When Cafe Rio moved to Utah Valley years ago, I went with a group of female co-workers. I had a bad experience. A few years later, I went to Cafe Rio, again. Again, with female co-workers and again, I had a bad experience. During the drive back to work, I complained and one of my lunch partners suggested there was no way I would get it as a man.

Since understanding Cafe Rio is beyond my male ken, I never returned, getting my Mexican food fix from Rancheritos, Mi Rancheritos and Costa Vida. Cafe Rio, however, came up after watching a Fox News clip about restaurants marketed to women. My question: Is Cafe Rio designed for women, where I can’t get it because of Culinary Gender Identity?

Here are my notes:

  • Five minute wait in the line corral (better than the one hour & 45-minute waits from before).
  • The menu board is wonderfully simple.
  • The order taker never looked at me, asking for my order with “next.”
  • The expose kitchen is clean and sparkly.
  • All the kitchen employees looked grumpy (except the laughing dishpit guys).
  • The uniforms (yuck!) were simple t-shirts and ball caps (yay!).
  • All the free-range tables and chairs were brightly painted and appointed.
  • The no-name pop music was too loud for conversation.

Of course, when I eat-out, the focus is the food. I ordered the Tuesday special, Coconut Shrimp Tacos. I’ve had Coconut Shrimp at Outback Steakhouse and Red Lobster and always like it. The problem with Cafe Rio’s Coconut Shrimp is the absence of shrimp. I couldn’t find any. None. Maybe the shrimp were pureed into the Coconut batter. Doesn’t matter. I couldn’t find any. No shrimp in the Coconut Shrimp Tacos.

How does Provo’s Cafe Rio (2250 North University Pkwy, Provo, UT 84604 — (801) 375-5133) compare to a Denny’s? Cafe Rio is decorated better. The plain-jane stained concrete floor is very clean. The indifferent customer service is about the same. Maybe worse. The music is louder than Denny’s. The food is better, but only barely and is only better because it is fresh.

Coconut Shrimp Food Grades:

  • Tortilla — C (flavorful, but burned)
  • Meat — D (flavorful, but no shrimp to be found)
  • Toppings — A (fresh, crisp and clean)
  • Rice side — C- (boring and mushy)
  • Black beans — D (flavorless and overcooked)
  • Dessert cup — F (burned and I couldn’t identify the fruit by flavor or appearance)
  • Coke Zero — B
  • Overall — C- and Denny’s +1

So, what makes this a woman’s restaurant? The lack of big-screen TVs. The colorful decor. The very fresh taco toppings. The cleanliness. The lack of male diners in a full house (there was only one other dude–a cop–chaperoned by his wife). However, I don’t think women like indifferent customer service, burned food or long waits. Who knows? I’m a dude.

Is the restaurant:

  • good for kids — no (none present)
  • good for a business lunch — no (too loud)
  • good for a date — yes (but eat something before you go)
  • cheap — yes
  • clean — yes
  • open late — no (until 10pm M-Th, 11 F-Sa & 9 Su)

Cafe Rio on Urbanspoon