Casa Bonita

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure/displeasure of eating at one of Denver’s – scratch that – the Nation’s landmark restaurants: Casa Bonita.

Casa Bonita opened in 1974. It is over 52,000 square feet with seating for 1,100 guests and took one year to build. Since the Casa Bonita in Tulsa closed in September of 2005 (which I’m incredibly disappointed in never having had the chance to visit), Denver’s Casa Bonita is now one of a kind – with the exception of the soon to be open Casa Viva and The Mayan (which was sued by Casa Bonita). Casa Bonita achieved national recognition recently with it’s appearance on South Park.

I think it’s easily described as the offspring of a broken down Disneyland, less than stellar Taco Bell, long airport security lines, the Las Vegas Strip, Chunky Cheese, and good liquid acid.

Nearly everyone who has lived in Denver, for any amount of time, is going to know what casa Bonita is. And most of those people are going to gag at the mere mention of it’s name. In fact, the reputation of the food at Casa Bonita is so poor it has been deemed “Casa Don’t-eat-a” by many Denverites. Casa Bonita is not for the week of heart or the week of stomach. It is just as plastic as Vegas (maybe more). And the food is some of the worst I’ve ever had. For reals.

The lines to get into the Casa can be horrendous. Go on a weeknight, less screaming children and little-to-no lines. If you decide to make a weekend night out of it you can expect lines up to an hour long to get in. And often a 30 minute line can form just to get the hell out of there. You’ve been warned. Trust me, this is one of the last places on earth you want to feel trapped.

After you have made your order and paid (you didn’t think they’re going let you see what’s on your plate before you paid did you), you are ushered to another cafeteria style line were you get a tray and wait until a young lady asks, “wachoo order?”. Soon your meal comes sliding out of a mysterious hole in the wall were it waits for you under the heating lamps. I love the fact that you never see where or by whom your food is made – it just appears through a hole!

Mystery Slot

I can only harsh on Casa Bonita for so long though. I personally, have spent many a childhood birthday at Casa Bonita. It will forever hold a nostalgic place in my heart, no matter how many times I end up puking in the fountain on the way out.

And so the fun begins. After getting your slop you’ll be lead to your seat. Everyone asks for a seat by the waterfall. Don’t. The smell of chlorine will get your stomach upset before you have a chance to drink your first coronaita. And they won’t seat you there anyway. One of the coolest things about Casa Bonita is all the cool rooms they can seat you in. There are gazebos, waterfall seating, mines, cave rooms, “open air” seating, and the governors mansion.

Miners Booths

This particular time we were seated in the magic room. This room had a cool chandelier and stage complete with red velvet curtain. There are magic shows every hour. The magician seemed like the saddest man on the planet but actually produced quite a few laughs.

Chandalier

In addition to magic shows, Casa Bonita has all kinds of other entertainment including pupppet shows, flame jugglers, a wishing well, a roaming mariachi band (which reportedly can’t play anything other than ‘happy birthday’), Black Barts cave, an arcade filled with 80’s video games and ski-ball, a souvenir store filled with absolute shit – and t-shirts, “authentic” Mexican dancers, a wishing well, piñatas for the kids, and all kinds of other stuff. Casa Bonita is great to go exploring in. Go thru a door your not supposed, search around, there is cool stuff to be found.

The Alley

The Puppet Show Is Closed

But by far the main attraction at Casa Bonita is the thirty-foot waterfall. Everyone seems to fall into the waterfall. If it’s not the regular divers doing flips, it’s Black Bart being shot by the sheriff and falling into the pool, or Chiquita the gorilla running around it escaping her captor and harassing the patrons. It’s the waterfall that makes Casa Bonita really unique. The diver’s at Casa Bonita even have there own blog featuring Chiquita.

Mariachi

Here are some Southpark screen caps and sounds.

Here are Casa Bonita My Space and Friendster accounts.

Go to Tiki Boyds and get a drink called the Casa Bonita. Refreshing!

Her reminiscing about Casa Bonita really hit home with me.

This dude made a video of his Casa Bonita experience.

Jeffery Sward has some great phtography of Casa Bonita.

The death metal band Carrion Crawler once did a short show on the Casa Bonita stage before getting kicked off.

Some more Casa Bonita photos can be found here.

This is a decent post about the Casa.

Casa Bonita at Night :: Denver

Please share you favorite / nostalgic / least favorite stories about the Casa. Or, just comment on how absolutly jealous you are of not being able to go here every weekend!

