for another 15 minutes or let it continue to cook in the slow cooker for another 1-2 hours, then try again.
  • I even had a reader comment that she skipped cooking the meat altogether and just bought precooked and shredded pork from Costco, made the sauce, and heated them up together!
a salad topped with shredded sweet pork, pico de gallo, guacamole, beans, rice, and cheese

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you freeze leftovers?

You sure can! If you have leftover shredded pork, just pack it up in freezer safe containers or bags and it will freeze for 2-3 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight and reheat in the microwave the next day.

How long do leftovers keep in the fridge?

I like to make a batch of sweet pork and enjoy it all week long since it will keep for about 5 days in the fridge. I make burrito bowls for lunch with it, sprinkle it on chips with cheese and toppings for nachos, use it for enchiladas or burritos, etc.

a copycat cafe rio sweet pork salad on a plate

More Mexican Recipes

Did you make this recipe?

Let me know what you thought with a comment and rating below. You can also take a picture and tag me on Instagram @houseofnasheats or share it on the Pinterest pin so I can see.

Stay in the know

Cafe Rio Sweet Pork

4.86 from 67 votes
Amy Nash
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 8 hours
Total Time 8 hours 15 minutes
Course Dinner
Cuisine Mexican
Servings 8 -12 servings
Cafe Rio (or Costa Vida) Sweet Pork is super flavorful and easy to make at home in either the slow cooker or instant pot. It's perfect for eating out at home and recreating our favorite pork salads, burritos, tacos, and quesadillas since we don't live anywhere near a Cafe Rio or Costa Vida anymore!



  • 3-5 pounds pork shoulder butt roast
  • 1 can regular Coca-Cola or Dr. Pepper, (not diet), divided
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper


  • 1 can regular Coca-Cola or Dr. Pepper (not diet)
  • 10 ounces red enchilada sauce
  • 4 ounces diced green chiles
  • ¾ cup brown sugar

Rub (for Instant Pot approach)

  • 1 Tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon oregano
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper



Slow Cooker

  • In a large, heavy duty Ziploc bag, combine the pork roast with one can of Coke and ¼ cup of the brown sugar. Seal tightly and marinade in the refrigerator anywhere from 2 hours to overnight. (UPDATE: I usually skip this step and go straight to cooking the meat these days. It seems not to make a substantial difference and the recipe is easier without marinading, but the choice is up to you!)
  • Once the pork roast has had a chance to marinate for at least 2 hours, transfer the pork, along with the marinade, to a crock pot. Add the water and sprinkle the salt, garlic powder, pepper and chili powder over the pork roast. Cover and cook for 3 to 4 hours on high (or 6 to 8 hours on low), until the pork is tender enough to be easily shredded with a fork.
  • While the pork cooks, combine the remaining can of Coke and the remaining ¾ cup of brown sugar in a blender, along with the can of diced green chilies and red enchilada sauce. Blend until smooth, then set aside.
  • Remove the pork from the crock pot and discard the cooking liquid. Shred the pork, removing any fat, and return it to the crock pot, along with the enchilada sauce mixture. Cover and cook for 1 to 2 hours on low, then check seasoning to see if more salt is needed. Serve in salads, burritos or tacos!

Instant Pot

  • You can skip marinating ingredients and instead just combine the rub ingredients in a bowl. Cut the pork roast into large pieces and sprinkle with the spices, rubbing it all over the meat.
  • Add the meat to the pressure cooker along with 1 can of the Coca-Cola (or Dr. Pepper) and ¼ cup of brown sugar. Lock the lid in place and turn the valve to seal. Select "pressure cook" and cook for 50 minutes at high pressure. When done, let the pressure cooker do a slow natural release for 45 minutes (do not touch the release valve). After 45 minutes, release any extra pressure and remove the meat. Discard all but about ½ cup of the cooking liquid.
  • Shred the meat, discarding any pieces of fat and return to the Instant Pot.
  • In a blender, combine the remaining can of soda, red enchilada sauce, diced green chiles, and brown sugar. Blend until smooth, then pour over the shredded pork, tossing to coat. Set the Instant Pot to "saute" and cook for 15 minutes until heated all the way through.



