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Like many people who grew up in Colorado, I have memories of waiting in long lines for a table at Casa Bonita, which has called a Lakewood shopping center on West Colfax Avenue home since 1974. It was a rite of passage to consume enchiladas blanketed in neon-hued cheese, sizzling platters of poorly seasoned fajitas, sour-mix-loaded margaritas, and other below-average Mexican American fare in the pink palace’s weathered, kitschy ambience replete with a 30-foot waterfall and other famous attractions, such as Black Bart’s Cave.
Since South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone—who paid tribute to Casa Bonita in a 2003 episode of the show—purchased the property in 2021, Denverites have dreamed about what the new owners have planned for the legendary restaurant and entertainment venue. While many details are yet to be revealed, including an opening date, we know one thing for sure: The food and drink will be worth waiting in line for.
Here, the lowdown on what to expect from your Casa Bonita dining experience, which has been reimagined by executive chef and culinary partner Dana Rodriguez.
Bid farewell to all the processed ingredients.
James Beard–nominated Rodriguez’s other Denver concepts—Work & Class, Cantina Loca, and Super Mega Bien—are known for serving Latin American cuisine made with fresh ingredients. The Mexico City–born chef and her team kept select mainstays from the old menu, but now everything is crafted from scratch, from the chips, corn tortillas, and salsa to the refried beans, enchilada sauce, and slow-cooked meats.
“I like very clean food: very simple, but flavorful,” Rodriguez says. “I wanted to keep everything the way Casa was. It was obviously a Mexican restaurant [with] the enchiladas, the sopaipillas, the chips and salsa, but we wanted to do everything in-house.”
The food is made in a (very) clean kitchen.
Those who dined at Casa Bonita prior to its pandemic-driven shutdown in 2020 know that the timeworn eatery wasn’t revered for having the best sanitation and food safety standards. “It was dirty as fuck,” Rodriguez says. “They never upgraded any of the equipment or anything like that.”
With Rodriguez’s guidance, the new ownership team overhauled the entire kitchen, a sprawling space divided into multiple sections and furnished with a bevy of state-of-the-art equipment. That includes a dishwashing room that requires 16 to 18 employees to operate, self-cleaning deep fryers, and multiple walk-in coolers to store ingredients and ready-to-serve dishes. “We have very a lot of technology to make things easy,” she says. “So it’s efficient, and it’s healthier, too.”
Everything tastes a lot better than it did.
Rodriguez swapped the sloppy platters of enchiladas and tacos, greasy fajitas, and unenticing country-fried steak dinners on the previous menu for a lineup of approachable, yet elevated Mexican specialties, which are served cafeteria-style to guests after they order at the restaurant’s entrance (but you’ll have to have a reservation via a soon-to-be-announced ticketing system). “I want people to see what they’re eating,” Rodriguez says. All the dishes come with chips and freshly made jalapeño-zinged salsa; sides of beans, rice, and salad laced with a citrusy dressing; and sopaipillas for dessert.
Rodriguez’s kitchen will also turn out a number of entrées that are new to the menu:
- Asadero-cheese-stuffed enchiladas smothered in gently spicy red or green chile or both (aka Christmas-style)
- Slow-braised carnitas topped with green chile and accompanied by house-made tortillas
- Roasted bone-in chicken coated in nutty mole negro or smoky chipotle sauce
- Calabacitas, a medley of sauteéd squash, cauliflower, corn, and roasted poblanos topped with a red-chile-enriched sauce
- A taco salad with picadillo (a comforting ground beef, green chile, and potato stew) on a bed of romaine with sliced tomatoes and avocado
Fans of Rodriguez’s may recognize her iconic pork green chile, which is made with the same recipe served at Work & Class and is featured on multiple Casa Bonita dishes. In addition to fluffy sopaipillas—which arrive at tables steaming hot, just like they used to—patrons can also order new desserts such as flan, a chipotle-spiced chocolate mousse, carlota de limón (Mexican lime icebox cake), and ice cream sandwiches.
If you’re 21 or over, prepare to pair your meal with a craft cocktail.
Casa Bonita’s revamped bar program prioritizes quality over quantity, which means the restaurant’s pitchers of margaritas are a thing of the past. The drinks are now produced with fresh ingredients (no sour mixed allowed) and top-shelf spirits, including selections from Rodriguez’s own line of mezcals and tequilas, Doña Loca. Options will include the smooth house margarita, which is infused with aloe liqueur and garnished with a dried orange slice; a dark rum old fashioned; and a paloma made with grapefruit liqueur and Aperol. Or try the Mexican Firing Squad, a mezcal-forward creation sweetened with grenadine.
If you want to be one of the first to savor Casa Bonita’s new menu, sign up for emails on the website. During the soft-opening period (dates are yet to be announced), guests will be selected from the subscriber list. Also look out for ticketing and pricing information, which will be released soon.
Read: All (OK, Most, Or At Least Some) Of Your Burning Casa Bonita Questions, Answered