Have you ever been to Casa Bonita restaurant in Lakewood, Colorado? (Judy's Book has it listed in Denver, the web site says Lakewood.) If you’re a fan of South Park (the TV show), you might think it would be an entertaining idea just to check it out. My advice? *Don’t.*
Casa Bonita is the “Disneyland” of restaurants. It comes complete with the cave-like walls and meandering pathways that give one the distinct feeling they’re traveling through an amusement park line to board a fun ride. There’s even that same Log Jam ride mist pumped into the air! (Or maybe it just originates from the waterfall and the big pool where the divers dive.)
There is an arcade http://www.casabonitadenver.com/close_up_arcade.htm tucked inside the cavernous building, along with various other things that would lure kids to tug at their parents' sleeves to go to Casa Bonita (similar to Cartman on South Park). A cotton candy stand, an area where an artist draws those dorky little caricatures of people who later don’t know why in the world they paid for that, an odd little puppet show box http://www.casabonitadenver.com/close_up_puppetshow.htm with dusty puppets that no one is animating, etc. The “shows” are aimed at kids, as well. Check out a picture from the “Chiquita the Angry Gorilla” skit http://www.casabonitadenver.com/close_up_gorilla.htm and you'll get the idea.
While a little loud, it is not an unpleasant atmosphere. Most of the restaurant is open and airy. The building is large and they did a good job making it interesting, albeit geared mostly toward a child’s tastes. There *is* something unpleasant at Casa Bonita, however. It is the food.
We’ve all had dining experiences where something wasn’t quite palatable or exactly to our liking, etc. This wasn’t like that. At this restaurant, both my fiancé and I were actually scared that we would get sick if we ate our meals. The food looked bad, and certainly nothing even remotely close to “great Mexican food”, which is the claim they make--in writing! http://www.casabonitadenver.com/index.htm (Where they also claim to be the "tastiest place to eat in Denver!") It was already evident that, could we be fortunate enough to find our server, returning the inedible dishes would be an exercise in futility. They would only be replaced with another identically inedible dish. Evidence to prove that theory sat before us: my fiancé’s plate. Even though we had ordered different meals, his plate was an exact twin to mine. Double the displeasure.
I don’t know *what* the two separate and toxic looking spills of cheese-colored thin liquid were that had been ladled out over the whatever-that-was underneath, but it was actually too scary looking to chance eating. This was Bart Simpson, pull-a-three-eyed-fish-out-of-the-pond type of "scary" that I'm talking about here. The rice wasn’t Mexican rice, either, more like something along the lines of rice pilaf. Only not. We figured we would be safe enough eating the small, miserly little scoop that had been rationed out onto our plates. Because the scoop of rice was so tiny, it was able to stand clear of that freakish liquid stuff and whatever perils lay beneath it. Even the chips and salsa were actually BAD! And weird! I’ve never really found that to be true anywhere! (Kind of like a cookie—hard to find one I don’t like.) Whatever the chips were made of, I’ve never tasted before in my life. (Soylent Green??) The salsa was bizarre and I had never experienced anything like *it* before, either. Its viscosity was indescribably strange and surely resembled nothing in the known world of salsas. A packet of Taco Bell hot sauce retrieved from 1972 would have shot leaps and bounds (literally) beyond whatever was slumped into that “salsa” dish.
The beauty part is that their dinners are "all you can eat"! "Inedible" backed by "all you can eat"... hmm. I would imagine they haven't had any takers on that offer.
Yes, it was a night of all new experiences, but completely lacking in any that would fall into the “wondrous” category. The words “exceedingly cheep” (and, again, “bad”) come to mind. (“Bad” might be an adequate descriptive for the surrounding neighborhood, as well.) If you want to entertain your kids and an arcade serving up cardboard pizzas just won’t fly with them; if you find yourself pressed into going, then perhaps just order some Soylent Green (they call that "chips”) and a soda (get a straw) in the turnstile and skip that standard issue "meal".
“Turnstile” you say? Yes, turnstile. I guess I was so consumed with the fact that we *couldn’t* consume our meals that I left that bit of information about the turnstile for last. You place your order in a turnstile and then you go get a tray and stand in line to collect your food, cafeteria-style, and then you are shown to your table. Then, judging by what we repeatedly heard around us by the completely inconceivable notion of “regulars”, you try to coerce the employee who seated you to please take you out of the back of the cave and situate you at one of the numerous tables with a view of the water so you can watch the “cliff divers”.
Strangely, in a perusal through the restaurant after our “meal” we found that the prime, non-cave seating areas seemed to have an equal number of empty tables as they did occupied. Interesting. Did people need to tip the seating staff not to be tucked into a cave? Do people tip seating staff at Disneyland? I would have gladly slipped him two free dinners and some 14-day-old-decaf, had I known. Just as well that we were tucked completely into the very back of a cave, I suppose. It saved us from having anyone else witness our sheer mortification--and borderline terror—at what we’d gotten ourselves into.
I've come to the simple conclusion that a good rule of thumb for an enjoyable adult dining experience might be this: If you find yourself entering a restaurant and are faced with a turnstile in which you must place your order, simply turn around and exit the building. *Just exit the building, people.*