Above: The 100-year-old elm growing inside of El Parargua. Photograph by
Minesh Bacrania.

At 300 years old, the cottonwood in the parking lot at El Paragua might be the most ancient tree in the neighborhood, but it isn’t the most famous. That distinction belongs to the 100-year-old elm that’s growing inside the restaurant. Like that landmark, El Paragua and its six El Parasol spinoffs in northern New Mexico started small. In the 1950s, Frances and Luís Atencio began selling tacos and tamales at a picnic table under an umbrella to supplement their income. The umbrella stand became a food truck, which became a food wagon and, in 1958, an Española restaurant in a 200-year-old family tack room that continued to grow. “They just kept adding on one room at a time, and there was this tree right in the middle, an elm tree, and it was very difficult to get rid of, so my father just built around it,” says Angela Sanchez, one of the Atencios’ nine children and a current owner of the restaurant. The tree, like the low vigas, the hot green chile, the walls covered in old portraits, and the convivial staff, reminds customers that food is more than a meal. It’s a way to honor family, history, roots. 

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El Paragua is located at 603 Santa Cruz Road in Española, 25 miles north of Santa Fe, just off NM 285.