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Taco salad (lettuce, placadillo, tomato, quesadillas fresco, crispy tortilla shell, chipotle droll) at Lakewood restaurant Casa Bonita, which was purchased by the “South Park” creators and renovated to reopen in 2021, on Thursday, May 25, 2023, in Lakewood, Colorado. (Photo by Hyung Chang/The Denver Post)

Like many people, Dana Rodriguez stays away from Tex-Mex plates when she goes to Casa Bonita, filling up on margaritas and sopapillas instead.

“The food was really second to none,” she says of her visit to the popular Lakewood restaurant and entertainment venue. “We ate before and after.”

But after new owners and “South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker hired Rodriguez, a four-time James Beard-nominated Denver chef, to revamp the menu and run the kitchen, Casa Bonita is poised to transform Casa Bonita’s reputation for both food and dining. . To do this, she jettisoned canned food inventory, deep-cleaned and remodeled the kitchen, and designed entree-priced dishes. “The health department likes us now,” she said.

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

Ahead of Casa Bonita’s much-anticipated reopening — with a May date promised, but no official date yet — The Denver Post got a sneak peek at the Lakewood restaurant at 6715 W. Colfax Street after a year-long renovation. Rodriguez’s fresh and simple menu as a taste. Casa Bonita announced that it will be open during limited dinner hours — no walk-ins — and the restaurant will draw its first guests from an email list available to sign up online. Full ticket and pricing information will be released “soon.”

But first things first. The cafeteria-style trays from before Casa Bonita closed in March 2020 are here to stay. God knows how much time it takes to warm up food on the table instead of picking it up, but guests see the food hot on a “Chipotle-style” table setting and hand their trays at the end before a waiter brings them. to their table.

And don’t worry. The complimentary sopapillas – sprinkled with sugar and drizzled with warm honey – are back, the red flags on each table that guests can raise to call for more. In fact, Rodríguez made sure to test the recipe on the preparation cook who worked for 29 years at Casa Bonita to make sure the sopapillas meet traditional standards.

“Our motto is ‘How can we change anything and improve everything?'” she added. That’s what it says.

The food

When you first enter the Pepto Bismol-colored bellhouse doors, you’ll be directed to the ticket office, which is decorated like a classic Oaxacan plaza with papel picados (colorful Mexican banners) hanging from the ceiling and walls. There, you order and pay for your food before heading to a cafe-style line just like the old days. You can also look through the window into the kitchen to watch the homemade tortillas being made.

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

The Chihuahua, Mexico, native added American additions to the main menu, like country-grilled steak, and focused on the best. But kids can still get a hot dog or a burger.

“I have a little bit of everything, not the Bible that I used to have,” she said.

The enchiladas are back. Not in the usual beef deluxe dinner fashion, but rather homemade tortillas, green or red chile sauce, asadero cheese and creme mexicana. Another vegetarian option is the Calabasitas dish with roasted corn, squash and cauliflower with queso fresco and roasted poblanos for extra kick. If you’re in the mood for fish, order the sashimi shrimp in adobo sauce or swap it for the fried adobo chicken in chipotle sauce.

Those who have been to one of Rodriguez’s restaurants (Super Mega Bien, Work and Class, or Cantina Loca) will recognize her love for slow-cooked meat topped with green chile sauce. Guests can fill their plates with a traditional picadillo made with a special ground beef, green chili and potato stew. Picadillo can be added to the taco salad, which is served in a thin tortilla shell. Or try the chicken mole negro with a perfectly spicy sauce.

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

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

In addition to sopapillas, there will be a rolling dessert cart with classic vanilla flan, carlotta de limon cake (Mexican lime icebox cake), chocolate and yellow cake pops, strawberry and cream cake, and ice cream sandwiches. In honor of Cleo, Matt Stone’s daughter, because it is her favorite. It is also indicated by the Clio Cookies sticker on the packaging.

Lakewood restaurant Casa Bonita, which was purchased by the creators of “South Park” and renovated to reopen in 2021, is pictured Thursday, May 25, 2023, in Lakewood. (Photo by Hyung Chang/The Denver Post)

The drinks

As for the drinks, the bartenders are serving healthy margaritas, Palomas, Old Fashioneds, Cosmos, and Manhattans (Matt Stone’s favorite). Rodriguez’s own brand of mezcal and tequila, Dona Loca, is affectionately named after a chef in the local industry and appears in the restaurant’s signature cocktails.

“Tri [Parker] They love them all,” Rodriguez said.

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

Casa Bonita employs 500 workers, 150 in the kitchen, to operate the 56,000-square-foot restaurant, which seats 2,100 people. Rodriguez said 22 of his employees worked at the restaurant before it closed three years ago.

She said she is providing extensive training by bringing the kitchen staff into her restaurants to see how they work and how they eat. To make the kitchen more efficient, she installed three large pots for group cooking, additional walk-in refrigerator and freezer storage, dedicated areas for each cooking process, and a custom dishwasher to keep track of all the trays.

“When you’ve been practicing opening a can for 29 years, it takes time to train them,” Rodriguez said.

General area

As for the location, longtime fans won’t be disappointed. Although the interior has been refreshed with new paint, a thorough cleaning and new technology, such as playing with forest and animal noises, not much has changed. There are a few more traditional Mexican touches, though, like Mexico City street signs hanging above the winding ramps, mosaic art pieces and padded tables.

“It takes a lot to redo everything in a place like this,” Rodriguez said.

The two seating levels, a subterranean cave setting and a jungle-themed area overlooking cave divers and waterfalls, are still there, as is the bridge behind the falls — and the smell of chlorine, though not as strong as before.

Casa Bonita did not allow reporters access to other parts of the site, such as the Black Bart cave or the playground.



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