The Shed – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The award winning Shed
The world famous Shed restaurant in Santa Fe, New Mexico

In the culinary world, the name James Beard is revered perhaps above all others. Considered the “Dean of American Cookery,” Beard established a legacy of culinary excellence and became a household name to generations of home cooks and professional chefs.

The cookbooks he authored between 1940 and 1983 are considered “a slice of American history” because those tomes span America’s culinary regions and served as a premonition of the global epicurean expanse to come.

Today, the James Beard Foundation, a national not-for-profit organization is dedicated to celebrating, preserving, and nurturing America’s culinary heritage and diversity in order to elevate the appreciation of our culinary excellence.

Guacamole, salsa and chips at The Shed in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Guacamole, salsa and chips at The Shed in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Earning a James Beard award signifies the pinnacle of achievement in the culinary world. It’s the restaurant world’s equivalent of the Academy Award.

In 2003, The Shed restaurant earned the Foundation’s “America’s Classics Award,” a prestigious accolade honoring locally owned and operated regional restaurants that have withstood the test of time and are beloved in their communities.

The Foundation’s Web site describes The Shed as “A restaurant begun in a burro shed on a dusty alley in a then-sleepy little town might not sound as if it would be – 50 years later – hailed as a venerable institution. The Shed, though, has become the standard-setter for northern New Mexican fare, Santa Fe charm, and warm hospitality.”

Carne Adovada at the Shed, some of the very best in New Mexico
Carne Adovada at the Shed, some of the very best in New Mexico

The lobby’s multi-hued visual fodder makes it easy to miss the framed certificate commemorating the award, but you get the feeling the restaurant’s proprietors are okay with that. The Shed has been a family tradition–three generations of Carswells serving three generations of patrons–since it launched on July 4, 1953. Patrons queue up for as long as it takes to be seated in one of the restaurant’s nine rooms behind Prince Patio, a flagstone courtyard oasis drenched in sunlight and shaded by verdant vines. The Shed is housed in what was once a rambling adobe hacienda, circa 1692.

Mere steps away from the Santa Fe Plaza and an easy two blocks away from its original Burro Alley location, The Shed is a institution beloved not only by locals, but by tourists who continue to discover (or rediscover) it during sojourns to the City Different. A visit to The Shed is akin to a pilgrimage; it’s as if you’re visiting a sacred place and in a way, you really are. The Shed has been called “the soul of Santa Fe” and many patrons consider it the embodiment of Northern New Mexico hospitality and its unique cuisine–a harmonious and delicious convergence of Pueblo, Spanish and Mexican influences.

Native New Mexicans returning home after a period of expatriation don’t consider themselves to be back home until they’ve had a meal featuring exceptional red and green chile. My wish would be for all New Mexicans returning to the Land of Enchantment to partake, as their first meal back, of The Shed’s exceptional chile. The red chile is brick red and deeply earthy with a slightly sweet taste you remember long after your meal. It’s the quintessential New Mexico chile–the result of the Carswells purchasing the entire chile bounty of two Hatch, New Mexico chile fields. Red chile is ground every day in the restaurant’s mills to prevent oxidization and ensure freshness.

Blue corn enchiladas and a taco
Blue corn enchiladas and a taco

Traditional New Mexican entrees are served with blue corn tortillas, a perfect vehicle for some of the very best enchiladas in New Mexico. The enchilada and taco plate features one rolled, blue corn enchilada abounding in cheddar cheese and onion then covered in the aforementioned red chile. The soft blue corn taco is replete with cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and lean ground beef marinated in red chile. It’s not the type of taco you eat with your hands; you eat it with a fork because it, too, is slathered with that oh so wonderful red chile.

