How little has the Village Shopping Center on South University mattered to the retail landscape of this city in recent years? Well, one indicator might be that the most recent photo I could locate here in the Times files still shows the Cinema 150 building standing. But there was a time when this shopping center was the place to be, and one reason for that was a place called Casa Bonita.
As a small hillbilly child living in the Ouachitas, it was like coming to another world the first time I ever ate at Casa Bonita. We were on a school trip to see a production of “The Barber of Seville,” and I guess Mexican food was close enough of a tie-in for my beleaguered Spanish teacher. In retrospect, the food probably wasn’t all that great, but the idea of raising a little flag and having people just bring you more seemed to me to be the sort of system that more places should look into.
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The place closed in the early 90s after being sold to a British conglomerate, then reopened under original founder Bill Waugh as Casa Viva. That lasted a few more years, but finally shut down. As the corner of Asher and University fell further into disrepair, and people began taking their business elsewhere, the empty storefronts sat empty.
Well, a recent filing for plumbing and alcohol permits tipped me off that Playa Azul, which operates a restaurant in Conway will be opening “Playa Azul 2” in the Village Shopping Center. It doesn’t look like this new Mexican restaurant will be going into the Casa Bonita space, but rather down the way near the shopping center’s
Dollar General Family Dollar. Still, if the place is good, that will give the Village Shopping center two restaurants I love (the other being Mr. Chen’s). And while it’s almost certain that there will be no flags on the table to get extra sopapillas, it’s still nice to see one of our older sections of town get a little bit of new life. I worked in Southwest for the better part of a decade, and I have a real soft spot for the place.
Anybody eaten at the Playa Azul in Conway? I’d love to hear about it.