CILANTRO LIME DRESSING TAKES JUST 5 MINUTES IN YOUR BLENDER AND IS ABOUT TO BECOME YOUR GO-TO INTOXICATING DRESSING! 

Cilantro Lime Dressing makes everything better from salads to tacos, to burritos to bowls to grilled chicken or fish.   It also makes a fabulous dip for veggies, quesadillas, empanadas, etc.  It’s spiked with tomatillos, jalapeno, garlic, cilantro, lime and smoked paprika to create a luscious dressing packed with irresistible tangy, punchy flavor.

spooning creamy Cilantro Lime Dressing out of a jar

So here’s the deal.  You NEED this creamy Cilantro Lime Dressing recipe in your back pocket – or better yet – your front pocket – because you will want to shovel everything it touches into your mouth. It simply makes everything 1000X better.

I have actually lost track of how many people have begged me for this creamy Cilantro Lime Dressing recipe.  I have made it oodles of times without photographing it, so I finally thought it was time to share this deliciousness with you!

Café Rio Cilantro Lime Dressing

If you aren’t familiar with this Café Rio Cilantro Lime Dressing (also Called Cilantro Lime Ranch, Tomatillo Ranch, Cilantro Ranch), it’s creamy, tangy zippy, sassy, and of course, cilantro-y, lime-y, ranch-y.  Does it get any better?    There are thousands of copycat recipes out there because it is beloved by thousands.

Most recently, I 12X this this copycat Café Rio Cilantro Lime Dressing for a service auction fundraiser for our church youth in which I was in charge of the menu.  We served Café Rio Pork, Cilantro Lime Rice, with tortillas and all the fixings, including this crowning, intoxicating dressing, which makes the meal and marries all the flavors and textures together.

I thought I had made oodles of dressing and was anticipating leftovers –  but it ran out well before the night was over with everyone begging for the recipe and insisting it was by far the best copy cat recipe they’ve ever had – their words – not mine 😉.

Cilantro Lime Dressing in a glass jar on a white cutting board

WHAT IS IN CILANTRO LIME DRESSING?

The main ingredients of Cilantro Lime Dressing are:

  • Sour Cream or Greek Yogurt.  I prefer sour cream in this Cilantro Lime Dressing recipe but Greek yogurt works well because we are making a tangy dressing.  If the dressing is too tangy by using Greek yogurt, add a teaspoon or so of honey.  Fat-free sour cream or yogurt both work great as well, just don’t use regular yogurt because it is not nearly as thick as Greek yogurt.
  • Mayonnaise.  Provides the creamy base of the dressing and binds all of the ingredients together.
  • Tomatillos. Tomatillos look like green, unripe tomatoes with a dry, leafy husk that wraps around the outside. You will remove the outer husks, wash and dry the tomatillos then roughly chop the tomatillos before adding to your blender. I f you aren’t sure where the tomatillos are at your grocery store, ask someone!  They are super easy to use and sooo good infusing the dressing with their bright tanginess.
  • Jalapeno.  Use 1-2 jalapenos.  Remove the seeds but do not discard them.  I like to taste the dressing after I’ve made it and add additional seeds for more heat.  If you don’t have jalapenos on hand you can add a pinch of cayenne pepper.
  • Fresh Cilantro:  You can use the leaves and the stems because the stems contain a lot of flavor and are going to get blended anyway.
  • Garlic:  Fresh garlic is fantastic but you can substitute with ¼ teaspoon garlic powder.
  • Lime Juice. You can use fresh or bottled lime juice and use more or less to taste.
  • Seasonings.  You can use dry ranch seasoning mix or a DIY ranch made from: dried parsley, dried chives, dried dill, onion powder, salt and pepper.

This combo of ingredients is creamy, fresh and vibrant magic.  The dressing is loaded with flavor, but not spice but you can of course add more kick to the dressing with hot sauce or by leaving the seeds in the jalapeno.

showing how to make creamy Cilantro Lime Dressing by adding tomatillos, cilantro, garlic, ranch seasoning, lime juice to a blender

DIY ranch seasoning

I use a Hidden Valley Ranch packet for a shortcut but you are welcome to use your own DIY ranch seasoning like I did in my Avocado Tomatillo Ranch.  You will want to replace the ranch seasoning mix with:

  • 2 teaspoons dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoons dried chives
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried dill
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
top view of creamy Cilantro Lime Dressing in a blender showing after it was just blended

Do I have to use tomatillos?