51 Responses to “Casa Bonita”

  1. Bon Jour, Pee Wee Denver

    From a recent visitor, Hubs’ site: ‘I think it’s easily described as the offspring of a broken down Disneyland, less than stellar Taco Bell, long airport security lines, the Las Vegas Strip, Chunky Cheese, and good liquid acid. Nearly everyone who has lived in Denver, for any amount

    Reply
  2. Kath

    You are so brave to be so honest. If I would have had ANY idea how many Denverites truly loathe this hellhole from hell (redundant but true) I would have been more forthcoming in my review. Just reading this brings back the stench of the so called ‘food’?

    And once again, my appetite has dissapeared.

    Bon Apetit, Hubs…you nailed it!

    Reply
  3. HotDrWife

    The long and short of it is that we lived 2.5 hours from Denver growing up, and it was a huge novelty to go to Chuck E Cheeses or Casa Bonita. As a child, I remember nothing about the food (at either, for that matter), but I remember the divers and how ‘exotic’ it all was.

    I had to go back about five years with my nephew, and it was absolutely horrendous. Ack! The food is just nasty, nasty.

    And Kath, I do not know one person here in Denver – any of my friends – that give that place a raving review. It’s basically known as the place you don’t go and eat unless you absolutely must go with your little nephew who could care less if someone is diving of a cliff.

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  4. Kath

    LSE, if you are hellbent on going, make sure to wear a gas mask, have an uopdated Living Will and bring PLENTY of pepto just to play it safe.

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  5. Kath

    …and for the full effect, make sure the kids are whiny, snotty-nosed and very badly behaved…like the kids that were in line in front of us and in back of us…and then add in the wait time of 30 minutes minimum….gives you plenty of time to consider being childless for the rest of your life.

    dudes, I really hated that place.

    Reply
  6. rg

    ok, it’s not THAT bad… if you only go every 20 years or so… and from my nostalgia, I must have liked it as a kid!

    we got sat in the magic room last summer, too.

    Reply
  7. hubs

    Yeah SE, but the Tulsa community has been mourning the loss of their Casa Bonita since it’s lease ran out in September of 2005. They are currently remodeling and are supposed to open up sometime this year. Pictures of the remodel can be found here. Erin’s pictures of the Tulsa Casa Bonita can be found here, as you can see, it’s nowhere near as cool as the Denver one.
    Nice to have you around SE. Glad to hear the house is nearly complete.

    Reply
  8. shmeder

    I love Casa Bonita but not for the food. I used to go there as a kid and every time I go back I feel like I’m 10 again. As a kid, my favorite part was raising the flag and asking for candy money. That was back when they always had someone sitting in the treasure room ready to give you your toy or candy on the way out. I have always loved and always will love the sopapillas. About 7 years ago my cousin ate 25 sopapillas just to win a dare. I always order the nachos… it seems to be the safest item on the menu for me.

    Reply
  9. Howard

    Hubs,

    Because of this one single post, you should never stop blogging. I’m putting a link to this post in the comment section to my joke template blog and will probably post a short blog pointing people to it (yes, I think it’s THAT important). Where in the world did you find this much information about the-restaurant-that-shall-not-be-named? You should submit this to Wikepeda.

    Reply
  10. hubs

    Shmeder, Deep down in my heart of hearts, I love Casa Bonita too. You’d be a fool not to. But it’s only cause ofthe memories it holds for me. If it weren’t for that…. I forgot all about the candy money unti I read you comment. One of the things I remember most (which I failed to mention in the post) is the glowing necklaces. We would keep our necklaces on all night and the put them in the freezer when we got home hoping that they would last another day.

    Howard, Glad you liked the post. Thanks so much for the link in your blog. I don’t think anybody has made an entire blog entry about one of my blog entries before. I’m sooooo important! As for where I got all the information – I do research for a living. I would submit it to Wikipedia but it was one of my sources.

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  11. RR

    I’m eating there next Thursday 4/20 for my good friend’s 2nd birthday. It’ll be my first visit in 10 years. I’m totally getting the nachos, and I agree with Shmeder, I can’t wait to raise the flag and ask for sopapillas!

    Reply
  12. mark

    Oh my god Hubs, you have just documented Casa Bonita more than anyone else in history. It will live forever now! That place has been there for as long as I can remember – same food – same show – same smell – you gotta love it!

