We often run across unique restaurants. With El Paragua, in Española, we ran across not only a unique dining experience but a restaurant steeped in family, community, and northern New Mexico tradition. As a bonus, the menu offers a generous variety and excellent food. If you have never been to El Paragua, it may be time to check out this beloved establishment.
This family-owned restaurant has been around for more than 50 years.
El Paragua started out as a roadside enterprise along a busy intersection in Espanola. There, brothers, Pedro and Lorenzo Atencio, ran from car to car selling their mother's tacos and tamales. Pedro and Lorenzo were 10 and 12 years old at the time. The year was 1958.
The restaurant grew from a stand to a taco wagon, then to a sit-down restaurant.
The street stand took off. Seeing that the venture was growing, father, Luis, outfitted a small trailer with a kitchen and the "Taco Wagon" was born. Based on the success of the taco wagon, in 1966, Luis converted an old tack room into a formal dining room and bar. They named it La Paragua, after the colorful umbrella that provided shade for the original taco stand. Umbrella images can be found around the restaurant.
Even before you get inside, you can tell you will be in for a unique experience.
The driveway snakes around huge cottonwood trees. As you walk back towards the decorated stone building, you'll find a garden shrine along the way.
You can't help but notice that the dining rooms are a little different too.
The dining areas are a mix of heavy stone, wood, and tile, capped with a wood-beam ceiling. Officially, the décor is a "traditional Hispanic," unique to northern New Mexico. In the case of La Paragua, this translates to an array of rooms decorated with an eclectic mix of photos, memorabilia, and nods to the family's Hispanic roots.
The most outstanding feature is a giant cottonwood tree growing through the ceiling.
You may not notice it at first -- the restaurant is dimly lit -- but to the left of the entryway, the old tree dominates a small stone dining area. When you leave, be sure to look up. You will see the rest of the tree towering above the roof.
The food at La Paragua has accolades from food critics around the country.
La Paragula has a solid reputation around northern New Mexico. It is definitely a haunt for locals, but with word-of-mouth and glowing write-ups from publications like the New York Times and Gourmet Magazine, visitors from across the country and around the world are finding this hidden Española gem.
The lunch and dinner menus offer a lot of variety.
Start with the fresh, zingy salsa. Then move on to the main course. As well as New Mexican style dishes, like chile rellenos and carne adovada, El Paragua has steaks and seafood too. The Carne Asada el Estilo Tampenqueña, shown here, is a rib-eye topped with green chiles.
Even vegetarians will be happy here.
The Paragua tacos are filled with potatoes, onions, tomatoes, carrots, and broccoli. Then, there is the guacamole tostada.
If you can't decide, go for the combo.
Sample a bit of the best with the Mexican Combination. It comes with carne adovada, posole, refritos and rice. Plus, you get a taco, a tamale, and an enchilada. Top it with an egg too, if you wish.
The tortillas are very fresh!
No fancy machines here. The tortillas are rolled by hand, then cooked over a wood stove. Even the sopapillas here are special; flakey and light, served with honey and apricot preserves.
If you long for the days of the taco stand, there is one right nextdoor.
In the 1980s, based on demand for quick meals, the original taco stand got a makeover and a new name -- El Parasol. The walk-up joint serves the family's famous tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and burgers. If you are not in the area, there are other El Parasol locations in Santa Fe, Los Alamos, and Pojoaque. They are all run by family members, now into the third generation.
Find La Paragua and the original El Parasol just off Riverside Drive (US-285 N/US-84) at 603 Santa Cruz Road, in Española.
So, who’s ready for some New Mexican food? Have you been to El Paragua? Tell us about your experience in the comments.