If you aren’t familiar with tomatillos, they should easily be found at every grocery store; chances are, you’ve passed them every time you’ve been there!  Tomatillos means, “little tomato” in Spanish and are known as the Mexican husk tomatoes but are not technically tomatoes.  They look like green, unripe tomatoes with a dry, leafy green husk.  Once you peel off the husk, the tomatillo is a bright green which puts the green in green salsa/salsa verde.

You could theoretically substitute the tomatillos in the recipe for about ¼ cup salsa verde but I honestly have not tried this because the real thing is easy, bright and beautiful.  If you do choose to substitute the tomatillos for salsa verde, make sure you use a mild salsa verde and you might want to omit the jalapeno.

far away shot of spooning Cafe Rio Cilantro Lime Dressing out of a glass jar with a silver spoon

HOW DO YOU MAKE CILANTRO LIME DRESSING?

Homemade dressings might sound intimidating, but they usually just take 5 minutes!  I am a huge fan of dump and blend dressings because they require little chopping but boast tons of flavor.

To make our Cilantro Lime dressing:

  • Add all of the ingredients to a blender then chop then puree until smooth, scraping sides down as needed. Add milk, a tablespoon at a time to reach desired consistency.
  • Chill before serving.  Dressing will thicken in the refrigerator so you may need to whisk in some milk before serving.  That’s it!

Tips and Tricks for CREAMY CILANTRO LIME DRESSING:

  • Dry cilantro. Wash then dry cilantro very well otherwise the leftover water will thin the dressing and make it less flavorful.
  • You can use some stem. You will use the top part of the cilantro bunch with the leaves and stems – no need to pick off individual cilantro leaves.
  • Don’t be afraid of tomatillos. If you aren’t sure where the tomatillos are at your grocery store, ask someone!  They are super easy to use and sooo good!  You will remove the outer husks then roughly chop the tomatillos before adding to your blender.
  • Customize heat. As written, the dressing is not spicy at all, just flavorful because we are removing the seeds and membrane which contain most of the heat. I would suggest reserving the jalapeno seeds until after the dressing is made then you can taste the dressing and add some/all of the seeds for some heat or just spice it up with some dashes of hot sauce.
  • Greek yogurt substitute. I still prefer sour cream in this Cilantro Lime Dressing recipe but Greek yogurt works well because we are making a tangy dressing.  If the dressing is too tangy, add a teaspoon or so of honey.
  • Customize tang. The cilantro, tomatillo and ranch mix all add tang to this dressing, so the best way to customize the tanginess is with the lime juice.  This recipe only calls for 1 ½ teaspoons but you will be surprised at how much that enlivens the rest of the ingredients.  Feel free to add more or less to taste.
  • DIY ranch seasoning. As previously discussed, you can use the specified seasonings instead of the ranch seasoning mix.
  • Control consistency. This dressing is wonderfully creamy.  I find my blender works so well it thins dressings and sauces out more than others so you might need to add additional milk to reach desired consistency and the beauty is the consistency is 100% up to you!
  • CHILL! This is the biggest tip I can give you! Once you first make your dressing you are going to taste it at room temperature and wonder what all the hype is about.  The fresh, vibrant tanginess only emerges after the dressing is cool, and the flavors melded.
  • Chill in freezer. If you are short on time, place the dressing in the freezer! You can chill in the freezer for up to 30 minutes to speed up the process then the Cilantro Lime Dressing in the refrigerator.
pouring creamy Cilantro Lime Dressing over a bowl of shrimp, corn, tomatoes and black beans

How Long does Cilantro Lime Dressing Last in the Refrigerator?

This Cilantro Lime Dressing stores fabulously well for about 5-7 days, but honestly, it never lasts that long at our house!

  • Take care to store in a sealable, airtight container.
  • It will thicken as it chills so you may need to whisk in additional milk before using.

WHAT CAN I USE CREAMY CILANTRO LIME DRESSING FOR?

As I previously mentioned, this Cilantro Lime Dressing makes EVERYTHING better – NOT just salads!

top view of a shrimp bowl with corn, tomatoes, avocado and shrimp drizzled with Cafe Rio Cilantro Lime Dressing

WANT TO TRY THIS CILANTRO LIME DRESSING RECIPE?

PIN IT TO YOUR SALAD, CONDIMENTS OR MEXICAN BOARD TO SAVE FOR LATER!

FIND ME ON PINTEREST FOR MORE GREAT RECIPES!  I AM ALWAYS PINNING :)!