    Reply
  13. The Web Pen Blog: April 2006

    [...] More Casa Bonita Than You Ever Wanted If you live in Denver or have ever visited, I’m sure you’ve heard the name Casa Bonita. I won’t describe it here because Artifacting has done that much more tongue-in-cheekfully. Here’s a teaser quote to get you to go:I think it’s easily described as the offspring of a broken down Disneyland, less than stellar Taco Bell, long airport security lines, the Las Vegas Strip, Chunky Cheese, and good liquid acid.Casa Bonita at ArtifactingMy favorite part of the post is the diver’s blog find.Listening to: Love Of The Loveless – Eels # posted by Howard @ 1:05 PM 11 comments links to this post    [...]

    Reply
  14. Nate W.

    I worked there from late 1993 to mid 1994, back when I was a teenager. I had just moved to Denver from the Bay Area, so I have no fond childhood memories of the place, only terrirble working memories of the place.

    To even get a raise from the whole $4.25 minimum wage I was making back then, you had to pass a 50 question test about the place, with questions ranging from how high was the waterfall (30 feet), to how high was the diver’s platform (I want to say 17, but I don’t know anymore) to the names of the areas of the place (Gold Mine, Silver Mine, the Theater, the Palace, the Balcony, the Island, the Caves, the Plaza and a few I’ve forgot by now), to a whole bunch of other inane questions that people would ask you constantly. Then you’d get a button that says ‘Pleasing You Pleases Me’, which went gerat with on black shirt full of chili peppers. My badge lasted all of a week before they took it from me for eating sophapillas without paying for them, bastards.

    Anyways, for those who are forced to go there, I recommend the fajitas. They are about the most edible thing on the menu (and of course, the most expensive). They aren’t great, but at least when I worked there they were really cooked on a grill, so they aren’t as awful as the rest of the stuff. The gorditas aren’t terrible either (it is basically their version of a chimichanga, a sophipilla stuffed with meat and somothered with cheese sauce.), but again, nothing there is good. They will try to push the all you can eat menu on you. Stay away from it like the plague. Especially thbe beef one. Their red sauce on their enchiladas should be outlawed. It is truly toxic stuff.

    Oh, great sendup on the place. It truly was on target.

    Reply
  15. drunkensherpa.com » Drunken Sherpa Daily Dose 8.31.2006

    [...] Anyone who’s spent time in Denver has heard of Casa Bonita.  Anyone born and raised here has at least a birthday party or 7 spent running amok through Black Bart’s cave under their belt.  Artifacting not only has a great review of his experience there, but also features a pile of excellent links to OTHER Casa Bonita resources at the bottom.  Ole! [...]

    Reply
  16. scott

    I used to go there growing up. Man, I used to love it.

    I and a Denver-born/bred buddy of mine insisted that a bunch of our college buddies come up to Denver with us from the Springs and go there (after proper enhancements).

    They’re all glad they went. But, certainly, they’re all going to die that much sooner.

    Reply
  17. Howard

    One of my friends is planning a joke b-day party for his boyfriend and I just pass out the link to this post for everyone. Hopefully, you’ll get a few more hits. :)

    Reply
  18. Invitations, eCards, Party Ideas, Party Themes from Evite

    [...] Come out and help us celebrate Dan’s birthday, as well as his getting a career type job finally! As we found out that some of our friends had never been to this fine Denver dining spot, it was apparent that we had to have his party here at Casa Bonita! Shh… he doesn’t know that’s where we are going! :)  He has been kind enough to put up a birthday wish list on his blog for those interested in bringing him a present. http://trashcandan.wordpress.com/2007/03/27/b-day-wishlist/I have already gotten him the rechargeable Wii remote docking station! :) Hope to see all of you there. And please feel free to invite anyone you see I have left off. I didn’t have a complete e-mail list of all his friends. If you haven’t been there, here is a great write up written by a fellow blogger that went there for the first time about a year ago: http://www.artifacting.com/blog/2006/04/10/la-experiencia-de-bonita-del-casa/ [...]

    Reply
  19. Kelsey

    Yes the food is not good, but how often do you get to eat and watch ppl dive off waterfalls, watch pupet shows, go through the scariest cave..ect

    Reply
  20. JACK

    A few comments, in defense of this very cool piece of Denver uniqueness:

    1. There is no 30-minute line to get out. Back in the day, many, many years ago, you used to have to pay on your way out. They had cash registers positioned like little toll booths along the path to get out. These have long been decommissioned.

    2. You do not pay for your food before seeing it. You order it at turnstiles at the end of the entrance line. Then, you pick it up, go to your table, eat it, and then receive a check at the end of your meal, like a regular restaurant.

