LARRY AND PETE ATENCIO began selling their mother’s tacos and tamales from a roadside stand in Española in 1958, launching an extraordinary culinary journey for the family of nine siblings and their parents, Frances and Luis. The colorful patio umbrella their father gave them to protect them from weather inspired the names and logos of El Paragua, the Española restaurant established in 1966 in the former tack room of the family home, and later, the more casual El Parasol. Opened in the 1980s as a taco stand next to El Paragua, El Parasol now has six locations in northern New Mexico, all operated by family members. While El Paragua temporarily closed during the pandemic, except for private events, the family has plans to eventually reopen. “My dad loved my mom’s cooking,” says El Paragua’s co-owner and head chef, Olga Garcia, who began cooking in the restaurant with her mother at age 16. “He thought everyone should be able to enjoy this.”
EL PARAGUA STARTED WITH THE UMBRELLA. You might say that was the original food truck. My brothers would sell to-go food, and we’re still selling the same food—tacos, tamales. It’s the same concept as in the 1950s.
All the recipes are our mother’s recipes. We’ve kept those recipes, along with the same techniques and the same quality. Everything is homemade—every day, every component. The most important technique my mother taught me was taking your time, don’t rush to make whatever you’re making.
Our specialty is our tacos. Our signature dish is beef tacos with red salsa. Our mother won first place in the Southwest Chile Challenge for her beef tacos, and they’re really different, because they’re made with shredded beef.
El Paragua, it’s our home, really. We brought our friends there. Everybody’s friends grew up there. The employees’ children grew up there. I love the closeness.