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“Lunch alone but treated royally” 5 of 5 stars
Review of Rio Cafe - CLOSED

Rio Cafe
2526 E Grant Rd, Tucson, AZ 85716-2712
520-323-5003
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Cuisines: American, Mexican
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Restaurant details
Good for: Families with children, Romance, Large groups, Doing business, Special occasions, Entertaining clients
Dining options: Breakfast/Brunch, Lunch, Dinner, Reservations
Sequim, WA
Senior Contributor
46 reviews 46 reviews
34 restaurant reviews
Reviews in 27 cities Reviews in 27 cities
42 helpful votes 42 helpful votes
“Lunch alone but treated royally”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed November 21, 2007

I arrived at my Bed and Breakfast around 2 in the afternoon and had been up since 2:30 in the morning. I was hungry but am very particular about my food, so was reluctant at the late lunch hour to go to try Rio Caf recommended by the Adobe Rose Bed and Breakfast. There were no cars in the parking lot and the place lack curb appeal for the quality restaurant it is but from then on the experience was wonderful.

I ordered an appetizer of Crab Cakes and asked about the 'guajillo-raspberry sauce:, the server said, he would and did bring me a sample. It was delightful and not overpowering. The crab cakes themselves were very nice and good size. Next I ordered Platano Cubano, after all this restaurant was supposed to be Latin fusion. I was delighted with the beautiful presentation and the wonderful blend of flavors.

The only very small negative and it is my own pet peeve is that I am an ice tea drinker and always ask if the ice tea is a true black tea or some fruit hybrid. Was told it was real tea but when it was served, it was an apricot blend. One would not serve coffee and then add some flavor and I do not know why restaurants think they can do that to tea drinkers.

Overall the service was great aside from the tea hiccup and the food was outstanding. Definitely if you are going to Tucson and are in the Sam Hughes neighborhood, run to this restaurant. You won't be disappointed.

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51 reviews from our community

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Date | Rating
  • English first
  • Any
English first
Tucson, AZ
Reviewer
3 reviews 3 reviews
Reviews in 2 cities Reviews in 2 cities
12 helpful votes 12 helpful votes
“Finally, a great place to fill the hole left by Nonie’s closing…”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed March 1, 2007

My wife and I loved Nonie and were distressed when it was sold and transformed to a mediocre family-style restaurant before finally closing. We anxiously awaited whatever might appear in its place and were eager to try Rio Café when it finally opened. We were so eager that we went the first Friday it was open, despite knowing that there would be inevitable hiccups in food and service with a staff working together for the first time.

Well, despite said hiccups, both that visit and subsequent one on Valentine’s Day were delightful. The previous review (Feb 5 by Stompper) may read as a bit over-the-top, but my wife and I would concur on most of the reviewer’s comments. During our first visit, we enjoyed the crab cakes (though they were a little small), the standard salad, the halibut (with a raspberry-chile sauce), and the coconut-crusted pork chop. The halibut and pork chop were outstanding. The former was generously-sized and very fresh, with just enough sauce to entice but not overpower. As the previous reviewer noted, the pork chop was cooked perfectly despite its thickness, and the honey and toasted coconut sauce was a simple but wonderful accent. Both came with sizeable servings of wasabi mashed potatoes (somewhat strange given the Latin flair to the rest of the menu) with great flavor and texture if missing any detectable wasabi. Our only complaint with the entrees were the accompanying grilled vegetable skewers. Very pretty, but underdone and lacking any of the caramelization that makes grilled veggies so interesting.

Our second visit was on Valentine’s Day, when they graciously accommodated us on short notice and bestowed a single rose to my wife (as they did to each of the female guests—a simple, but charming touch). Our starters—bacon-wrapped dates and a spinach salad—were both excellent, although I think the apple sauce served with the dates did not provide the contrast I’ve enjoyed in other similar dishes (such as bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with gorgonzola). The spinach salad was perhaps the best in recent memory. Our main dishes (the Rio Relleno and Lechon—slow-roasted pork) were also unusual and tasty, if not the homeruns of the previous visit (although also about $10 cheaper). I kept thinking that just a small amount of sauce (perhaps the liver sauce I believe is traditional in some places) would have helped the pork, which was a little dry in spots.

Apart from the food, we were extremely pleased with the service. We put a lot of weight on this aspect of dining out, partly because my wife spent years in the restaurant business (including working as a server herself at J-Bar). The manager and our dedicated servers were friendly and attentive but never intrusive. The owner stopped by on both occasions and seemed genuinely interested in how our experience had been. Also, on Valentine’s Day both the manager and owner recognized us from our previous visit and each made a special point of thanking us for returning.

Well, as we told them at the time, we’ll definitely be returning again soon.

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Columbus, GA
Top Contributor
166 reviews 166 reviews
117 restaurant reviews
Reviews in 47 cities Reviews in 47 cities
273 helpful votes 273 helpful votes
“A don't miss restaurant experience!”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed February 5, 2007

Let me start by giving my overall opinion of this restaurant in brief so that you can spend the rest of your time traveling to the Rio café instead of reading my babble. This place is probably the best restaurant experience I have had in many years. It ranks right up there with my overall best in this country and in other countries we have visited. All of this praise from a guy who is very critical of the restaurants he visits. All of this praise from a restaurant 2 weeks into it’s opening with a staff cut short on a low volume anticipation secondary to it being Super Bowl Sunday. This restaurant ranks number one on value, service, quality of food, atmosphere, and attention to detail. I highly recommend this restaurant and if you only had one restaurant to choose from in all the restaurants in Tucson, this would be the one to chose.

