In the nearly two years since we last checked in with Los Parceros, the landscape for local Colombian cuisine has only grown a little. Early this year, La Rola opened at Zepellin Station, serving a menu of sturdy snack fare similar to the one Andrea Martínez, Karen Martínez and María Teresa Garzón had been establishing on their titular food truck since 2017. But even with the city gaining La Rola’s Billionaire Hot Dog — a foot-long frank heavily laden with shredded chicken, ham, bacon bits, mozzarella, diced onions, mashed potato chips, pineapple sauce, pink sauce, ketchup and a hard-boiled quail egg — there were no seismic shifts in a scene representing the food of Bogota, Medellin and Cali.
Los Parceros briefly changed hands last year when original owner Joaquin Contreras sold the place to a Venezualan associate who modified the menu to include flavors from her homeland. In February of this year Andrés Chaparro — a former Spanish language television executive, owner of 1903 Media and Strategy and partner in La Rola — bought Los Parceros with plans of returning it to its Colombian roots while improving the cuisine in hopes of attracting a wider audience. “I shook hands in February,” smiled Chaparro, noting that the original agreement had been written out on a napkin. “I came and worked the restaurant for one month without people knowing I was the owner,” he continued.
Revitalizing a restaurant concept is hard enough under any circumstance, but doing so with a pandemic dropped outside the doorstep only weeks after the exchange borders on madness. Even so, Chaparro seems not only undeterred but legitimately excited about Parcero’s prospects. And for good reason. The newly refurbished interior — the result of a brief two-week closure, the only one taken by the restaurant throughout the duration of quarantine — is inviting. The small 13-seat space seems alive in a way that upstages even the pre-COVID numbers — with the six-seat patio acting as an inviting hook for customers curious to see what the fuss is about. And fuss they should.
While the menu continues to favor classic items, the level of execution has transformed the place from one that succeeded primarily on novelty to a destination fit to make firm devotees of the uninitiated and satisfy a Colombian community with a taste for the finer things. “I want Colombians, to connect them to back home. For everyone else I want it to feel like home cooking,” said Chaparro.
Many of the menu items will be recognizable to anyone who had previously paid a visit to Los Parceros — though there is a growing roster of fresh creations. Of the new items, the chicharizo stuffed arepa ($7) — with chicharron, chorizo, avocado, garlic aioli, tomato and cheese — seems nearest to Chaparro’s heart. The latest addition, the chicharron al aji sees two thick slabs of skin-on pork belly drenched in aji and served with fried smashed plantains. Aji — a blend of vinegar, water, cilantro, red pepper flakes, salt and lime — can be found all across the menu. “We put this on anything and everything,” grinned Chaparro. Of course the Bandeja Paisa ($15) — generally accepted as the national dish of Colombia — is present, the revamped plate serving as a good glimpse into the new Parceros’ enhanced refinement. The massive platter comes stacked with red beans, white rice, chicharron, ground beef, fried egg, a ripe fried plantain and a chorizo Chaparro imports from Miami. The sturdy plates are best washed down with a refajo — a shandy of Colombiana Soda and beer that comes out the color of a smoke-tinted sunset and tastes like those summers when the world wasn’t on fire.
Even though the new iteration has been a smash success, Chaparro seems more concerned about the industry at large than he does for his new venture. With winter just around the corner, the restaurateur has been encouraging everyone to include dining out in their routine. “Every week I pick a restaurant and I go and buy food,” he said. “If we can all do that it will really help.”
Los Parceros is located at 5922 East Colfax Ave., Denver. It is open Wednesday – Friday from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m., and Saturday – Sunday from 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.
All photography by Alden Bonecutter.