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special section

2019 Best of Valencia County

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The Valencia County News-Bulletin is honored to once again publish its “Best of Valencia County” special section.

The winners were voted on by our readers. We thank everyone who participated, and congratulate all the winners of this year’s Best of Valencia County contest.

Best Food

Best Green Chile Cheeseburger

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Big Mike’s Burgers and More

19388 N.M. 314, Belen

Phone: 864-7918

Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Saturday; 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sunday

For the fourth year in a row, Big Mike’s Burgers and More, has won the Best Green Chile Cheeseburger. Owner, Mike Montano, said he includes a special blend of green and red chile to the burger — a true quarter pounder. He said each burger has its own special seasoning, and customers will sometimes order a double or triple-stacked burger.

Big Mike’s Burgers and More moved from Rio Communities to Belen in April, and business has doubled at the new location, which has more space.

“It means everything to us,” Montano said of winning the award. “We’re putting out good burgers, and it makes me feel great. Owning and operating a business can be stressful, but this makes me feel we’re doing something right.”

Best Green Chile

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Teofilo’s Restaurante

144 Main St., Los Lunas, NM

Phone: 865-5511

Hours: Closed Mondays; open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday, breakfast served until 2 p.m.

Teofilo’s was awarded Best Green Chile for the second year in a row, and has been a frequent honoree in years past. Founded by Pete and Hortencia Torres in 1985, the restaurant is now run by their daughter, Johnnah. She pointed to the stability of the staff as one of the things that has allowed them to be so successful.

“We’ve been making chile for years and years,” Torres said. “It just came naturally that we opened another restaurant to do chile. We find it to be sacred, just like gold.”

Best Red Chile

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Best Breakfast

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Rutilio’s New Mexican Foods

2350 Main St. NE, Los Lunas

455 N. Main St., Belen

Phone: 565-2055

Los Lunas Hours: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday to Saturday; 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., Sunday

Belen Hours: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday to Saturday; 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday

Rutilios won its fourth straight Best Breakfast award this year, as well as winning Best Red Chile for a second time.

The Los Lunas location, which opened in 2012, is run by Natalie Acanfrio and her husband, Joey. Natalie is the daughter of Rudy and Rebecaa Jaramilo, who opened the original location in Belen in 1986.

“I was proud, we take pride in how we make our chile,” Joey Acanfrio said. “I was more happy about the breakfast, its more of a large scale honor. That’s important to me because there is so much we do here that we make from scratch.

Best Chile Rellenos

Best Tamales

Best Tacos

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Pete’s Cafe

105 N. First St., Belen

Phone: 864-4811

Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.,


Pete’s Cafe in Belen is a perennial favorite in the Best of Valencia County competition. This year, the 70-year-old restaurant has earned three awards — Best Chile Rellenos, Best Tamales and Best Tacos.

Owner Theresa Padilla said the key to the rellenos is they are hand-battered and made fresh every day. The tamales are always freshly steamed and tender, and the line of tacos includes ground beef, shrimp and carnitas.

“It makes us feel proud to win,” said Padilla. “Shows that our hard work pays off. We really have a great kitchen staff. We’re thankful to our community and loyal customers.”

Best Chicharrones

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The Village Cafe

223 N.M. 314, SW, Los Lunas

Phone: 865-2830

Hours: Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and weekends, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Menu items include fry bread burgers and tacos, and big burgers served on fresh baked buns. They serve breakfast burritos, green chile cheeseburgers, carne adovado and other favorites.

“The staff at Village Cafe would like to thank Valencia County for all their constant support,” co-owner Anthony Ferraro said. “A special thank you to everyone who took the time to vote for us. We look forward to serving Valencia County for many years to come.”

Best Sopaipilla

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Sopa’s Restaurant

1700 Bosque Farms Blvd.,

Bosque Farms

Phone: 869-9038

Hours: 8 8 p.m., Tuesday to Friday; 8 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturday to Sunday

Family owned and operated since 2002, Sopa’s Restaurant won the Best Sopaipilla category this year.

“It feels great,” said Vanessa Gonzales, one of the owners. “They are homemade from our own recipe. We don’t use a mix. The key is to make sure we get them to the table hot and fresh. That makes a big difference.”

