The Best Guacamole
I recently found myself on Facebook (a rarity) a couple of weeks ago on a page called the Guacamole Hall of Shame and I have to admit I was pretty surprised at some of the combination of ingredients included in these versions of guacamole; the most offending one for me was breast milk.
Am I the only one right now going Ewwww? Others not quite so bad but still…feta, meat, pomegranate arils and more. Really?
Avocado salad maybe but not guacamole. Luckily, as often happens, the mention of a certain food triggered a memory that flooded my mind with another time and place and for me, I couldn’t help but be taken back to my first time. Yes, my virgin guac experience.
My family moved to a new house when I was in the 5th grade. A bigger home with all sorts of fancy trappings. Air conditioning. A dishwasher. A palace compared to the small bungalow my parents had raised 5 kids in for a number of years. I remember that street so fondly.
The only girl quarterback because even then I was taller than everyone around me, the families I babysat for including the Wolff kids who’ve I since reconnected with on Facebook, the elderly lady next door who taught me to crochet and Dr. Pat who became my mother’s best friend, our pediatrician and my Girl Scout leader.
Dr. Pat was from Texas and one summer, my mother went with her to visit Pat’s family in San Antonio, Texas. That was the only time I can ever remember my mom being gone like that and I’m sure with 5 kids it was wonderful to get away.
From all of the experiences she had in that foreign land (we lived in a suburb of St. Louis, as Midwestern as it gets except if on a farm), the thing she was most excited about was the discovery of this green orb called an avocado.
She could not wait to share it with us. I don’t recall that I was a picky eater in particular but I snubbed my nose at it and that mushed up stuff called guacamole was no better. No thanks; I’ll go to my room if I have to but I am NOT eating that.
You can imagine where this is going right? It was a couple of years before I was offered another opportunity to try guacamole and by then I was more willing to at least sample a new food, more willing to open my eyes to possibilities.
Can I just say I will always lament those wasted years? The second time around it was a clear case of ‘love at first bite’ and nothing about that first real impression has changed.
Including how to make authentic guacamole. Dr. Pat was an aficionado of simplicity and I’ll never forget that. It was all about the avocado. Avocado, lime, salt and garlic. Period. In one of those unexplained twists of fate, I recently had an opportunity to sample some terrific and authentic Mexican food and that simplicity was reiterated.
One of the members of our local blogging group, Lacy Boggs, had been in conversation with the CEO of The Rio Grande Restaurants, Jason Barrett, and together they engineered a plan to invite members of the group to come to downtown Denver for a tasting.
The Rio Grande is well-known for the potent punch of their margaritas but I, like many, have pretty much limited our impressions to this classic adult beverage. When Jason took a few moments to chat with us before dinner and asked our opinion of food at the Rio I think most of us thought…we love your margaritas!
I think I speak for every single member of our group when I say that if the Rio is intent on changing that impression then they did an amazing job with our small yet vocal group. It’s not like we had a negative impression of the food but it’s always been the margs that stood front and center.
No more. Sometime last year they started with a conscious effort to increase the visibility of the food at the Rio. New menus were born emphasizing their in-house, from scratch ingredients which was combined with more attention to presentation and training.
We even had a blogger with us that required Gluten Free choices and she mentioned how impressed she was with their attentiveness to her needs. The icing on the cake? They even loaned me a plate so I could authentically re-create how they present their guacamole. In fact they gave me ‘their’ chips too. I wanted this to be right!
The Rio Grande started with a restaurant in Fort Collins, CO; home of Colorado State University. We may be smack in the middle of winter in Colorado at the moment but this photo reminds me of visiting my daughter when she was in college there.
I know I’m ready for some patio time soon and they’ve got one at each of their locations. I think we’ll take a field trip to Boulder when the weather warms and sit outside and enjoy the view of the mountains along with the food and beverages.
I have to think that one key to the longevity of this local chain are the 20+ years of service that the owner, CEO and several key staff members have devoted to their roles. We were hosted by Pat McGraughran, Owner; Jason Barrett, CEO and their Food and Beverage Director, Steve Richter.
We were there to try dishes from their new and improved menu and they were of course hoping that we would spread the word to our readers.
But it was more than that. That they all care genuinely care about using quality ingredients and the customer experience was key but I could not help but be impressed at how evident it was that they simply enjoy each others company.
Those relationships most certainly must contribute to the Rio being a part of the Colorado Front Range scene for 26 years as much as their efforts to locally source as many ingredients as possible combined with expecting the highest of standards for what they do procure.
