Monday, October 03, 2005

Tulsa's Casa Bonita Closes

I've got some bad news for Oklahomans, and I'm not just talking about what's going to happen to OU in Dallas this weekend.

After more than 30 years of operation, the Tulsa location of Casa Bonita - a fun family restaurant serving all-you-can-eat Mexican food that made Pancho's Mexican Buffet look positively haute by comparison - closed its doors this past Friday. Like the rest of us, Tulsans will now have to drive to the Denver location to get their Casa Bonita fix.

Back in the spring of 1997, I decided to make a pilgrimage to Tulsa to eat at Casa Bonita for the special Hey! Hey! Buffet! vacation issue. None of my friends would go with me, so I wound up driving all the way to Tulsa and back by myself just to say I ate at this restaurant.

When I got to Casa Bonita after driving for nine hours (following a brief stopover to admire the Jetsons-style architecture at Oral Roberts University), the serving line stretched almost to the door. Because I was there by myself, all of the families looked at me like I was a child groper.

Though a friend familiar with the more-elaborate Denver location of Casa Bonita warned me against taking this trip, I was amazed just how horrible the food really was. The cheese enchiladas literally set off my gag reflex.

Casa Bonita's faux Mexican village atmosphere, strolling mariachis, merry-go-round and videogames were clearly the primary draw. I hear the Denver Casa Bonita (seen below in its South Park rendition) even has cliff divers who perform stunt dives off the waterfalls.

My waiter was either gay or felt really sorry for me (or both) because he paid extra special attention to my dining needs, making sure my drink glass stayed full and asking several times if I wanted more food. Alas, there was nothing I wanted seconds of.

Pegging me for a non-resident, the kindly young waiter asked where I was from. I told him I was from Austin and he asked what I was doing in Tulsa.

I simply did not have the balls to tell him I'd driven all the way there to eat at Casa Bonita, so I said, "I'm just passin' through."

The waiter was clearly and rightfully taken aback, figuring I was a serial killer or worse. It was time to throw down a tip and scram.

After calling my Buffet! co-conspirator Buzz Moran from a nearby pay phone to brag about doing what I set out to do, I went back to a cheap motel room on the outskirts of town and had a Trainspotting-style gastrointestinal collapse that was much less romantic in reality than it sounds here.

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