Atlas Obscura is organizing trips! Join us on an adventure »
Today Only: 50% off Atlas Obscura books and calendars at Barnes & Noble »

Lakewood, Colorado

Casa Bonita

At this Denver landmark, the meals are compulsory, the sopapillas are complimentary, and the insanity is everywhere. 

Do you want to have dinner in a 52,000-square-foot Colorado strip mall replica Mexican village having a “fiesta” amidst gun fights and gorilla hijinx and hey let’s catch a puppet show and have some caricatures drawn while we’re at it? Then you should check out, Casa Bonita.

The gleaming pink tower of Casa Bonita leaps 85 feet into the air, dwarfing the surrounding nondescript suburban Denver commercial properties. The gold-leafed dome on top of the tower terminates in a statue of the last Aztec emperor and the restaurant below can seat 1,000 people at a time and features a holographic monster at the bottom of a wishing well and yes I know this is a lot of incongruous information to process all at once but just relax and enjoy the ride, because you’re at Casa Bonita.

First thing you do once you’re inside is you order your meal, then pick it up on a plastic tray cafeteria-style, then head to your table in one of several themed sections (“The Terrace,” “The Vista,” “The Palace,” and so on) and savor your meal while you take in some table magic, or fire juggling, or relentless mariachi music. Welcome to life in “The Most Exciting Restaurant in the World.”

Don’t get too full, though, as every meal comes with all the delicious, pillowy, housemade sopapillas you care to eat. Want seconds or thirds or however-manys while you watch cliff divers somersault from the top of a 30-foot indoor waterfall? Just raise the little flag on your table. And everybody at your table over the age of two will be entitled to those sopapillas, because everybody over the age of two is required to purchase a meal. Hey, you can’t enter El Dorado for free, “amigos.” Buy the ticket, take the ride (the “ticket” here is, by all accounts, a totally serviceable dinner).

After you’re done eating, explore Black Bart’s Haunted Cave — IF YOU DARE! — take some old-timey cowboy photos, and get your skee ball on. Watch some more cliff diving. Help the Sheriff bust Black Bart himself for pinching sopapillas. Hey, did you know that The Fray held the launch party for their second album at Casa Bonita? You remember The Fray, right? Well, they did.

In other words, that South Park episode where Cartman is obsessed with Casa Bonita seemed like outlandish parody, but was in fact sober documentary. Casa Bonita is absurd and crazy and wonderful. South Park Studios is located in a building that they named after Casa Bonita. Everytime that episode re-airs, Casa Bonita enjoys at 10% bump in sales.

Amazingly enough, Casa Bonita was built in 1974 as part of a CHAIN OF CASA BONITAS that started in Oklahoma City. The Lakewood location was the last and most lavish built, and thus is the last one standing. The entertainment restaurant was designated a historical landmark by the Lakewood Historical Society in 2015. Kids love Casa Bonita — which should go without saying, since kids are delightful lunatics.