Best Breakfast Burrito

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Blake’s Lotaburger

799 E. River Road, Belen; 314 Main St. SW, Los Lunas; 1395 Bosque Farms Blvd, Bosque Farms

Belen and Los Lunas hours: 6 a.m to 10 p.m., Monday-Saturday; 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sundays

Bosque Farms hours: 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday to Thursday; 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.. Sundays

Phone: Belen: 864-6869; Los Lunas: 865-5711; Bosque Farms: 869-1001

A New Mexico staple since 1952, Blake’s Lotaburger has earned the crown for Best Breakfast burrito for the fourth straight year. There are three locations across the county that offer a host of fast food staples with a chile twist in addition to the famed breakfast burritos.

Best Pizza

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Casa de Pizza

106 Vallejos Lane, Los Lunas

Phone: 865-7575

Hours: 4:30-9 p.m., Tuesday to Thursday; 4:30-10 p.m., Friday to

Saturday; 4:30-8 p.m., Sunday

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.

Restaurant owner Andrew 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 for nearly 25 years.

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.

When it comes to the pizza itself, everything is made with the customer in mind. The ingredients are fresh and the product is homemade. This is what ultimately sets Casa De Pizza apart from other restaurants, along with the fact they make custom pizzas with your choice of crust, including gluten free, wheat or cauliflower.

“I think it’s our customers who have made us a success,” said Dorothy Barreras. “That’s why we’ve won so many times. We give a big thank you to each and every one of them.”

Not only can costumers go in and pick up their favorite pie, they can also order it uncooked so they can take it home or where ever they’re headed to cook it just as they like it.

“Our customers provide us our bread and butter, and they all deserve a quality product,” Barreras said. “We’ve been serving generations of customers with the best pizzas we can create.”

Best Steak

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The Luna Mansion

110 Main St. SW, Los Lunas

Phone: 865-7333

Hours: 3:30-9 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday; 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Sunday

The Luna Mansion is a landmark steak house built in 1880 by the Santa Fe Railroad Company in exchange for right-of-way through lands owned by the Luna family.

The mansion, owned by Earl Whittemore for 32 years, was purchased by Hortencia and Pete Teofilo Torres, their daughters Johnnah and Joelle Torres and son Peter Japhen Torres.

“We just appreciate the community supporting us. We want to thank the community and invite them to come on in and see this wonderful historic building and good food,” said Hortencia Torres.

Best Restaurant

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Best Dessert

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The Range Cafe

740 Main St. NE, Los Lunas

Phone: 508-2144

Hours: 7 a.m.-9 p.m., seven days a week

The Range Cafe has long been a staple of the Albuquerque metro area, but only came to Los Lunas earlier this year. It was voted Best Restaurant in Valencia County this year.

Originally founded in Bernalillo in 1992, there are now seven locations across the state. The restaurant has a full bar and only closes on Christmas day and Thanksgiving.

The Range Cafe was also honored for their extensive dessert offerings as having the Best Dessert in the county. To satisfy the sweet tooth, the Range has a coffee and dessert bar with options such as creme brulee, chocolate cake and coconut cream pie, which are all baked fresh, from scratch in their bakery.

There are ice cream offerings and a rotating pie of the week offered as well, and custom desserts are available for catered events with proper notice. Classic offerings, such as fresh cookies, cinnamon rolls and brownies are available as well, but only until they sell out.

The menu is built around New Mexico staples like green chile but dabbles in cuisine from around the world, giving diners plenty of options. The chain is still operated by Matt DiGregory, one of the original founders.

Despite being in Los Lunas a relatively short time, the time and effort that the Range has put in to getting to know the community and give back has caught the attention of the residents. One of the hallmarks of the company is the support they provide for local artists, which is evident as soon as you step into the building from the sculpture in the middle of the lobby, and the unique designs that cover the walls.

Best Nachos

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Best Bar

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Mariscos Altamar

2250 Sun Ranch Village Loop, Los Lunas

Phone: 866-8828

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday

Founded by Hector Hernandez in 1997 in Albuquerque, Mariscos Altamar has now won the Best Bar and Best Nacho categories three years in a row.

Mariscos came to Los Lunas six years ago and serves traditional Mexican dishes, and offers fresh made tortilla chips and guacamole. A family establishment, Hector’s children now run the two restaurants.

