There are many reasons to love Casa Bonita, from its salmon-pink Spanish mission facade to its army-style assembly line approach to food. The "World's Most Exciting Restaurant" feeds a million hungry people a year. Annual statistics are telling: 52,000 pounds of chips, 5,500 gallons of Guacamole, 1.3 million Sopaipillas (and they're free).
Casa Bonita fills a former department store (like the similarly bonkers Mt. Atlanticus). Its ice machine is over two stories tall. If you want to get from the kitchen to the furthest dining tables, you have to walk a quarter-mile.
Beyond its size, what makes Casa Bonita so thumping, whopping impressive is its live entertainment: indoor cliff divers, Wild West shootouts, brawling pirates, a dancing gorilla. All can be viewed while you eat. Patrons who want to work off some of their endless-refill Deluxe Dinners can explore the restaurant's cave, or its gold mine, or a Treasure Room filled with candy, or they can stroll on cobblestones to a portrait studio where they can suit up in olde timey Mexican outfits. It's all indoors, and Casa Bonita has no windows.
Casa Bonita boasts that its warren of seemingly endless rooms was built "without a single blueprint." We were told that the average diner spends two hours in the restaurant (not counting the time spent waiting to get in) and it seemed to us as if those people were probably missing a lot.
The heart of Casa Bonita is its 30-foot-tall indoor waterfall, tumbling into a Gatorade-green lagoon. Surrounding it are fake rock cliffs on one side and a fake stucco Mexican village on the other. It's always night in Casa Bonita; diners sit under fake palm trees that are wrapped in Christmas lights, or on balconies overlooking the rooftops. High above is the Grand Vista, apex of Casa Bonita, perched on a fake mountain so tall that it has no fake vegetation. Halogen stars twinkle in the dark blue ceiling.
A performance or skit happens every 15 minutes, and the lagoon is where the cliff divers end up as well as the losers in the Wild West and pirate battles. A strolling mariachi band serenades patrons over the constant wooosh of the waterfall. Special weekend shows feature divers with flaming torches and a tribe of headhunters that chase the dancing gorilla.
What about the food? you ask. Assistant manager Peer Osby defended it from its critics, stressing its freshness and noting with pride that the Casa Bonita does not have a single microwave oven. "How bad can it be?" he asked. "People eat refill after refill." Still, he acknowledged that it's difficult for a restaurant with a skee-ball arcade and a glowing, buzzing skull to get its food taken seriously.
Let the foodies have their foie gras and wagyu beef. For every naysayer there are clearly thousands of people who love to dine at Casa Bonita. Cartman was willing to kill Butters for a chance to eat here. "We're the biggest restaurant in the Western Hemisphere," said Peer. "When a bus rolls up and the driver says, 'I've got a hundred people.' we say, 'Bring 'em on in.'"