Choza Chile

For authenticity, savor the Carswell family secrets

A side from the fact that it serves some of Santa Fe's most beloved chile, there are two things everyone needs to know about La Choza: Leave room for sopaipillas, and make a dinner reservation. On busy nights, it's possible to wait upwards of two hours—and it's worth every minute if the exclamations of sated diners are any indication.

"Get the blue corn soft tacos, they are the best ever!" proclaimed one satisfied lunchee as she made for the exit, while her companion lobbied for the carne adovada stuffed sopaipilla.

The sister restaurant of the beloved Shed, La Choza (which accordingly roughly translates to "the shed" in Spanish) is no less busy, despite its location outside the bustle of downtown. A longtime neighborhood staple for locals and tourists alike, La Choza's colorful labyrinth of rooms has welcomed decades of diners. Consistently voted a favorite ofSFR readers for its New Mexican staples, the eatery also offers a dedicated vegetarian menu as well as kids' favorites such as tacos and burritos, toned-down for more delicate taste buds, along with hamburgers and grilled cheese.

"It's a different feeling of Santa Fe," says Sarah Carswell, co-owner and general manager.

Carswell is the granddaughter of The Shed's original founders, Thornton and Polly Carswell. After growing up working in the family business, she returned after college, eventually taking over management duties of La Choza in 2007.

"What I most enjoyed growing up in the restaurant was the people and the stories that would unfold as they ate," says Carswell. "When people come to eat they share their dreams, visions, successes, loves and even disappointments. Their shared experience is within these walls."

For 36 years, the ears of those walls have eavesdropped on diners enjoying a wide variety of La Choza favorites including green chile clam chowder, "a quirky, comforting dish," Carswell says, which features fresh, not canned, clams. Another is the green chile stew. Packed with spice and vitamin C, it's not uncommon during cold and flu season to see someone leaving La Choza packing a mason jar filled with its magic. Still another popular choice is the locally sourced rib-eye paired with cheese enchiladas.

La Choza's combo plate deal allows diners to choose their own combination of items from the menu. This includes everything from slow-cooked chicken or pork adovada to fluffy steamed tamales and toasty chile rellenos. Obviously, you're going to want to go to La Choza hungry.

There's also that feeling you rarely get in a large restaurant—that you're enjoying a meal in someone's home, albeit someone with a really large family. It's comfortable, a little raucous, loud, fun, and you leave absolutely stuffed, but feeling like your meal somehow reached out and gave you a big hug.

"Despite all our different walks of life, we have a lot in common," says Carswell. Obviously, food would be one—but, according to Carswell, "how much we love this city we live in" is the other. "Generations have come here and let us embrace them. You are a gift to us. Thank you for trusting us with what you love."

Speaking of generations, I mentioned to Carswell that my grandparents used to eat at The Shed and that my grandma was a huge fan of La Choza's sopaipillas. Her response was a testament to how true her feelings about her community are: She asked, "What were their names?"

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