    3. The blog said “I love the fact that you never see where or by whom your food is made – it just appears through a hole!” While this is true – this is normal for most restaurants. Chili’s, Applebees, Red Lobster, Kona Grill and Buckhorn Exchange are all restaurants that come to mind where you do not see your food being prepared. Taco Bell, Subway, and Macaroni Grill come to mind as restaurants where you CAN see the food as it is made.

    And hey, for all-you-can-eat Mexican food, it’s not SO bad after all! I am easily pleased in the food department however… if you want some of the BEST mexican food (and margaritas) check out the Rio Grande on Blake St. downtown Denver (with add’l locations at Park Meadows, in Ft. Collins, and in Austin, TX). But if you want to have a fun time, and a unique experience, or you want to check out a piece of Denver’s history, see Casa Bonita. They don’t build places like that anymore!

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  21. Bodacious

    All I have to say is this was the worst experience of my life. I am from Houston and I was in Denver visiting family. This restaurant was recommended to us because it had been seen on South Park (from someone who had never been here). So of course we had to go and would have much rather paid $50 for Taco Bell then have eaten here. It was short from amusing with the horrible trash kids running around everywhere, small tables, and local drunken college whores caring a bj knee pad customized with ruler. Oh did I forget to mention, the worst food I have ever eaten in my life. The salsa was, yea was Paste Picante Sauce and I wasn’t able identify anything else on plate, it was that nasty. To top the whole dining experience the service was slow. The shows were stupid and the made no sense. The only authenticity of the restaurant was the mariachi band, however it was comprised of white men.

    If you are looking to waste your time, money and health then by all means go.

    Reply
    • Denverite

      First of all, this is a Colorado institution that is to be visited ONLY for the entertainment and reminiscing of your childhood memories, which you clearly don’t have, being from Texas. Your “friend” should have let you know that you wouldn’t be having a gourmet experience here…
      Secondly, you liked the “college whores” and you know it.
      Thirdly, it’s PACE Picante Sauce – not “Paste”. WTF??
      Lastly, go back to Texas NOW!

      Reply
  22. Piper

    When I was a kid, vacationing in CO was never complete without a trip to Casa Bonita! I loved the cliff divers, and thought it was so cool that you could raise a little flag for service.When I lived in CO I never went there, even once. I enjoy the Rio.Excellent post hubs!

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  23. Tab

    I been to Casa Bonita many, many times since it opened.  I remember the lines so long and so many people there!  I also remember both my daughters going there for a school trip. Pretty cool to see the kitchen that has the biggest pressure cookers I ever saw that they use to cook all the beans.  Also, the tortillas are all hand made and at times you can see them rolling out the masa.  They said they change the recipes often according to customer input!   I was there recently and had the stuffed sopapillas-not bad.  But I was saddened that most of the entertainment is not there, no lines, and a lot of the rooms and areas are not open or used!  I remember as a kid, the puppet shows, the dancers, the jail with the animated jail birds and so on-not there anymore!   I liked Casa Bonita, I wish they’d update it!  My cousin was a dancer there and thats how he got his music career started-all the way to the Latin Emmy’s!!!  

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  24. Michael

    I live in denver! Like… 10 minutes from casa bonita! I love casa bonita just for the childhood memories I have there. I went there 2 years ago, and… yeah. it brings back memories… and the food… ugh. But the sopapillas… mmmm! They got that one dead on!

    I thought I had been in every room of that place, but I have to say… I have never been in the magic room. Where is it?

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  25. Alex

    I was born and raised in Denver, so of course I’ve been there plenty of times during my childhood. I have to agree with many of the reviews about the food, but I’ve never gotten sick from it. I think if you can eat a microwave dinner, you can eat Casa Bonitas food. I grew up on microwave food, so I guess that’s why I have such a strong stomach and can eat the food there. :)

    I’m actually going to Casa Bonita today and I came across this review after searching for Casa Bonita menu, because my girlfriend hates mexican food, even good mexican food, and she knows she’ll get sick here. I always just get the all-you-can-eat meals. Do they server burgers or anything?

    In my opinion, the experience is usually a lot of fun. My family comes into town from out of state at least once a year, and we always try to make it to Casa Bonita. I guess it’s a family tradition. The kids always love it too. If you can stomach the food, you should have a good time. Just know ahead of time that the meal isn’t going to be so good, and you shouldn’t be too disappointed once you begin eating. You’ll love the sopapillas though and my Mom loves the huge margaritas!

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  26. Ward

    !Viva la Casa Bonita!