  • Freezing: This pork freezes really well. Just transfer to a freezer-safe container or bag and freeze for 2-3 months. Thaw completely in the fridge, then reheat in the microwave, slow cooker, or oven until hot all the way through.


Calories: 317kcal | Carbohydrates: 41g | Protein: 21g | Fat: 8g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 70mg | Sodium: 1055mg | Potassium: 451mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 37g | Vitamin A: 662IU | Vitamin C: 6mg | Calcium: 55mg | Iron: 2mg
Tried this recipe? Show me on Instagram!Mention @HouseOfNashEats or tag #houseofnasheats!

Recipe and method adapted from Fav Family Recipes and A Bountiful Kitchen.

This post was originally published in February, 2017. The photos and content were updated in March, 2021.

More States I Have Visited in my American Eats Series

Alabama • Alaska • Arizona • Arkansas • California • Colorado • Connecticut • Delaware • Florida • Georgia • Hawaii • IdahoIllinoisIndianaIowa • KansasKentuckyLouisiana • MaineMarylandMassachusettsMichiganMinnesotaMississippiMissouriMontanaNebraskaNew JerseyNew YorkOregonPuerto RicoSouth CarolinaSouth DakotaTexasUtahWisconsin

Share This With the World


Related Recipes

About the author

Hi, I'm Amy

I enjoy exploring the world through food, culture, and travel and sharing the adventure with mostly from-scratch, family friendly recipes that I think of as modern comfort cooking.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

How many stars would you give this recipe?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Reader questions and reviews

  1. Mark, CompassandFork says:

    I love pork shoulder for slow cooking. It just melts in your mouth and I love how it picks up the flavors of the marinade.

    1. Amy says:

      It's so true!

  2. cheryl@neuroticbaker says:

    This looks and sounds so good. I'm such a nervous nelly when it comes to cooking meat, but I can taste this just by looking at the picture!

    1. Amy says:

      Your comment cracked me up, especially since your site is Neurotic Baker, lol. 🙂 You can do it! Cooking meat in the slow cooker is an easy, great way to start!

  3. Monica says:

    I have actually never been to a Cafe Rio, but this looks so delicious, I might try it all the same! Especially since it can be made in the crock pot - love anything that makes the evening easier!

  4. Maggie says:

    There is a new Cafe Rio in Stockton!!! It is fabulous!!! 🙂

  5. Amanda Mason says:

    This looks so good and easy!I love a good pork recipe that's so versatile!

  6. Kelly says:

    Any changes to cook in a Instant Pot pressure cooker?

    1. Amy says:

      I wish I could tell you but I don't have an Instant Pot so I really don't know!

  7. Danielle says:

    4 stars
    Can I make it without the can of coke? I'm not a fan of coke and I don't have any in the house. Would it work without it?

    1. Amy says:

      Danielle, I don't like coke either as a beverage, but it's great in recipes for tenderizing meat! It's never in my house either though since we don't drink any soda. I'm sure you could swap Pepsi or Dr. Pepper, but if you don't use a similar carbonated soda the pork likely won't turn out quite the same. Apple juice would probably work as a substitution, but definitely an imperfect one because of the difference in flavors and the lack of carbonation. I hope that helps!

    2. Sheila says:

      5 stars
      Pineapple juice works as a great tenderizer. If you add in a few oranges, and'll get carnitas instead of barbacoa...but with the rest of the recipe the same..maybe an amazing mix of the two! (I'm actually going to try that!)

  8. Melanie says:

    Does Cafe Rio use Coke in their recipe? I absolutely love their food, especially the pork. I am definitely going to try this!

    1. Makenzie says:

      I saw Cafe Rio employees loading up their van with Coke at Walmart today so I think they do use it! 

  9. Avra says:

    I have been to Cafe Rio, this is spot on tastes exactly the same

  10. Michon says:

    What adjustments can be made if I don’t have time to marinade it over night or for 2 hours? 

    1. Amy says:

      If you don't have time to marinate the meat overnight or for 2 hours, you can just skip that step! I do think it helps tenderize the meat, but because of the slow cooker and adding the sauce later you will still end up with very flavorful meat and might not even miss the difference.

