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Costa Vida and Cafe Rio: which is best?

Costa Vida and Cafe Rio are some of Utah’s favorite fast-casual Mexican chains. Which is better?

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A grilled chicken burrito is pictured in this undated file photo at Cafe Rio.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

There isn’t a clear winner between Cafe Rio and Costa Vida, but both of these chains have items that are better than the other.

Cafe Rio and Costa Vida are both beloved Utah Tex-Mex chains that have similar menu offerings. Depending on what you are looking for, you might prefer one over the other. I evaluated each chain on their main menu items to determine the winner. I’ve eaten at both these restaurants a number of times and tried different menu items to get a sense of the taste and quality of the chains.


Let’s start by talking about the tortillas.

Cafe Rio’s tortillas cannot be matched — they’re that good. The tortillas are my favorite item from the chain. As you walk up to the line to order, you can smell them, a scent reminiscent of freshly baked bread. The tortillas are made in front of you. They have a slight char where they bubble up and a little bit of elasticity to them. The burrito size is too big, but the taco size is substantial, though not too much.

Costa Vida makes an average tortilla, but does not compare.


Meats from both restaurants are solid options.

Cafe Rio’s grilled chicken has a crispy char on the outside and tastes great with a squeeze of fresh lime. I like that it is more chunky than stringy compared to other meat options. Costa Vida’s grilled steak tastes a little sweet and it’s the type of steak where I long for just an extra dose of seasoning.

The pork barbacoa or sweet pork is a customer favorite from both restaurants, but it’s too sweet for me. I don’t think it complements the rest of the components.


I will endlessly rave about Cafe Rio’s creamy tomatillo dressing. While I generally prefer balsamic vinegar, olive oil and lemon juice on my salads, the creamy tomatillo dressing is decadent and the perfect addition to my tostada. I even order it with tacos because it adds a touch of spice and creaminess.

The dressing at Costa Vida is also tasty, but especially its mango dressing. It would pair well with the shrimp or the chicken and is the perfect addition to any salad. Costa Vida’s Tomatillo Ranch has more of a tangy flavor than Cafe Rio’s.


The reason that I love Chipotle more than any other Tex-Mex chain is because it has fajita vegetables.

For that reason, Costa Vida, which has fajita vegetables, automatically wins for me.

The selection of vegetables at both Cafe Rio and Costa Vida is good. I’ve never had a wilted piece of lettuce or a limp tomato from either. Their salsa selections are fantastic (get them all) and are a good way to add more vegetables to your meal.


So the verdict for Costa Vida vs. Cafe Rio is ... a tie. Here’s why.

For a salad, I’d prefer Costa Vida. I would add the fajita vegetables to my salad and make them the star of the show. But if I wanted tacos, I’d pick Cafe Rio on the strength of its tortillas and meat (along with that dreamy dressing drizzle).

Taste is a matter of dispute and while there is no clear winner here, each chain has discernible strengths.