©Carlsbad Cravings by CarlsbadCravings.com

pouring Cilantro Lime dressing over shrimp in burrito bowl

Cilantro Lime Dressing

Cilantro Lime Dressing takes just 5 minutes in our blender and is about to become your go-to intoxicating dressing! This dressing makes everything better from salads to tacos, to burritos to bowls to grilled chicken or fish.  It also makes a fabulous dip for veggies, quesadillas, empanadas, etc.  It’s spiked with tomatillos, jalapeno, garlic, cilantro, lime and smoked paprika to create a luscious dressing packed with irresistible tangy, punchy flavor.
Servings: 2 cups
Prep Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup packed cilantro
  • 2 tomatillos husks removed and roughly chopped
  • 1 jalapeno deveined, seeded, roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves peeled
  • 1 cup real mayonnaise
  • 1 cup sour cream may sub Greek yogurt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lime juice use less if using Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons ranch seasoning mix (1 oz. packet) – see DIY NOTES
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika optional
  • Milk as needed

Instructions

  • Add all of the ingredients to a blender puree until smooth, scraping sides down as needed. Add milk, a tablespoon at a time to reach desired consistency.
  • Chill before serving (a must!). Dressing will thicken in the refrigerator so you may need to whisk in some milk before serving. This Cilantro Lime Dressing stores fabulously well for about 5-7 days, but honestly, it never lasts that long at our house!

Notes

DIY ranch seasoning

You can use  Hidden Valley Ranch packet for a shortcut or you’re welcome to use your own DIY ranch seasoning:
  • 2 teaspoons dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoons dried chives
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried dill
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder

Tips and Tricks

  • Half recipe.  This recipe makes a generous amount of dressing so you can easily cut it in half if you prefer – but we always use it all!
  • Dry cilantro. Wash then dry cilantro very well otherwise the leftover water will thin the dressing and make it less flavorful.
  • You can use some stem. You will use the top part of the cilantro bunch with the leaves and stems – no need to pick off individual cilantro leaves.
  • Don’t be afraid of tomatillos. If you aren’t sure where the tomatillos are at your grocery store, ask someone!  They are super easy to use and sooo good!  You will remove the outer husks then roughly chop the tomatillos before adding to your blender.
  • Customize heat. As written, the dressing is not spicy at all, just flavorful because we are removing the seeds and membrane which contain most of the heat. I would suggest reserving the jalapeno seeds until after the dressing is made then you can taste the dressing and add some/all of the seeds for some heat or just spice it up with some dashes of hot sauce.
  • Greek yogurt substitute. I still prefer sour cream in this Cilantro Lime Dressing recipe but Greek yogurt works well in because we are making a tangy dressing.  If the dressing is too tangy, add a teaspoon or so of honey.
  • Customize tang. The cilantro, tomatillo and ranch mix all add tang to this dressing, so the best way to customize the tanginess is with the lime juice.  This recipe only calls for 1 ½ teaspoons but you will be surprised at how much that enlivens the rest of the ingredients.  Feel free to add more or less to taste.
  • DIY ranch seasoning. As previously discussed, you can use the specified seasonings instead of the ranch seasoning mix in the post.
  • Control consistency. This dressing is wonderfully creamy.  I find my blender works so well it thins dressings and sauces out more than others so you might need to add additional milk to reach desired consistency and the beauty is the consistency is 100% up to you!
  • CHILL! This is the biggest tip I can give you! Once you first make your dressing you are going to taste it at room temperature and wonder what all the hype is about.  The fresh, vibrant tanginess only emerges after the dressing is cool, and the flavors melded.
  • Chill in freezer. If you are short on time, place the dressing in the freezer! You can chill in the freezer for up to 30 minutes to speed up the process then the Cilantro Lime Dressing in the refrigerator.
  • More than a salad dressing! See in the post for the long list of ideas to use this recipe for/on!

Did You Make This Recipe?

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28 Comments

  1. Allie says

    Hi Jenn,
    Thanks for the recipe. Another winner. I’m just wondering about the Smoke Paprika mentioned in recipe description.
    I didn’t see paprika in the ingredients. I’m not sure about how much Smoked Paprika to use.
    Thanks so much and I hope you are dong well.

    • Jen says

      Hi Allie, I’m so excited for you to make this dressing! And great catch on the smoked paprika! It is 1/4 teaspoon, I’ve added it to the recipe. Enjoy!

      • Allie says

        Ok, thanks! I saw that this dressing is recommended for today’s posting, Chipotle Shrimp Burrito Bowls. Yes! Gotta make these and especially glad you mentioned chicken as an option instead of shrimp. I really like your details and explanations. Little tips and tricks to make things simple!

        • Jen says

          Thank you so much Allie – I try! Can’t wait to hear about what you think about both the bowls and the dressing!

