Ranked: Best things at Casa Bonita, from cliff divers to mariachi

This story is one in a series featuring trips down memory lane with longtime Casa Bonita fans and former employees who shared their fondest tales with The Denver Post. The restaurant and entertainment venue in Lakewood is expected to reopen in May.

“South Park” character Kyle Broflovski once described Casa Bonita as “the Disneyland of Mexican restaurants.” And after spending months talking to longtime fans and former employees, it’s clear that the pink palace truly is the most magical place in Colorado.

That ethos is due in no small part to the live entertainment and experiential amenities onsite, which also resemble Disneyland on a small scale, shrunk down to fit perfectly in a strip mall near Denver’s urban core. The restaurant now also has celebrity owners, “South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, giving it a dose of Hollywood sheen.

In anticipation of Casa Bonita’s reopening sometime this month (official date is TBA), we recently polled The Denver Post’s readers about their favorite attractions to cull the ultimate ranking of the best things to see and do during a visit.

Here’s what fans are most looking forward to when Casa Bonita reopens.

#1 Cliff Divers

Few restaurants in the world can boast a 30-foot indoor waterfall from which skilled divers flip and twist off faux cliffs built to resemble Acapulco, Mexico. So it’s no surprise that readers voted the Casa Bonita cliff divers as the best attraction.

The divers performed frequently during meal service, performing tricks and juggling fire as they descended from the top of the waterfall into a pool below. They also acted in skits designed to immerse diners in the evening’s entertainment.

Stunt diver Darren Taylor, a Casa Bonita alum and Guinness World Record-holding belly flopper, likened his old stomping grounds to dinner theaters where professional actors get their start. He’s one of a slew of professional divers who somersaulted through those hallowed halls. Some, like Lakewood native Mike Dvorak, even got their start at Casa Bonita before deciding on a career in diving.

#2 Sopapillas

Locals may endlessly debate the quality of Casa Bonita’s food, but one thing they can all agree on is how delicious the sopapillas were. Not only that but ordering them was part of the fun.

Each table at Casa Bonita came equipped with a little red flag that signaled “more sopapillas, please” when raised. And with that simple motion, a basket of piping hot pastries covered in sugar and drizzled with honey arrived tableside.

Stone and Parker hired James Beard-nominated chef Dana “Loca” Rodriguez to helm the kitchen and in January, she promised sopapillas would return to the menu.

“I think if we don’t do sopapillas anymore, people will never come back,” Rodriguez told The Denver Post.

#3 Black Bart’s Cave

If there’s one thing most people remember about visiting Casa Bonita as a kid, it’s the terrifying thrill of exploring Black Bart’s Cave, a dimly lit passage designed to mimic a pirate’s cave.

Adding to the spookiness, locals recalled hiding in dark corners and grabbing the ankles of passersby – or having their ankles grabbed. Enter if you dare indeed.

Here’s are the rest of the Casa Bonita attractions ranked:

#4 – Live mariachi music
#5 – The gorilla
#6 – The gunfight shows
#7 – The food
#8 – Caricature drawings
#9 – The arcade
#10 – Old West photo booth
#11 – The fountain
#12 – Magic and puppet shows
#13 – The restaurant’s holiday decorations
#14 – Standing in line to get in
#15 – The gift shop

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