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HomeFeatured StoriesCasa Bonita’s Upcoming Opening has Neighborhood Buzzing

Casa Bonita’s Upcoming Opening has Neighborhood Buzzing

It’s a sunny Monday afternoon on West Colfax, and a relic of Denver history stands tall above the rest of Lamar Station Plaza. Once mariachi music filtered through the doors of Casa Bonita, but today, there is the roar of power tools and the clacking of equipment.

In just 60 minutes, over 15 people stop in front of the taped-off entrance to take pictures, pose in front of the icon, and take a moment to share in the hype over the reopening of Casa Bonita sometime this May.

“Man, I am 46! I have been coming here ever since I was in elementary school. I mostly remember the divers and the huge cliff pool inside, but I am thrilled to see how they changed it up,” said Tony Taliercio, a longtime member of the West Colfax community.

Casa Bonita is an anchor in Lakewood. A restaurant with a history and a brand like no other, offering customers a one-of-a-kind entertainment experience; dinner and a show! The reach of Casa Bonita extends much further than a normal restaurant—it is a place of childhood memories for Denverites, a hub of the community for the neighborhood, and an experience native to the city’s heritage itself. 

With the creators of South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, buying the restaurant after its closing during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new customer base has come to the restaurant: hardcore fans of the adult animated comedy show.

Mark and Tracy Main were visiting Denver from Southern California, and after seeing Casa Bonita on the show, decided to have a look for themselves. 

“After seeing it on South Park and looking into it, apparently, it’s a staple to people around here. It sounds like quite the sight! Divers, mariachi bands, marionettes, a little bit of everything,” Mark said.

James Coulter, who grew up around the Denver Metro area stopped by after work to snap a couple of photos of the restaurant to send to his friends who live out of state, who had only seen the restaurant on an episode of the show.

“Friends of mine who love South Park are excited to go and see it for themselves,” Coulter said. “I also know people who grew up here and moved away. Now they are trying to figure out a flight and time to come back and bring their kids to experience it.”

For Coulter, Casa Bonita means good times with family and friends. It is an important part of Denver culture which has been lost, but he is thrilled to see it come back to life. 

“It is the closest thing you would get to Disneyland in the immediate area,” Coulter said. “You got the shows, the atmosphere, and the themes. It’s fun to watch the divers doing their stuff, and as a little kid you can run through Black Bart’s cave, you could play hide and seek, you can go check out the arcade. As an adult, the food isn’t great, but there are margaritas, and it’s still kinda that weird fun of going into a whole new little world.” 

Although Casa Bonita is known equally for the immersive atmosphere as it is for the bad food—the exception being the sopapillas—with a new chef, the legendary and “loca” Dana Rodriguez, the menu is expected to make a huge shift.

Out behind the restaurant, where construction workers are buzzing in and out of the building with materials and hustling away on the roof, a woman in a black chef’s uniform steps out for a quick break. 

Gabriele Lyons is the pastry chef for Casa Bonita, recently hired by Rodriguez. Lyons oversees numerous new desserts that the menu will offer. She was born and raised in Colorado and grew up coming to Casa Bonita all the time. 

“I am so excited about how things have changed since I was a kid here. Many things, but the arcade room alone, that wasn’t the arcade room I grew up with!” exclaimed Lyons.

And the arcade isn’t the only thing changing. Lyons said the menu is going to be drastically different from the old restaurant. Among other changes, the menu will now include gluten-free and vegan entrees and desserts. 

“The old [menu] didn’t have desserts; they only offered the free sopapillas,” Lyons said. “We are bringing more variety and more range, different types of foods, looking out for everything and everyone. More scratch-made foods. It’s no longer going to taste like what it did beforehand, it’s so much different. It’s better!” 

With a whole new kitchen staff, Lyons said the atmosphere is one of the best she has ever worked in. Rodriguez ground her way through the culinary scene from the very bottom, and now sits at the utmost apex. But she knows what it’s like to be in her employees’ shoes. 

“It’s been great. There are a lot of times where she’s like, ‘Okay, here is a recipe, go have fun!’ It’s one of those things where you get open ideas, and you get to show her a couple different ways and she gives you feedback on what she wants.” 

According to Lyons, Rodriguez works very closely with Matt and Trey on the new menu and aligning the original Casa Bonita with the new brand. If the head chef isn’t working at the restaurant, she’s off hanging out with the South Park creators. 

“One time I remember Matt and Trey had to run off to New York and they just brought Dana to tag along with them!” laughed Lyons. 

Everyone in the West Colfax community is counting down the days until Casa Bonita once again opens its doors. The businesses that surround the restaurant are thrilled to see an influx of customers coming to the area. 

Anna Le is a manager for The Yabby Hut, a Filipino-inspired seafood restaurant a few doors down. As a kid, she went on many school field trips to Casa Bonita when she attended Oakland Elementary. 

“My childhood was at Casa Bonita, and we get customers coming in all the time who are excited for the new opening,” Le said. “We are just excited to see the new exposure we get from all of Casa Bonita’s customers.”

The community, the employees, and the surrounding businesses are ecstatic about the hustle and bustle that Casa Bonita will bring to Lamar Station Plaza. The only worry, folks say, is that there won’t be enough parking!

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