A great example of the quality of ingredients they expect was evident in the Shrimp Diabla; wild caught Gulf shrimp in a chile de arbol sauce served in flour tortillas. If I have one criticism of the evening it was that they did not warn us of the amount of foods we would be sampling. I might not have had two of those!
We sampled so much food that I believe we were all ready to burst at the seams. Queso Verduras which was melted Jack cheese with sautéed bell peppers, mushrooms and onions served with tortilla chips, plates of tacos including chicken, shrimp and my surprising favorite, Mahi Mahi.
My friend Karen hails from Texas and claims a cheese enchilada is her test of any good Mexican food and she swore, through a mouthful, that they were excellent. There was so much food that by the time the fajitas showed up we were all getting a bit full; still I made a point of trying the grilled skirt steak.
So tender, so good. And washed down with an excellent margarita, the Big Tex Margarita…good tequila, fresh citrus and orange liqueur; just the way I like them.
They did not want us to leave feeling disappointed apparently as dessert was also on the menu. Fabulous sopapillas; I loved how crispy there were and for an extra treat they were served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Still…the piece de resistance? Ancho Chile Chocolate Creme Brulee? How I wish I could have devoured that dish but a simple taste on the tongue was all the room I had left…that will be for another day.
There most definitely will be another day. Maybe I can sweet talk the chef into sharing that recipe too; oh shoot that would mean another trip wouldn’t it? OK, I’m in…who’s coming with me?
The Best Guacamole and a Pleasant Surprise. The Rio Grande is NOT all about Margaritas!
- 3 ripe avocados
- 1 lime cut in half
- 2-3 garlic cloves
- 2 cups of grape tomatoes chopped
- 4 Tbsp chopped white onion
- 4 chopped green onion
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro
- 1-2 jalapeno peppers inside ribs and seeds removed, sliced and roasted for 10-15 minutes in oven or on grill until charred
- 2 Tbsp crumbled Queso Fresco cheese
- Tortilla Chips
- Cut avocados in half, remove seeds and peel.
- Mash avocado gently with a fork to preferred consistency.
- Squeeze juice from lime into avocado.
- Mince garlic and add to avocado.
- Combine all ingredients gently, salt to taste - Be careful to not over salt; taste with a chip as that additional salt will impact flavor.
- Mound avocado in the center of serving plate and garnish with queso fresco cheese.
- Combine tomatoes and onions and mound on one side of the guacamole.
- Mount chopped cilantro on the other side of the guacamole and top with roasted jalapeno pepper slices.
- Serve with tortilla chips.
I was invited to The Rio Grande with a group of local bloggers to sample their new menu and share my impressions with you. My review disclaimer is simple. If I write a review I was happy. If I was not happy, I would not bother with a review.
I saw you mentioned the Big Tex Margarita. I live in Fort Collins and would love to find the recipe. Just went the other day and had two. Seems cleaner and less sugar than original.
I doubt they would share their recipe with me but I have to tell you that I think the margarita I make outshines anything I’ve ever had there. Try this one; all natural fruits and components. You can modify the sugar to your liking too!
I lived there when they were a tiny hole in the wall on College and followed them to Mountain when they expanded. For me, the Rio Margaritas were not the attraction, although they were among the best. For me, it was the chips and salsa that was a freebie when you sat down. The salsa was a very thin spicy consistency, almost a burnt red color and the tortilla chips were paper thin and freshly made in house (or at least they were warmed up). But I was addicted to that salsa which was spiked with a heavy dose of cilantro and spicy enough for any hot pepper affectionado.
I have looked around for that recipe and found another writer who has successfully collected some of the Rio’s new recipes. She has published their recipe for Salsa Atomica but it is different than what I remember being served. If anybody has the (old) recipe for the Rio house salsa, I’d be forever in your debt. I live in Kansas City now and haven’t yet found salsa or a Margarita that could compete with Fort Collins’ own Rio Grande.
P.S. Thanks for the story and the Guac recipe. It’ll be on the menu next week!
I was also going to the Rio on College and looking for the salsa recipe. If you come up with anything please let me know. I’m in Costa Rica and far from the “special sauce”. Thanks
Hmm, I could ask the GM Michael but want to make sure I know exactly what you want. Just their regular salsa? No promises but I’ll ask as long as I’m clear on what I’m asking for!
That would be awesome. The salsa that I referred to is the house salsa that was put out on the table with homemade chips while you looked at the menu. Now I haven’t been to Fort Collins in 8 years so this would have been from 1986 until I moved away in 2006. So if they have a newer recipe, it’s not that. I recall that it was very spicy, heavy with Cilantro and rather fine and fluid, not chunky. I hope that helps. Thanks for your attempt!
