Santa Fe Is Cookin’
Story & photos by Kim D. McHugh
You know an eatery is good when the parking lot is jammed. Such is the case when we drive up to El Parasol in Española. A walk up “restaurant” not much bigger than a Tuff Shed, it got its start in 1958 when Larry and Pete Atencio began selling their mother’s tacos and tamales from a roadside stand. To keep the boys shaded from the New Mexican sun, their father, Luis, gave them a colorful beach umbrella, and the name stuck (parasol means “umbrella” in Spanish).
After studying the menu boards, my wife decided on tacos, one shredded beef and one chicken; I ordered the burrito with carne adovada (slowly cooked pork). Our choices were both flavorful and nicely seasoned, though my burrito bordered on being so spicy that my taste buds were going numb. Dollops of creamy guacamole helped to cool things down. Adjacent to its sibling, El Paragua, a sit-down restaurant with a much more extensive menu, this laid back spot was a great find.
For dinner that night, we pulled up chairs at the Coyote Cantina, an outdoor rooftop spot and one of more than two dozen Santa Fe eateries. It is a more affordable option than its adjoining sister restaurant, the Coyote Café. We started out with Mexican White Shrimp Ceviche—jalapeno and lime-macerated shrimp—as well as bowls of freshly made guac and pico de gallo.
Soon I found myself staring wide-eyed at my entrée, the Navajo taco de nuevo. As big as a Phil Mickelson divot, it was piled with pork, chicken, Kobe beef, beans, lettuce, cheddar, and Mexican crème fraîche. My wife chose the al Pastor, a citrus-marinated, spit-roasted pork with pineapple, splashed with “Christmas” sauce—a combo of red and green chiles. The cool summer evening on the second-story terrace, the cuisine, and the rockin’ crowd made for a fantastic night.
Over the course of four days in the region, we sampled a tapestry of fantastic food, from more New Mexican fare at the Shed to steak at the Bull Ring, French and Southwest fusion at Ristra, and awesome breakfasts and pastries at the Tesuque Village Market. A particular treat for my wife and me is the Frito pie, which costs $4.95 at the Five & Dime just off of Santa Fe’s plaza. After scissoring open a foil bag of Fritos, the server pours in three or four ladles of chili con carne topped with cheese, then onions and jalapeños if desired.
Similar to aficionados of El Parasol, “pie” lovers are lined up at the back counter here sometimes twelve deep. And it’s hard to blame them: there’s little to compare with taking the ultimate in portable New Mexican comfort food and an ice cold Coke across to the lawn in the plaza and watching people pass by as you spoon in the savory goodness. Diving in to uncover the last little morsel of chili is quite satisfying for those of us that appreciate life’s simple pleasures.
El Parasol (in Española, 602 Santa Cruz Road, 505-753-8852; http://elparasol.com)
El Paragua (in Española, 603 Santa Cruz Road, 505-753-3211; www.elparagua.com)
Coyote Café & Rooftop Cantina (132 W Water Street, 505-983-1615; www.coyotecafe.com).
The Shed (113½ E Palace Ave, 505-982-9030; www.sfshed.com)
The Bull Ring ((150 Washington Ave, 505-983-3328; www.santafebullring.com)
Ristra (548 Agua Fria Street, 505-982-8608; www.ristrasantafe.com)
Five & Dime (58 E San Francisco Street, 505-992-1800; www.fiveanddimegs.com)
Tesuque Village Market (138 Tesuque Village Road, 505-988-8848; www.tesuquevillagemarket.com).
Kim McHugh, a Lowell Thomas award-winning writer, is a “foodie” of sorts whose wife is a fantastic cook. His stories have appeared in Tastes of Italia, Rocky Mountain Golf.com, Hemispheres, SKI, Luxury Golf & Travel and Colorado AvidGolfer.