      • Allyson Robertson says

        I used some of this dressing with leftover egg noodles. I added bacon, peas and parmigiana and WOW!!
        Thank you for this recipe. It is a keeper!

        • Jen says

          I LOVE that idea Allyson, thanks for sharing! I need to make more recipes featuring this dressing!

  2. deb says

    Everything you make looks SOOOO good!!! You are amazing!! And the photography!! I just love your site so much. : )

    • Jen says

      What an awesome comment to wake up to, thank you so much Deb!!! Happy cooking!

  3. Sophia Del Gigante says

    Can you substitute Greek Yogurt for Mayo too? I am on Weight Watchers and Mayo just has too much fat.

    • Jen says

      Hi Sophia, I think it all comes down to personal taste – some people might like that, some might not, but I think it would still be good – just a different type of good, ya know? It will definitely be more tangy so I would omit the lime juice and add the lime juice to taste. Hope that helps!

  4. Kylie says

    I gotta say, this is the ONLY online recipe that I’ve followed to a T that I absolutely LOVED!!! I drizzled it over a fajita bowl for dinner tonight and wanted to lick the bowl. Sensational!!!! Thank you so much for sharing!!

    • Jen says

      YAY! You are so welcome! Thank YOU for taking the time to comment and make my day!

  5. Rachel says

    I made this in preparation for your recently posted taco salad. OMG! I am in love with this dressing. I don’t usually make ranch dressing since it never seemed like it was worth the effort. Until this one! I like a thinner dressing so I added a lot of milk, but the mix of flavors is fantastic. Plus it looks really good. I’m now a homemade ranch convert thanks to this recipe. For all of you wondering if its worth the time, absolutely. You will wonder why you haven’t been making this longer!

    • Jen says

      Sorry for the delay Rachel as I’ve been in Italy for weeks and playing catch up, but thank you so much for taking the time to comment! I’m thrilled you loved this Cilantro Lime Dressing so much and that it’s made you into a homemade dressing convert. Now the question is what not to put it on ;)!

  6. Kristen says

    Hi! Made the batch and it’s chilling now for this evening. Question – could you freeze some of the leftover or would it separate and not be as good?

    • Jen says

      Hi Kristin, I wouldn’t freeze this dressing as it will break as it thaws. Sorry!

  7. KAREN CHENOWTH says

    Making this today for taco salad (with shell bowls) — very excited as it sounds amazing. All of your recipes are great and I’m sure this one will be as well!

    • Jen says

      Thank you so much Karen, I’m so happy to hear you’re enjoying my recipes. I hope this dressing becomes a new favorite!

      • KAREN CHENOWTH says

        Yep it did! AMAZING. Also found using it as a dip for jicama was fabulous as well.

        • Jen says

          YAY! I’m excited to try it with jicama, thank you!

  8. Amy Emerson says

    In case anyone else finds they are short on Mayo, I subbed Ken’s Ranch for mayo, sour cream and ranch seasoning mix. It turned out wonderful and saved me a few minutes.

    • Jen says

      Thanks so much for the useful substitutions Amy!

  9. Cindy Aube says

    OMG!!! This recipe is TO DIE FOR!!! I may never buy bottled dressing again!!! This could not be easier either!! I threw the quartered tomatillos, and the rest of the ingredients into my PC Cooking Blender and pulsed. Literally seconds later I had the best dressing I have ever tasted!! This would be great on a lot of things!! And I had NEVER Tried a tomatillo before – this is a keeper!!! And the Chipotle Shrimp Burrito Bowl is also a keeper!! Thanks for sharing!

    • Jen says

      Thank you so much for your awesome comment Cindy! I am thrilled you love the dressing as much as us and are new convert to tomatillos! I’m so happy you loved the burrito bowls as well!

  10. Laura B says

    I don’t generally leave reviews but this recipe is so simple yet so flavorful!! I may have just eaten half a bag of tortilla chips dipped in the little that was left in my blender. Really so yummy can hardly wait to try it on top of the Sheet Pan Shrimp fajitas I am trying tonight!! Thanks for sharing.

    • Jen says

      Thanks Laura, you have great taste ;)! I can down this dressing so fast too! I’m so happy you love it and I hope you love the shrimp fajitas too!

  11. Jillian says

    I’ve searched HIGH and LOW for a Cafe Rio tomatillo ranch dressing copycat recipe. THIS IS IT. FINALLY a dressing that is just perfect. It makes a lot, tastes delicious and is absolutely perfect with your taco salad. THANK YOU

    • Jen says

      You’re so welcome Jillian, thanks for making my day! I’m thrilled your search stops here!

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