Melbourne resident Mark Heard drove nearly 150 miles round-trip with his family just to eat lunch at the new Café Rio in Winter Park.
And there’s a delicious reason why, he said.
“It’s authentic Mexican food,” he said. “You see the ladies in there making the tortillas on the turntable."
Heard dined at Cafe Rio many times while living in California and heard there was a location in Florida via Facebook.
“I saw the address North Orlando and thought, ‘Oh, there must be some street in California called Orlando,’” he said. “I looked, and it said Winter Park. I told (my wife) ‘This is Florida. We’re going.’ We planned to make a whole day of it to come here for lunch.”
The Mexican grill celebrated its grand opening at 1040 N. Orlando Ave. in Winter Park Wednesday, Oct. 4. The location is the Utah chain’s first in the Southeast.
Café Rio Florida Market Area Coach Xavier Villarroel said there are many hungry patrons traveling from as far as Jacksonville and Tampa to grab a bite at Rio. Lines for the restaurant go out the door and snake all the way out to the parking lot.
The main reason? It’s the freshness, Villarroel said.
“This is 100% fresh,” he said. “This is probably the only concept in America that is offering actually 100% fresh, made from scratch. Our food doesn’t have any preservatives. We don’t have freezers. We don’t have microwaves.”
Café Rio makes all of their tortillas fresh on-site, rolling the dough and laying them on a spinning comal behind a glass window for customers to see. All the salsas and various ingredients are made from scratch every day.
Customers can taste the difference, Villarroel said. Menu highlights include the sweet pork burrito, the guacamole, the queso and the various salads with steak and chicken, Villarroel said.
The first location opened in 2004 in St. Geroge, Utah. Since then, the chain has grown to 40 restaurants in Utah alone. About seven years ago, the concept spread to the East Coast, arriving in Virginia and Maryland.
The Winter Park area made perfect sense for the restaurant’s first location in the Southeast. It offers the right combination of traffic, population and ongoing growth, Villarroel said.
“The CEO loves this city,” he said. “Every time he comes to Orlando, he stays here. He’s always looking for opportunities. The traffic on Orlando Avenue is very busy. Lee Road is coming from I-4, which is the busiest highway in Orlando. … I think it was a smart decision.”
Villarroel said Café Rio will continue to grow in Central Florida. A Kissimmee location and a Lake Nona location are planned for 2018.
“I think the people deserve our goodness,” Villarroel said.