  11. Jocelyn says:

    This was soooo good!  We used to live near a Cafe Rio in VA and loved their barbacoa tacos.  Once we moved, we never were fortunate to have a Cafe Rio in the area.   Thank you for this!  Because I was strapped for time, I bought the precooked pork carnitas from Costco (2.5 lbs) and used that in place of the pork shoulder.  I used your sauce recipe along with the dry spices from the marinade and let that boil for about 5 minutes. I shredded the carnita meat, added it to the sauce, and simmered for about 30 minutes.  I served the meat in homemade flour tortillas and they were delicious.  This recipe is a keeper! 

  12. Wendi VandeRiet says:

    Help-I am trying this recipe for the first time and I was hoping to clarify. It says one can of Coke 'divided'. For the slow cooker version is states to marinate the pork with a CAN of Coke and 1/4 cup of brown sugar. And for the sauce it says 'one CAN of Coke'. Do you mean 6 oz of Coke for the marinate with brown sugar over night? It then says 'to combine the remaining Coke' with the 3/4 cup of brown sugar for the sauce?
    I just don't want to have too much liquid.

    1. Mindy says:

      Did you ever get an answer to your question? Because I have the same question. Is it one full can of Coke for the marinade and another full can for the sauce like it says in the directions? Or is it just one can divided like it says in the ingredients list? And is it a 12 oz. can or the new 7.5 oz can?

      1. Amy says:

        It's one 12-ounce can for the marinade, then another full 12-ounce can for the sauce.

  13. Holly says:

    I used the instant version and wondered why you had me keep 1/2 cup up the cooking liquid

  14. Marie lloyd says:

    I made this for the first time today and mine is super runny.. I marinated over night .. cooked for 7 hours in crackpot and dumped the juices out and added enchilada sauce.. coke and brown sugar..tastes good but not thicker sauce like costa vida

  15. Susan Janeway says:

    Made this tonight for dinner with cilantro lime rice! It was amazing! Tastes just like Cafe Rio! 
    Thank you so much for the recipe. 

    1. Amy says:

      I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Susan!

  16. Christie LaPointe says:

    Why can’t it be Diet Coke?

    1. Amy says:

      I feel like the Diet Coke leaves a weird aftertaste from cooking that regular coke doesn't have.

    2. Mike says:

      I drink nothing but diet sodas, but I would never use them in cooking. The aspartame in diet coke/dr pepper breaks down in high heat and leaves you with a bit of a bitter flavor and none of the sweetness. This will even happen slowly in a warm garage, it doesn't stand a chance in a pressure cooker. You might have more luck with the version of diet coke made with splenda, but it's really not gonna save you many calories since you're adding a big chunk of brown sugar anyway.

  17. Tayler says:

    5 stars
    We love this recipe!! It is so good! We love it in quesadillas with copycat ranch. DELICIOUS!

  18. Mindy says:

    5 stars
    Tastes a lot like the Cafe Rio sweet Barbacoa pork! Adding this to my favorites!

  19. Tami says:

    What do you do with the 1/2 c liquid from cooking that you saved?
    Instant pot version.

    1. Amy says:

      Oops, my mistake. Sometimes I add the cooking liquid to the sauce that is blended. And sometimes I don't do that step and it still turns out great!

  20. Roni says:

    This is a great copycat recipe! I was so happy when I tasted it, it's almost indistinguishable. I couldn't get a boneless roast but a bone in one worked just as well.

  21. Molly says:

    Any advice on how I can do this in the Dutch oven?

    1. Amy says:

      Hmmm are you cooking it in an outside dutch oven or in your kitchen oven? I would just follow all the same directions but just cook it in your oven at 300 for 3-4 hours or until the meat easily shreds.

  22. Olivia says:

    5 stars
    I’m never giving my money to Cafe Rio again, this was melt in your mouth amazing! My favorite way to eat it is in a flour tortilla spritz with lime, sprinkled with cotija or feta cheese and blessed with some cilantro leaves. It tasted exactly like the restaurants and the price to make 3+ lbs was the same as a single combo at the restaurant. Game changer, thank you so much!

  23. Dan says:

    5 stars
    My wife and I lived in Utah for 3 years and loved Cafe Rio, I supper happy this landed in my email. Will make it this weekend.

  24. L says:

    5 stars
    This is spot on. Delicious.