Since I hadn’t seen an authentic recipe for the Rio Salsa, I decided this past Saturday to do some experimenting using my aging memory as a guide. The version that I concocted met with rave reviews and I was asked for an encore performance I’m sure that this is not the same recipe or procedure that the Rio uses, but it was a delightfully fresh and tasty result that came close to the memory of the Rio in Fort Collins. The only thing missing was the hot, freshly made tortilla chips and the perfect margarita.
I’m not sure about the site protocol when it comes to sharing recipes. But I’ll take the liberty to share my success:
Fresh Tomato-Tomatillo Salsa
5 medium size Roma tomatoes
4 medium size tomatillos
1/2 yellow onion
1-2 habanero chili/scotch bonnet peppers (depending upon heat desired)
1 bunch (~2-3 oz) of fresh cilantro
1 garlic clove
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp sugar
1 bag of Tostitos Scoops dipping chips
Quarter tomatoes, tomatillos (husks removed) and the half onion. Peel and smash 1 clove of garlic. Slice open the habanero chili pepper(s) and remove seeds and cut into thin slices. I use plastic gloves when handling these potent peppers. Place the tomatoes, tomatillos, onion, garlic and habanero chili peppers into a food processor equipped with the blade and process until pieces are in roughly 1/8 inch cubes. Initially I pulse the food processor so that the pieces settle. Cut thick stems from cilantro and place leafy heads into the food processor. Add the juice from 1 lime, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Process until the pieces are about the size of course grains of sand. Sample the mix and adjust the salt, sugar and habanero chili heat as needed.
The recipe yields about 4 cups of fairly liquidy salsa. We like it this way but if you prefer a drier consistency, use a sieve to drain some of the liquid into a bowel. (Makes a great vegetable drink!) Let salsa stand covered in the refrigerator for an hour to allow the flavors to meld. Serve with Tostitos Dipper Chips.
Variation: Add 1 teaspoon of dried chipotle seasoning to impart a smokey flavor.
Sounds good to me; I’ll try it and if we love it I’ll post it too! Thanks Roger.
I too am waiting for the secret to this incredible brew. Any luck?
I’ve been sick with pneumonia and haven’t had a chance to check; trying to catch up and will let you know if/when I’m successful.
Looking forward to any updates on the house salsa recipe. I grew up on enchiladas and fajitas from the Rio, and although I live abroad my first stop when visiting CO is the Rio for their salsa.
Also looking forward to trying Roger’s recipe below.
Viva el Rio!!!
It just hasn’t been a priority for me; I moved a couple of months further south so I don’t go in there anymore and getting settled in a new home and putting in a yard has taken up every moment of my time. If the day comes and I’m in the neighborhood I will still see what I can do!
Let me know what you think, J.M. I made another batch this weekend and we debated whether it could use more heat. Got some lightweights in the household, so habanero chili has been the routine. But I personally think it can be kicked up a notch or two. My wife comments that I have destroyed my sense of heat. For her, the recipe has plenty of fire.
The food is extremely high priced!!!! Everything on the menu including the Margs are overpriced by a few bucks. I use to eat here and drink their margs, but no more!!! My family and I can find other restaurants to go to. I went a few weeks ago and had to get a quesadilla with chicken for 10.00 are you serious???? There was hardly any chicken on it and what was on it, was tasteless!!! I use to get the seafood enchiladas for 11.95, now the are 14.95??? Seriously!!!! Horrible prices for what you get. I’m really thinking about becoming a restaurant blogger. This would be my no. 1 restaurant “not to go to” because of it’s over priced food and Margs. I’m sure a lot of other people feel the same. $5.50 per marge is a fare price, not the price they are now!!! Get Real, not Rio.
Yeah! I agree. We are very disappointed with the extremely high prices as well. The last time we were there, we were very pissed, because of the hike in the menu prices, including the margaritas. My husband and I decided this was it for this restaurant, and honestly, we think that it will eventually price itself right out of the restaurant business. What idiots would spend their hard earned money on a very high priced restaurant like this? For what you get it is not worth the money. Yes, you are right when you stated that everything is overpriced by at least a few bucks. Get it right or we will never be back!1
I wish I would not have clicked on the “Guac of Shame” link but thankfully after reading your post I forgot all about it. When I make guacamole I take the minimalist approach and go with avocados, lime juice, and salt.
The ancho chile chocolate creme brulee sounds fantastic. I love sweet and heat together!
Glad you agree…even the cheese is really just a garnish…not kidding when I tell you this was my dinner that night!