The carne adovada is fork tender with a profundity of earthy flavor permeating each wonderful shard of the marinated pork cubes bathed in red chile. A thin flour tortilla makes a wonderful “spoon” into which to ladle mouthfuls of what may be some of the best carne adovada in the state.  Who says so?  For one, my friend Ruben Hendrickson who has made it a holy grail quest to find then duplicate the best carne adovada in New Mexico.  He places The Shed’s carne adovada in rarified company along with the carne adovada at Mary & Tito’s and Duran’s Central Pharmacy.

The green chile stew features roasted, perfectly pungent green chile, cubed potatoes (including the skin) and lean pieces of tender pork swimming in a rich, hearty broth. It’s New Mexican comfort food at its finest and may have you longing for a cold winter day in which it will warm your stomach–and the cockles of your heart.

Toasted French Bread instead of Sopaipillas - only at The Shed
Toasted French Bread instead of Sopaipillas – only at The Shed

Entrees are accompanied by slow-simmered pinto beans and white-corn posole as well as a thick slice of French garlic bread, a non-New Mexican tradition apparently begun in the Burro Alley days.  It’s one of those endearingly quirky things that only an outstanding New Mexican institution can get away with.  The bread comes in very handy when you want to sop up any remnants of red chile.

You’ll want to start your meal with the house guacamole, salsa and tortilla chips. The salsa features lush red tomatoes (not the mushy stuff out of a can) redolent with pungent green chile and a liberal application of cilantro. It has a slightly sweet aftertaste. The guacamole is buttery and delicious made with in-season avocado.

Despite being fully sated by profligate portions, The Shed’s patrons know they absolutely must have one of the restaurant’s luscious desserts, the most celebrated being the fresh lemon soufflé which Food Network celebrity Rachael Ray called “divine and delicate” and “worth two or three times its price.” The soufflé is indeed delicate. It is also light and frothy with an intensely creamy lemon flavor that may leave you swooning in contentment.

Mocha Cake
Mocha Cake

If possible, the mocha cake may be even better thanks to a special blend of coffee and dark chocolate mousse cake topped with fresh whipped cream. The mocha cake is served cold, but it’ll warm within the confines of your mouth.

Perhaps in keeping with the loveably quaint, uniquely The Shed tradition of serving French garlic bread with your meal, the dessert menu also includes an international twist, an Italian dessert called zabaglione, a creamy custard made with Cointreau and white port.  Cointreau, an orange flavored liqueur, enlivens the custard in the ways a good liqueur punctuates a great meal.

Zabaglione has been described as “one of Italy’s great gifts to the rest of the world,” an apt description.  Considering the well-earned reputation and flawless execution of its desserts, it didn’t surprise me that the zabaglione at The Shed is better than you’ll find in many Italian restaurants.

Zabaglione, some of the very best in town
Zabaglione, some of the very best in town

Being situated so close to the tourist laden Santa Fe Plaza means long lines are fairly common at The Shed.  Savvy diners who don’t want to wait will drive about a mile and a half to The Shed’s sister restaurant La Choza, another Santa Fe treasure.
The Shed
113 1/2 East Palace Avenue
Santa Fe, NM
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 18 May 2009
COST: $$
BEST BET: Blue Corn Enchiladas, Blue Corn Tacos, Carne Adovada, Green Chile Stew, Lemon Soufflé, Mocha Cake

18 thoughts on “The Shed – Santa Fe, New Mexico

  1. Funny to read about the Zabaglione today (previous comment), because I just had it last week for the 2nd time and am completely hooked. I was a big fan of their Lemon Souffle until I tried the Zabaglione, and now I love that even more. I tried to go back and have it once more, before I left town, but The Shed was closed that day. It is delectable!! On my next visit, one of the first things that I will do is go back to the Shed for Zabaglione, as well as their other fantastic New Mexican Cuisine. I was a local, before I moved, and to me there is no place in Santa Fe that makes better Red Chile than the Shed. The green is really great too, just that I am a red girl. I have tried many of the other great restaurants in Santa Fe that serve New Mexican food, and there are some other good ones, but none that I like more than the Shed.

