As I stood next to the wishing well, the smell of sopaipillas and chlorine filling my nostrils, the sound of the waterfall combined with the intermittent splash of lithe, athletic divers behind me muffling whatever our tour guide was telling us at the particular moment, I glanced to my right and saw him.

A disheveled looking dude with a receding hairline wearing a nondescript t-shirt/pants combo ambled right toward the throngs of media and no one noticed. I did.

Dude, that’s Trey Parker.

He’s right there hiding in plain sight, and no one even caught it. I tried to tell whoever was next to me – either Peyton Garcia from the Hey Denver newsletter of City Cast Denver or Christine Gallagher from the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, which is four hours away – and before they could even get a good look at him, he was gone.

Not that I can prove it, because, as you’ll see below, we had a very strict set of rules we had to follow. He had a look of bemused satisfaction as the press scrambled to take their best shots of cliff divers, sopaipillas, and… that’s about it. The rules we had to follow in order to even get in here were among the most intense I’ve ever experienced. Our invitation was filled with very threatening language about mentioning this opportunity before the embargo was lifted, and upon entry, some friendly staffers dutifully checked everyone in and handed us all a page with even more rules.

No cameras may be used inside at any time except in designated areas and at designated times.

Audio recording is allowed for story background and color only – no audio can be replayed in any form, nor should quotes be pulled or attributed to tour guides.

That last one was a killer for me as I recorded the whole thing on my Zoom recorder, and our tour guide was none other than Head Chef Dana Rodriguez herself, who was both insightful in what she shared, and funny as hell.

This is the Casa Bonita of 2023. Everyone associated with this place has said multiple times they “want to change nothing, but improve everything.” But given the amount of hype, the carefully manicured experience – I overheard one camera guy quip, “Remember when Biden was here recently? There weren’t nearly this many rules” – it can’t help but feel much different than the charming dirtbag version I remember from my youth.

Here’s what I learned during my sneak preview of the brand new Casa Bonita.


The first thing you want to know is when it will officially open.

According to the press release we were handed, “It’s. Almost. Time.” First guests will be selected exclusively from Casa Bonita’s email list, so if you’re not on there and you want in, hie thee to the website and sign up. Although they don’t say when, the soft open period will allow no walk-ins and all guests will be selected from their email list.

What will it cost?

Full ticketing and pricing information coming soon, according to that same press release.

What I can tell you is that the old way of showing up at Casa Bonita has evolved. No longer is it a snake line where you order right away and then stand in another line on your way to that weird hole where the food came out of the back. It’s now designed to look like the streets of Oaxaca.

That’s been replaced with a series of ticket windows where you pay for entry and food at the same time. I was unclear on how this will work, but apparently everyone who goes in pays for food and entertainment. Similar to the old Casa Bonita, you cannot go just for the show, but the difference it seems is that you no longer have to order off that giant menu behind a cashier. You just pay for a ticket, you get dinner, and you get admission.

On our tour, we passed by the old system where trays slid along a path that faced a giant wall. That’s now been replaced by a series of big chafing dishes behind plexiglass that will display the various menu items because, as is a known best practice in the culinary industry, you eat with your eyes first.

From there it was into the new state-of-the-art kitchen. Apparently the previous iteration of Casa Bonita had no ovens leaving one to speculate how the food was prepared and the answers to that leaving one unsatisfied. Fear not, as during our tour we saw a woman making fresh tortillas right in front of us, a staff of kitchen workers slicing fresh tomatillos and jalapenos, cutting up cauliflower, and one man working the biggest custom built dishwasher I’ve ever seen.

If you’d like to check out the menu, we’ve got that right here. There will always be vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free options, which is a signature of Dana Rodriguez.

As we made our way into the dining room, the smell of chlorine hit me like a big wave of nostalgia since I basically lived in the pool as a kid. I spent every day of the summer in the water, was captain of my high school swim team, and associate chlorine with some of my happiest memories. In the case of Casa Bonita, that smell is indelible and one of the top reasons Casa Bonita is among the most unique dining experiences not only in Denver, but virtually anywhere in the country.

A crew of young, lean, fit divers showed off for the gathered press. A handstand into a backflip? Sure. A man holding a woman by her outstretched arms high above his head and then the two of them swan diving into the water below? Why not? A big, beautiful, smooth-as-silk inward dive? You bet. The press team knew which side its bread was buttered on, and rightly put the focus on the thing people had the most nostalgia for.

Well, that and the sopaipillas.

And rest assured, the sopaipillas are still as delicious as you remember. So light they almost dissolve in your mouth with a dusting of cinnamon and sugar and a few drizzles of honey. This is the one food-related item from Casa Bonita that no one ever bitched about, and rightly so. The fact that the new team in charge of Casa Bonita didn’t fix what ain’t broke is a credit to them.

The staff dutifully answered as many questions as they could, but we were reminded repeatedly that this was a sneak preview, nothing more. Fair enough. So whatever you’re wondering about in terms of the arcade, the puppet show and other entertainment offerings, and particularly Black Bart’s Cave (I personally wanted to revisit that one because I had one of my very first romantic encounters in there at the tender age of 14 – it’s a cute story, so don’t be weird, ya pervs), I can’t help you because they didn’t show us any of that.


I know the chances of me actually getting any time with either Trey Parker or Matt Stone was near infinitesimal, but because I’m me I prepared some questions anyway. Here are three I would have liked to ask either of them.

– What was harder: Renovating Casa Bonita, getting up to code, and ultimately ready for reintroduction to the public, or making a 98 minute movie featuring nothing but marionettes?

– Given the famously high stress way you make South Park, did you find the process of this Casa Bonita re-invention creatively fulfilling or creatively draining by comparison?

– How many games will the Nuggets need in the Finals to win the NBA Championship?

OK, so that last one isn’t super relevant but we’re talking about the re-opening of an iconic Denver-area restaurant which is occurring simultaneously with the greatest run this Nuggets team has ever had since it moved from the ABA. That’s nothing but a coincidence, but c’mon! This guy is excited by both things.

As for you, dear reader, you’re likely reading this because you’re at least mildly curious about what Casa Bonita will look and feel like after so many years of disrepair and dereliction. Based on my brief time there, give yourself to the freedom to get excited. They seem to have flushed the toxins from the system while retaining and emboldening the things you loved most.

It’s a Happy Friday indeed, Denver. Casa Bonita is that much closer to re-opening. Get on that list if you want your own sneak preview. But we at Mile High Life are proud that we can bring this one to you.

– Jon Ekstrom, Happy Friday Podcast, Mile High Life Producer