All the way home, I was thinking how I could communicate how wonderful an experience we had tonight in a short restaurant review. It is impossible. However, I will try to give you a sense of the fabulous experience we had. It was a stroke of luck that we could not find the Indian restaurant we had planned to go to. My wife saw this place as we drove around and we took a chance.

Richard, a Tucson native and his partner have come from Chicago where they had a restaurant to open a Latin Fusion cuisine restaurant here in Tucson. We are not from Tucson and are so jealous that Tucson has such a gem. The term Mi Casa Su Casa sums up the way we felt from our welcoming. We felt like the honored guests at a fancy dinner party. We were doted on but it never felt intrusive. We felt like we knew the staff and owners for years. The restaurant was almost full and it seemed like everyone received the same warm individual attention.

The decorating was done with the utmost detail and it complimented the detail of the food. The wine list is one of the best gleaned I have ever seen and the wines were appropriate for the theme of the restaurant. The list was a value chosen list of excellent wines at excellent prices. Most wines were sold by the glass. The menu was succinct and served to make any amateur food connoisseur look like a genius in selecting a world class four course meal. In fact, the menu and wine lists were so perfectly chosen that even the most freshmen of diners could select a pairing to match the choices of even the most experienced chefs.

Let me tell you in detail about our meal:

We started off with the crab cakes. They were awesome. We were able to taste the crab in the cakes and all of the spice came from the raspberry-chile sauce balanced with a superb mango pico de gallo chutney and fresh mixed greens served on the side. The only picky thing I could constructively criticize (and this is for the whole meal) is the use of crab meat from the leg instead of lump back fin meat from the blue crab. Nevertheless, this dish was a joy and even better with our choice of matched split bubbly French wine at $6, a wonderful pairing.

Our next course was probably the most amazing appetizer I have ever had. You probably would never think to order this, but this should be a signature dish of the place and my pick for a don’t miss choice. The dish is called Zaragoza Dates. Roasted bacon wrapped dates served with a home made Macintosh apple sauce sprinkled with chives. The combination the textures and tastes were havenly. We matched this with an amazing Riesling at a reasonable $9 a glass. I savored every bite and my wife loved it too.

Our next course was the Soup of the Day. A Manhattan halibut chowder done Latin style, spicy but not hot spicy. We chose a Zinfandel to accompany this dish and it stood up well. This was another home run course by Rio.

I chose the Coconut Crusted Pork Chop. It was cooked perfectly slightly pink in the center and at 1 ½ inches the cut turned out deliciously tender. The mashed potatoes were done fresh and the skewered grilled vegetable medley was unbelievably delicious. I paired this with the Argentinean Malbec at $5. If I had to do it again, I would have gone with a Chardonnay or a mild pino noir. Don’t get me wrong, the Malbec was very nice, but not with this dish and the pairing was my fault.

My wife got the Short Ribs. This dish took over 5 hours to prepare and it was tender and flavorful served on the bone with a great demi-glass that complimented the meat. The potatoes were accented with either wassabi or horseradish and nicely accented the meat. My wife had the Spanish Roja red at about $6 and I think this was a good match. It was everything I could do to coax her into sharing a little of this dish with me and I was sure glad she did.

We couldn’t help but order the Rio Relleno as a third entrée. I am so glad we did because this was the most unusual and best Chile Relleno I have ever had. I didn’t feel guilty by eating this one as I usually do when eating the cheese filled fat fried Chile Relleno’s I am used to. This dish is perfect for the vegetarian or health nut in your party. It is also perfect for anyone who really appreciates a unique fresh dish. It is stuffed with mushrooms, corn and zucchini and topped with a tomatillo salsa. It is accompanied by great refried beans, rich and dry, dark coffee in coloring and earthy in taste. The rice is basic and the white completes the three obligatory colors and allows the Rio Relleno to steal the show.

We chose to share the home made chocolate mouse done with a chile or cayan pepper. The consistency was more like a truffle and you only experience the pepper as an after taste. Don’t be scarred, this is truly a wonderful dessert experience topped with a freshly made whipped cream and not to be missed. We were treated to a nice raspberry surprise at the bottom of the martini glass and were glad we chose to finish the entire dessert.

We were treated to a preview of the crème brule. I am a crème brule connoisseur and I think they have a perfect hit with this one. Fresh vanilla beans, a rich creamy consistency that most places fail to achieve, and presented at the perfect temperature. It is finished with a special twist of a hint of cinnamon with the sugar fired top. When this hits the menu, it will be extremely popular.

Our meal with everything I have listed and tip came to under $150 for two. You can do this for much less, but being we were visiting, we over did it a bit. We had a bit to take home and did not feel over stuffed. We felt this to be an amazing value with all entrees under $20 and appetizers under $9.

I can’t say enough great things about this restaurant staff owners and food, and I hope you will take me up on my recommendation to visit Rio Café before it gets too popular to get in.

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