In 1986, after vacationing in Escondido and visiting family members in the area, Hector and Lourdes Parra decided to move north with their four young children. They opened a small shop on Escondido Boulevard in 1988 where Hector made tacos and Lourdes baked tres leches cakes.
The following year, Lourdes decided to give up baking during Escondido’s hot summers.
“She told me, ‘No more cakes,’” Hector said. “She decided to focus on enchiladas, seafood and her mother’s chicken soup.”
Lourdes—the restaurant’s namesake—learned to make chicken soup from her mother back in Sonora, Mexico and she began making large batches for restaurants, including one that she and Hector owned.
Hector said they Americanized the recipe a little, but it has remained more or less true to the family recipe.
“It’s a secret ingredient in the salsa added to it that makes it special,” Hector explained.
At the original location of Lourdes Mexican Food on Escondido Boulevard, the lunch hour line often runs out the door and down the sidewalk.
“We’ve had people waiting for half an hour outside in the winter, under umbrellas in the rain,” Hector said with a chuckle. He credits word of mouth, media attention, social media, and his wife’s signature recipe.
The soup is known for its big chunks of white meat, hefty scoop of rice, scattering of onion and cilantro, and topping of thick avocado wedges. The steaming bowls are served with corn or flour tortillas, tortilla chips, salsa, and spicy carrots for a hearty meal.
During flu season, locals have been known to drive the soup to friends who are home in bed. The Parras' son Alex jokes that local doctors recommend it, because the family does catering for the pharmaceutical industry.
A lot of pleasure for their customers, particularly at the original location, comes from the sense of community they find at Lourdes. The big rooster and hens on the front and side of the original building look much the same as when the shop opened, and it has become a gathering place for locals to catch up over lunch.
The newest Lourdes storefronts in San Marcos and in Cardiff are owned and operated by the Parras' children and are decidedly more modern. Though each morning, family members still prepare batches of soup at each location according to Lourdes’ exact recipe, along with scratch-made rice, beans and other menu items like salads, burritos, enchiladas, tacos, and quesadillas.
Cardiff customers seem to gravitate towards the salads, enchiladas, chile rellenos and tacos, while the second Lourdes outpost in Escondido on El Norte Parkway (tucked inside a Shell gas station) has become known for breakfast burritos. But the soup remains an iconic North County comfort food staple.
Lourdes is now 65, and Hector is 70, with five grandchildren. Their adult children plan to expand the shops to Oceanside or Carlsbad in 2020.
Hector said he’s happy the family came to live in Escondido. “I like this country,” he said.
The Parras still live in Escondido where they hope to pass the torch and retire in two years.