The outside is a like a Hispanic cathedral
When you live outside of the major cities of the United States, it’s hard to conjure up touristic sites. The cities have it all: the Statue of Liberty, the Sears Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge. There certainly have been attempts at the awe-power that these sites can contribute to, like the World’s Largest Gopher and the World’s Largest Ball of Twine, both in Kansas.
If there’s one place I’ve been lived though that brings out the real amazing elements of eccentricity altogether in one square border, it’s most definitely Colorado. From the Swetsville Zoo of random junk, to a Valley of Lesbians in Guthrie, to a castle made of beer bottles, and finally, to my all-time favorite in Those United States, Casa Bonita.
If anything can be called a Denver establishment, it’s Casa Bonita.
A Mexican village
It’s an indoor restaurant modeled after the kitchiest Mexican village a person could ever imagine. Take every stereotype of Mexico in the books--from walking mariachi bands, to caves haunted by Aztec spirits, fire jugglers, even to white drunk party kids in spring break zones diving off of cliffs—they’ve got it all. Pair this with a night of legalized marijuana use—which might not last long, given the current Trump climate—and you’ve got a real super adventure lined up.
walking through the village
Casa Bonita was founded in Oklahoma City. I remember in childhood going to the branch out in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which has long been shut down and serves as a kind of freakish ghost town, prime for urban spelunking. The franchise suffered a monumental decline in the early 2000s though, perhaps because of the kitsch, perhaps because of the poor quality of food, but for whatever reason, one last pink bell tower remained in the world, and that stayed standing in Lakewood, Colorado, a suburb just outside of Denver.
one of the fancier spots in the house
Naturally, when we went to the States, I had to bring my wife to this historic cultural monument. During the gastro-intestinal warfare that you'll suffer after eating there, you can always shout out your own war cry, "Remember the Bonita!"
Not for the food
Nobody goes to Casa Bonita for the all-you-can-eat food. The food appears and tastes about the same going in as it does going out. You start out by going through a buffet line, ordering similar quality tacos or burritos or a few other options.
the best seat in the house
Then your party is shown a table. The restaurant is multi-leveled and sprawled out in various directions and themes. In one room, you’re on a veranda in a Mexican village, surrounded by pueblos and palm trees. Another room is a fancy dining hall with the entrance down into a dark gold mine. Another room you’re in that dark gold mine. And so on.
Most importantly, you want to be in view of the three-story waterfall, so you have direct line of site to the cliff divers that routinely do their show throughout the evening.
the entrance to the gold mine
In the freakish off-chance that you want more food, you just raise up the Mexican flag at the table and the waiter comes around. Then when dinner is done, you finally get served the only thing that matters here, the sopapillas, which are just sugary enough to sweeten up your pallet and cover up that legume abomination that you just ate.
Margaritas are definitely a thing there. So keep that filled up too. Alcohol is the real key to survival, as it serves as a disinfectant.
this guy couldn't make it past the wall
The Colorado location, which is in the Denver suburb of Lakewood, was built in 1968, and has recently undergone extensive renovations. You can get there by the Number 6 bus to Colfax & Newland, or the W-line light rail to Lamar Station.