The Valencia County News-Bulletin is once again honored to announce the winners of the Best of Valencia County.
Valencia County is a very special place to live and work, to socialize and shop.
These people and businesses who were voted the Best of Valencia County want to make our community a better place. Congratulations to all!
Best Green Chile
Best Red Chile
144 Main St., Los Lunas
Pete and Hortencia Torres and family are no strangers to the restaurant business. Pete’s father started Pete’s Cafe in Belen in 1949, and Torres opened Teofilo’s Restaurante in 1985. This is the fourth year the Los Lunas eatery has been voted Best Restaurant, and this year the restaurant won, Best Green Chile, Best Red Chile and Best Sopaipilla.
“We just want to give a big, huge thank you to the Valencia County community for their support and love since 1985,” said daughter, Johnnah Torres.
Her father said the restaurant’s success would not be possible without their excellent staff.
“It’s like a family — we’re one big family,” Torres said. “Many of our employees have been with us for 10, 12, 14 years and they are all very professional.”
Everything from the northern New Mexico decor to table settings and plate presentation, the Torres family continue to perfect the atmosphere and quality of the food they serve. A lot of it is grown locally, Pete said.
The staff takes it all very personally. If a plate doesn’t look right to them, they’ll give it back to the kitchen, he said.
Known for their chile, blue corn chicken enchiladas and other traditional New Mexico cuisine, the Torres family also tries to innovate, recently adding specialty hamburgers to the menu.
There is the New Mexico green chile cheeseburger, the VC burger with Theresa’s chile con queso, fresh guacamole, lettuce, tomato and onion on a toasted bun. The Polla Torta made with marinated then grilled chicken breast, lettuce, tomato and onion plus Sichler’s chopped green chile and guacamole all wrapped up in a flour tortilla.
“We’ve really been trying to be innovative with our menu,” said Johnna.
They’ve also brought in local craft beer on tap, such as Marble and La Cumbre. There are weekly specials, such as craft taco Wednesdays, for example, with a variety of tacos, including fish tacos, and house-made gorditas stuffed with a variety of delicious fillings.
“All are house-made ingredients — our carne adovado, our chile rellenos,” Johnnah said. “We’re just always trying to lift the bar and raise our expectations — we have more competition coming in and that’s good. It keeps us on our toes.”
Best Green Chile Cheeseburger
Big Mike’s Grill
2350 N.M. 47, Rio Communities
Chris Montano, the owner of Big Mike’s Grill, said people love their green chile cheeseburgers because of the fresh meat they use every day. They make their own blend of Hatch green chile, using hot and extra hot.
The Mike Burger is their specialty, which consist of a single hamburger patty, cheese, chile and all the garnish. The Sopa Burger is fast becoming a customer favorite.
Best Chile Rellenos
105 N. First St., Belen,
Pete’s Cafe, owned by siblings Theresa Padilla, Pete, Michael and Mercy, is one of Valencia County’s oldest restaurants, opening in 1949 by Pete and Eligia Torres.
Pete’s Cafe’s chile rellenos are one of many customer favorites. The owners receive compliments on the dish all the time. Whether you order the chile rellenos a la carte or on a plate, it’s a good bet you’ll be satisfied.
Using mild Big Jim green chile with extra melt cheese, the chile rellenos at Pete’s Cafe in Belen are made with fresh batter every day.
Pete’s Cafe tamales are delivered to the restaurant by a regional distributor. You can order their tamales one at a time or enjoy them in one of the restaurant’s combination plates.
The desserts at Pete’s Cafe are made by the longtime employees who each have their specialties. The flan and natillas have been delighting customers for nearly 30 years, while their cream pies have been happily enjoyed for about 25 years.
The cakes, including the adobe Oreo ice cream cake, are all made in house.
223 N.M. 314, SW, Los Lunas
“I’m like in shock. Wow,” said Anthony Ferraro, co-owner of the Village Café. “I put it on Facebook and just said for people to vote for us, for whatever they thought, if anybody was willing to — I guess people did.
“It was pretty surprising,” Ferraro continued. “I’m glad we got picked. I’m very, very happy.”
In business for 2 1/2 years, the Village Café is not only known for its chicharrones; they also make perhaps the largest burrito in Valencia County at more than 14 inches long. The menu of meals are more like home-cooking.
“I like the fact that we can keep it small and keep our recipes the same as I cook at home,” Ferraro said.
The café is owned by brothers, Ferraro and Henry Sanchez, and menu items include fry bread burgers and tacos, big burgers served on fresh baked buns. They serve breakfast burritos, green chile cheeseburgers, carne adovado and other favorites.
1674 Bosque Farms Blvd.
1503 Main St. SW, Los Lunas
The owner of the eponymous Benny’s, Benny Zamora, was thrilled his tacos were named the best.
“We take great pride in them, making our own shells from scratch,” Zamora said. “We started Taco Tuesday 20 years ago and they were 59 cents each.”
The little restaurant sells on average 2,000 tacos each Tuesday, and is in the midst of an expansion, doubling its dining room, upgrading and expanding bathrooms and improving the heating and cooling system.
The original Benny’s in Bosque Farms has been around since 1972.
Best Breakfast Burrito
Best Fast Food Restaurant
• 1395 Bosque Farms Blvd.
• 799 East River Road, Belen
• 314 Main St. SW, Los Lunas
For the third year in a row, Blake’s Lotaburger captured the Best Breakfast Burrito title and added the accolade of Best Fast Food Restaurant.
