Cafe Rio opens in Issaquah

Cafe Rio employees celebrate their opening on May 10.
Cafe Rio employees celebrate their opening on May 10. Isabella Paxton / The Watchdog

Cafe Rio, the chain restaurant best known for its colorful buildings and sweet pork, has recently opened in Issaquah on Gilman Boulevard. This Cafe Rio, the 109th one opened mimics the others, creating the feeling of nostalgia and familiarity. The employees at any Cafe Rio have a Disney-like happiness surrounding them, making anyone who enters feel properly welcomed in a way that cannot be repeated at other fast food restaurants. I have no idea how but every Cafe Rio I walk into – and I’ve been into a lot – the employees are patient and welcoming with smiles on their faces that are such positive changes from the monotone people over drive-thru speakers.

Cafe Rio first opened in 1997 in St. George, Utah under the ownership of Steve and Tricia Stanley. Cafe Rio is now a large restaurant chain that makes some of the best Mexican food I’ve ever had and finding good Mexican food is a challenge in and of itself. Cafe Rio is putting a twist on how Americans define fast food chains. While they still make their food at an unbelievably quick pace, they are also bringing a higher quality of food and treatment into their restaurants.

The food is indescribably good. I ordered a sweet pork burrito made enchilada style with mild sauce and I was not disappointed. The rice was a perfect counterbalance to the pork and the mild sauce they put on top of and inside the burrito made sure that the meat wasn’t too dry. Their sweet pork is what the chain has become known for, and is simply a must have. Every meal is served hot and fresh and while their menu is relatively small compared to other restaurants and they only offer generic Mexican foods, all the things they do make are of the highest quality.

The first thing I noticed stepping into the new Cafe Rio was how colorful and bright it was. All the chairs and tables are painted in fun colors that give the room the feeling of happiness and joy. The food preparation is set up in an assembly line like MOD Pizza or Subway but in Cafe Rio, the entire kitchen is opened up behind the counter so you can see employees making the meats, beans, rice and other foods. Once I was ready to order, I stepped up to the assembly line and only then did they start making my tortilla, guaranteeing its freshness.

Cafe Rio has managed to perfectly balance quality with time. Fast food is such a valuable business because people – Americans especially – are constantly running around trying to do a million more things than they should be. If they can just go to a quick drive-thru on their way to their next activity, then everything becomes a lot simpler. Cafe Rio has the speed that people so desperately need in their day to day lives, but they match it with a freshness and quality that cannot be beaten. Every morning employees come in and hand squeeze the lemonade, mix the dough and get ready to help customers enjoy the food that they’re making and they always do an incredible job.

The owners of Cafe Rio understand something that most fast food chains have forgotten: Customer satisfaction. The employees are always kind and willing to make friendly conversation, for different scenarios they have different chants, the food is all made that day, ready to be served fresh, and the atmosphere is bright and welcoming. Other fast food chains such as McDonald’s and Burger King could not care less about how they treat their customers, and customers have gotten used to being treated this way. Cafe Rio is changing the name of the game everywhere they put up a new store. Not only does Cafe Rio serve high-quality food, but they create an experience that makes people want to come back again and again and again.

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