For many returning Santa Feans as well as regular visitors to town, it’s not the Christmas season without a stop at The Shed.
A TIME FOR TRADITION
When the holidays roll around, I always think of The Shed. An institution in downtown, The Shed is just steps from the Santa Fe Plaza, tucked into Prince Patio, one of the Sena Plaza courtyards. The building is ancient, dating to 1692 — with a charming warren of festively decorated rooms. The restaurant itself dates to an earlier era, too. Since 1953, the Carswell family has overseen the deliciousness here. These days, it’s a third generation of the family offering warm hospitality. The Shed has been honored with a James Beard Award as an America’s Classic, a category for restaurants considered timeless, and that are beloved in their communities.
RED AND GREEN AND MORE
I wrote an article back in September about great places around town for red chile. The Shed certainly made that list. The Number 4, a flat blue corn enchilada, is the perfect base for this piquant and lightly sweet red, ground daily. But there’s so much more here.
The green chile is awesome as well, whether in a stew with tender beef and potatoes, in classic sauce form, or as a part of pico de gallo. The Shed Burger, among the iconic dishes here, has the option of that pico de gallo topping, along with cheese and other condiments topping a half-pound patty of local beef. It comes with a chickpea salad that I find addictive. You can get a bison burger, too, with fresh pickles from Barrio Brinery.
Along with that Number 4, the Number 10’s a classic here as well. It’s a good dish when you can’t figure out if you want tacos or enchiladas because it has one of each. There’s plenty to fill you up because it features whole pinto beans and posole on the side.
Burritos, carne adovada, tamales, and Frito pies are all good options, as well. I love the soups here, particularly the corn chowder, plumped with chicken and carrots along with corn, and topped with blue corn tortilla strips for crunch. You might not think of a New Mexican restaurant as a great place for shrimp, but the dinner menu offers a succulent skewer full of the shellfish, if that’s your mood. I’ve often ordered the green bean salad over the years, which the menu calls a “relic” from the restaurant’s early days. A tasty relic, indeed.
Also, among the traditions here is garlic bread. An accompaniment to virtually all the main dishes, it’s a tasty retro throwback to The Shed’s beginning. There would be a riot if it was taken off the menu today! When the family decided to upgrade the basic bread some years ago, plenty of patrons let the owners know that they were less than pleased.
DESSERTS at the shed
When trying to choose a dessert for the table, it’s always a negotiation here. It might be easiest to request one of everything. All my friends and family have a favorite, from the lemon souffle to the silken flan to the apple pie. I’m partial, though, to the hot fudge sundae, with a river of real bittersweet chocolate swirling into vanilla ice cream. However, it’s the frozen mocha cake that’s truly irresistible here. It combines dark chocolate mousse, a hint of coffee, and cookie crunch under a cloud of whipped cream. Oh, my!
HOW TO GET IN
The Shed is perennially popular, for good reason. It does now take reservations at dinner, but those have mostly been snapped up by now for the holidays ahead. The best strategy — on the day you wish to go — is to send someone from your party to the restaurant at 4 p.m. and have them put you down on the evening’s waitlist. The bar opens at 4 p.m., so the person who puts in the name can stick around, if they wish, for one of Santa Fe’s best margaritas or other beverages.
Another strategy is to come for lunch. No reservations are taken then. The doors open at 11 a.m. and your chances of getting in for the first seating are good if you arrive between 11 and 11:30 a.m. Otherwise, try going at about 1:30 p.m.
You also could try The Shed’s sister restaurant, La Choza, in the Railyard district. Once upon a time, it was much easier to get into, but it has become nearly as popular as the original. Whether you pick the original or the sibling, just plan to go sometime when you can have a leisurely meal and catch up with your friends or family, in case you end up with a wait. It really is worth it.
113½ East Palace Ave.
Closed Mondays, as well as Christmas Day and New Year’s Day
Story and photos by Cheryl Alters Jamison
Four-time James Beard Foundation Book Award-winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison is the host of Heating It Up on KTRC and is now the “queen of culinary content” for SantaFe.com. Find new stories about the Santa Fe food scene each week on SantaFe.com.