    I am driving 400 miles to Denver this weekend to buy a car with a buddy and can’t wait to take him to two landmarks. Coors brewery tour and 3 free beers then what I can only pray will be the worst lunch he has ever eaten at the Casa. It’s been nearly 15 years since my last visit, and I can’t wait to pass the karma on to someone else……I am sooooo going to burn for this………buhahahaha.

    Reply
  27. Katie

    Who cares about the food it’s about the atmosphere. Besides the food isn’t that terrible and I don’t know that many people who can eat real mexican food with out needing pepto and a toilet in close proximity. Take advantage of the fact that something exists that breaks the norm of family night out.

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  28. Jack

    Took my nephew from out of town there last night the food was OK but its not the food you go for. We were met by our waiter and he took us to the waterfall and set us promptly. I’ve been going there for years and its still a place when family and friends come in from out of town they want to go. Though its not like it use to be it is a landmark for the Denver area.

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  29. owl

    Ok people, you don’t to Casa Bonita for the food, so just get over that one. You go for the experience, which is one of a kind! It’s an amazing, unique place that is a lot of fun for kids, families and those who just haven’t grown up! ;o)

    Don’t got there expecting top notch, or authentic Mexican food. Go there expecting fun, fun, and fun!! (And great sopapillas)!!!

    Reply
  30. chris hernandez

    i think the food at casa bonita is fairly good. it has improved since the earlier days. sure it may cost 12.99 for your meal..but you also get the entertainment of the cliff divers and mariache music…as well as other fun stuff such as black barts cave and puppet shows…and just the atmosphere is great there service was ok and the sopapillas were awesome. casa bontia is great and a one of a kind. CHRIS H.

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  31. Dave

    The food is not that bad. I lived in Denver my whole life and I find myself going to C.B. once or twice a year. It’s a fun place for kids. It’s starting to show it age (36 years), but that’s part of the fun. As for the people saying no one goes their, I laugh. C.B can seat over a 1000 people at once, and on any saturday night it’s an hour wait just to order your food.

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  32. Bonnie Baumgartner

    We moved to Cheyenne From NY in 1984. (We’d never had Mexican Food) Someone told us about Casa Bonita and honestly, we loved it! Maybe we never really tasted the food (although we had nothing to compare it with) with all there was to see – but I do remember loving the sopapillas. We continued to make “pilgramages” 3-4 times a year & brought all who visited us to the experience. Moved back east in 1999 and one of the things we miss the most is Casa Bonita!!!

    Reply
    • ElRey

      Going to Co Springs in July to raft and vacation then up to Denver to see the wife’s family. Being a SP fan since the late 90’s, I have to see this place. I probably won’t eat the food, or just get chicken strips, but I have to see it once to truly believe it exists in all it’s monstrous glory.

      BTW, if people from Denver or other northern places who have absolutely no idea what good Mexican food is like think the food is bad, and that the disgusting slop served at Taco Bell is actually better, then that’s truly an amazing accomplishment. How can they not at least make decent tacos and enchiladas? You almost have to try to F that up.

      Reply
  33. cp

    When I was 16 I worked for Casa Bonita – that was back in the 70’s (ouch!) – at that time it was quite “the place” to come with your family, friends etc. It was owned by Bill Waugh and the food was actually pretty darn good. I have the greatest memories of working there and all that I learned about hard work, so it is hard for me to say anything bad. Working there was a place of great pride for many who were lucky enough to get hired. There were plenty of incentives as well if you did a good job. I did many different jobs in my two years there including cashier, seating, order taking, working on the line and even working the night shift to roll fresh enchiladas. What I take away from there is the work ethic I have to this day because of the mentors that taught me at Casa Bonita. Now that being said, I think after Bill Waugh sold the chain it went downhill, but it once was a great place to work and eat with a family.

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  34. LeAnn McDonald

    I’m really sorry that you didn’t get to go to the Tulsa, Ok Casa Bonita. I went when I was younger and I remember the food was awesome!!! I loved it there and there was so much to do!! When I was much, much, older I remember alot of our friends saving up to go there at the same time for birthday parties.. It was a blast and the food was good.

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  35. Nathan

    My fiancé and I went to Casa Bonita tonight. We dressed like pirates and took our save the date photos there. It was awesome! She had never been there before, or her friend who took the pics! Of course we entered with the mindset that our stomachs were going to be hurting on the way out, but it was perfect! The ideal setting for some weird pictures and no one seemed to care that we took over the front of the dinning room. In fact there were very few people there for a Saturday evening…I’m glad we could support this amazing institution, after all we all bought dinner on the way in.

    Reply

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