Casa Bonita unveils its new menu and offers a glimpse inside

Like many people, Dana Rodriguez steered clear of Tex-Mex platters when she used to go to Casa Bonita, instead feeding on margaritas and sopapillas.

“The food was really secondary,” she said of her visits to famed restaurant and entertainment venue Lakewood. “We ate before or after.”

But after new ‘South Park’ owners and creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker hire Rodriguez, a four-time Denver-appointed chef by James Beard, to revamp the menu and run the kitchen, she’s ready to change the notorious reputation. of Casa Bonita for its inedible cuisine. . To do so, she jettisoned canned inventory, deep-cleaned and remodeled the kitchen, and crafted dishes that are truly worth the price of admission. “The Department of Health loves us now,” she said.

Matt Stone of Casa Bonita, Executive Chef Dana Rodriguez and Trey Parker (Photo by Paul H. Trantow for Casa Bonita)

Ahead of Casa Bonita’s highly-anticipated reopening — there’s still no official date despite promising one day in May — The Denver Post got a sneak peek at Lakewood Restaurant at 6715 W. Colfax Ave. after its year-long renovation, as well as a taste of Rodriguez’s new streamlined menu. Casa Bonita has announced that it will open with limited dinner hours – no appointments – and the restaurant will remove its first guests from its mailing list, available for online registration. Full ticketing and pricing information will be released “soon”.

But above all. The cafeteria-style trays of yesteryear before Casa Bonita closed in March 2020 are here to stay. Instead of picking up food that has been sitting on a warming table for God knows how long, however, guests can view the freshly prepared food in a “Chipotle-style” counter layout and receive their tray at the end before a host brings them. at their table.

And don’t worry. Free sopapillas – dusted with sugar and drizzled with warm honey – are back, as are little red flags on each table that guests can raise to summon more. In fact, Rodriguez made sure to test the recipe on a prep cook, who has worked at Casa Bonita for 29 years, to ensure the sopapillas were up to traditional standards.

“Our motto,” she added, “is ‘How can we change nothing and make everything better?'”

The food

When you first enter the gates of the Pepto Bismol-themed bell tower, you’re directed to the ticket office, which is decorated like a classic Oaxacan plaza with papel picado (colorful Mexican banners) hanging from the ceiling and paintings murals. There, you place your food order and pay before heading to the cafeteria-style line, just like in the good old days. You can also look through a window in the kitchen to see the homemade tortillas being made.

Rodriguez simplified the menu to eight Mexican entrees. And the kitchen prepares all the ingredients in-house, like big batches of green chiles and homemade corn tortillas. All tortillas are gluten free and chili sauces are vegetarian.

The Chihuahua, Mexico native removed American additions from the main menu, like country fried steak, and focused on what she does best. But the kids can still get a hot dog or a burger.

“I have a bit of everything without it being like the Bible it was before,” she said.

The enchiladas are back. Not in the typical Beef Deluxe Dinner way, but instead with homemade tortillas, green or red chili sauce, asadero cheese, and Mexican cream. Another vegetarian option is the calabacitas dish with roasted corn, squash and cauliflower topped with queso fresco and roasted poblanos for an extra kick. If you’re craving fish, order the sautéed shrimp in adobo sauce or substitute the adobo chicken marinated in chipotle sauce.

Those who have been to one of Rodriguez’s restaurants (Super Mega Bien, Work & Class or Cantina Loca) will recognize his love for meat simmered in tender carnitas smothered in green chili sauce and served with steamed hot tortillas. Customers can also fill their plates with a traditional picadillo made with exceptionally seasoned ground beef, green chili and potato stew. Picadillo can also be added to taco salad, which is served in a crispy tortilla shell. Or try the chicken mole negro with a perfect touch of spice.

Each option comes with Mexican rice and beans, coleslaw, and soda. Pricing has not yet been released.

“It’s kind of like the old menu, but it’s a new era of doing things in a better, more sustainable way with good quality and consistency,” Rodriguez said.

In addition to the sopapillas, there will be a rolling dessert cart with classic vanilla flan, Carlota de Limón cake (a Mexican lime-glazed cake), chocolate and yolk cakes, strawberry and latte cake. cream and an ice cream sandwich in honor of Cleo, Matt Stone’s daughter, because it’s her favorite. It’s even branded with a Cleo’s Cookies sticker on the packaging.

Casa Bonita, the Lakewood restaurant, bought by the creators of "South Park" in 2021, and remodeled for reopening was pictured in Lakewood on Thursday, May 25, 2023. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)
Casa Bonita, the Lakewood restaurant, bought by the creators of “South Park” in 2021, and renovated for its reopening was photographed in Lakewood on Thursday, May 25, 2023. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

The drinks

As for drinks, bartenders serve up healthy pours of classic margaritas, Palomas, old-fashioned, cosmos, and Manhattan (Matt Stone’s favorite). Rodriguez’s own brand of mezcal and tequila, Doña Loca, named after an affectionate nickname for the local industry chef, will also be featured in the restaurant’s signature cocktails.

“Trey (Parker) loves them all,” Rodriguez said.

There will also be craft beer from local breweries, including WestFax Brewing, which is located in the same mall as Casa Bonita.

Casa Bonita has hired 500 employees, including 150 in the kitchen, to run the 56,000 square foot restaurant, which has a capacity of 2,100 people. Rodriguez said 22 of the employees worked at the restaurant before it closed three years ago.

She said she brought kitchen staff to her restaurants to see how they worked and cooked and trained them extensively. She designed the kitchen to be more efficient with three large pots for batch cooking, more fridge and freezer storage, dedicated areas for each step of the cooking process and a custom dishwasher to keep up with. all trays.

“It takes time to train them when they’ve been used to opening boxes for 29 years,” Rodriguez joked.

The global space

As for the space, longtime fans won’t be disappointed. Although the interior has been revived with a new coat of paint, a deep cleaning and new technologies, like sound systems playing jungle and animal noises throughout, not much has changed. There are a few more traditional Mexican touches, however, like the Mexico City street signs hanging above the curved walkways, mosaic art pieces, and tiled tables.

“It takes a lot to do it all over again in a place like this,” Rodriguez said.

The two levels of seating, including the underground cave and a jungle-themed spot overlooking divers and waterfalls, are still there, as is the bridge behind the waterfall – and the smell of chlorine, though it isn’t as strong as it used to be.

Casa Bonita did not give journalists access to other parts of the room, such as Black Bart’s cave or the arcade.

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