Back in 2020, Casa Bonita’s model wasn’t conducive to how most restaurants had to pivot to takeout or socially distanced dining when the pandemic hit. Some restaurants relied solely on their takeout business and some others got creative and expanded patios or built outdoor dining to house diners safely. Considering you had to line up cafeteria-style to order and that the food came a far second to the ambiance (cliff divers included), Casa Bonita had no choice but to close their doors for good. That was before Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the duo behind South Park, everyone’s favorite show about a fictional Colorado town and its quirky inhabitants, decided to purchase the iconic establishment purely from their nostalgic love of the Casa Bonita experience. There are also a lot of Colorado natives out there with Casa Bonita memories and the same sense of nostalgia.
What some thought was an ironic joke on the part of Parker and Stone, has become the most anticipated restaurant reopening in Colorado history. While Casa Bonita isn’t quite open to everyone yet, many superfans have had the chance to check out the new digs and, of course, the new and greatly improved menu. In June, a link was sent to a lucky number of subscribers of Casa Bonita’s email list giving them the option to pay for a timed ticket during a handful of dates during that month’s last couple of weekends. For a restaurant that seats close to seven hundred guests, a ticketing system allows them to spread out the traffic as they serve potentially thousands of guests a day. More dates are being added as the restaurant readies for a full reopening.
With an original budget of ten million dollars, it’s been reported that Parker and Stone have now spent upward of forty million restoring Casa Bonita, which opened in 1974 and was recognized as an official landmark by the Lakewood Historical Society in 2015. Parker and Stone joke that they want to keep “everything the same, but now sanitary” and that the total cost “approaches infinity.”
As for the food, to say it’s a vast improvement is an understatement. James Beard nominated chef Dana Rodriguez (Super Mega Bien, Work & Class, Cantina Loca) is at the helm and is bringing her take on fresh Mexican cuisine to the iconic establishment. There are now eight dishes to choose from with no orange-tinged nacho cheese sauce from a can in sight: enchiladas with red or green chile (or Christmas-style with both); carnitas topped with green chile and served with tortillas on the side; adobo chicken in chipotle sauce; picadillo (ground beef, green chile, and potato stew); calabacitas for the vegetarians (a mélange of roasted vegetables and queso fresco); camarones in adobo sauce; chicken mole with pumpkin and sesame seeds; or a taco salad in a crispy tortilla shell. All but the taco salad come with a fresh side salad and savory rice and beans. Of course, the famous unlimited sopaipillas drizzled with honey are still included with your meal (as well as several a la carte desserts to choose from) and you still raise the flag at your table to signal your server when you’re ready.
Whether you’re brand new to Casa Bonita or if you grew up with it being part of your childhood, the bright pink building is ready with a fresh coat of paint and an immaculate interior, as well as a brand new menu, to impart some new and improved memories at “The Greatest Restaurant in the World.”