The bar offers all of the traditional options, as well as unique cocktails and shots in a setting filled with TVs.

The nachos come piled high with beans, cheese and pico de gallo, and a choice of four different meats can be added as well.

This is the third straight year the restaurant has won the best nachos award, and the second time they have claimed best bar.

Best French Fries

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Circle T Burgers

• 523 S. Main St., Belen

Phone: 864-4135

• 625 E. Reinken, Belen

Phone: 864-2929

Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week

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 and Yolanda Tabet, owners of both restaurants in Belen, said the standard order of French fries are customer favorites.

“It means a lot,” Circle T Burgers owner Phil Tabet about the award. “Our business on French fries has tripled since we’ve been winning this award — especially our chile cheese fries.”

Best County Folk

Best Teacher

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Diana Benavidez

Diana Benavidez has worked for Los Lunas Schools for 24 years, 12 years at Valencia Middle School and 12 years at Los Lunas High School, where she is currently working as a math teacher.

“I feel like I’m the teacher I am because of the students and my colleagues. I think you learn every day, you’re never a perfect teacher,” Benavidez said. “You learn from your mistakes and successes. I’m still learning how to become a better teacher.”

Best Principal

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Lawrence Sanchez

A principal for more than two decades, Lawrence Sanchez made the transition from Belen Middle to Belen High School this fall and was voted this years best principal.

“It humbles me,” Sanchez said. “Everyday, everything I try and do is to make this a better place for students. That’s what everyone here does. This tells me people are paying attention and want to make sure we continue. We’re on the right track.”

Best Coach

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Jeremy Maupin

Jeremy Maupin hasn’t been at Los Lunas High School for very long, but he’s helped bring some of the best years the school’s football program has ever seen.

Coming off of two straight trips to the state championship game, Maupin seems poised to oversee a lengthy continued era of success for the Tigers. He came to Los Lunas from Artesia, where he was an assistant, because he saw the opportunity to build something. In addition to his coaching duties, he teaches social studies.

“That’s great,” Maupin said of being voted Best Coach. “I didn’t really come here to win awards; I just want to make sure we’re playing good football and hopefully have a good impact on these kids and their lives.”

Best School Staff Employee

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Pauline Vallejos

Pauline Vallejos, a security officer for Belen Consolidated Schools for 18 years, was voted Best School Staff Employee this year.

Working a career in corrections with four children attending Belen Schools, Vallejos said she needed a job that fit better with her family’s schedule.

“It became who I am. I fell in love with the students of the district,” Vallejos said.

When she initially heard she had won the honor, Vallejos said she was very embarrassed.

“It’s very humbling,” she said. “It’s an honor that someone took the time out of their day and jotted my name down, to consider me for this.”

Most Helpful Elected Official

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Los Lunas Mayor Charles Griego

Los Lunas Mayor Charles Griego 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 begins.

“I’m very lucky that we have a staff that we can direct people to who will deal with people’s concerns. We need to help people in our community and that’s our job,” Griego said.

“I want to make sure when somebody calls me, I respond to them. I think it’s important we have that kind of communication. It’s important to remember that it’s the public that we’re ultimately serving.”

Most Helpful Public Employee

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Ralph Mims

Ralph Mims began working as the village of Los Lunas Economic Development manager in 2011. Mims is excited to be working in a community that supports business-growth and economic development.

“I get a lot of support from our elected officials and our staff,” Mims said. “It’s a group effort so we can accomplish the goal of bringing well-paying jobs and employment opportunities to the village of Los Lunas.”

Best Volunteer (Tie)

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Rhona Baca Espinoza, left, and Jennifer Hise-Trujillo, right

Rhona Baca Espinoza

Rhona Baca Espinoza has been member of the Pilot Club of Belen for more than 22 years, and has served in all of the executive board positions except for treasurer. She has also served on the executive board of the Southwestern District, and is in her third year serving on Pilot International’s executive board, where she is currently secretary.

Espinoza is also a volunteer member of the Valencia County Juvenile Justice Board, the Belen Consolidated Schools finance committee, the secretary of the New Mexico Coalition of Main Street Communities, and has volunteered since 2006 at Christian Faith Chapel in Belen, where her husband, Rudy, is the pastor.

