Those not in the know are often surprised that Casa Bonita isn’t just something made up by those wacky South Park guys. Ask someone who grew up in Colorado though, and you might see a glimmer of the child inside. Since Casa Bonita first opened in 1974, multiple generations have come through the ornately-carved front doors.
The rumor is that Casa Bonita is a place that children love—and adults love to avoid. Let’s prove that rumor wrong. The first step to enjoying (yes, enjoying) yourself in this iconic pink adobe building is to get into the proper mindset. Casa Bonita is best for those still in touch with his or her inner child.
What’s the best way to relish an evening at Casa Bonita? Easy. Take a 6-year-old with you. Don’t have a child handy? We’ve got you covered with one or more of the tips below.
How to make the most of Casa Bonita as an adult:
- Take a newbie who’s never been before. Actually, come to think of it, this one is pretty much required. Short of that, bring your most “up-for-anything” friend. Together you can embrace the rules of improv. Just leave the cliff diving to the professionals. Joining the cast spontaneously is a big no-no and frowned upon by Casa Bonita’s management.
- Embrace the retro-kitsch. Everything old is new again, yes? Get nostalgic for simpler times, when food came from a mysterious hole in the wall on primary-colored cafeteria trays. It’s the all-American, yet Mexico City-themed adventure. View the food with this same nostalgic lens. In the 1970s the color of the cheese on your enchiladas might even have been found in nature, for all you know.
- Do your best to re-enact the South Park Casa Bonita episode. At the very least, get the entire table (good on ya if you can get your entire section) to sing a spirited rendition of “Casa Bonita! Casa Bonita! Food and fun in a festive atmosphere!” Again, don’t try to dive. The only people who should be leaping from the 30-foot waterfall are the highly trained 17-to-24-year-old employees.
- Dress up in your finest ball gown or tux with tails. Speak in a fake accent, preferably your best “rich” accent (be that British high-society or Southern belle) all night long. Wear napkins like a bib to keep from ruining your finery. Eat your weight in sopapillas.
- Invent a drinking game: How many times will you hear “Happy Birthday” played by the mariachi band during your visit? Our guess is a minimum of 12-14 during a two-hour stay.
- As additional items or service are requested by flag, imagine your table is an island nation. Determine what the monarch of a small country would do with this power and answer the burning question of how one runs a country where the only currency is fried dough. Buy a sheriff badge in the gift shop to round out your experience of benevolent authority. Eat your weight in sopapillas.
- Enjoy or imagine the awkward teen tension that sometimes creeps up between performers. Create elaborate backstories for these characters, including made-up names, soap opera (or better still, telenovela) style. Imagine that Marguerite left Tony for his brother Horace, and that’s why Tony, the fire juggler, ran away from the circus but he’s being chased by his bookie for bad gambling debts so he has to dive off that cliff. Seriously, what more do you need in life?
- Two words: sopapilla-eating contest. Wait is that three? Do hyphens count? They do. Okay, THREE words: sopapilla-eating contest. You may have already noticed a theme here: eat your weight in sopapillas.
- Only the bravest souls will wish to wander into Black Bart’s cave and toward the sound of squealing children. If you aren’t a big fan of kids you can pretend they’re being eaten by the monster guarding Black Bart’s treasure. If you like kiddos, you can think of the cacophony of their screams as a new, weird symphony, best enjoyed in total darkness under black lights.
- Buy two bags of 20 tokens so you can hit the arcade. Can you play and win at Spider Stompin’ after eating your weight in sopapillas? CAN YOU? (Answer: No, you cannot.) Besides, when was the last time you played Tekken 2, which is housed in the semi-secret downstairs arcade?
Take a six-year-old. It really is the easy way. Some say it’s the cheaters way, but the best way to see Casa Bonita really IS through the eyes of a child.
Go for the margaritas, sopapillas, and the awesomely melodramatic high school acting/cliff diving. (We like to think of it as community theatre.) It’s not Chuck E. Cheese with Mexican food, because Chuck E. Cheese is an animatronic giant rat. There are no robotic rats at Casa Bonita (that we know of). This is live entertainment, people. Let’s face it, Casa Bonita hasn’t won any notable culinary awards lately, so order the cheapest thing on the menu and you won’t feel guilty. And remember, it’s a unique experience. After all, in the immortal words of South Park’s Eric Cartman, “It’s the Disneyland of Mexican restaurants.” Put on your friendly face, strap on your big kid boots, and go full force into the music-filled air.
For more information go to casabonitadenver.com or visit them in person at 6715 West Colfax Avenue.
-by Leah M. Charney
Published by West Colfax Lately, February 2015.