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Simple goodness a tried-and-true formula

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — With the winter holiday season nipping at our toes, many of us prepare to welcome home family members and friends who have moved elsewhere, beyond the home of green chile, blue corn tortillas and posole. Many of our guests arrive with a suitcase full of yearning for good New Mexican food.

Luckily, Santa Fe has several places that serve our tasty home-grown cuisine, complete with Christmas chile all year long. One of my favorites is The Shed.

Pretty and as unpretentious as its name, The Shed has become one of Santa Fe’s landmark restaurants. You’ll find it just off a charming little courtyard in Prince Plaza, west of Sena Plaza and half a block from the Cathedral Basilica on Palace Avenue. This time of year, I love to sit at a window in the back room that overlooks the patio, hoping to see a flock of snowflakes. Except for the rooms that open to the bar, the dining areas are small, reflective of the style of living when Territorial Gov. L. Bradford Prince purchased the building as part of his adobe home here in 1879.

The Shed
LOCATION: 113 1/2 E. Palace Ave., Santa Fe, 505-982-9030
HOURS: Lunch, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner, 5:30-9 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays

What’s to like for dinner here besides the ambience and the margaritas? The Shed specializes in traditional New Mexican cuisine, and I’m partial to the green chile stew, the savory red chile sauce and tender posole.

It makes me happy to remember that The Shed’s trademark blue corn tortillas come standard with any New Mexican dish that calls for corn tortillas. Many restaurants charge extra for blue corn. I love #4, the classic red-chile, blue-corn enchilada plate, which you can order with or without an an egg on top. The bubbling chile, melted cheddar cheese and handful of onions make a wonderful, simple meal. You can add beans and posole on hungry days. Both are good here, made fresh.

Simplicity holds a key to The Shed’s many decades of survival. The dinner menu has a clear focus on New Mexican food: enchiladas, tacos, burritos, pollo adobo (chicken breast in a red chile marinade) and huevos rancheros. The Shed’s savory chile comes from Hatch, and chilephobes can get the sauce “light” or on the side for most dishes. Or ordered grilled shrimp or a steak.

Lunch includes more “American” options. The Shed doesn’t go for fancy, but could focus a little more on attractive presentations.

Our party of four started with a salsa and guacamole appetizer served with a basket of fresh yellow- and blue-corn chips. The salsa tasted homemade and carried some heat. The guac had a spark to it and a pleasant creaminess ($8.25). We also tried the flavorful corn chowder, swirled with cream and studded with whole kernels of yellow corn and bits of chicken meat. Very nice, but pricey at $5.25 a cup.

The pollo adobo, another of the Shed’s signature dishes, offers a hardy choice with lots of tender white chicken meat soaked in a red chile, garlic and oregano marinade. Not too spicy, and filled with flavor. The pieces of chicken breast share the plate with a cheese enchilada with red chile and a generous serving of pinto beans ($14.25). A basket of hot garlic bread accompanies this and all chile entrees. Why not sopaipillas or tortillas? Chalk it up to The Shed’s own tradition. Garlic bread works fine to sop up the last teaspoonful of sauce.

The Shed’s popular green-chile-chicken enchilada uses blue-corn tortillas as a base for lots of roasted chicken, a sprinkling of onion, cheese and the savory sauce. The enchiladas arrive rolled instead of flat, hot from the oven with melted white cheddar on top. Pinto beans and a fresh lettuce and tomato garnish round out the plate ($12.75).

We added delicious turkey sausage to the huevos rancheros and were surprised to see it served on the side in a ramekin. This presentation makes it easy to add the meat to the sauce, and also works very well as an option in tacos or enchiladas ($12.25 plus 75 cents for the sausage).

The enchilada and taco plate with fresh pinto beans and garnish offers enough food to satisfy. The selection comes with a cheese enchilada and your choice of meat for the taco, although if you prefer chicken or beef for the enchilada, the staff can accommodate you ($12). Delicious! I appreciated the portion sizes here; plenty, but not wastefully overwhelming.

Dessert? The Shed serves classics guaranteed to soothe any residual burn the chile may have left: chocolate and raspberry sundaes and luscious mocha cake made with coffee and dark chocolate mousse, served semi-frozen and topped with a decadent curl of whipped cream. Or try the zabaglione, a creamy custard in a champagne glass, redolent of Marsala wine. My favorite is the fresh lemon soufflé, tart, light and just the right amount.

Because The Shed has relatively limited seating and many fans, customers often have to wait. Make a reservation at dinner. Our party of four had no trouble getting a table at 6:30 p.m. on a weekday, but when we left we heard the host explain the half-hour wait.

Dinner for four, without alcohol, was $90.61 with tax.