“I’m so happy,” Espinoza said of sharing the award of Best Volunteer with her friend, Jennifer Hise-Trujillo. “Jennifer is everything that is embodies the word ‘volunteer.’ She is generous, selfless and is always willing to volunteer.

“I feel overwhelmed with gratitude because there are so many worthy volunteers in our county who deserve this recognition,” she said. “I’m thankful to the county and those who would vote for me. I love giving back.”

Jennifer Hise-Trujillo

Jennifer Hise-Trujillo has been a volunteer with the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce board of directors since 2008, and has been a member of the Pilot Club of Belen since 2010. She too has served in most of the executive board positions.

Hise-Trujillo has also volunteered with Mission: Graduate for more than five years, which is involved in Valencia County schools. Education is very important to this volunteer, and she has worked to promote STEM information with St. Mary’s Catholic School in Belen.

She also tries to donate blood three times a year.

“First I must say I am stunned and very honored to be considered for Best Volunteer,” Hise-Trujillo said. “Rhona leads this area of giving with much grace, effort and positiveness. I appreciate everyone so very much who voted for me.

“Volunteering is important to me by giving back to my community and to network with a broad range of people. It provides an opportunity to share our individual strengths, build relationships, learn something new and invest in our future.”

Best Firefighter

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Belen Fire Chief Bret Ruff

Belen Fire Chief Bret Ruff

Belen Fire Chief Bret Ruff was appointed to the position in March 2019, but he’s had 25 years of experience in fire fighting, EMS and other emergency services, such as hazmat, industrial, confined space and even Space Shuttle rescue.

Ruff has worked in the field while in the Air Force, in Payson, Ariz., with the U.S. Department of Defense at Johnston Island and at the Nevada Test and Training Range. He came to Belen as the first fire chief with ProTec, the fire service at the Belen Alexander Airport.

“I always wanted to be a firefighter,” Ruff said. “Not too many people can be firefighters — it’s in your DNA — it’s a calling. We want to help people. We will risk our lives not just for our family, but for a stranger.

“This is a great honor,” Ruff said. “I really appreciate it, but I look at it as we’re a team here, we’re a family. I might be chief, but I work for them. They do an awesome job.”

The Belen Fire Department has a total of 25 members, including 10 career firefighters and EMTs and 15 volunteers.

“Every single one of them is outstanding,” the chief said. “It’s not me, the Belen Fire Department is the best.”

Best Police Officer

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Los Lunas Police Chief Naithan Gurule

Los Lunas Police Chief Naithan Gurule started his law enforcement career in July 2002 when he joined the Los Lunas Police Department. He was named chief of police in March 2014.

He became interested in a career in law enforcement as a young boy after watching his aunt and uncle, who were both police officers.

“It makes me feel very happy,” Gurule said of being voted Best Police Officer. “It’s like your best payday because I feel we work really hard and it’s rewarding to be recognized.

“We’re just like everyone else, but I have a different role in the community,” he said. “This doesn’t feel like work — it’s about being part of the community.”

Best Current High School Male Athlete

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Lorenzo Sosa

Lorenzo Sosa is a junior at Los Lunas High School and a multi-sport athlete, playing football as well as track and field.

He hauled in six touchdowns and averaged 20.3 yards per catch for the state runner-up Tigers this past season as one of the top offensive weapons LLHS had.

Sosa was honored as second team all-district by the coaches of Belen, Los Lunas, Valencia and Valley following the season.

Best Current High School Female Athlete

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Raquel Chavez

A senior at Valencia High School, Raquel Chavez is a standout runner for the Jaguars and had the best finish of any county athlete at the state championships, finishing 10th.

Chavez has signed to run for West Texas A&M in Canyon, Texas, after she graduates from VHS.

“I was a little surprised but really happy,” Chavez said. “I’ve worked hard and I’ve never complained, it’s exciting.”

Best Artist

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Judy Chicago

Through the Flower Art Space

107 Becker Ave., Belen


Hours: 12-5 p.m., Thursday-Saturday

Judy Chicago, who lives in Belen along with her husband, photographer, Donald Woodman, is an artist, author, educator and feminist, whose career spans more than four decades. Her art has been widely exhibited in the U.S. as well as around the world.

