Our family is obsessed with Cafe Rio creamy tomatillo ranch dressing. There's something magical in this combination of tangy buttermilk, creamy ranch, fresh tomatillo and lime, herby cilantro, and spicy jalapeno. If you've ever tasted it, you know. If you haven't tasted it, you should. I have been obsessed with recreating this recipe at home so we can enjoy it whenever we want.
I have spent years perfecting my copycat Cafe Rio recipes, but the secret to this creamy tomatillo ranch dressing eluded me. There are plenty of recipes on the internet that come pretty close, but there was just a taste of something we couldn't quite pin down.
One day I was looking through recipes for a different salad dressing and I saw it: a mysterious ingredient I had never tried before. Once I did, I knew this was the secret ingredient, and I'm going to share it with you lucky people.
This recipe starts out with buttermilk, ranch dressing mix, and mayonnaise. From there we add fresh tomatillos, garlic, cilantro, lime juice, and standard jalapeno. But the magic really happens when we break out the secret ingredient: Pickled jalapenos!
- Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix
- lime juice
- pickled jalapenos and brine
See recipe card for quantities.
What is the Secret Ingredient in Cafe Rio Creamy Tomatillo Ranch Dressing?
The secret to this legendary sauce is pickled jalapenos. They add a briny tang that is immediately recognizable to those who love this dressing. Pickled jalapenos are found in the Hispanic food section of your grocery store or here on Amazon. This is what they look like:
When you open the can, you'll encounter sliced jalapenos and liquid brine. Both will be used in this recipe. Since pickled jalapenos and brine are key ingredients to the recipe, here's another photo so you know exactly what you're looking at:
Now that we're familiar with the secret ingredient, let's make some Cafe Rio creamy tomatillo ranch dressing!
How to Make Cafe Rio Creamy Tomatillo Ranch Dressing
This recipe really couldn't be easier. Slice and dice a few ingredients, throw everything in the blender, and mix away.
Remove the papery covering of the tomatillos and cut them in half.
Mince a single clove of garlic. I like to use a garlic press to get the pieces nice and small. Something about obliterating cloves of garlic is just so satisfying!
Roughly chop the cilantro.
Cut the jalapeno pepper in half and remove seeds if desired. More seeds=more heat, so if you want it hot feel free to leave them in.
Place all ingredients in a blender. Make sure to put the lid on.
Blend until combined, scraping down the sides as necessary.
Hint: The flavors of the dressing will meld together the longer it sits in the fridge, and it will get spicier. Keep this in mind when deciding how much jalapeno and seeds to add.
What Can I Use Instead of Buttermilk?
You can make a buttermilk substitute with a scant cup of milk (whole milk or 2% work best) and 1 tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice. Stir together and let sit for 5 minutes.
You'll also need a good blender or food processor. It will come in handy for all kinds of sauces, smoothies, and milkshakes.
Creamy tomatillo ranch dressing will keep in the fridge in an airtight container up to 2 weeks.
I like making this dressing a day ahead of time to give the flavors time to meld together and the heat level to increase. YUM!
Tomatillos are a small green fruit with a papery husk. They are native to Mexico and commonly used in Mexican cuisine.
Fresh tomatillos are available in the produce section of the grocery store or canned.
Looking for other recipes like this? Try these:
Copycat Cafe Rio Creamy Tomatillo Ranch Dressing
- 1 blender
- 1 1-ounce package Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix
- ¾ cup buttermilk
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tomatillos medium
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1 bunch cilantro roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1 small jalapeno seeds removed if desired
- ¼ cup pickled jalapenos
- 2 tablespoons pickled jalapeno brine
- Blend all ingredients together in a blender or food processor.
- Store in refrigerator to allow flavors to meld until serving.