  2. Carmen and I had reason to be in Santa Fe yesterday, and since it had been a number of years since I had eaten there and Carmen never had had the pleasure, we lunched at The Shed.

    It was a wonderful lunch! Something I noticed was how little salt they use. That allows the various tastes of their fresh New Mexican ingredients to shine. In one of your visits to Cocina Azul you got a meal that was excessively salty. But even when they don’t salt excessively, their food is pretty salty. This is a tendency I have noticed in general at American restaurants. I guess they are catering to the flattening of the American palate by our highly industrialized SAD (Standard American Diet) full of fat, sugar, and salt.

    I always cook with very little salt. People can always add salt to taste. That’s why there is a salt shaker on the table. President Reagan once wrote an article about his exercise and eating habits. He noted he had cut back on his use of salt, except on hard boiled eggs. “Only a raccoon would eat a hard boiled egg without salt.”

    For all the times I have eaten at The Shed, for some reason I had never tried the Zabaglione. What an amazing, nuanced, adult desert! We shared one, eating it very slowly and enjoying the play of the various tastes the Zabaglione contains on our palates. Now I really understand why the ‘slow food’ movement started in Italy.

    The really astonishing thing is that this was the very first time I had gotten something supposedly ‘Italian’ in an American restaurant that Carmen didn’t find something off, at least some small note that wasn’t authentically Italian.

    And yes, of course The Shed is a tourist trap. We made sure to get there right after opening, before the lines formed. The Santa Fe plaza and surrounding area is full of tourist traps. Bad ones full of cheap trinkets and gewgaws and faux ‘New Mexican’ items. But also good, authentic ones. The Shed is one of the good ones.

    1. Great feedback, Rich! I hope we hear from you more often. During the Friends of Gil (FOG) dinner, I shared with you that each comment is usually read more than 100 times within a week after it’s published. I believe reading your comment will translate to several visits to The Shed. I know we want to visit soon.

      The Shed does offer a few non-New Mexican surprises: the Zabaglione, of course, but there’s also the French bread (served instead of sopaipillas).

      Another Santa Fe restaurant which serves an excellent Zabaglione is Il Piatto which I hope you visit soon so you can share your comparative analysis.

  3. I am always surprised at the naysayers that come out when a business reaches a level of great success and history. The Shed didn’t delare itself “the best food”, customers have done that through word of mouth and many returns. The Shed is a wonderful place with great, time proven recipes. Of course, they are not the only source of good New Mexican food, just as Santa Fe is NOT the epicenter of green chile in New Mexico. Give the Shed its due… and share the love around town with all the other great food spots.

  4. i was a local for many years and The Shed is my absolute favorite place for New Mexican when I lived there and now when i visit. To me The tourist trap is Tomasita’s. All the shop owners for some reason say to go there. it’s the cliché place to tell tourists where to eat. To me Tomasita’s is mediocre and Maria’s one up from Tomasita’s. I’ve never has as fine a red chile as I do at The Shed. EVen on my last visit last month, it was my best meal there.