A graduate of the University of California-Los Angeles with both undergraduate and graduate degrees in art, Chicago turned her attention to the subject of women’s history in 1974 and began creating what would become her most well-known work “The Dinner Party.” This large-scale, multimedia project, which includes weaving, china painting, ceramics and needlework, is a symbolic history of women, and is now on permanent display in the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Other high-profile Judy Chicago ventures include the “Birth Project,” a series of birth and creation images for needlework, originally exhibited in more than 100 venues.

In 1978, Chicago founded the nonprofit arts organization, Through the Flower, to serve the general public and especially K-12 schools with educational programs that communicate the importance and power of art through exhibitions, workshops, seminars and lectures, as well as a website and study center.

The couple, who have now been married for 33 years, bought the Belen Hotel, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, on Becker Avenue 27 years ago. They moved in after three years of renovation and restoration.

In July, Chicago and Woodman opened Through the Flower Art Space, which includes a permanent room of photos and narration depicting the history of internationally-acclaimed artists in the Hub City.

“I am so honored to have been chosen the Best Artist in Valencia County by readers of the paper,” Chicago said. “There’s an old saying that one is never a prophet in one’s home town and it is gratifying to know that it’s not true — at least not in ‘our’ home town.”

Best Musician

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Daniel Solis

Daniel Solis grew up in Guadalupita, a small town in northern New Mexico, and learned how to play the guitar at a very young age. He has played at numerous events around the county, from the Valencia County Fair and Our Lady of Belen Fiestas to Pete’s Cafe and the Luna Mansion, either with his band or by himself for an acoustic set.

“Getting people out on the dance floor is a musician’s No. 1 priority,” Solis said. “I’m blessed and humbled to get the opportunity to do that every weekend. I’m proud to be part of a large group of great singers and musicians in this county. Thank you for supporting my music.”

Best Minister

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Fr. Clement Niggel

Fr. Clement Niggel said every year he has been voted Valencia County’s Best Minister is a wonderful honor, as well as a lesson in humility.

“You don’t do this job for the praise. I love the people and the community,” Niggel said, who has been the pastor at Our Lady of Belen Catholic Church since June 2014.

Fr. Niggel has been voted Best Minister four of the last five years.

Best Hairdresser

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Ronnie Torres

Hair Innovations

403 Main St., Belen


Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturdays; 9 a.m. to noon, Sundays

Ronnie Torres has been styling hair for more than four decades — a career he’s always loved. He has been chosen Best Hairdresser for the past five years, and says he’s extremely grateful.

Torres, who owns and operates Hair Innovations in Belen, began his career 42 years ago when a friend suggested he go to school to learn the trade. Since then, he’s never looked back, saying it’s never been just a job for him.

“I get to see family and friends everyday, catch up with them,” Torres said. “That’s the best part of my job, being able to talk with people, get to know more about them, all while having a little fun.”

While he enjoys styling his customers, he says after all these years, styles have come and gone and come back again — “Been there, done that.”

When asked how he feels about being voted Best Hairdresser, Torres said, “It’s kind of embarrassing. It’s cool that people vote for you, and it’s exciting. I’m humbled and embarrassed at the same time.”

Best Barber

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Ray Feldbusch

Ray Rae’s Barbershop

233 N. Main St., Belen


Hours: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday-Friday; 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday

and Sunday

Ray Feldbusch, who owns and operates Ray Rae’s Barbershop in Belen, has about a decade of experience in the field. This is the fifth time Feldbusch has been selected Best Barber in Valencia County.

He didn’t know he wanted to be a barber until he began cutting hair of clients while working with the Los Lunas Community Program. After graduating from Albuquerque Barber College, he worked at a couple of shops in the Duke City before going to Jake’s Barbershop in Los Lunas.

While there, he began renovating his own shop in Belen. After two years, he was ready to open. At first, he thought he wanted to cater to children, but he knew he could do both.

“It’s a super, big compliment,” Feldbusch said of the award. “I’m grateful for it, and we work hard to make sure we do good work. I always try to treat my customers with respect — kill them with kindness is my motto.”

Best Wait Person

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Jessica Johnson

Jessica Johnson is only in her second year working at Teofilos Restaurante in Los Lunas — her first serving job — but she has already made such an impact on the people who she serves that she has been named Best Wait Person in Valencia County.

“I was super surprised when I found out,” Johnson said. “It’s great being able to have a relationship with the regulars and I meet some great people.

