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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

This post was originally shared February 17, 2017. It has been updated with new photos and additional instructions and helpful information.

Cafe Rio Pork Salads (or Burritos, Tacos, or Quesadillas)

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 1/4 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 1/2 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 for Mexican Food Lovers

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Cafe Rio Sweet Pork

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!
4.66 from 29 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: Mexican
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 8 hours
Total Time: 8 hours 15 minutes
Servings: 8 -12 servings
Calories: 317kcal
Author: Amy Nash

Ingredients

Meat

  • 3-5 pounds pork shoulder butt roast
  • 1 can Coca-Cola or Dr. Pepper not diet, divided
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Sauce

  • 1 can Coca-Cola or Dr. Pepper not diet
  • 10 ounces red enchilada sauce
  • 4 ounces diced green chiles
  • 3/4 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
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Serving

Instructions

Slow Cooker

  • In a large, heavy duty Ziploc bag, combine the pork roast with one can of Coke and 1/4 cup of the brown sugar. Seal tightly and marinade in the refrigerator anywhere from 2 hours to overnight.
  • 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 3/4 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 1/4 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 1/2 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.

Notes

  • 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.

Nutrition

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.

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