Budget Beat

$10 Lunch at Cafe @ Rio

If you don't know someone attending Rio Salado College, you've probably never heard of the Cafe @ Rio. Which is really too bad, because you're missing out on a farm-to-table, organic, sustainable cafe that won't break the bank. For less than 10 bucks you can score an entree, and a slice of pizza, and a deli side salad, and even dessert if you budget right.

Yeah, yeah, it's a cafeteria, but don't let that scare you off. Cafe @ Rio is worlds away from the unhealthy fried food, mystery meat, and otherwise processed cafeteria nightmares you grew up with.

Cafe @ Rio is a teaching kitchen that is fully integrated with Rio Salado College's Sustainable Food Systems certificate. They work with local farm, ranchers, and artisan food folk to keep the menu seasonal, fresh, and oh so tasty. Students also grow produce staples on site in the organic gardens. You can even take a walk around to see what's in season after your lunch. The garden plots are just off to the right of the cafe.

Bonnie Gerepka
Goat cheese and butternut squash side salad.
​The emphasis on local ingredients means the menu changes daily, with a couple of constants like veggie burgers. Check out the specials for the week online or roll the dice and just show up. Either way, you win.

Hit up the panini station if you're looking to try one of three different options. The prosciutto with brie and sweet fig jam ($5.00) was sweet, salty, creamy, and rich. A deli salad on the side, like our lemony orzo ($1.50) was an excellent accompaniment.

Other hot entrees include a variety of hot sandwiches, burgers, chicken breast sandwiches (no preformed mystery meat patties here!), and quesadillas galore. Those are great, but make sure to try the daily features (usually about $5.50), which ranges from grilled salmon and rappini with gemelli pasta to roasted portabella mushrooms stuffed with cheese and veg. There are always plenty of vegetarian options, and exotic ethnic specials like the Egyptian specialty packed with lentils and eggplant. It all depends on the day you go!

Bonnie Gerepka
Pizza by the slice or the pie, topped with fresh ingredients.
Definitely try the soup, at $1.50 you can afford to indulge. It's made in house, and the soup man works magic with otherwise standard flavors like split pea or Italian wedding soup. The salad bar (about $4 to $6) is also much more exciting than your standard iceberg and carrot shreds. Instead, expect to see quinoa, flax seed, local goat cheese, and freshly made dressings.

If you ordered lunch like us, you might be too stuffed to finish a slice of pizza on your own, but that's why you dine with friends. Grab a slice to share, because the pizza toppings reflects the creativity and freshness of the rest of the menu. With flavors like sauteed mushrooms and truffle oil, we would expect to be paying much more than $2.50 a slice.
After everything, you may even have a buck or two left over for a whoopie pie, red velvet cookie, berry crumble, or a good old fashioned slice of pie. A sweet ending to a flavorful, healthy, and still thrifty lunch.

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