“If I could, I would share the award with the rest of the staff because there are so many amazing people that work here.”

Best Real Estate Agent

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Nancy Montoya

2601 Main St. SW, Los Lunas

866-4721, 480-2121

Nancy Montoya has been in real estate for 41 years at Century 21 in Los Lunas, and said she has loved every minute of it.

“I work really hard at getting my name out there all the time,” Montoya said. “I just love the community and working with all the local people. I am now selling houses to grandchildren and great-grandchildren to people we’ve sold houses to 41 years ago.”

Best Doctor

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Dr. Sharon Mullis

Sharon Mullis is a family medicine physician who specializes in providing comprehensive medical care, health maintenance, and preventive services to patients of all ages.

In addition to diagnosing and treating acute and chronic illnesses, she diagnoses and treats a wide range of diseases.

Dr. Mullis is board certified in family medicine, and practices at Presbyterian Medial Group in Los Lunas.

She received her bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of Arizona in Tucson. She earned her medical degree from Des Moines University College of Osteopathic Medicine, and completed her internship and residency in family medicine at St. Mary-Corwin Regional Medical Center in Pueblo, Colorado.

Best Nurse

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Melinda Ivey, RN

Belen Public Health Office

Melinda Ivey

Belen Public Health Office

617 Becker Ave., Belen


Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday

Melinda Ivey is a lifetime resident of Belen and has been a registered nurse for 15 years, 10 of which she has been employed at the Belen Public Health Office.

“I work hard and put in countless hours doing outreaches and immunization clinics in hopes of helping to keep our communities healthy, but I wouldn’t be able to accomplish this without the support of my awesome staff, family, Belen Consolidated Schools, city of Belen and many other community partners,” Ivey said.

“Thank you for voting for me and all your support.”

Best Dentist

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Dr. Cecil Sandoval

601 Dalies Ave., Belen


Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday-Friday

Dr. Cecil Sandoval is a dentist in Belen, and his practice offers many unique options, including laser dentistry.

“If I had to give a speech I would be speechless. It is an honor in accepting this recognition for the second year in a row,” Sandoval said. “I want to thank all who took the time out to participate in the News-Bulletin survey. I also want to honor the entire staff, Deb, Tina, Josephine, Sandy, Priscilla and Julie. Thank you for your dedication to our patients.”

Best Insurance Agent

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Selina Zamora

Panagopoulos Insurance Agency

511 W. Reinken Ave., Belen


Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday

Selina Zamora began working at Panagopoulos Insurance Agency in Belen initially to help her mother, but eventually got her insurance licence and began working there about 10 years ago.

“I am honored and grateful to be voted Best Insurance Agent. I love what I do, helping people in the community cover what is precious and valuable to them. Thank you to everyone who voted for me,” Zamora said.

Best Attorney

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David Chavez

651 N.M. 314, Los Lunas


Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Saturday

David Chavez earned his third straight Best Attorney honor this year. Chavez grew up in Belen and attended law school at the University of New Mexico.

“I am humbled by this recognition from the community I have served and will continue to serve,” Chavez said.

He hopes he can serve as an example to the youth of Valencia County that you don’t have to limit your aspirations because of where you are from.

Chavez has practiced law in Valencia County for more than 30 years, specializing in tragic injury cases against multi-billion dollar corporations.

Best Veterinarian

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Dr. Brenda Mack

1533 E. River Rd., Belen


Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday; 9 a.m.-12 p.m., select Saturdays

It’s the team effort at Valencia Animal Clinic that has earned Dr. Brenda Mack the Best Veterinarian accolade two years in a row, she says.

“It’s not at all me. It takes all of us,” Mack says of the 10 employees at the clinic. “I couldn’t do it without our team. They’re awesome. I’m very proud of what we do and very humbled.”

Mack has been working in Belen for 19 years at the clinic, a small animal general practice. The staff offers traditional treatments, as well as options such as acupuncture. The clinic is also connected to a network of 28 specialists in the metro area.

Best Pharmacist

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Richard Brower

Buckland Pharmacy

600 Dalies Ave., Belen


Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Monday-Friday; 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday

Richard Brower, owner of Buckland Pharmacy on Dalies Avenue in Belen, has been named Best Pharmacist again this year.

