The Skinny: Cafe Rio's Barbacoa Pork Salad

Categories: The Skinny

Dieters, beware! I'm about to reveal the greatest lie in dieting history. It's bigger than the DaVinci code. More annoying than Palin's "Troopergate" fiasco. Worse than imagined weapons of mass destruction. Are you ready? Here goes.

Salads are often the most fattening items on a restaurant's menu, especially when it's a Mexican restaurant.

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I know what you're thinking. "Oh, God! Not salads! You're taking away my salad? What the hell am I going to eat now -- cilantro garnish and a side of beans?" But calm down, it's okay. Just hold on one sec, Loosie, and stop the high-pitched whining while I esplain a little.

Tortilla salads are a Mexican restaurant's way of assuaging our fat fears by pretending to offer something healthy. Wait. It's just a salad, right? Rice, lettuce, beans...healthful, no? Try adding mounds of cheddar cheese. Then shove two fistfuls of tortilla strips on top, add high-cal dressing and a delicious, but slightly greasy meat product.
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Case in point: I recently ordered the award-winning Barbacoa Pork Salad at Cafe Rio in Gilbert. True, they use lard-free beans, fresh produce and lower-cal Cojito cheese instead of cheddar, but there are still a lot of diet destroyers in this "salad" served in a puffy white tortilla.

1. The size - I appreciate the value for the price, but seriously, do I need a salad larger than my head?
2. The barbacoa pork - Yes, the meat was tender and moist with a smoky sweetness. But I'm guessing that the sugar content in the sauce would rival some desserts.
3. The tortilla - When is a salad NOT a salad? When it's served in a giant flour tortilla that makes you want to wrap the whole thing up like a burrito.
4. Tortilla strips - One word: fried.

I'll offer two solutions to this little salad snag...

First, Cafe Rio is happy to sub or delete items as requested. Don't want the tortilla? They won't give you one. Dressing? Get it on the side, or just avoid it. Same goes for the fried tortilla strips. You could sub chicken or steak for the sugary shredded pork, but honestly, it was so delish I'd be hard-pressed to give that one up. And as for the size, try splitting it with a friend or bringing home leftovers for later.

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The second choice is what I ended up doing at Cafe Rio after a few bites of the sensuously tasty pork. Fearful I'd blow every last Weight Watchers point on one salad, I swapped meals with my dining companion "Bones", who ordered the basic tacos with a side of plain black beans and rice. Should you find yourself with a heaping plate of fried tortilla strips and dressing, you may want to see what your friends' plates have to offer. Good luck and happy dieting!


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