If you’re looking for a casual, excellent taste of Northern New Mexico and Mexican traditional favorites and you happen to be within a fifty mile radius of Santa Fe, watch for a colorful beach umbrella logo identifying El Parasol restaurants. There are five locations within three counties. The logo and the food products are constantly recognized by locals as “best” in the area. Not only does El Parasol satisfy locals, but many of its family recipe items have been featured in national publications such as Bon Appetit, Gourmet, New York Times and Sunset throughout a span of 50 years.
The El Parasol concept began in 1958 with Pedro and Lorenzo Atencio, ten and twelve years old respectively, selling their mother’s beef tacos and red pork tamales under a patio umbrella on the main street in Espanola, New Mexico. This business venture was limited to the summer months. Price for a taco was 15 cents and tamales were 10 cents. A good day’s sales totaled a whopping $20.00. Prior to this entrepreneurial endeavor, the one-woman cooking show starring Frances Atencio had played only to colleagues and close friends in addition to her growing family. The two Atencio boys ran constantly from car to car, grabbing tacos and tamales to deliver to the lined-up drivers as their Mom replenished the supply on the patio table. This was possibly an original conception of the “drive-up window,” although there was no window, much less a building.
Locals referred to this seasonal venture as “The Stand” and began to urge the family to establish a year around site. This run-to-the-car concept was expanded by Luis Atencio, a plumber by profession, to a small, self-contained recreational trailer, known as the Taco Wagon, converted into a kitchen, much like the modern day mobile food vending units. From 1964 to 1969, the menu was expanded from tacos and tamales to other popular items such as hamburgers, tostadas, burritos and homemade desserts. Joining Frances now were daughters Dorothy, Olga, and Maria. People began to travel from all over northern New Mexico to buy the food which had gained a huge reputation and following. The patio umbrella was adopted as the logo to remind locals that this was the Atencio family business and that they could expect the same good food.
In the early 60’s the growing reputation of the Taco Wagon expanded beyond Northern New Mexico and Luis and Frances converted the centuries old family tack room in their family compound to a formal dining setting with full bar service and named it El Paragua denoting a sophisticated version of the original umbrella stand. It immediately began to attract locals and celebrities as “the place” to be seen. With a fully equipped state-of-the-art restaurant kitchen, Frances created dishes that had never been introduced to the area setting the standard for excellent Mexican cuisine.
History has a way of repeating itself and in the busy life style of the 1980’s, there was again a high demand for a quick fix version of the famous sit-down El Paragua and the Atencio family renamed the original stand El Parasol and provided walk up to the window carry out which still stands in and 8x10 food booth adjacent to the restaurant. From 1999 to 2008, four other El Parasols have been franchised to family members extending to the third generation.