El Rancho de Valencia serves both New Mexican and Mexican cuisine

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Theirs is a love affair of food and they want to spread it around.

Julian Torrez and Hilda Florez have worked together for 20 years, beginning when he hired her as a fry cook in his Albuquerque eatery.

Janis Marston-News-Bulletin photo: BUSINESS PARTNERS Julian Torrez and Hilda Florez sit on the patio of their Los Lunas restaurant, El Rancho de Valencia at 325 Main St.

Since then, she has become a chef, and the two now run El Rancho de Valencia restaurant in Los Lunas.

The restaurant, at the corner of Main Street and Sandoval, serves both New Mexican and Mexican cuisine.

The New Mexican menu “is 100 percent New Mexican,” said Torrez, a native of Tomé. “They’re recipes passed down from my grandmother.”

Florez, on the other hand, knows the Mexican way of cooking.

For example, Mexican cuisine features seafood. The Rio Rancho chef has concocted a mouth-watering soup she calls “Siete Mares.” She mixes shrimp, fish, octopus and crab with vegetables in a home-made broth.

The difference between New Mexican and Mexican food is “like night and day,” Torrez says, zeroing in on how no New Mexican plate would be complete without red or green chile. “The dual menu gives people a choice.”

Torrez has spent 35 years in the business, beginning at a Burger King at age 15. He owns two other eateries in Albuquerque — Little Anita’s and Julian’s Burgers N More.

Asked what makes a successful restaurant, he compared the business to a meal.

“A restaurant has a lot of ingredients to make it successful. If any ingredients are missing, it won’t be successful,” he said.

“You can serve the finest food around, but fail,” if the money’s mismanaged, he said. “It takes great recipes, great service and good management.”

As for making El Rancho de Valencia a success, Torrez said, “Our food has to be better than average and we believe it is.”

By the looks of the menu, Chef Florez and her five cooks make the food quite a bit better than average.

There’s the El Rancho Grande Burrito for $9.25. It’s a large beef and bean burrito, smothered with French fries, red and green chile, topped with cheddar and jack cheese, garnished with lettuce and tomatoes. A parenthetical note in red follows: (“If you can finish this one by yourself, ice cream is on the house.”)

Or, there’s the Pescado Frito, an entire tilapia — fish, head, tail, and all — dipped in spicy batter and deep-fried. Topped with three salsas and avocado slices, it runs $13.99.

All plates on the New Mexican cuisine side come with frijoles that are, in the chef’s words, “so delicious … they’re slow-cooked.”

Torrez interjects, “(The restaurant’s) nice enough for date night but we’re still reasonably priced enough for the family.”

Torrez said he wasn’t looking to start another restaurant, but when he saw the “For Sale” sign in front of the old El Serape Restaurant, he had to investigate.

“When I first saw it, I fell in love with it,” he said of the hacienda-style building with its pitched, metal roof and adobe-walled patio.

After painting and some patching, Torrez opened El Rancho de Valencia in May.

Reviews have been favorable, whether by word of mouth or online. To return the complements, Torrez supports the local economy whenever he can.

He buys locally grown chile; his beef comes from a Los Lunas ranch. Local artists can hang their artwork that’s for sale on the walls or perform as live entertainment on weekends. He also supports local causes, having “Give-back Day” fundraisers where groups can get a percentage of the day’s receipts.

The restaurant recently went to its winter hours, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., seven days a week, Once warmer weather returns, and the patio opens again, hours will be 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Beer and wine will be added to the menu in December, Florez said, when the liquor license arrives.

“We’ve been very successful at catering,” Torrez said, from office parties to special events.

Or, Florez adds “you can have your party here. For parties, I dress like a chef.”

For more information, call them at 916-5351.