Light and Spicy Cilantro Buttermilk Dressing

This Light and Spicy Cilantro Buttermilk Dressing is one of those insanely good salad dressings that will make you want to skip the main course!

We’ve been going through the Café archives and sprucing up some of our older posts. It’s been one of our goals to add nutritional data for each recipe as we revisit them, since many of you have requested that information. When I came across this Light and Spicy Cilantro Buttermilk Dressing recipe, I realized that I’d totally forgotten about it and could hardly wait to make it again.

Since it’s the peak of summer, I thought we’d pull it out into the limelight again, as it goes so well with all the beautiful greens and veggies that are so abundant right now. I was thrilled when I calculated the nutritional information. In addition to being super delicious and bursting with fresh flavor, it’s also very light and lean, with less than 100 calories per 2 tablespoon serving. You don’t find many low-cal, creamy dressings; and that’s even more of a reason to reintroduce it!

Horizontal Spicy Cilantro Buttermilk Dressing Collage

My daughter-in-law, Lindsay was coming for lunch one day not long ago. I decided to prepare a Mexican inspired salad with fresh greens, tomatoes, black beans, corn, rotisserie chicken and a topping of crushed tortilla chips. I was especially excited about the dressing, as it was one that I’d read about online. The famous dressing had a zillion rave reviews and I’d been dying to try it.

“Have you ever heard of Cafe Rio?” I asked Lindsay. “No, where is it?” she asked. I explained that I’d heard about it for years, and had assumed it was a restaurant somewhere in the western United Sates; but that, just recently, I’d discovered it’s actually a popular chain of restaurants, located mostly west of the Mississippi.


“Everyone says their salad dressing is so… good. I’ve read about it on several blogs and it’s all over Pinterest. I found a copycat recipe that I thought I’d try – you’re gonna be my guinea pig today!” Lindsay’s a foodie too and enjoys trying new things. She loves international cuisine, so she was game for testing the new dressing.

It was easy to put together; just throw buttermilk, mayo, lime juice, cilantro, tomatillos, garlic, jalapeño and a packet of ranch dressing mix into a blender container and whir it all together. It was done in just a few minutes, and we sat down for a south-of-the-border lunch.

A little disappointing…

Did the famous dressing live up to the hype? I can’t speak for the original Cafe Rio dressing, but this particular copycat dressing was a bit disappointing. Not bad, but Lindsay and I both agreed, not out-of-this-world-delicious either.

I couldn’t let get the recipe out of my mind, so I decided to play around with some of the same ingredients. I tinkered around for the next few days, adding and subtracting and, in the end, came up with a recipe we love. As in L-O-V-E!

Closeup vertical image with text of Spicy Cilantro Buttermilk Dressing in a pint jar with jalapeños and cilantro next to the jar.

I won’t call it a Cafe Rio copycat recipe, since I’ve never had the original and it’s quite different from the copycat recipes I’ve seen; but I will call it out-of-this-world-delicious. I tested it out on Lindsay and our son Nick, and they agreed.

Our new favorite dressing…

Just like the Cafe Rio copycat, it’s super simple to make and comes together quickly in the blender. I lightened it up with Greek yogurt and there’s an unusual ingredient that you wouldn’t expect in a southwestern-inspired recipe. It’s bright, fresh and, I have to say, quite addicting!

A vertical image of Mexican Sugar Seared Salmon Salad on a plate with salad and dressing.

The dressing is wonderful drizzled on grilled salmon and it’s a perfect pairing with this fabulous Mexican Sugar-Seared Salmon Salad. This salad will be sure to wow your guests for a casual, easy, dinner party entree with a beautiful presentation.

Vertical Image of Spicy Cilantro Buttermilk Dressing in a jar with dressing dripping down the side.

If you’re not a cilantro fan…

I’m calling my dressing Light and Spicy Buttermilk Cilantro Dressing. But just a little “heads up”; although the recipe does call for a generous amount of cilantro, you might be surprised if you’re not a cilantro fan. When you combine all the ingredients together, it’s not the cilantro taste that comes through, just lots of fresh, vibrant flavor. Try it, and if you end up thinking it’s not crazy-out-of-this-world-delicious, I know a little kitchen in North Carolina that will gladly accept your discards!

Café Tips for Light and Spicy Cilantro Buttermilk Dressing…

  • Jalapeño peppers can vary in heat levels so be careful. It’s better to start with just part of a jalapeño, add everything else and blend the dressing together, then taste it. You can always add more, but you won’t be able to remove the heat. We like things spicy, but not super hot, so generally I add one medium jalapeño with some of the seeds – however I have had to add more if I’ve had milder jalapeños.
  • Ginger? Yes! Although ginger is generally used more in Asian cuisine, it gives a delightful pizzazz to this dressing, in combination with the other ingredients. Don’t skip it!
  • This Light and Spicy Cilantro Buttermilk Dressing calls for a package of buttermilk dressing mix. I wasn’t crazy about all the preservatives and unfamiliar ingredients on the label of the store packets and the packets can be pricey. So I came up with my own Homemade Buttermilk Dressing Mix. It tastes better and is much cheaper! If you’re in a hurry though, feel free to used the packaged buttermilk dressing mix.




Spicy Cilantro Buttermilk Dressing

Spicy Cilantro Buttermilk Dressing in a pint jar with jalapeños and cilantro.

5 from 6 reviews

This Spicy Cilantro Buttermilk Dressing is the most insanely delicious dressing you’ll ever meet. Use it on salads, pizza, sandwiches, as a dip for chips or veggies, on nachos, quesadillas, salmon…

  • Author:
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 12 Servings
  • Category: salad dressing
  • Cuisine: Southwestern


  • ½ cup mayonnaise, use good quality (I like Hellman’s)
  • ½ cup Greek yogurt, I use Fage Total 0%
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • ½ cup finely chopped cilantro, packed tight
  • 1 medium jalapeño – Leave the seeds in if you like it more spicy, but see note in Café Tips above.
  • 2 medium cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons minced white onion
  • 3 tablespoons Homemade Buttermilk Dressing Mix, or 1 package buttermilk ranch dressing mix
  • milk, to thin, if needed


  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender container. Pulse on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving to allow flavors to meld. Dressing will also thicken a bit. If it’s too thick, thin with milk as desired.


Nutritional information does include 1 packet of Buttermilk Dressing Mix. 3 tablespoons of the homemade recipe has approximately the same number of calories.

One of those insanely good salad dressings that will make you want to skip the main course!

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