  5. Grew up in Northern New Mexico, and for me this was the quintessential restaurant. As a child, teenager, even a college student visiting, I always made it a point to dine at the Shed when I was in town. Unfortunately, I had not been there in over 10 years, and I have to admit that it must only be the decor that keeps people coming. When I was younger, The Shed only served lunch (maybe they should have kept it that way). At one point, my parents arranged for a special trip for me. I came to visit them. On one night we ate at the Shed before seeing a performance of the Santa Fe Orchestra (which was wonderful by the way (I meant the Orchestra)). When we arrived at the restaurant, they said they couldn’t take us because they were booked. We made reservations for dinner 3 days later when my Father and I were going to the opera. When I turned around to make the reservations, they magically had a table for us. I think maybe it was the fact that we didn’t look “local” and obviously were going to come back. It was definitely not the meal of my memories. I ordered the exact same thing I always ordered, but it was no different that any Mexican restaurant in the Southwest. The service was good, but I would have liked to have seen more assertiveness with other patrons who are only there to ruin the atmosphere. When we were there, they accommodated us by seating us in the courtyard (we understood this because we were “last minute”). While that was fine and quaint, we had to witness a family with 3 kids who crawled around on the ground that obviously had broken glass. When we pointed this out to the waiter, they obviously seemed like they thought that if they ignored it, it would go away. The family was loud and unruly (typical of most of the offspring of this generation)). As far as I was concerned, it was no different that an intoxicated patron making a fool of himself. Because of this, we ended up not showing up for the next night’s dinner reservation. I could not see, even with a reservation, that this dinner was going to be any better. My childhood, teenage, and adult memories were shot. I was surprised that I was able to create some of these traditional dishes along with the garlic bread (I have always loved that touch and continue it when I serve Mexican food) at home. So I don’t need to show visitors The Shed, but rather my home. I have found other restaurants in Santa Fe that are much better because along with them, and at my home, we do not allow children to break glass, crawl around on it, and create a hazard and definitely a health code violation. P.S. I was also disappointed to find the Rum Baba not on the dessert menu. I have seen it there for years. For 30 years I always ordered the #4 Enchilada (which is still good in my dreams) and the Rum Baba for dessert. Every thing else on your menu I considered “typical”, but you’ve lost me by dropping what I consider your most “signature” dishes.

  6. I love the Shed! Born and raised in Albuquerque! It is authentic and not over-rated. I think Gil was right on about this place and can tell you why it is a classic. The only tourist trap are the margaritas which go for 12 dollars!

  7. For Charlotte….others may wish to skip as slightly off topic unless you might be going some Fall to “Leaf Peek” at Nature’s Autumnal Colors.
    I can’t give the recipe for Mocha Cake so hopefully Y’all will accept Gil’s (and my) recommendation for New England Yum-Yums especially for Woodman’s in Essex MA where The Fried Clam was “invented” and still exists!!!
    In addition, let me offer this which includes some Yum-Yums and other things to enhance your stay beyond the bone-chilling winters and summers where you melt your skin off or it gets eatin by mosquitoes!!!
    Main history of New England mills begins in Lowell. Check
    here for various tours through
    the National Park Service, e.g. canals; actual running looms in humongous ‘rooms’; boarding homes. Visit the Boott Mill, the American Textile and the New England Quilt museums – Prior to going, enhance the experience by reading Call the Darkness Light [life of a young teen Mill Girl in the early 1800s] by Nancy Zaroulis who puts you on streets/neighborhoods you can find today. Also wrote fictional history spanning 300 years: Massachusetts. Eats? In late July to visit the dozen of so Ethnic food booths, besides nonstop folk music and arts and crafts in this its 25th (free) year! Otherwise, Ricardo’s Trattoria for reasonable eats including Veal Parmagiani of all things!!! Re Baastan curiosities: Dark Tide – the Boston Molasses Flood! Can read online at The Union Oyster House (oldest restaurant in country) including JFK’s booth The Liberty Hotel for a unique setting for dining in the converted 1800s Charles St. Jail