“Wow! We are humbled and so very grateful for being voted Best Breakfast Burrito for the third year running in Valencia County, and now to be voted Best Fast Food Restaurant. Well, that is absolutely awesome,” said Lucy Rosen, director of marketing for Blake’s Lotaburger. “Thank you for your support, your business and the ‘lota love’ you show to Blake’s Lotaburger. We wouldn’t be here without you.”
Established in 1952, Blake’s has three Valencia County locations to grab a breakfast burrito or an order of their signature seasoned fries.
Casa De Pizza
106 Vallejos Lane, Los Lunas
Opening its doors in 1973, Casa De Pizza was the first pizza restaurant in Los Lunas. Forty-five years later, they’re still serving Valencia County’s best pizza.
“We’re very blessed,” said restaurant owner Andrew Barreras.
Barreras’ uncle, Tony Moya, founded the restaurant. When he retired, Barreras and his wife, Dorothy, took over the business. With the help of their three children, Casa De Pizza has stood strong.
One thing which has led to Casa De Pizza’s success is their customer service. Keeping the business in the family can help with that aspect of the business. However, quality workers outside the family are vital. Barreras said it can be difficult to find good employees, but it is possible.
“We look for employees who show up and have good work ethic,” said Barreras. “It’s important to have good workers.”
When it comes to the pizza itself, everything is made with the customer in mind. The ingredients are fresh and the product is homemade. Barreras believes this is what ultimately sets Casa De Pizza apart from other restaurants.
“It’s all homemade and top-of-the-line,” said Barreras. “What I would feed to my child, we feed to our customers.”
110 Main St. SW, Los Lunas
The Luna Mansion is a landmark steakhouse built in 1880 by the Santa Fe Railroad Company in exchange for right-of-way through lands owned by the Luna family. Ten years ago, Pete Torres and his family bought the Luna Mansion and run the restaurant. Pete is the son of the late Pete and Eligia Torres, who opened Pete’s Cafe in Belen in 1949.
The Luna Mansion was voted as having the Best Steak. They serve a number of steaks, including prime rib and also a savory red chile cream pasta with filet medallions. The Luna Mansion also serves seafood, salads, soup specials and burgers. The Spirit Lounge opens at 3:30 p.m. and there is a variety live music genres every Friday.
“We are so pleased,” Johnna Torres said.
• 455 N. Main St., Belen
• 2350 Main St. NE, Los Lunas
For the third year in a row, Rutilio’s in Belen has won the Best Breakfast category. The huevos rancheros is still the most popular, followed by a hearty breakfast burrito, either hand held or smothered.
“We are grateful that people acknowledge the quality of our food, and the wait staff and cooks we have,” said owner Rudy Jaramillo. “We are grateful our employees are there, doing things the way they need to be done. People appreciate that and we’re grateful to the whole community for voting for us.”
Rudy and Rebecca Jaramilo opened Rutilios in Belen in 1986.
250 Sun Ranch Village Loop, Los Lunas
For the second year in a row, Los Lunas restaurant Mariscos Altamar has been voted Best Nachos, and won this year’s new category, Best Bar.
“Thank you to everyone for voting us for best nachos! We look forward to serving you and your favorite nachos for years to come,” said owner Edgar Hernandez.
He said the county’s “best bar” just got better.
“Come check out our newly remodeled bar with more tables and TVs for you to enjoy and hang out with friends and family,” Hernandez said.
The restaurant opened in Los Lunas five years ago and serves traditional Mexican cuisine featuring tomatilla and jalapenos, along with made fresh daily tortilla chips and guacamole
Best French Fries
Circle T Burgers
• 523 S. Main St., Belen
• 625 E. Reinken, Belen
A Belen favorite since 1958, Circle T Burgers once again nabbed the award for Best French Fries in Valencia County.
Under the cheese and green chile (or Christmas, red and green combined, another store favorite), the fries are the same Grade-A New Mexico product they’ve been making for years.
Phil Tabet, owner of both restaurants in Belen, said the standard order of French fries are customer favorites.
Magdelena Hughes is the assistant director and has been a preschool teacher at Wright Choice Learning center since 2011. Hughes was studying engineering when she found out she was pregnant.
“I wanted to learn all about how the child developed. I just became fascinated with all of it,” Hughes said. “This is such a surprise to be selected.”
She has an associates degree in early childhood development and a bachelors degree in education.
Amanda Ridgeway has taught at Bosque Farms Elementary School for five years and has taken on the challenge of teaching third grade for the first time this year.
“I was so excited to hear people voted for me. It really made my day,” Ridgeway said.
Megan Morgan-Cordova has been a teacher for six years, three as an instructor at University of New Mexico in English composition and three years at St. Mary’s Catholic School.
Morgan-Cordova was a teaching assistant while working on her masters degree in English and fell in love with the profession.
“Young adults and kids have such a vision, they see things in such a fresh and unique way and are so eager to learn and be taught,” Morgan-Cordova said. “This is a little unbelievable. I’m humbled and really honored.”
She’s spent nearly two decades in the field of education and Emily Sisk-Layman is showing no signs of wanting to do anything else.
This year’s Best Principal took the top position at Central Elementary School in Belen in January 2015. Before that, she spent 13 years with Los Lunas Schools as a math teacher and academic coach.
Sisk-Layman found herself drawn more into administrative and leadership roles.
“I started to develop my leadership skills and, when I was at Desert View Elementary as an academic coach, the principal there really encouraged me to get my administration degree,” she said.
After earning her administration degree, Sisk-Layman taught at South Valley Preparatory School for a half year before the principal position at Central Elementary became available.
“With this job, I get to interact with all different people — teachers, students, families, elected officials, the community,” she said. “At Central, we have a great staff, a great team.”
The mother of two daughters, Sisk-Layman has always enrolled her children in the district she worked in — her youngest is a sixth-grader at Central and oldest daughter is a freshman at Belen High School.
“I’ve always had the belief that the school I’m at is where I will invest my children. What we want for the education of our own children should be what we want for the education of all children,” Sisk-Layman said. “As a principal, I am all about building teams and relationships. I am big about bragging about ourselves and our accomplishments to our community through our Facebook page. We have to be champions for ourselves.”
Shaun Reed has been the head baseball coach at Los Lunas High School for four years. He said he doesn’t coach to win awards, but it’s nice to be a positive influence in the community.
“I’m surprised and humbled to win something like that,” said Reed. “I’m just trying to coach my guys and help them be better.”
Best School Staff Employee
Since 2008, Cynthia Moya has been the administrative assistant to the Belen Consolidate Schools superintendent. With retirement on the horizon, Moya said being voted Best School Staff Employe is a great way to end her career.
“Oh my gosh. I was very surprised,” Moya said. “I always try to do a good job and I’m very proud of my customer service skills. I appreciate that people thought of me for this honor.”
Feb. 1, 2019, will be her last day with the district.
Most Helpful Elected Official
Los Lunas Mayor Charles Griego
“It’s humbling and totally unexpected,” Griego said of being voted the Most Helpful Elected Official. “I appreciate the efforts of the people who voted for me and hopefully I’m deserving of their support. That’s really nice, it really is. I don’t know what to say.”
The mayor is available to the public from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. every morning Monday through Friday at the village administration offices before his work day starts at Heritage Title.
Rhona Baca Espinoza
Rhona Baca Espinoza has been involved in the Pilot Club of Belen for 21 years, at the local and at the national level, serving as governor, and in different capacities for Pilot International, including as a director for the past two years. She has been the executive director of the Belen MainStreet Partnership for the past five years, volunteers with Christian Faith Chapel, and is a member the Belen Lodger’s Tax Board and the Juvenile Justice Board.
Belen Fire Chief Manny Garcia has won the title of Best Firefighter for the fourth year in a row. He will be retiring at the end of this month.
He first joined the fire service in 1995 at the Rio Grande Estates Fire Department when he was a teenager, and the Belen Fire Department in 1998. Garcia has been the fire chief in the Hub City since April 2007.
He says he enjoys what he does because he gets to help people in the most difficult times in their life, while being a positive influence to the younger generation.
Best Police Officer
Los Lunas Police Chief Naithan Gurule started his law enforcement career 16 years ago as a patrolman with the Los Lunas Police Department. He was named chief of police in 2013.
He became interested in a career in law enforcement as a young boy after watching his aunt and uncle, who were both police officers.
Gurule said a good police officer should have integrity, a good personality, be very empathetic and be someone who sets the standard in everything they do. This is the second year in a row Gurule has been voted Best Police Officer.
Most Helpful Public Employee
Ralph L. Mims
On any given day, Valencia County residents can find Ralph L. Mims, the Los Lunas economic development manager, chatting amiably at various businesses in the village.
His outgoing personality makes him easy to approach for a friendly conversation and it isn’t surprising that Valencia County voted him the Most Helpful Public Employee.
“I feel very excited; I think it’s an honor for me personally but I think we have a good team here at Los Lunas — it’s not about me,” Mims said.
Local support is important because no one is an island to himself and the best outcomes require collaboration, he said.
“Good coworkers, good elected officials that really support what you’re doing, but the best part of my job is meeting new people, engaging with people and learning from them,” Mims said.
He wants to recruit new businesses to provide residents with commercial conveniences, “so people don’t have to go to Albuquerque to shop, work or play,” he said
“We’re one of the fastest growing cities in the state so we have a lot of activity going on in Los Lunas,” Mims said.
A typical day for him involves getting the word out and letting people know Los Lunas is open for business, he said.
“We do promote business attraction, business expansion, not just retail but industry and manufacturing — talking to those industries that are looking at Los Lunas or retailers, so we can create good paying jobs in our community.”
This also involves attending meetings, industry conferences and giving Powerpoint presentations about Los Lunas. Mims explains why the village is a good place to bring their business from Albuquerque, from Rio Rancho or expand their business into the village community.
“I’m not shy. I’ll get up in front of an audience,” Mims said.
Since the summer of 2010, Mims has been selling business leaders on how great the village is as a place to live, work and do business.
He is the vice president of the Los Lunas Chamber of Commerce and he’s on the board of African American Affairs.
“That’s one thing that is dear to my heart — to try to recruit black business to Los Lunas,” Mims said. “That’s something I’m involved with, bringing up the economic development vitality of the black community which I am part of.”
Best Current High School Male Athlete
Joseph Klaus is a junior defensive back on Los Lunas’ football team and a catcher on Los Lunas’ baseball team.
“I couldn’t be more blessed and thankful for this opportunity,” said Klaus. “All the hard work is paying off.”
Best Current High School Female Athlete
Reylene Lucero is a senior at Belen High School. In 2018, Lucero was a captain on Belen’s volleyball squad.
“My family, teammates and coaches have been such a strong support system for me,” said Lucero. “Without them, I couldn’t have won an award like this.”
Ragon Espinoza, a Los Lunas resident and Belen native and the Valencia County DWI Drug Court coordinator, began playing drums when his parents, Rudy and Rhona Espinoza, bought him a snare drum when he was about 11 years old, and then shortly after got a drum set.
Since 12 or 13 years old, he’s been playing with his dad at Christian Faith Chapel in Belen. He was a member of the Belen High School marching band, as well at the University of New Mexico, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in criminology and minored in music.
Throughout his musical career, he’s played with Reviva for about nine years, and with Keith Sanchez and the Moon Thieves for the past seven years. Not only is he a drummer, he’s a percussionist, which is defined, he says, as anything you strike to make a sound, such as cow belles, tambourine, woodblocks, etc.
“It’s just something that’s always been in me,” Espinoza said. “I can’t stop at a light without drumming on the steering wheel. I think I even chew my gum wanting to make drum beats.
“I enjoy performing in front of people. I like to see people dance to something I helped to create.”
Espinoza is also a deejay and is known as DJ Tamale Breathe. He’s been deejaying for about six years, mostly doing graduation parties.
“It turned into doing weddings and now I’m doing proms and homecomings,” he said. “I do a lot of Los Lunas proms and homecomings.”
Espinoza said his brother, Ryan, inspired him to try out deejaying, saying plays a lot of Valencia County favorites, such as rancheras, cumbias and other Spanish flavors.
“Even though you’re playing someone else’s music, you’re able to see people dance and you’re providing the entertainment,” he said.
To book his deejaying services, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
An art teacher by day, Nicolas Otero has spends a lot of his free time on his own art. Otero has been named Valencia County’s Best Artist for three years in a row.
An art teacher at Bosque Farms Elementary, Otero specializes in retablos, hide paintings, altar screens, bultos, gesso reliefs, ramilletes and illustrations. Nicolas has been practicing the tradition of santo making for more than 15 years.
Apprenticed by master artists since the age of 16, his body of work has gained a significant reputation. Museums, churches and collectors include his work in their collections. His work is shown in galleries and is featured in a variety of publications.
He is a featured and award-winning artist at the annual Traditional Spanish Market in Santa Fe.
Kelly Cross has been an artist his entire life, but became a serious artist a few years ago when he discovered and became a member of the Belen Art League Gallery in 2014.
Cross is currently specializing in watercolors, but loves to draw, uses graphite and colored pencils and will sculpt when he gets the chance. He’s also trying to his hand in braided rugs, using old T-shirts. Cross is also well-known for his assemblage art, creating one-of-a-kind pieces using found objects and creating something that’s artistic, attractive and sometimes functional.
Cross recently renovated an 80-year-old building on Becker Avenue, which he uses as his home, studio and private gallery space, called Studio 508.
Father Clement Niggel
For the third time in four years, Father Clement Niggel, the pastor for Our Lady of Belen Catholic Church has been voted Best Minister.
“I am honored greatly again and very thankful to the people who voted for me,” Niggel said, who will soon celebrate his fourth anniversary with the church. “One of the great things about this is it shows great love of community. It takes their effort to go through all those questions and vote. It shows a great love of community that people do get involved.”
Ronnie Torres, co-owner Hair Innovations in Belen, has been named Best Hairdresser for the third time in four years.
Torres said he wanted to pursue a profession that he could take anywhere, but like a true lover of his hometown, Torres has remained in Belen.
Torres has been a hairdresser for more than 39 years, and has owned Hair Innovations in Belen for 31 years.
While many hairdressers specialize in one service or another, Torres does all of it, from color to haircuts to perms.
Best Wait Person
Kelsey Chory has worked at Rutilio’s in Los Lunas for three-and-a-half years.
“I’m excited and shocked,” Chory said of being selected as Valencia County’s Best Wait Person. “I didn’t know I had that many regulars. I love doing this because you get to meet new people and build a relationship with your customers.”
Best Real Estate Agent
Nancy A. Montoya
“It feels so wonderful to win this award,” Nancy Montoya said.
Montoya has been in real estate for 40 years at Century 21 and has received numerous achievement and national recognition awards within the industry, but the Best Of Valencia County award is the one nearest her heart, she said.
“The best part of my job is when I get those very special notes and letters from clients and customers who have gone out of their way to send me a note of special thanks. It validates what I do and lets me know that I am making a difference in someone’s life.”
Joseph R. Aragon, MD
“Oh my goodness,” said Dr. Aragon. “That’s something.”
Dr. Aragon said his favorite part of the job is taking care of people.
“That’s what I like to do is take care of people,” Aragon said.
Practicing since 1977, Dr. Joe Aragon came to Los Lunas from California in 1981. He was surprised to hear he won Best Doctor for the second year in a row.
Larissa Baldonado is a registered nurse with a masters of science in nursing. She has been a nurse for three years and is in her second year at Katherine Gallegos Elementary in Los Lunas.
“I’ve wanted to be a nurse since I was 16, to help people when they needed it,” Baldonado said. “This is exciting. I don’t look for public recognition, so this was kind of shocking and nerve wracking.”
Dr. Cecil Sandoval, DDS
Dr. Cecil Sandoval is a dentist in Belen. His practice offers many unique options, including laser dentistry. Sandoval was honored to be voted as the Best Dentist in Valencia County.
“It’s a blessing from above,” said Sandoval.
Ray Feldbush did not set out to be barber. In fact, he thought he would work in the construction business.
“I always thought I was going to build houses and things like that,” said Feldbush.
However, the Los Chavez native found his true calling with cutting hair. Initially, it was the good pay that drew Feldbush to the field eight years ago. The profession eventually grew into something Feldbush loves.
“I really like cutting hair,” he said. “You’re creating art. It’s very rewarding to create something out of nothing.”
He began by working for a different employer for two years before he opened his own barbershop — Ray Rae’s Barbershop in Belen. Feldbush said he wanted to offer services such as warm lather shaves to his clientele.
“I came over here and said we’re really going to pamper these guys,” said Feldbush. “There’s 13 or 15 shops around here, and nobody does hot lather.”
In addition to the hot lather, Feldbush has ping-pong tables to keep kids entertained while their parents get haircuts.
As their clientele grows, Feldbush and his employees plan to keep providing quality customer service to the community. After all, it is a community with which Feldbush is very familiar. He hopes his two children will one day continue the tradition.
“I grew up in Los Chavez,” said Feldbush. “I went to Belen High School. I know everyone, so it helps. Hopefully, my kids will keep the business going.”
Best Insurance Agent
Rod Baca, an insurance agent with Farmers Insurance in Los Lunas, has been voted as Best Insurance Agent for three years in a row.
“A lot of people have asked me why we’re the agency of the year for the third year in a row,” said Baca. “We’re a little different from other companies. We help our clients manage their everyday risk.”
For the second year in a row, David Chavez has been voted Valencia County’s Best Attorney, something he calls quite an honor.
“To have been recognized in our home community, I really appreciate the vote of confidence,” Chavez said.
The firm has represented injured clients since 1983 against multi-billion dollar companies.
Dr. Brenda Mack
Dr. Brenda Mack’s dream since childhood was to become a veterinarian. She said the dream goes back to when she was at least twelve years old.
“I feel very blessed,” Dr. Mack said of her profession. “It’s an absolute dream of mine. I love getting up and doing what I do every day.”
A Raton native, Dr. Mack received her undergraduate degree from the University of Southern Colorado. She then attended Colorado State for veterinarian school. Upon graduation, she worked several years in Canon City, Colo., before returning to New Mexico.
Mack, a veterinarian at Valencia Animal Clinic in Belen, said she loves the Hub City and has been working here for 18 years. Her practice has been recognized and voted as the best in Valencia County multiple times in the past, and Mack said it is nice to receive the recognition.
“It’s always humbling and it makes you feel happy that people recognize the hard work we do,” said Dr. Mack.
Though helping animals is a major part of her profession, Dr. Mack said veterinarians help people just as much.
“When I have kids come in and say they want to be a vet, they say they want to help animals,” said Dr. Mack. “But there’s a people component. We’re helping people just by helping their animals. You never know what that pet means to them.”
Dr. Mack said Valencia Animal Clinic’s strength comes from their customer service. While some services opt for automated messaging systems, Valencia Animal Clinic does its best to make their customers’ experience a personal and pleasant one.
“Our customer service is important to us,” said Dr. Mack. “We’re invested in making sure that your animal gets as well as you are. It’s a team clinic.”
Richard Brower, owner of Buckland Pharmacy on Dalies Avenue in Belen, has been named Best Pharmacist for the third year in a row.
Brower went to pharmacy school, following his brother, Daniel’s footsteps. He graduated from pharmacy school in 1977 and bought Buckland Pharmacy from Elmer Atwood in 1979.
Brower has been known to serve his customers after hours, in an emergency or when they’ve just returned home from the hospital.
Sandee Montoya Torres
“Oh my gosh, that is so amazing,” said Bloom Flowers and Gifts owner Sandee Montoya Torres of being voted Best Florist. “I’m so happy.”
Bloom Flowers & Gifts is going on its sixth year in business and sells gift items as well as flowers. There are clothes, handbags, gifts for any occasion — a little bit of everything, said Montoya Torres, who was a paralegal for 20 years before branching into the flower business. She sometimes delivers flowers herself.
“It’s actually one of the best parts of the job because everyone is so happy and I love it,” she said. “If you have to go to a law firm it’s usually not a good deal, so this is really neat — it’s just fun.”
“The people — just meeting new people and seeing friends that come in ... seeing how happy they are,” Montoya Torres said.
Bloom Flowers and Gifts is located at 1402 Main St. SW, Los Lunas. For more information, call 865-7338, or visit bloomflowersloslunas.com.
The dedicated, long-term employees at Randy’s Electric are a reflection of the company, said owner Randy Smith.
“I’m honored the community would say that,” Smith said of being voted one of this year’s Best Electricians. “I really feel like we are blessed with great employees and great customers we’ve worked for. We have people who have been with us 15 years, one for almost 20. They are the ones doing the work and Randy’s Electric’s reputation is a reflection of the employees.”
Founded in 1980 by Randy and his wife, Bonnie, Randy’s Electric can take on any project, from rewiring a room to irrigation pump installation.
Randy’s Electric is located at 3539 N.M. 47, Peralta. For information, call 865-7773, or visit randyselectriccompany.com.
Justin Day, owner of Daylight Electric & Appliance Inc., said it felt good to be selected as one of this year’s Best Electricians.
“I grew up here and in over 22 years, we’ve built up the business,” Day said. “There are a lot of electricians in the valley. We work our butts off and try to accommodate our customers. It’s a small town and that can make or break you by word of mouth.”
Daylight Electric & Appliance Inc. is an authorized dealer of Amana, Coleman, Goodman and Intertherm heating and cooling products.
Daylight Electric & Appliance Inc. can be reached by calling 864-3980, or visit daylightelectricandappliance.com.
“We are grateful to the residents and business owners in Valencia County for voting TLC Best Plumber, it is an honor,” said owner Dale Armstrong. “We employ a large number of talented, hardworking individuals from Valencia County and we appreciate the communities support of our people.”
The company was founded in 1987, and has grown to more than 400 employees, who are licensed, bonded and insured to perform a variety of residential, commercial and construction services throughout the state of New Mexico.
TLC is located in Albuquerque, Los Lunas and Belen. For information, call 761-9644 or visit tlcplumbing.com.
Brandon Jaramillo is a contractor and owner of B Jar Construction, Inc., based in Los Lunas. However, their work extends throughout the county.
“It’s an honor,” said Jaramillo of being voted Best Contractor. “The community has been great for us. When the industry wasn’t doing so well, we had the support of the community and that has really helped us to this day.”
For more information on B Jar Construction Inc., call 565-0114.
Best Fitness Trainer
Chris Sais is a fitness trainer and owner of Main Street Muscle and Fitness Center in Los Lunas.
“It is such an honor to be recognized by the residents of Valencia County,” said Sais. “Our whole staff works hard to create a great member experience for our clientele.”
Best Financial Advisor
Pavlos Panagopoulos has been an independent investment advisor for 32 years with Cetera Advisor Networks.
With offices in Belen and in Albuquerque, Panagopoulos began his career in Carlsbad, N.M., where he was raised. His first client was his family, who owned a restaurant, the Deluxe Cafe, in the southern New Mexico city.
He moved with his family, including wife, Nicky, to the Hub City 1989. The two also own Panagopoulos Insurance Agency.
“Helping people is the best thing,” Panagopoulos said of being a financial advisor. “People need to think about long-term investments. Everybody is a long-term investor until the investment falls in value.
“I talk them off the ledge,” he said. “Loss is real, fluctuation happens. Everyone needs to have professionally-managed investments.”
He says his staff in both offices have helped his business and clients.
“The most important thing is I have the best people here,” he said. “They care as much as I do.”
Panogopoulos was named Representative of the Year for Cetera in 2008. He has also continued to support local organizations and youth sports, by coaching and acting as president of the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce.
(Pavlos Panagopoulos is a Registered Representative of Cetera Advisor Networks. Securities and advisory services are offered through Cetera Advisor Networks LLC, member of FINRA/SIPC, a Broker/Dealer and a Registered Investment Advisor.)
Best Auto Shop
Auge’s Sales and Service
800 E. River Road, Belen
Auge’s Sales and Service, owned by the Auge family, including Ed, Robert, Tim, Jeremy and Dave Auge, have been in business since 1946.
Not only does Auge’s sell used vehicles, but they service all makes and models.
“People, customers and employees really appreciate your service and concern for their problems,” Robert Auge recently said of the enjoyment of the business. “It is very rewarding to know you have good friends as customers.”
Best Tire Shop
19236 N.M. 314, Belen
Craig Independent Tire Co. offers tire sales, alignments, shocks, struts and brakes. They have been in business since 1981.
“Our strength is service and our people,” said John R. Craig, the president of Craig Independent Tire Co.
Main Street Muscle & Fitness Center
435 Main St. SW, Los Lunas
Main Street Muscle and Fitness offers a variety of fitness and training options, including weight lifting and yoga.
“A healthy lifestyle is so important to all of us at Main Street Muscle and we enjoy sharing that with our community,” said trainer Chris Sais. “Our business is all about ‘people.’ Whether in a one-on-one training situation or as a whole, we listen to our customers and tend to their needs to help them reach their personal fitness goals in a safe, effective, fun manner.”
Best Thrift/Consignment Store
Adelante Bargain Square
701 Main St. SE, Los Lunas
Adelante Development Center
414 E. Reinken Ave., Belen
“We’re pretty excited,” said Jill Beets, Adelante vice president of marketing and communications. “It’s nice to win the nonprofit award; we’ve won the thrift store a couple times and we work really hard to run a good thrift store, so that’s fun especially because we have some competitors in the market now. Adelante is really honored to be recognized as the Nonprofit of the Year and to win Best Thrift/Consignment Store, too.”
Adelante Development Center is a diverse nonprofit organization that supports people with mental and physical disabilities, seniors and disadvantaged populations. The organization was founded in New Mexico 40 years ago by six Belen families, and has innovated and expanded to meet the needs of the community. Adelante impacts 65,000 people across the state with services that include employment, vocational and life skills training, residential services, day service and volunteer opportunities for people with disabilities and seniors.
Adelante also provides a variety of services addressing hunger and providing resources for disadvantaged populations including assistive devices and Benefits Connection Center services.
Best Locally-Owned Business
Best Hardware/Lumber Store
RAKS Building Supply
Voted this year’s Best Locally-Owned Business and Best Hardware/Lumber Store for the second year in a row is a nice acknowledgment from their community, says RAKS Building Supply owners Richie Tabet and Kenny Trujillo.
“As a group, we’ve grown over the last 32 years,” Tabet said. “I think because things have been run like a family business should be run.”
Being local, Trujillo said the company always made the effort to give back to the community, especially the youth. The business has sponsored local youth sports teams, FFA students and been a stalwart supporter of the Hispano Chamber of Valencia County Matanza, an annual event that raises money for scholarships for local students.
“When we first started this company, it really took off because of the community and we felt the need to give back,” Trujillo said. “We didn’t have the big box stores for competition back then.”
While the big chain stores have come to town, RAKS offers customers something the others can’t.
“Well, first we offer them popcorn when they walk in the door,” Tabet says with a laugh. “But really, we aren’t a big store. It’s a real clean store and we have people ready to help you, who are trained in what we stock and know what they’re doing.”
Being family-owned, they’ve seen a lot of employees grow up, Trujillo said.
“Some have started here part-time, and some stayed with us,” he said. “We are serving two or three generations of customers. We also have a lot of family members and young people coming up the ladder.”
There have been ups and downs, but RAKS is still on top, Tabet said.
“It’s good to see Valencia County taking off,” Trujillo added.
RAKS has six locations, including its corporate offices in Los Lunas, with 250 employees and an inventory of 20,000 items.
RAKS Building Supply is located at 108 Carson Dr., Los Lunas. They can be reached by calling 865-1100 or visiting raks.com.
Best Retail Store
106 Caldwell Ave., Belen
Being named the Best Retail Store in Valencia County for the fourth year in a row makes Bealls manager Teresa Sanchez very happy.
“We will try to get our customers everything they want. If we don’t have it, they can shop our store online,” said Sanchez, who has been the manager for 14 years.
The store carries clothing and shoes for men, women and children, as well as cosmetics lines such as Clinique, Philosophy and NYX.
Best Hair Salon
403 S. Main St., Belen
Ronnie and Barbara Torres have owned Hair Innovations in Belen for 32 years. Ronnie has been a stylist for 39 years, and Barbara officially retired as a stylist two years ago, and focuses primarily on the business.
Hair Innovations is a full-service salon, always up to date on the latest trends. They are a family-friendly salon and are able to accommodate large groups as well as walk-ins.
One, or all, of the stylists can do anything and everything, from hair cuts to color, and from manicures to facial waxing.
Best Barber Shop
Ray Rae’s Barbershop
233 N. Main St., Belen
In their sixth year of existence, Ray Rae’s Barbershop has been voted as Best barbershop in Valencia County. The business employs four barbers and offers hot lather services for shaves.
“We work hard. We’re doing our part by doing the work,” said business owner Ray Feldbush. “I thank our customers for letting us do the work.”
Best Financial Institution
State Employees Credit Union
• 19390 N.M. 314, Belen,
• 280 Emilio Lopez Road, Los Lunas
“Oh my God, this is such an honor,” said Tina Varela, the State Employees Credit Union’s Los Lunas branch manager. “This is wonderful that our membership thinks this highly of us and it just lets me know that we are doing our job and what’s expected of us.”
The Belen SECU was established about 26 years ago, and the Los Lunas branch followed about 10 years later.
The SECU serves Valencia County with its financial needs and is open to anyone who lives or works in Valencia County, as well as state employees and their families living anywhere in New Mexico.
“We’re super excited about (winning),” said Robin Silva, the Belen branch manager. “I honestly didn’t know ... there are plenty other financial institutions around here. I’m not surprised though, because I think we’re the best.”
Best Funeral Home
Romero Funeral Home
609 N. Main St., Belen
Romero Funeral Home in Belen has been in business for 83 years. Three generations of the Romero family, spanning eight decades, has carried on a tradition of providing personal care and attention, for not only the deceased, but for those left behind.
The funeral home offers several different packages to meet people’s specific levels of financial ability, and also offers a 10 percent discount for veterans.
Dicky and Suzanne Romero have continued to keep the Romero tradition strong. They both are the current owners of Romero Funeral Home.
Suzanne holds an intern license in arranging/directing, while Dicky holds intern licenses in both arranging/directing and embalming.
Best Child Care
Wright Choice Learning Center
901 W. Vivian Road, Belen
In business for 32 years, Wright Choice Learning Center is a five star facility that offers educational and after school childcare for children as young as 6 weeks to 12 years old, during the school year.
Wright’s offers free early pre-K for 3 year olds and free pre-K for 4 year olds.
“I think it’s the greatest thing and I’m even more excited because one of my employees got best teacher” said owner Sandra Baca Wright. “And one of my daycare kids got best athlete.
“What I like best,” she continued, “is that in every classroom, at least one teacher has either a master’s, bachelor’s or associate degree in early childhood and others are working toward their degree in early childhood multicultural education.”
Manny's Fine Pastries
515 Main St. SE, Los Lunas
Opened in 1996 by Manny Villa, the bakery is now run by Manny’s daughter, Betty Jean “Gina” Villa and her daughter, Mari. Manny’s Fine Pastries bakes cakes for every occasion, cookies, breads, brownies, muffins and tortillas. Everything is made from scratch: epanadas, pastelitos, biscochitos, Jewish challa bread, Italian cannolis and other delectables.
“I’m so honored — to get it the third year in a row I know they really like me,” said Villa. “The cakes are my favorite. To see the peoples’ faces when they get their cakes. I love it.”
Best Place to get a Massage
Garden Gate Spa & Salon
5 Thomas Road, Los Lunas
Suzette Lindemuth opened the Garden Gate Day Spa & Salon in Valencia County nearly 30 years ago, with a commitment to health and wellness, as well as aging well and reducing the isolation of aging. With about 100 or more members, Garden Gate Day Spa succeeds in providing a sense of community and wellness.
“It’s just wonderful. I’m so glad that everybody in the county thinks that the Garden Gate Day Spa is the best place to come and get treatment,” Lindemuth said. “I think we have excellent massage therapists and it’s a really great place to come and stay healthy.”
Best Home Furnishings
204 N Main St., Belen
Hub Furniture in Belen has been in business since 1949. It was founded by Bennie Sanchez and has stayed within the family. Currently, it is in the hands of Michael Sanchez, Bennie’s son.
Best Car Wash
Champion Xpress Carwash
250 Main St. SW, Los Lunas
As a company, Champion Xpress has been in business for three years, opening a Los Lunas Champion Xpress Carwash this year. Founded by three friends who grew up in small New Mexican towns, Jeff Wagner said they are very pleased to be in Los Lunas and win Best Car Wash.
“We’re excited and thrilled to win the award,” Wagner said. “That’s fantastic. I’m humbled.”
Wagner said it’s fun being in the car wash business because you get to give people a product that they love.
“Ours is a fun business because people get to leave with a smile on their face,” he said. “We like that.”
Best Art Gallery
Tomé Art Gallery
2930 N.M. 47, Tomé
The 60-member artist co-op in the heart of the historic community of Tomé offers a wide array of artwork, from pottery to jewelry to handmade soaps and candles to fiber art.
