Cartman Casa Bonita

Photo courtesy of South Park Studios Cartman enjoys the Mariachi band at a cartoonized Casa Bonita restaurant in a titular 2003 episode of the Comedy Central hit “South Park.”

This is my most favorite news in the world, not that it had a lot of competition in our grim moment.

Casa Bonita has been saved — and not just saved but blessed with owners who appreciate what it is, “South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who, as you’re sure to know, unless you’re a ManBearPig, have made the Mexican eatery near my house, Casa Bonita, an icon for a generation or two.

I didn’t need a TV show to fall in love with the place. I’ve always been attracted to roadside amuses, the freak show at the fair and for a long time before I turned 13, I had a signed poster from Big Mike, the Country Giant, the alleged largest man, printed in standard typewriter with a menu of what Big Mike ate for breakfast: a dozen eggs, two pounds of bacon, a loaf of white bread, toasted and so on.

Casa Bonita is all that and more. Last year, before the pandemic, the staff agreed we should do birthday lunches, since we don’t get to see each other face to face that often. “Casa Bonita,” I declared. “Every year.”

Why? Because it’s fun. Because it doesn’t matter. Because nobody ever called anybody an idiot with a mouth full of free sopapillas and honey. I love Mariachi anywhere, and I could talk all day about the difference between good cliff divers and those who should return to their job in the kitchen. All this in a festive atmosphere.

How far has the message traveled? To the heights of politics and media. Colorado Politics featured a Q&A with former White House press secretary-turned-Fox-News star Dana Perino back in March. She confessed she never had a birthday party on her behalf, which needs to change, but the sopapilla honey runs thick in her veins.

“I love Casa Bonita!” she replied in an email. “That ‘restaurant’ is the source of so many happy childhood memories.”

I did my homework. Six months earlier, Perino tweeted, “I will always love Casa Bonita. Endless sopapillas, divers, waterfalls. The best!!”

And the prices were never bad.

Was the food in the white-tablecloth universe of Bellota, Lola or Las Delicias? Heck, no. But a working family can throw their kid a rich-kid’s birthday party without cutting back on groceries that month. I’ve seen enough birthdays there to know that’s true. If I needed no other reason to treasure Casa Bonita, that’s a good one.

If anything, Casa Bonita has been too generous with its prices.

I’ve gone to hundreds of meals with hundreds of friends in dozens of eateries in my 20 years in Denver, and Casa Bonita is the one that always is memorable.

Gov. Jared Polis added politics con carne into the conversation on Aug. 13, when he joined two other rich Coloradans, Parker and Stone, to announce a deal and a bright future ahead for the home of Black Bart’s Cave.

That was appropriate. A governor’s job is to protect and promote our cultural treasures. Casa Bonita might not be The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, but Lakewood ain’t New York City.

The opening two seconds of the virtual announcement captured an innocent-yet-amused Polis. Oh, hamburgers, at that moment our governor was Butters Scotch.

The governor said “South Park,” after 24 years on cable TV, has shown the good, the bad and the ugly of Colorado. (That, too, has value.)

If Colorado had a mascot in the “South Park” universe, Stone said it would be Towelie, the terrycloth recurring character who always wants to get high, much like many of our Colorado brothers and sisters. Towelie showed up in season 5, in 2001.

Colorado has allowed pot for medicinal use since 2000, when voters gave it a green light.

An episode called “Medicinal Fried Chicken” in 2010 was a spot-on satire of what a farce those laws had become — the lengths people would go to to fake a qualifying need. I submit that helped the campaign to pass recreational pot two years later.

Parker had suggested Mr. Hankey, the Christmas poo, as a mascot.

“I think Towelie and Mr. Hanky would both be good mascots for our state,” Polis said, perhaps regretting that remark right away.

He doubled down, and asked them how to prevent a world of the ManBearPig warped evolution and looming global disaster caused mostly by menaces to the planet. I mean, they wrote a great Broadway show, but is this who he’s really taking advice from, the creators of ManBearPig?

“He hates carbon taxes,” said Stone of M.B.P. “It’s his garlic.”

Stone grew up in Littleton and Parker in Conifer. South Park County was the place over Kenosha Pass where weird stuff always seemed to happen when they were kids. They still have immediate family here and visit routinely. They're CU alumni and mentioned snowboarding regularly in Steamboat Springs.

Polis chimed in that the state income tax in Colorado is lower than rates in California and New York.

“I think it’s safe to say if we could live here, we probably would.” Parker said.

There is another reason to love Casa Bonita. The owners are people who love us, for all our weirdness, pettiness and, oddly enough, friendly folks without temptation.

If they support the mess we are, we should support them.

More sopapillas, please.

Colorado Politics senior political reporter

Joey Bunch is the senior correspondent and deputy managing editor of Colorado Politics. His 32-year career includes the last 16 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and he is a two-time finalist.

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