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.

“I’m thrilled,” Brower said of the award. “But there are other people in this county who deserve it, too.”

Best Florist

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Davis Floral

Owner: Dale Davis

214 S. Main St., Belen

Phone: 864-8722

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday

Davis Floral has been in business since 1945, when Dale Davis’ mother, Ruth, opened up the shop on Dalies Ave. in Belen. After nearly 75 yeas in business, Davis Floral moved in June to its new location on Main Street in Belen. Since moving, owner Dale Davis said business has increased at least 50 percent.

Davis Floral not only offers fresh floral arrangement, but they have plants, gourmet and fruit baskets, gift baskets, greeting cards, candles and more.

The phones at Davis Floral are answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and are members of Teleflora, an online delivery system.

The local shop also has promotions on its Facebook page.

“It’s really an honor,” Davis said of being named Best Florist. “People are noticing us more, and we really appreciate it. It’s like a reinvention for us.”

Best Electrician

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Randy Smith

Randy's Electric

3539 N.M. 47, Peralta


Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday

Randy Smith, owner of Randy’s Electric, has been in business since 1984 in Peralta. He said he is grateful for the customers who choose to do business with him.

“Thank you to the people who voted for us, it’s an honor to be considered best of Valencia County. We’ve been in business a long time and it’s allowed us to build relationships with our customers,” Smith said. “We have great employees, we consider them family. Our employees represent us so this is a reflection on them.”

Best Plumber


TLC Plumbing & Utility

5000 Edith Blvd. NE, Albuquerque



The company as 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.

Owner Dale Armstrong is a New Mexico native and started TLC Plumbing & Utility.

“TLC is very happy the community chose us as best plumber and we are happy to provide service in Valencia County,” Armstrong said.

Best Contractor

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Professional Contracting

Belen Showroom

19392 N.M. 314, Belen

Phone: 859-4220

Felipe Silva and Art de la Cerda, owners of Professional Contracting Builders, said they feel appreciated to be voted Valencia County’s Best Contractor.

“We’re very proud of our guys,” Silva said. “Without them, we wouldn’t be in the position we’re in.”

The company does everything from new home construction to additions and remodels. They specialize in kitchen and bathroom remodels.

Because they are the builders, dealers and installers for the products, de la Cerda said customers get more value for the work.

Best Financial Advisor

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Pavlos Panagopoulos

Panagopoulos Insurance Agency

511 W. Reinken Ave., Belen


Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday

Pavlos Panagopoulos has been an independent investment advisor for 34 years with Cetera Advisor Networks.

“We’ve been a member of the (Greater Belen) Chamber of Commerce since the moment I stepped foot in this town. Our No. 1 value is families first,” Panagopoulos said. “We have awesome employees and awesome staff. Coming to this community has given us opportunities and we give back to it whenever we can.”

(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. Cetera is under separate ownership from any other named entity.)

Best Fitness Trainer

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Ryan Tafoya

Elite Fitness

115 S. Main St., Belen


Hours: 4:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday-Friday; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday

Ryan Tafoya began training in 2013 and decided to train in his hometown of Belen after he graduated from UNM in 2015. He provides training at Elite Fitness in Belen.

“The reason I wanted to train in Belen is so I could work with a lot of the people that I’ve known, like kids that I’ve coached or family members or different members of the community,” Tafoya said.

“It’s been a good way to be more involved with people in the community. Winning this is a great honor for me. I want to thank my family that’s been supportive, God and the gym for giving me the opportunity to work here.”

Best Business & Service

Best Fast Food Restaurant

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• 1675 Bosque Farms Blvd.,

Bosque Farms

Phone: 869-2210

Hours: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday to Friday; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday;

11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday

• 1503 Main St. SW, Los Lunas

Hours: 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m.,

Monday to Friday

Phone: 865-2255

Benny’s has been a staple of Valencia County since 1972, and this year was voted the county’s best fast food restaurant.

“It makes us feel really good,” said owner Benny Zamora of being voted Best Fast Food Restaurant. “It’s nice to be recognized as one of the best after all these years. I’ve always attributed it to the family atmosphere and being a family business.”

The business, started by his father, has recently expanded it’s Bosque Farms location, doubling the seating space.

