The Denver Nuggets are going to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history…and yet all anyone can seem to talk about is Casa Bonita. Yes, the iconic pink Lakewood strip mall staple that doubles as a restaurant and an immersive entertainment experience appears to be on the verge of reopening, more than two years after South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone announced they’d purchased the place for $3.1 million. The hype around the reopening has reached such a fever pitch that superfans of both Casa Bonita and South Park, who, you will not be surprised to know, are very online, have resorted to looking for clues from South Park. May 26—that’s today, in case you haven’t looked at your calendar yet—happens to be Kyle Broflovski’s birthday, and, yes, Kyle’s birthday was the day that Kyle, Stan, Kenny, and, infamously, Cartman, went to Casa Bonita. We can neither confirm nor deny that the pink palace will open today (although, at this point, that seems highly unlikely), but we did tour the renovated restaurant this morning. Here’s what you need to know.

How’d we get here?
The former owners of Casa Bonita, Star Buffet, Inc., filed for bankruptcy in April 2021. The restaurant, which for years had both been a destination and something of a local punchline, had long been in a state of disrepair. In a move that even a Hollywood scriptwriter might deem a little too on the nose, the team that ended up buying Casa Bonita was none other than the creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who wrote an episode of South Park titled “Casa Bonita,” which aired in 2003. Haven’t seen it? Do yourself a favor and watch it now.

Are the big Hollywood guys gonna mess up Casa Bonita?
We’ll find out soon enough, but after this morning’s press tour, all signs point to no. Casa Bonita is still Casa Bonita. It still feels like the place where you had your eighth birthday party—just, uh, cleaner. And nicer. And better lit. From early on, Parker and Stone, who both grew up in Colorado and who met at the University of Colorado Boulder, have said they wanted to change nothing, but improve everything—and a quick walk-through of the place seems to indicate that they’ve succeeded.

Casa Bonita
Photo by Patricia Kaowthumrong

How involved are Parker and Stone?
If the fact that they were spotted wandering around Casa Bonita today during the press tour (though they weren’t interacting with reporters) is any indication, they are very involved.

And the cliff divers? There will be cliff divers, right?
I mean, did you really think Parker and Stone would do away with one of the best parts of the Casa Bonita experience? Yes, there will be cliff divers, and the pool opening has been expanded to make it safer for the divers, who were practicing earlier today and looked quite good!

Do we have to line up, cafeteria-style, to get our food?
Yes! When you arrive, you’ll go to the new ticketing plaza that is modeled on a town square in Oaxaca, Mexico, give the cashier your credit card, and then you’ll go through a renovated room to pick up your food. The queue overlooks a Chipotle-style open area where you’ll be able to see and select your food. You’ll also be able to see the tortillas being made. (Alcoholic drinks will come at an additional cost. )

Will the food suck?
Given that James Beard Foundation Award–nominee Dana Rodriguez, the chef/owner of celebrated Denver restaurants Work & Class and Super Mega Bien, is the mastermind behind the menu, it will certainly be orders of magnitude better than it was. The kitchen is brand new, and all the food will be made fresh, daily. But don’t take our word for it: 5280 food editor Patricia Kaowthumrong tasted the menu’s offerings yesterday, and you can read her write-up here!

Wow, cool! And there are still sopaipillas?
Yes, there are still sopaipillas. We even got to try them today, and they are warm and fluffy and sweet and sprinkled with cinnamon, just like you remember.

What other changes have been made?
The tour only took us through a fraction of the space, but there is a new ADA lift and the renovation has included turning multiple sets of stairs into ramps.

Does it still smell weird?
Well, we were in there with a bunch of other journalists…so the jury is still out on that one. But no, it doesn’t smell like chlorine, if that’s what you’re asking.

OK, so when can I go?
An opening date for Casa Bonita has not been announced yet, but the mayor of Lakewood, Adam Paul, let slip on the City Cast Denver podcast that he thought the opening would be rolled out as a “phased approach.” Beyond that, you can go to the Casa Bonita website to get on the restaurant’s email list, which will give you an opportunity to be invited for dinner during a “soft open period.”

Geoff Van Dyke
Geoff Van Dyke
Geoff Van Dyke is the editorial director of 5280 Publishing. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffVanDyke