2017 Best of Valencia County
Best Green Chile Cheeseburger
Big Mike’s Grill
For the second year in a row, Big Mike’s Grill has been voted tops in the green chile cheeseburger choices in Valencia County.
“We’re honored to have won again. I think it speaks to the quality of food we offer,” said owner Chris Montano. “We give people a good value. Thank you to everyone for their support and their vote.”
Big Mike’s has been in the same cozy little restaurant on the edge of the river in Rio Communities for the last six years. It’s known for its commitment to fresh, local ingredients for their burgers and other offerings, Montano said.
“We get fresh buns, good meat, fresh ground daily,” Montano said. “We press fresh patties every day.”
Big Mike’s has also been on USA Today’s list of 10 Best Green Chile Cheeseburger in New Mexico and the “Mike burger” took the third place People’s Choice award at the 2015 New Mexico State Fair.
Best Green Chile
TJ’s New Mexican Restaurant
For 26 years, the recipe for green chile at TJ’s New Mexican Restaurant has remained unchanged, and that might be what makes it the best in Valencia County.
“It’s a family recipe that’s never been changed,” said Jessica Zamora, manager and daughter of owners Charles and Julie Gonzales. “We keep it the same; we’re consistent with the chile.”
That consistency has lasted them for 15 years in Belen and 11 more in Los Lunas. Zamora started working weekends when she was 13 and over the years, her brother, son and daughter have all become a part of the family business.
While the red chile and carne adovada are her personal favorites, their fresh chile rellenos are popular, as well as their green chile menudo.
“It’s different because it’s usually made with red. We serve it year round because it’s so popular,” she said. “Everything here is good, as long as you have red or green. You gotta’ have chile.”
Best Red Chile
Rutilio’s (Los Lunas)
Rutilio’s New Mexican Food in Los Lunas has been voted to have the Best Red Chile.
“Thank you Valencia County for showing us our hard work pays off,” said co-owner Joey Acanfrio.
“We were surprised actually to win red chile because I know Teofilo’s has won it for the last few years,” said his wife, Natalie. “So, we were glad to have won and proud because we have done a lot of work, and have finally made a name for our own selves.”
Joey and Natalie Acanfrio are the son-in-law and daughter of Rudy and Rebecca Jaramillo in Belen, who opened the first Rutilio’s in 1986. The young couple have faithfully followed the tried-and-true family recipes since they opened a second restaurant in Los Lunas five years ago, making fresh red chile puree each day from pods ordered by Rudy for both restaurants.
“We’ve started with the base of the recipes he has instilled in us and the only differences are, we’ve changed to what our community likes,” Natalie said. “Because Belen and Los Lunas are very different, they may like something different taste-wise.”
Best Breakfast Burrito
“Wow! Well, we are thrilled, honored and humbled to have won Valencia County’s Best Breakfast Burrito for the second year in a row and look forward to many more wins as we continue to serve the very best breakfast burritos to the community,” said Lucy Rosen, Blake’s Lotaburger director of marketing.
What makes their breakfast burritos outstanding is the ingredients that go in them, Rosen said — fresh eggs, hash browns, your choice of red or green and either applewood bacon or sausage.
While all of that might make a person salivate, what really makes them special is the love and care that goes into making each burrito as it is ordered.
“We don’t pre-make our breakfast burritos. Our customers can count on a fresh, delicious, made-to-order breakfast burrito every time they come in for breakfast,” said Rosen.
Casa de Pizza (Los Lunas)
Casa de Pizza was voted Best Pizza again and their many years in business testify to their popularity.
“It’s got a different taste than any of the other restaurants around here,” said Dorothy Barreras of her and husband, Andrew’s pizzas. “We specialize in the thin crust — it’s made daily — the quality of the toppings.”
Andrew makes the sausage and uses natural meat from Keller’s Farm Store in Albuquerque and use New Mexico chile. They also make a gluten-free pizza dough.
They recently added artichokes to their toppings menu. The three most popular pizzas are the Casa Special, the supreme and the garlic supreme. Customers return again and again, and come from all over the state and even out-of-state. Pizzas can also be ordered uncooked if people want to bake them at home.
Last year, Casa de Pizza moved one building north of their old location and it’s even bigger.
Teofilo’s has the Best Sopaipillas voters say. Teofilo’s sopaipillas are made using a family recipe developed by Eligia Torres, the matriarch of the restaurant heirs.
“We’ve refined it over the years,” said granddaughter Joell Himeur, who now runs the restaurant.
She explained that it’s not just a matter of the dough and chilling it to firm it, but the alchemy of ingredient measures, how well the dough is rolled out, how much it has risen, as well as the exact temperature when the sopaipillas are fried.
“All those little things play into making a really perfect sopaipilla,” Himeur said. “We make the dough, we let it sit in the refrigerator for a day or so, and then we make it into little separate bolitas, balls. We let them rise a little bit and once they’ve risen ... it’s important that they’re rolled out into a nice and thin consistency or else the sopaipillas get too heavy when they fry.”
Light, fluffy and airy, Teofilo’s sopaipillas are served with real honey.
The community voted again this year that Rutilio’s in Belen has the Best Breakfast. Rudy and Rebecca Jaramillo opened the restaurant in 1986 and have been serving consistent quality food for more than three decades.
Rudy said huevos rancheros is the most popular, with eggs served as you like them on a corn tortilla, surrounded by papitas or hash browns, refried or whole beans, smothered in cheese and your choice of green or red chile, toast, flour tortilla or sopaipilla.
Breakfast burritos are another signature dish, hand-held or smothered, in red or green chile filled with eggs, bacon, sausage or chorizo, cheese and hash browns. Many of the restaurant patrons have been regulars for many years and Rutilio’s has also provided more than two dozen careers for members of the community who have worked for the restaurant for many years.
For the second year in a row, the desserts at Pete’s Cafe in Belen won the prize for Best Dessert in the county. And for the second year, Marie Padilla, who co-manages the restaurant with cousin Camille Padilla, can’t really say which dessert is the customer favorite ― sort of.
“We still don’t have a definite answer,” Padilla says with a chuckle. “But I’d say it’s the natillas. Italian crème cake is probably a close second.”
Padilla said what sets all their 11 desserts apart is that they’re made in house, using recipes that were passed down from within the family.
It’s a mountain of fresh made tortilla chips, beans, shredded beef, fresh pico de gallo, melted cheese, all topped off with a dollop of sour cream and fresh guacamole. The Best Nachos this year come from Mariscos Altamar and they are more than enough to share.
Restaurant owner Edgar Hernandez said he appreciates the recognition and the support of the community.
“It’s always nice to be noticed,” Hernandez said.
Mariscos opened in Los Lunas four years ago and been recognized by other publications, such as ABQ the Magazine.
Hernandez said the restaurant’s food is traditional Mexican fare, not New Mexico, so while he appreciates them, you won’t find sopaipillas or green chile here. Instead tomatilla and jalapenos take center stage, along with their made fresh daily tortilla chips and guacamole.
Best French Fries
Circle T Burgers
A Belen favorite since 1958, Circle T Burgers once again nabbed the award for Best French Fries in the county. But Andrew Tabet, who manages both Circle T sites, said this year’s honor may have be due to a special ingredient ― green chile.
“We used to use the hottest chile but we were getting complaints. So we switched to medium and now we’re selling three times as many orders of green chile cheese fries as we used to.”
But 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 for years.
Best County Folk
Elsie Lopez-Dougherty got into the teaching game a little late in life but she has embraced the profession. So much so that Valencia County has voted her this year’s Best Teacher.
The third-grade teacher at La Merced Elementary said the honor makes her “full of happiness. That sounds silly, but that’s how I feel.”
Lopez-Dougherty has been teaching for 11 years — four at La Merced and before that Gil Sanchez. The Belen native went back to college for her teaching degree three decades after graduating from Belen High School.
“I just felt the need to teach,” she said. “I love teaching. It’s the most challenging job and with the same breath, most rewarding. I have had some wonderful, seasoned teachers who were willing to mentor and guide me. I couldn’t do this without my wonderful fellow teachers.”
Melodie Good is in her sixth year as principal at St. Mary’s School in Belen. She taught English for 18 years at Belen Middle School and Belen High School, and was a principal and in administration for seven years at Los Lunas Schools and in TorC.
This is the second year in a row that voters have named her Best Principal.
“St. Mary’s is like a family,” Good said. “I’m just very humbled to have that recognition. It’s just really special.”
Until two years ago, Natalie Solis had more experience as a stay-at-home mom than she did as a coach. That has since changed over the last 24 months as Solis moved into the classroom and practice fields of St. Mary’s School in Belen.
Growing up in Grants, Solis excelled as an athlete and went to college to become a physical education teacher. After a few years as a phys-ed teacher, she became a mom. Now she’s back, coaching middle school track and elementary school volleyball and basketball, as well as working as a P.E. teacher.
“The best part is the kids, of course,” Solis says of her job. “Just being able to fill them with knowledge, watch them work and seeing their successes is great.”
Best School Staff Employee
Los Lunas native Beverly Barela was surprised to win the Best School Staff Employee but this isn’t her first award for best employee. Barela has been awarded three times within Los Lunas Schools over the years.
She has worked for the district for 25 years, including working at Century High School and central office, where she’s a custodian who wears a variety of hats. Barela has worked as a receptionist answering phones, as a senior class sponsor helping students prepare for graduation, in the mail room and decorating for the holidays, even baking and decorating beautiful cookies.
“I was very surprised,” said Barela of being voted Best School Staff Employee.
Barela works hard above and beyond her work duties without ever having to be asked.
“I enjoy what I do,” Barela explains. “Even the kids, when I worked at the schools they’d say ‘Miss Barela, you work too hard,’ and I’d say, ‘I do it for you guys’ and they appreciate it.”
She likes to make the school environment nice for the students, she says, and in her experience, if you treat people good, they treat you good.
Most Helpful Elected Official
Los Lunas Mayor Charles Griego
Los Lunas Mayor Charles Griego was voted Most Helpful Elected Official.
“It’s really surprising but it’s greatly appreciated,” Griego said.
As a public servant, Griego believes strongly in being available to people so he spends a couple of hours every weekday morning at the administration building before going to work. He said he answers his emails and phone calls as quickly as possible.
He has been the mayor for the past four years and a councilor 32 years prior, and said being open with the public is important in keeping people informed as to what is happening within their government.
Griego, the son of a sheep farmer, has also worked to enhance the village economy to bring residents jobs and services.
“Creating an opportunity for people, especially our younger generation if they want to stay here, that there’s an ability for them. ‘Yes, I can work here; I can live here; I can support my family here.’ That’s important,” Griego said.
Most Helpful Public Employee
Troy Ainsworth, museum tech at the Los Lunas Museum of Heritage and Arts, was voted Most Helpful Public Employee.
“I just think we are polite and courteous to our visitors here,” Ainswirth said. “We want to welcome people to the museum to learn about regional history and provide them with exhibits that are informative and entertaining.”
Ainsworth has been a museum tech since last spring, and previously did freelance research work for the museum. Now, he develops and installs historical exhibits, prepares the speaker series for the calendar year and organizes tours to historic sites within the region. He also assists patrons with genealogy and history-related questions.
One of his passions is studying historic maps. He said they’re important because they show how landscape differs from one point in time to the present.
“It helps us better understand land use issues over time,” Ainsworth said.
June Romero, of Belen, has been voted Best Volunteer for her years of commitment to the community. She has been a volunteer board member for the Valencia Shelter Services, the Friends of the Belen Public Library and the New Mexico Quilters Association. She is currently president of all three boards.
Romero said she learned the value of volunteering from her parents, and has taught her own children the worth of giving of oneself.
The retired Los Lunas principal said being a member of the VSS board is gratifying in being able to support those who are “doing the real work.”
“The real work of helping those who are vulnerable is done by the staff,” Romero said. “The board helps them, but we’re way less important. We help in raising money. The work they do is what the organization does, and I can’t exaggerate the need for that support.”
As for the library, Romero has a special place in her heart for books and reading.
“I wanted to get involved and became involved in the book club,” she said. “From there, I was invited to join the board of the Friends. I’ve been president three times.”
The board helps to raise money for library programs and the annual Deborah Graham scholarship through monthly book sales and other fundraising efforts.
“The purpose is to get books in the hands of people in Belen and raise money for the library,” she said.
“My mother taught me to put more in than take out,” she said of why she volunteers. “I want to give back to Belen because I’m really proud of our town. I just want to do what I can and contribute.”
Best Police Officer
Los Lunas Police Chief Naithan Gurule
Naithan Gurule started his law enforcement career 15 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 amazing,” Gurule said of being voted Best Police Officer. “I’m very thankful to receive this award because it comes from people’s hearts. For people to vote for me ... I can’t describe how happy that makes me feel.”
Belen Fire Chief Manny Garcia
Belen Fire Chief Manny Garcia has won the title of Best Firefighter for the third year in a row.
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.
“It’s humbling to think this is the third year in a row,” Garcia said. “It’s a department effort that’s being recognized.
“It’s because of the firefighters we have in the department that we can call ourselves the very best at what we do.”
Best Current High School Athlete
As junior running back for Belen High this season, Diego Casillas earned many nicknames ― “Beast,” “Bulldozer” and “The Eagle of Valencia County.”
It’s easy to understand why. Casillas was a prime reason for the Eagles’ undefeated regular season and the No. 2 seed the squad earned going into this year’s NMAA football playoffs.
Casillas, 17, says he’s played the sport since he was 8 and there’s no other sports he’d rather play.
“I just love it, I always have,” Casillas says. “I love working out in the off-season, getting better. There’s a lot to it. I just love the game.”
Casillas says he draws a lot of inspiration from his fellow Belen athletes and the town he grew up in.
“It always seems like we have heart,” he says. “We never give up the fight.”
Casillas is now looking toward the future, after his upcoming senior season, and intends to win a scholarship to play college football.
An art teacher by day, Nicolas Otero has spent the last year concentrating on his art. He ends 2017 much like he did 2016 — as Valencia County’s Best Artist.
“It’s very humbling to get this again,” Otero said. “I don’t think any one person is a better artist than another. We do this not for accolades, but for an internal, self-fulfilling purpose.”
An art teacher at Bosque Farms Elementary, Otero said he gets up early every day to work on his art. In addition to guiding young, budding artists, this month Otero was one of 11 artists hand selected for Chispa, a one-day art show in Santa Fe which featured highly-acclaimed, award-winning artists.
Father Clement Niggel
Fr. Clement Bradley Niggel has been a priest for 14 years. He has been with Our Lady of Belen Catholic Church since June 2014.
Niggel is proud to have been able to accomplish several goals in his time at Our Lady of Belen, including the recent opening a gift shop in the parish office, and the organization of Widow’s Mite, a coordination of volunteers who help community members clean and/or fix up their homes.
He also recently started the perpetual adoration chapel, whereby parishioners pray before the Most Blessed Sacrament 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“First, this is so humbling,” Father Niggel said of the award. This is the second time he’s been named Best Minister.
“It feels good. I love my parishioners and it’s nice to feel loved. It’s such a great town, and everyone is welcoming and loving. It’s great to be part of this town.”
Best Hair Dresser
Brandy Mills Gulas
Born and raised in Los Lunas, Brandy Mills Gulas says she didn’t start out wanting to be a hairdresser, despite having a natural affinity for it as a fourth-grader.
Now, 19 years into her career as a stylist, she is very much in demand, cutting hair in her own salon, Brandy’s Hair Salon, which is a by-appointment-only salon.
“I really love to cut and color hair, and I spent a lot of time and money to get the education to do this,” Gulas says. “I spend a lot of time with clients to get their hair just how they want it.
“Being by-appointment only, I can cater to my clients’ hours. I usually go from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., Monday through Saturday. Children are allowed in the shop and we have privacy, so they can come in and relax. It’s nice,” Gulas concludes.
Best Nail Tech
Jenny “Kim” Huynh
As a nail tech with 10 years of experience, Jenny Huynh, nicknamed Kim by her friends and customers at Nails & Spa in Los Lunas, says she is very honored to earn the award of Best Nail Tech in Valencia County.
“It’s a great honor,” Huynh says.
Kim has been at Nails & Spa for six years and says there are many things she likes about being a nail tech. Her favorite is being in the shop with her friends and interacting with those she provides her service to.
“Connecting with a wide variety customers is my favorite part — meeting new people and seeing old friends.”
Whether you’re looking for a taper, a fade, a flat-top or just a regular hair cut, Ray Feldbush is your man. For the second year in a row, people in Valencia County have voted him as the Best Barber in the area.
“It’s honestly crazy, to win again. I never expected it” he says. “It’s just dedication. We show up to work every day and do quality haircuts. They come back and we enjoy it.
“Right now we’ve been doing a lot of beard trimming. We do designs and stuff. We’re constantly getting word-of-mouth,” he says.
Feldbush, who graduated from the Albuquerque Barber College in 2010, has been in the same spot in the middle of the Hub City. The shop recently celebrated its fifth anniversary.
Best Wait Person
Rudy Garcia said he was overwhelmed to hear he’d been named the Best Wait Person in Valencia County for the second year in a row.
“When my boss told me, I didn’t believe her,” Garcia said. “When it finally sank in, I had to go off by myself.”
Garcia has worked at the Luna Mansion for 9 years of his more than three decades of restaurant work. In that time, his customers have become his friends and family.
“I know there are a lot of younger and faster servers, and every restaurant has their top server. To be recognized by my customers is a blessing,” he said. “I have met so many wonderful people during my career and the Torres family has treated me like family.”
Best Real Estate Agent
In the 1970s, Nancy Montoya says she made a decision to stop being a teacher and become a full-time realtor ― much to the chagrin of her mother.
But the decision has paid off as Montoya, a life-long resident of the county has been recognized as a top realtor not only by her company, Century 21, but also by News-Bulletin readers.
“Oh my gosh, I’m just so excited to win again,” she says. “We work really hard in our business, and keep up with the county and our customers. It feels great to win. It’s just a great honor.”
Montoya says every day is a challenge but credits the “great team” she works with for helping her provide the service she says she believes helped her win the Best Realtor award two years in a row.
“We have a neat team and we all work together,” she says. “We want to provide the service our customers need. It’s a very stressful business, for the seller and the buyer. It’s almost a once-in-a-lifetime thing to sell a home.
“With every transaction, I’m excited about it, no matter how small or large. My heart is in it for them, the customer,” she emphasizes.
Best Health Care Professional
Dr. Joseph Aragon
An old style, private practice general M.D., Dr. Joe Aragon was delivering babies back when Belen had a hospital. Many of his patients today he delivered as babies, said Jennifer Trujillo, Aragon’s physician’s assistant.
From newborns to those in their 100s, the silver-haired doctor treats everything from the common cold to diabetes and heart disease.
“There’s just not many solo, private practices anymore,” Trujillo said. “Most of the county providers are now the bigger corporations.”
The shy and humble physician has a good bedside manner, his P.A. said, and works six days per week. Aragon worked for the Los Lunas Medical Associates for about 15 years and has now been at Los Lunas Family Practice on Sandoval Road for close to 20 years.
On some occasions, the doctor has been known to make house calls and on the weekends, Aragon works in hospice care at Ambercare.
Best Insurance Agent
Insurance is one of those things you have and hope to never need. For protection against the unplanned, visit Rob Baca at Farmer’s Insurance in Los Lunas, Valencia County’s Best Insurance Agent for the second year in a row.
“We have a good team, a good staff. We make sure our customers get the best coverage for their individual needs and really understand their coverage,” Baca said. “I think we make it easy for customers to purchase our insurance products. I invite anyone to come in and talk to us about their current coverage, to make sure they are really being taken care of, whether they buy a policy from us or not.”
David C. Chavez
Attorney David C. Chavez graduated from the University of New Mexico School of Law in 1983, the same year he opened his practice in Los Lunas.
He started in general practice, litigating civil cases, including everything from probate to personal injury cases. He was also the attorney for the village of Los Lunas for nearly 20 years.
In recent years, Chavez’s practice has focused on tragic and catastrophic injury cases, such as auto and motorcycle accidents, semi-truck accidents, medical malpractice claims, workers compensation and wrongful death.
When asked why he became an attorney, he joked, saying “Because my dad (the late Judge Tibo Chavez) told me I was going to do it.”
Chavez majored in agriculture education and extension, but decided on the law because, he says, it came naturally to him.
“It’s about helping people,” Chavez said. “We’re result driven, and we have only one opportunity to try a case. Our clients trust us and their lives hang in the balance.
“It’s a big deal to be a nationally-recognized attorney, but it’s gratifying to have local recognition. I hope it means we’re making a difference and an impact in the community.”
Florian Sanchez, DVM
Dr. Florian Sanchez, DVM, founded Yucca Veterinary Medical Center in Belen in 2013, a mixed animal practice that provides care to dogs, cats, horses and cattle. He provides services from dental checkups to orthopedic care.
Dr. Sanchez says he has been able to run a successful clinic because he has always been up-front and honest with his customers regarding prognosis and pricing.
“We listen to our customers, and try to understand where they’re coming from,” Sanchez said. “We give their animals the best care and respect, and honor people’s wishes. Our job is to make sure there is a quality of life.”
He also praises his staff, who treats each and every animal as unique and understand that each are individual cases.
“I was a little taken aback,” Sanchez said when he heard he was voted Best Veterinarian. “I’m humbled and really honored that people support and voted for me. I’m happy but nervous at the same time because I’m not one to take the spotlight.”
Richard Brower has been named Best Pharmacist for the second 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.
“It’s so much fun to talk to the people and advise them,” Brower said of his customers. “Ninety percent of the people who come in, I know.”
Brower was again surprised when he was told he won the award.
“I don’t know what to say, other than I’m humbled,” he said. “After being here for 39 years, it’s good.”
Brower has been known to serve his customers after hours, in an emergency or when they’ve just returned home from the hospital.
Best Pet Groomer
Shari’s Pampered Pets
“We’re the busiest shop in Valencia County,” says Shari Mathews-Gallegos, owner of Shari’s Pampered Pets. “We’ve been a mom-and-pop shop for 35 years. So to go against big dogs and win an award like this, that’s a great achievement.”
Mathews-Gallegos says her shop is the only certified grooming shop in the county. That and their attention to customers — and their dogs — keeps her and her staff busy.
“We’re just giving people quality work for a reasonable price. That’s what keeps people coming back,” she says. “We always make sure we’d be happy with a dog when we look at them. And hey, I love what I do. That makes the difference in the quality of the work.”
The shop also does training and has recently trained groomers from as far away as Mexico City.
Matthew Chavez has been farming all his life, starting with his father David Chavez. Now the grower of chile and alfalfa has been named Valencia County’s Best Farmer, an accomplishment he didn’t get on his own.
“I do my best to provide the best product I can. It will never be perfect but we try to make it right,” Chavez said. “Everything I’ve been able to do has been thanks to the support of my wife and family, and the Lord. I pray for my farm every year.” Chavez said.
He specifically turns to Psalms 144:13, “Our barns will be filled with every kind of provision.”
“I come out here and work but He does the heavy lifting,” he said.
Best Business and Service
Since 1985, Teofilo’s Restaurante has been serving some of the best carne adovada and chile rellenos in the county. The restaurant has been voted the best for the past three years.
“We want to thank our employees and customers. Without these people, we wouldn’t be where we are,” said Joell Himeur, daughter of the restaurant’s founders, Pete and Hortencia Torres, and granddaughter of Pete and Eligia Torres, who founded Pete’s Cafe in Belen.
Along with a menu full of favorite New Mexican dishes, every Wednesday Teofilo’s offers Dia de los Tacos, everything from fish tacos to crispy avocado tacos all made fresh from scratch.
Teofilo’s Sunday morning breakfast is very popular as well.
“Breakfast from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays is probably one of our busiest shifts,” she said.
From traditional breakfast and Huevos Rancheros to spinach and egg tacos and other interesting dishes along with mimosas, Teofilo’s aims to please all the senses.
Best Auto Shop
Pete’s Pro Truck & Auto Repair
Pete and Leticia Garcia opened Pete’s Pro Truck and Auto Repair, at 1101 Don Felipe Road in Belen, in May 2012. They specialize in diesel, domestic and imports, but they can do anything you need, from an oil change to an engine overhaul.
They admit that running a business is not easy, but they believe that being honest with their customers and fair has helped in their success, as well as loyal employees.
“He’s created a good rapport with his customers,” Leticia said of her husband. “They feel comfortable coming back.”
“It blew me away when I heard about the award,” Pete said. “I didn’t expect it. It’s an honor because people trust us.”
Main Street Muscle & Fitness
Chris Sais, manager of the Main Street Muscle and Fitness Center in Los Lunas, says patrons of the gym started asking if the gym had won the award for Best Gym around the beginning of November.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” Sais said. “I guess it’s a bigger deal than I thought. It’s nice to know that the community appreciates us and that our customers want us to be recognized.”
The gym, which is owned by Sais’ parents, Gene and Yvonne, has been open on Main Street in Los Lunas for more than 22 years and employs 20 people, who serve about 1,500 members
Best Auto Dealership
For the third year in a row, Brad Francis Auto Group has been voted Valencia County’s Best Auto Dealership.
“It feels good to get this again,” said Dennis Taylor, director of operations. “It means we’re doing our job well.”
The dealership has continued its focus on customer service, Taylor said, especially with it’s Family Program, which touts “When you buy from us, you’re family.”
Upping their customer service level means doing things like following up with someone after they make a purchase or come in for service, to make sure everything was done to their satisfaction.
“You aren’t going to make everyone happy, but we keep trying,” Taylor said.
Best Thrift Store
Adelante Bargain Square
Located in Los Lunas, Adelante’s Bargain Square has earned a “three-peat” as Best Thrift Store in the county.
Jill Beets, vice president of marketing and communications of Adelante Development Center, said it was an honor to win again, and also to help the clients and employees the center brings in.
“It feels pretty good to win three years in a row,” she said. “We’re really happy that the people of the county continue to support us and our social mission. We process about 300 donations a day and we’re able to serve both our customers and workers. So we’re really happy about that.”
Bargain Square Thrift Store in Los Lunas, at 701 Main St. NW, primarily sells gently-used clothes and shoes, books, bikes and exercise equipment, furniture and other household items as well as new items like tools, dishes and sunglasses.
Best Retail Store
People voted Bealls the Best Retail Store for the third year in a row.
Teresa Sanchez, the store manager for the past 13 years, said it is because of the customers and the store’s customer service that makes Bealls the best.
“It’s the people of Valencia County who make the store great,” Sanchez said. “Everyone is always welcome to our store.”
Bealls has a wide assortment of trendy, brand-name clothes for the whole family, plus brand-name shoes and boots, jewelry, designer perfumes and colognes, cosmetics including the Estee Lauder and Clinique lines, purses, pajamas and lots of great sales throughout the year.
Best Hair Salon/Barber Shop
Ronnie and Barbara Torres have owned Hair Innovations in Belen for 31 years. Torres has been a stylist for 38 years, and Barbara officially retired as a stylist last year, and is focusing primarily on the business.
“I’m just so excited (about the award),” Ronnie says. “We have one of the best crews we’ve ever had. Half are younger stylists and the other half are seasoned stylists, so we’re able to fit every demographic.”
Hair Innovations has nine stylists and one nail technician, who is also an aesthetician.
Torres attributes the success of the business to having a good reputation and loyal customers.
“Our customers are like family,” he said.
Best Financial Institution
State Employees Credit Union
People in Valencia County like the State Employees Credit Union — they voted SECU the Best Financial Institution in the county. Headquartered in Santa Fe, SECU was established 60 years ago and has more than 40,000 members statewide. The Belen branch was established about 25 years ago and the Los Lunas branch opened in 2012.
“We offer friendly service,” said Anna Duran, the Los Lunas branch manager. “We know each and every member that comes through the door and if we don’t, we get to know them.”
The credit union is member owned and offers free checking and savings accounts, auto and home loans. When a person becomes a member of SECU, they have ownership of the credit union and that gives them a vote in electing the board of directors, who serve voluntarily without pay. The credit union has free debit card service and competitive interest rate credit cards, plus online banking and a phone app.
“There’s a lot of financial institutions in this community, so I thought it was awesome that we won,” said Robin Silva, the Belen branch manager. “I’m pretty proud of that.”
Best Funeral Home
Noblin Funeral Service
Robert and Katie Noblin said it is an honor to hear their business, Noblin Funeral Service, was voted Best Funeral Home this year.
“It feels amazing,” said Katie. “Every family that walks through that door, they have made that decision for a reason and trusted us with their loved one.”
Robert said the employees at their two locations, in Belen and Los Lunas, are who really put in the hard work.
“In the 12 years we’ve been here, we have gone from 40 services a year to 300,” Robert said. “That is due to a wonderful team of employees.”
The Noblin’s daughter, Karlie, is also involved in the business in her own special way. Every family receives a hand-drawn sympathy card from Karlie. Katie said families are touched by her thoughtfulness.
“We could not do this without our family and our amazing staff,” said Robert.
Best Grocery Store
It’s a three-peat for Albertsons as Valencia County’s best grocery store. Located at the Los Lunas “Y” since 1991, the store offers a full-service deli and bakery, produce section, pharmacy, beer, wine and spirits, as well as floral arrangements and party favors.
“It’s unbelievable,” said store director Vincent Dominguez. “My team does all this, not me. I’m only as good as the people here. We stay involved with the community and our guests, treating them well. It’s all about customer service and taking care of our guests.”
Best Day Care/Pre-School
Wright Choice Learning Center
After 31 years, the Wright Choice Learning Center was recently recognized as a 5-star FOCUS day care center ― the only one with that rating in Valencia County.
As proud as the staff is of that accomplishment, director Sandra Baca said it is even more proud of another milestone the center recently hit.
“One family we’ve known for 24 years,” Baca said. “We had all their kids and the youngest daughter came in recently and we now have their granddaughter at the center. So that’s special.”
The center has a bilingual staff of 11 and all their teachers have degrees in early childhood education. Its four classrooms tend to infants, 6 weeks to 24 months, toddlers 2 and 3 years old as well as 3 to 4 year olds and 4 to 5 year olds.
Best Community Service Organization
Los Lunas Museum of Heritage and Arts
The Los Lunas Museum of Heritage and Arts was voted Best Community Service Organization and director Cynthia Shetter was surprised and pleased.
“I think it’s a great honor,” said Shetter, the director of the Los Lunas Public Library. “When we opened up on leap day in 2008, our whole mission was to educate the public and help them find the heritage of the area.”
The museum provides genealogy and historical research services, oral history documentation, exhibits on completed research, local historian presentations and books, archives of historic documents and literature, ongoing historic preservation and other services.
“Basically, we’re becoming the historical heritage heart maybe, of the community,” Shetter said. “And it’s giving people a sense of time and place. That’s one of the key things that we wanted, to where people can come in and fall in love with our community, not just present day but the past.”
Best Hardware/Lumber Store
RAKS Building Supply
For the second year in a row, RAKS Building Supply hit the nail on the head and earned the vote for Best Hardware/Lumber Store in Valencia County.
“We are honored,” said Los Lunas store manager Lorraine Martinez. “Our owners, Richie and Kenny Trujillo, are so involved in the community. We encourage people to shop local and we do that ourselves. When we go out to lunch, we go somewhere locally owned. We know how much it means and how much it gives back to our community.”
The Los Lunas store is one of five RAKS locations — there are two in Albuquerque, one in Socorro and one in Edgewood. The Rio Bravo store in Albuquerque is the location of the company’s truss plant and the Los Lunas store has Master Gardener Loretta Torres on hand nearly year round to offer shoppers advice and tips.
“We do everything from large orders from our lumber yard of new home and remodel packages, to small repairs and weekend warriors,” said Martinez.
Best Place to get an Adult Beverage
The Luna Mansion Landmark Steakhouse hosts happy hour from 3:30 to 6 p.m. and voters ranked them the Best Place for an Adult Beverage.
“It’s a great environment — upstairs is the Spirit Lounge — we open it at 3:30 p.m. and it’s very relaxing, very casual,” said Farid Himeur, the son-in-law of restaurant owners Pete and Hortencia Torres. “We have great staff that makes for great service.”
The Luna Mansion’s signature cocktails include La Patrona Margarita, Josefita’s Spirit, Bee’s Knees, Maximiliano Mojito and several tantalizing others. The adult beverage menu includes locally brewed beer, Dos Equis, Blue Moon and Stella on tap, plus other beers, as well as wines from around the world by the glass or by the bottle. They also serve appetizers including calamari, chicken wings and potato skins.
Manny’s Fine Pastries
Manny’s Fine Pastries does not make donuts alone, in fact the bakery does it all — cakes, cookies, breads, brownies, muffins, tortillas ... it’s a full service bakery making everything from scratch.
From empanadas, pastelitos and bisochitos to Jewish challa bread to Italian cannolis and cakes for every occasion. Manny’s has been around since 1996 when Manny Gutierrez opened the bakery after leaving a job at a grocery store, said granddaughter Mari Villa.
Now, the bakery is run by Manny’s daughter, Betty Jean, and her daughter, Mari, but “he comes around once in awhile to make sure we do things right,” his granddaughter said.
Customers come from Rio Rancho, Mountainair, Socorro and all over Valencia County, she said, and their Facebook page has also brought new customers.
Best Tourist Spot
Belen Harvey House Museum
The Belen Harvey House Museum has been voted the Best Tourist Spot for the past three years.
The 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 the annual Bugg Lights during Christmas time, as well as other exhibits, featuring history, art and even a ghost tour during the Halloween season.
Guided tours are available by appointment.
“It’s about community. We represent this museum and we’re part of the community,” said Frances Zeller, the museum coordinator. “This is a museum where everyone is welcome, and they’re a part of it and take ownership of it.
“I’m proud to be part of this and proud of this recognition,” she said of the award. “It’s says we’re being noticed — by everyone.”