Opening a restaurant isn’t easy (operating one seems even harder) and South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are learning that the hard way. Nearly a year after they bought the beloved Denver restaurant, Casa Bonita, with the hopes of restoring it and revamping the menu, the restaurant still isn’t open and it doesn’t look like it will be anytime soon.
Speaking to the Denver Post, the pair outlined the many struggles they’ve faced in the restoration process — including updating the HVAC system, plumbing, gas, and electrical lines, and employing an 80+ crew of construction workers to handle the massive overhaul.
We first reported on Parker and Stones’ purchase of Casa Bonita just over a year ago. The duo bought the restaurant because of a mix of childhood nostalgia and a fan campaign that started after the parent company and original owners began bankruptcy proceedings. Because Parker and Stone immortalized the restaurant in a 2003 episode of South Park they have become synonymous with Casa Bonita, for better or worse.
Speaking to the Post, Stone likened the process to Kitchen Nightmares.
“What we thought would be, ‘oh this will be cool. We can buy this and open it and it’ll be around again,’ turned into ‘Oh this is going to be what we have to put all our money into and hope that it works.”
And there truly is no guarantee on whether it will work — South Park creator-owned restaurant isn’t exactly the best sell, though the pair are making real efforts such as linking up with renowned chef Dana Rodriguez to oversee the new menu development. Which begs the question: Why? Why are the boys from South Park putting all of their time and effort into revamping a restaurant instead of you know, writing another season of South Park? Is the childhood nostalgia really that strong?
We sought out a bunch of old reviews about the original Casa Bonita and… now we get it. Casa Bonita didn’t have great food, aside from the sopapillas, but it was a restaurant truly unlike any other. Here is a sampling of what has been said about the Mile High institution.
“It’s Like Disney Had Sex With Tijuana.”
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In a review published January 27, 2009, in West Word by Joel Warner titled, “How To Survive Casa Bonita, The World’s Weirdest Mexican Restaurant,” which, a great title, Warner writes, “The multi-story, Mexican-themed behemoth includes a 30-foot-tall waterfall, cliff divers, fire jugglers, strolling mariachi bands, a pirate cave, magicians, puppet shows, skeeball machines… it’s like Disney had sex with Tijuana and left the goofy-looking bastard to fend for itself in a random strip mall on Colfax.”
At the close of Warner’s review, he mentions the restaurant’s connection to South Park, writing “While every other South Park episode features bizarre characters and outlandish scenarios, the actual Casa Bonita is so ridiculous they just slapped it into the show looking exactly how it looks in real life.”
Fucking sold. Casa Bonita sounds like the sort of place intended for families but is best experienced by psychedelic warriors looking for a truly weird and unforgettable trip.
“Who Needs A Meal When Half-Naked Staffers?”
A review posted on the travel site Gayot states, “Casa Bonita provides one of the most unusual dining experiences around. This sprawling low-light establishment is a subterranean wonder of caves and waterfalls, a Disney-meets-Taco Bell where atmosphere is the big draw. And who needs a meal when half-naked staffers are high-diving from faux cliffs into the water?”
“Like 1970s Disney But On A Budget And On LSD.”
Those casa Bonita reviews have me on the floor😭😭 pic.twitter.com/hzVxH1sYqz
— Kath (@Kath2Victoria_) February 9, 2022
Here are some more reviews:
- Pulitzer price-winning publication The Gazette named it one of the 29 top Colorado tourist attractions, and Best Things Colorado gave it the top spot in their article, “15 Best (and Most Offbeat) Attractions in Colorado,” pointing to the 30 attractions, indoor waterfall, arcade, and mariachi bands as reasons that made the restaurant an undeniable must-visit.
- Kevina L. Writing on Casa Bonita’s Yelp page gave the restaurant a five-star review in 2019, writing “you really can’t find a mediocre Mexican food experience like this anywhere else… the road to the restaurant itself is like a Disney Ride. The ambiance is so lively and festive, that you can’t help but feel like you’re in an amusement park. The fact that there are ongoing shows/performances while you’re eating makes Casa Bonita a perfect activity to keep kids (or in this case, my boyfriend) entertained for an extended period of time.”
- In another Yelp review, also five stars, Em R. explained that, “It’s not about the food, it’s about the experience. Entering this place is like entering another world, like 1970s Disney, but on a budget and on LSD. From the floor to the bathrooms, this labyrinthine place is full of wonderful, kitschy odd things.”
Even the negative reviews sound amazing:
- Joe K. of Norfolk VA wrote in his one-star review, “The second I stepped through the front doors I knew I’d made a mistake. I felt like I stepped out of a time machine directly into the year 1985.” Sounds great!
- Ryan F. Of Pittsburgh, PA, also a one-star review writes, “The food is literally poison and I highly encourage you to simply not go! My wife of nearly 10 years thought perhaps I was over-exaggerating and a little over-animated in the details but once we arrived she was actually surprised despite my redundant negativity regarding this prison! Prison!? Yes, a prison — prison food would be better people!” Ending his review with the always sage advice, “Go to Del Taco!”
From this small sampling, it’s easy to see that this restaurant was made for Denver, a city that has decriminalized psychedelic mushrooms and legalized weed, and honestly, it probably couldn’t have found better hands than Stone and Parker. Here’s hoping the boys figure it out — we’ll be first in line!