Looks like a perfect guacamole.
Perfect. It helped that the avocados were good too; nothing I hate more than waiting 4 days for them to ripen and they just taste off. I was lucky this time; this was dinner that night.
I never heard of any milk in guac…very strange idea. Yours looks fantastic. Just made some now because have been craving your guac ever since I saw it. How nice they gave you the late and chips too. Great post:)
I cringe every single time I think of it. Time for some guac and a blood orange marg right?
I am in, when are we going? 🙂 I love love guacamole! When I lived in Tucson, the restaurants would make the guacamole at the table, so amazing! Love your pictures:-) Hugs, Terra
Anytime Terra…just give me a buzz. 🙂 You are too sweet. So glad we connected.
The guac sounds perfect – love the idea of a little cheese on top too! Great sounding place.
Perfect is the right world. I can’t wait for the warmer weather; just love their patio…even if we don’t make it to Boulder!
I’m a guacamole nut…love it so much that I can eat it every day! I love your recipe so easy to make yet looks Delicious! YUM!
Me too. I’ve said it before so repeating myself but I really did eat this entire serving for my dinner that night. Nothing more was needed.
We’re guacamole purists out here! It’s all about highlighting avocado, so I love the simplicity of this recipe. I’ll take one of those refreshing margaritas, too! Great shots, Barb.
Breast milk in guacamole – ERK!
I’m with you Barb, put whatever you like in a traditional dish, but don’t then continue to think it is traditional. It becomes a variation on the original, especially with too many alterations and needs to be identified differently to avoid confusion.
Love the simplicity and honesty of this recipe and absolutely adore the dish it is on – makes for a stunning pic!
Breast milk? REALLY? WHY???? I mean, I am all about nursing kids, but just why??? Great guac from you, though.
Next time I’m in Denver, I WILL visit! I love Mexican food… Love it, more than any other!
I am so making this version this weekend.
I don’t like avocados per se, but mixed with anything and I am nuts for them! With feta must be the best but tossed in a salad with tomatoes and a balsamic vinaigrette is pretty darn heavenly, too. But guacamole? The very best! The ultimate! I must try your recipe although I am dearly afraid I may end up eating the entire bowl on my own.
Do not be afraid. I did and I survived. 🙂
Oh, now I am so hungry after seeing your beautiful photos and remembering that awesome night. I’m getting ready to mix up my Rio recipe and just can’t wait. Now for some reason I am thirsty too!
Now I am and all I have is water. Now also dying for a margarita. Guess that is the whole turnaround fair play business huh?
I love guacamole and your recipe sounds great. I grew up in Granite City, Illinois – five minutes from St. Louis – I miss home – haven’t been back since 1998. I hope to visit St. Louis on our move out to Colorado sometime soon.
Well I will make you some ‘welcome to Colorado’ guacamole. And fajitas. And margaritas. How’s that?
Can I have this for my Valentine’s day dinner? I’m a guacamole-LOVER!
Shoot Cassie…you should have come over. Cause it’s what I did!
I love, love, love, that picture of you running with the football! This was such a delightful read and a lovely nod to the Rio Grande Restaurant, staff, service and food & beverage. Funny how we both posted today recalling food memories!
I love it too; it is the ONLY photo I have of me for a period of way too many years but it did speak to who I was. Tomboy maybe?
I’ve made guac with goat cheese and I must say, it was DELICIOUS! The tang and cream of the goat cheese was a really nice compliment to the avocado. But breastmilk, for the love, that’s just NASTY! Your guac looks great; simple, classic, and perfect with a huge marg and tortilla chips!
I do love goat cheese but I can not deny in this regard I am a pill…but every time I even think of breast milk I grimace. It’s perfect for babies…not for friends. 🙂
Poor me, I have to eat Guacamole all by my self, so it is not usually worth it to make up a batch for one unless I have company. I wind up buying the Wholly Guacamole in individual size serving packets (come 4 or 6 to a package I think) and freeze what I don’t use right away. It has a fair refrigerator shelf life if it’s unopened. DH won’t eat it, but if I make southwest eggrolls, I mix a little into a ranch dipping sauce and he won’t complain. I plan to put it in my cheviche and he will have to pick it out 🙂
Now that margarita and wonderful plate of the fresh made guac looks very inviting!
I had to eat that guacamole in the photo all by myself and I was most OK with that. Great dinner!
I’ve had guac with pomegranate. It’s actually quite good. Hope you give it a try. Delicious looking photos you got here.
Hehe…I do love pomegranate but still can’t imagine. Some things just have such a strong tradition I think it’s hard to imagine that shift.