    Lowell? What? Who’s from there Y’all say!!! Ladd & Whitney-1st deaths of the Civil War (its it’s 150th year anniversary) were Lowellians and are buried in front of City Hall (under the obelisk).Whistler & Whistler’s Mom! Bette Davis – Starlet from the ‘30s and beyond. Remember Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (Per your nostalgia for our unique celebration of Cinco de Mayo in Nuevo Mexico, watch her 1939 stellar performance in Juarez on the Turner Classic Movie channel around 2:15 pm on Aug. 3rd!!! as you may not know her from a hole in the wall ! Speaking of which, try out (altho I’ve never been as there were 0 “Mexicans” in my time) a new restaurant in Lowell (unique in the world????) called Garcia Brogan’s!) Ed McMahon -tho born in Detroit, spent many years in Lowell…a LHS Grad,‘40… and often visited the city as a celebrity, e.g. see a dedicated bench (an inside joke) near Middlesex Community College on East Merrimack St. by the Concord River; “Loved” hotdogs at Elliot‘s. Jack Kerouac – One of THE Beatniks -’50s; e.g. On The Road; memorial park on Bridge St. before the bridge. Visit The Grotto of his Dr. Sax on Pawtuckett Blvd. OMG… Actress Olympia Dukakis. Robert Tessier; Ray Goulding – Bob & Ray radio show ‘40s-’80s. Nancy Kelly (bro of “Bart Maverick“…LOL) many films but check out The Bad Seed (& after the credits). Michael Chiklis – The Commish; The Shield; No Ordinary Family (this year) series. “The Fighter” (‘10) was about and filmed in Lowell., Well, and me ! (BLUSH) CVS pharmacy started there.

  8. I have always loved the Mocha Cake and have now moved to Massachusetts and am having withdrawal. I would love to have the recipie for the Mocha Cake so I can serve this to my friends as well as indulge myself.

    1. Google The Shed’s Mocha Cake…you’ll find a good “copy cat”.

      We love The Shed. We’ve eaten all over New Mexico and it’s one of the best we’ve had, and love the French bread! We would not leave Santa Fe without having lunch at The Shed!

  9. I’m an Española native who finds The Shed incredibly overrated. I’m also disappointed that Gil seems to think the carne adovada here is “some of the very best in NM.” It isn’t.

    I only go there if someone else is paying.

  10. I was raised in NM, but spent many years of my adult life in California. The Shed, by itself, would have been good reason to return (which I did 11 years ago). “Shed Red” is one of my favorite all-time tastes. I eat there 10 to 15 times per year and order the Blue Corn Enchilada Plate, the Enchilada and Taco Plate or the Carne Adovado (served only at lunch). I get the (soft shell) taco smothered with red chile, and as much “red” as I can get on the rest of the food. It is wonderful for sopping up with the garlic bread.

    My wife says the Shed Green is good too—I suspect she is correct. In addition to the Mocha Cake mentioned above, I like the Hot Fudge Sundae a lot. The fudge is the best I have tasted. Among their excellent Margaritas, I prefer the Shed Silver.

    Contrary to a previous comment, while tourists abound at the Shed during the summer, the Shed is a favorite of locals as well. I prefer lunch at The Shed and even in the shoulder seasons (hardly any tourists) the Shed is packed by noon. We got there a few minutes late one day and got into a conversation with an elderly Hispanic gentleman. It turns out that he had owned a local restaurant for years (a Santa Fe institution) and he would go to The Shed for his “chile fix.” That is about as good as a recommendation gets.

  11. I moved to Santa Fe in 1976, so very much a “local” . While there ARE other good restaurants in Santa Fe, the Shed is a classic! It is always consistent, always delicious, and remains one of our very favorites, even after all of this time. My favorite are the blue corn tacos, and even the pasole is amazing! The Mocha cake is a treat, although not traditional food, it and the amazing french bread, add a fun winsome note to the meal. Furthermore, unlike that other reviewer stated, we see far more “locals” here than tourists, and almost always bump into someone we have known here forever. A delight.

  12. I never disagree with Gil to such a great extent as I do on the Shed. The Shed is a 4 letter word spelled “tourist trap”. Over rated – Yes!! Over rated ‘a bit’ (Chris Stone above) not even close. If you like rubbing elbows and listening to ignorant tourists from out of state who don’t know NM food you’ll love this place. The only locals I know used to enjoy the Shed many years ago – now they (like my family) go elsewhere.

  13. I think the Shed is a bit overrated, although it’s been five years since I was there. For my chile fix when re-patriating to New Mexico, I go to Maria’s.

  14. Just recently dined at “The Shed”, while visiting Santa Fe and absolutely loved the green chile stew. Would it be possible to get the recipe so I could try making it at home?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.