The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog

Vegetarian and Vegan Options at Cafe Rio Mexican Grill

Posted on April 01, 2013 by The VRG Blog Editor

By Jeanne Yacoubou, MS
VRG Research Director

Cafe Rio opened in 1997 in six Utah locations. Currently, there are fifty-seven locations in ten states: Arizona, California, Montana, Wyoming. Nevada, Colorado, Idaho, and Utah in the West and in Maryland and Virginia on the East Coast. A list of locations may be found at

The VRG spoke with Aubrie in the Support Center at Cafe Rio. She told us that neither the black beans, the pinto beans nor the rice contain any animal flavors or broths. None of their bread products were made with L-cysteine as a dough conditioner. The guacamole does not contain gelatin. A soybean-based shortening is used in the kitchen where vegetarian and vegan menu items are prepared separately from meat products.

Aubrie told us that Cafe Rio’s purchasing director is a vegetarian and so is aware of many of the ingredient concerns of vegetarians and vegans. She has developed lists (previously available online) of all menu items that are vegetarian or vegan and is currently updating them. In mid-March 2013, Aubrie said that “the [updated] vegan and vegetarian information should be available on our website shortly.”

The update was needed because of a recent ingredient change. Aubrie informed The VRG that

…there was a change made recently with the margarine that is used in our California, Maryland, and Virginia locations. Previously the margarine was dairy-free, but with the change made the new margarine does contain dairy…If you are looking for vegan or animal-free products in the California, Maryland, and Virginia markets here is a list of items that are safe:

  • black beans
  • pinto beans
  • flour tortillas
  • corn tortillas
  • corn chips
  • corn strips for salads
  • tostada shells
  • guacamole
  • Pico de Gallo sauce
  • Salsa Fresca
  • romaine lettuce

To clarify the margarine change, we asked Aubrie if Cafe Rio restaurants in other states use margarine containing dairy. She replied by stating that “all of our other markets do not use dairy-free margarine and we do not anticipate that any changes will be made in the near future.”

On its website, Cafe Rio states that all of its food is “fresh and made daily. There aren’t any microwaves or freezers in any of our locations. Nothing is premade. We don’t have mechanized processed food.” Readers interested in learning more about Cafe Rio may visit its website:

The contents of this article, our website, and our other publications, including The Vegetarian Journal, are not intended to provide personal medical advice. Medical advice should be obtained from a qualified health professional. We often depend on product and ingredient information from company employees or company statements. Information does change and mistakes are always possible. Please use your own best judgment about whether a product is suitable for you. Further research or confirmation may be warranted.

For the latest news on fast food and quick service chains, visit The VRG at

To purchase our Guide to Food Ingredients, please visit our website:

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