Save (but don't you dare "improve") Denver's weird and wonderful restaurant, Casa Bonita

Originally published at: Save (but don't you dare "improve") Denver's weird and wonderful restaurant, Casa Bonita | Boing Boing


I think I’ve been there once. It was neat.


It’s hard to imagine what other use one could put that space to. I loved Casa Bonita as a kid. My kids loved Casa Bonita as kids.


Went there a few times years ago when I lived in Denver and the food was indeed bad. Oddest thing about it is that it is located in the JCRS Shopping Center. The acronym stands for “Jewish Consumptives Relief Society,” which was a hospital for tuberculosis, of which Colorado used to have many as the thin air helped people breathe more easily.


25 years after my first (and only) visit, it stands the test of time as literally the worst food I have ever eaten. Even their sopapillas (fried tortillas with honey, how do you mess that up?) were terrible.


Exactly this!


This place is terrible, full stop. Went twice as a kid, got food poisoning both times.


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I’ve been to Casa Bonita many times, celebrated birthdays as a young kid AND as an adult. I love the South Park episode about the location and it is indeed charmingly dated but i disagree that it needs to stay the same. The last two times i went it just felt like something was missing, i can’t quite put my finger on it but it needs something different to give it more life whatever that might be. It doesn’t need to be fully revamped but it does need some TLC, and the food definitely needs improvement. There’s already amazing Mexican and Texmex food in Colorado and its egregious that it’s worse than cafeteria food.

I think perhaps it could be changed to feature live shows for locals, have a dance floor for latin music, etc. I dunno, but trust me I love Casa Bonita and i don’t want to see it fail because a decision was made to do nothing.


i have faith that Matt & Trey know what they are doing. that place is incredible, and a Denver icon. they get that, and i don’t think they will change anything there but the food. i love everything about the place, but i do agree that the food is the absolute worst. i made my husband go there on a trip to Denver, and he was astounded by the place and he loves it, but he said it’s hands-down the worst mexican food he’s ever had (keep in mind that i also made him go to this one place in St. Louis before they had anything approaching authentic mexican food there). His comment now is, “Even if they just contract with Taco Bell and serve that, it would be an improvement.”


I’ve been meaning to go back ever since the pandemic… well, not ended, but slowed, I guess. Unfortunately they have yet to fully reopen, but recently they opened for tours, and I think I’d better hurry and get a look at the place while I still can. It’s one of the few nostalgic places from my youth that I haven’t revisited in some fashion, and I want to see it one more time before it changes. I would hope that the South Park guys take good care of it and actually make it better, but things rarely turn out for the best these days.

I agree. I’ve been twice, and I’m a Colorado native. I went once as a kid and have taken my kids. I feel like I would go more often if it was cleaned up some. A better menu and more authentic Mexican food would be a start. I was actually excited to see that the South Park team would be willing to take it on. I have to admit I love the idea and personally I think it would boost tourism and the economy. South Park fans would come, just to say they have been there and experienced it. We should at least give them the chance to make it work.


I’ve lived in Denver for 20 years and have never, ever heard anyone say they loved the food. Casa Bonita is one of a kind and well worth saving, and I think the South Park guys would be perfect owners–but whoever wrote this post… you can’t possibly actually love the food. It just can’t be.


Denver was a fun city with both Bonita’s and an Organ Grinder Pizza! I begged my parents to go as often as I could, but I think they hated the food too.

It’s remarkable Bonitas were able to stick around this long, most other dinner and a show places have come and gone.

I don’t think the Bonita’s owners are ignorant and I doubt there is much revenue to siphon off, it may simply be that this model is crazy hard to make succeed as evident by their uniqueness. New owners may sink a lot of money into it and may never come even, are they willing to do it just for the love alone? Or will they have partners that aren’t so willing to keep it open just for the kicks?

Or perhaps maybe it should be let go gracefully, leaving us with just with the memories?

That’s their problem right there. Sopapillas aren’t made from tortillas though the dough is related. Restaurants that don’t know better will sprinkle with sugar or cinnamon. If the restaurant has honey on the table and/or sells them stuffed with meat/beans/cheese, you’re in the right spot.


Wait… does the ticket machine fucking kill you if you insert the tickets face side up?



Six words: Cooper’s Seafood House in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

(More words: Whenever visiting my folks, that’s where we head off to. Amazing food. Craft beers. Outrageous architecture. Wall-to-ceiling-to-wall popular vintage collectibles, antiques, dioramas, and curiosities.)

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The magic trick with rehabilitating a place like Casa Bonita is to retain all of the things that give the place its charm - some of which may be considered dated or “crappy” by modern standards - while excising the ghosts of the things that are awful.

For example, if food is coming out cold and flavorless, that’s a real problem, but in this context, perhaps a certain cheap, sloppy culinary experience isn’t. If the games are broken, that too is a legit problem, but perhaps having older, janky, weird games (that should nevertheless work) is part of the charm.

I visited Casa Bonita as a kid and still remember it fairly clearly; there were parts that were legitimately fun, but there were other parts that were a totally different fun because they were sort of half-assed and weird, yet also a crucial part of the experience!

For several years, I worked to rehabilitate a local landmark that had a certain vibe, and I would often tell the staff that my goal was to take the place from being sad or awful to being “adorably crappy”. This was an incredibly successful strategy - we fixed all the things that would cause people to have a just plain bad experience, but left things that were historically funky and part of the secret sauce of the place as they were (or, if necessary, replaced with things that were carefully chosen to give off the same vibe). It went from near-death to people coming in droves.


I’ve been there many times. It is indeed neat. And so much more.

I have been there maybe 4 times starting around 1980, with the latest a few years ago when I had the joy of taking my kids there during a layover in Denver. My memories include waiting forever in line to get food, getting lost in the caves, the massive size hidden in a small storefront in a strip mall, the cliff divers, the sopapillas, and the underground theater where I saw what seemed like a 100-year-old magician some time in the 90s–his age was part of his shtick, because he kept pretending like he was messing the trick up but it came out OK. Complaining about the food is like people complaining about the food at Chuck-e-Cheese or Golden Corral–you aren’t going there for good food. If the economics don’t work anymore I guess it is time to close down, but there are plenty of crappy mexican restaurants that stay in business without an hour-long wait at the door, so the cliff-diving overhead must be pretty huge.

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When I was a kid I wanted to live in Black Bart’s Hideout.