“We are very honored and grateful to be voted Best Art Gallery, especially knowing that there are so many talented artists showing in the other beautiful galleries around the county,” said Jan Pacifico, gallery owner and member.
Daniel D.Fernandez Memorial Park
1103 N.M. 314, Los Lunas
Daniel D. Fernandez Memorial Park and Recreation Center was dedicated in 1972 in honor of Daniel D. Fernandez, a local Vietnam hero, who in February 1966 at the age of 22 threw himself on a live grenade to save the lives of his fellow soldiers. The Fernandez family was awarded in Washington, D.C., the Medal of Honor for his actions in Hau Nghia Province, Republic of Vietnam. Fernandez was born on June 30, 1944 and grew up in Los Lunas.
The park hosts several events including an Easter egg hunt, Veterans Day ceremony and others, plus the recreation center hosts the Halloween extravaganza and also has an open basketball gym, a fitness center, aerobic classes and much more.
Best Local Website
Best Social Media Site
Valencia County News-Bulletin
1837 Camino del Llano, Belen
The oldest news source in Valencia County is doing well in the modern era, having been voted Best Local Website and Best Local Social Media.
Valencia County News-Bulletin editor/publisher Clara Garcia said she and her staff were thrilled to receive the votes.
“We want to thank our readers for their support because whether it’s the weekly paper, our website or one of our social media platforms, putting news and information into the hands of our community members is our priority,” Garcia said.
The Valencia County News-Bulletin, established in 1910, can be found at locations throughout the county every Thursday, online at news-bulletin.com and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Best Place to Work
Village of Los Lunas
660 Main St., Los Lunas
“Just the fact that our employees took the time to acknowledge that we are a great place to work is very heart warming,” said Iris C. Padilla, the village of Los Lunas’ human resources manager. “It makes us feel good to know that we’re moving in the right direction.”
Employees say the benefits are one of the reasons the village is the best place to work. The village pays 100 percent of employee insurance premiums and has an employee appreciation committee that organizes barbecues, ball games, and other events for employees and their families.
“I’m really not surprised because the village is such a great place to work,” said 10 year employee Debra Wortman Candelaria, assistant to the director of public works. “They take care of their employees. The benefits are outstanding. They’re very family oriented and they care about the community. I love my job.”
“It’s a small community with big possibilities,” said Joshua Chavez who has worked at the village transfer station for almost 15 years. “A lot of the individuals here that I work with all have families — we’re raising our families here, we’ve been raised here and being able to give back to our community.”
Opportunities to move up the ladder of success are available to those who strive for them.
“I like what I do,” Chavez said. “Every day you’re learning something new. I like the crew I work with and that makes the job easy, so it makes you want to work.”
Weekends off and plenty of paid holidays are also perks and if they request it, employees are also provided additional training so they have all the opportunity in the world to move up the ladder of success, said first year Park Ranger Nathaniel Blanton.
“The working partnership throughout the whole company is great,” Blanton said. “We all work together as a whole. That’s what makes it such an amazing environment — you’re wanted and they’re there to see you succeed and that makes me feel great.”
Best Youth Athletic Program
The American Youth Soccer Organization provides opportunities for children to learn soccer techniques. It also provides a competitive atmosphere for more experienced players.
Their mission is, “To develop and deliver quality youth soccer programs, which promote a fun, family environment based on the AYSO philosophies.”
Best Community Service Organization
Pilot Club of Belen
The Pilot Club of Belen, a community-service organization, was chartered in February 1947, and its members have continuously made a commitment to helping the community. The club is all about more — more community good works, more education and awareness about brain health, more friendships and more from the heart. Some of the service projects has been financing a Liberty Swing and the Freenotes Harmony Instruments at Eagle Park.
Best Tourist Location
Belen Harvey House Museum
104 N. First St., Belen
The Belen Harvey House Museum specializes in Harvey House, railroad and Southwest history, but it is also a space where you can find a variety of exhibits. Thousands of visitors come to the Hub City and the Harvey House to view exhibits featuring history, art and more.
Best Annual Event in Valencia County
Hispano Chamber of Valencia County Matanza
For the past 18 years, the Hispano Chamber of Valencia County has sponsored the Worlds’ Largest Matanza, hoping not only to give people a taste of a centuries-old tradition, but to raise money for scholarships for local students.
On the last weekend of January, thousands of people from across the state come to the annual Matanza, as teams show off their skills competing in different categories, such as best chicharrones, best carne adovada, best red chile and the Iron Pig competition, where teams are given a “mystery” box of ingredients to create a unique dish.
The annual event has brought in thousands to Eagle Park in Belen, where not only do visitors get to eat the delicious food, but they also are able to visit a variety of vendors and enjoy live music and dancing.
Matanzas are a time-honored tradition dating back centuries before refrigeration when rural New Mexican families slaughtered livestock in the winter because it could be kept fresh over the season. Today, matanzas, which usually begin early in the morning and end late into the night, are large gatherings of families, friends and neighbors to celebrate the tradition and one another.
At one recent Matanza, one visitor from Albuquerque heard about the event and couldn’t pass it up.
“I’m here for the atmosphere, the music — just being here,” said Sam Ali, who attended for the first time.
Visitors come from all over the county and state with several out-of-state visitors as well.
Christina Miller, of the Duke City, said she is not originally from New Mexico and loves the Matanza for the cultural experience it offers.
“The quality of the food brings me back,” Miller said. “If you go to outdoor vendors, even New Mexico restaurants, it’s not as good as the quality of food here.”