“It’s satisfying to get this; we’ve always considered ourselves a fast food restaurant,” Zamora said. “We’ve won others — green chile burger, tacos — but this one tops it all.”

Best Locally-Owned Business

Best hardware/Lumber Store


RAKS Building Supply

108 Carson Dr., Los Lunas

Phone: 865-1100

Hours: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Mondayto Friday; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday; 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday

For the third year, RAKS Building Supply has been voted Best Locally-Owned Business and Best Hardware/Lumber Store.

Owners Richie Tabet and Kenny Trujillo said the acknowledgement means a lot to the family-owned business.

“We feel very good about getting this again,” said Tabet. “I think people appreciate us because we are community oriented, and we have experienced people, with knowledge and professionalism.”

Trujillo said getting the Best Hardware/Lumber Store award made them feel especially proud.

“We’re very proud we are able to compete against the big box stores,” Trujillo said.

RAKS offers a wide array of building products, from nails to prebuilt trusses, to home improvement products such as paint and lighting fixtures.

Best Auto Shop

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Bobby’s Automotive

19767 N.M. 314, Belen

Phone: 565-0406

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Thursday; 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Fridays

Originally opened by Bobby Gutierrez, the shop is now primarily run by his son, Steven, and daughter-in-law, Stephanie. The shop has been honored in the past, but Steven said this time around it means more because his father has taken on a reduced role, so now it’s primarily him and Stephanie running the shop.

They’ve had to work harder to reach this point and to maintain it, Steven said.

Bobby’s Automotive offers a full range of services on cars both foreign and domestic, as well as doing some cosmetic work.

Best Tire Shop

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Craig Independent Tire Co.

19236 N.M. 314, Belen

Phone: 864-4464

Hours: 7 a.m.-7 p.m.,


For the second year in a row, Craig Independent Tire Co. has been voted Best Tire Shop in Valencia County.

In business since 1981, Craig Tire offers tires, brakes, shocks, struts and alignments. As an independent tire shop, Craig said he chooses lines that fit his customers’ needs, rather than what manufacturers want to have in stores.

“We understand there are a lot of options for tires, so we really work hard for people,” Craig said. “We always try to do better and we always fix our mistakes. To take care of our customers, we offer them the best tires for their specific situation.”

Best Gym

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Main Street Muscle & Fitness Center

435 Main St. SW, Los Lunas

Phone: 865-0139

Hours: 4:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 4:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Fridays; 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday

Main Street Muscle and Fitness Center in Los Lunas has been around for more than two decades, serving the people of Valencia County. The gym offers numerous training options in a variety of areas such as yoga and spin, as well as nutritional products.

“It’s an honor. I believe this is the fourth year in a row we’ve been honored,” said owner and trainer Chris Sais. “We appreciate that we get that feedback from our community.

“Our staff is so invested in providing health and wellness to our community so it is great to get that kind of response back from the people we do business with.”

Best Thrift/Consignment Store

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Adelante Bargain Square

701 Main St. SW, Los Lunas

Phone: 923-4250

Hours: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday to Friday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday

Adelante Bargain Square Thrift Store in Los Lunas opened in 2005. The store is owned and operated by Adelante Development Center, with the goal of supporting people with disabilities through social programs, such as retail jobs at Bargain Square.

The thrift store provides retail training and employment opportunities for people with disabilities, and provides funding for Adelante programs.

Best Retail Store

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106 Caldwell Ave., Belen

Phone: 864-1844

Hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday to Thursday; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday to Saturday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday

Even though it is set to close at the end of the year, Bealls is going out on top. For the fifth year in a row, the store has been voted Best Retail Store.

“It makes me feel really proud to be here and helping all our guests,” said Teresa Sanchez, the manager for 15 years. “I think we’ve been doing something good and have a good team.”

The store carries lines such as Nike and Adidas, and Estee Lauder and Clinique. Early next year, the space will be the home of a Gordmans.

“All of our associates are really good,” Sanchez said. “We’re still going to be here.”

Best Hair Salon

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Hair Innovations

403 Main St., Belen

Phone: 864-4334

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturdays; 9 a.m. to noon, Sundays

Ronnie and Barbara Torres opened Hair Innovations in Belen in 1986, and it has been in operation at the same location ever since. While Torres said it was a “big risk” opening a hair salon, it’s been a good ride.

Over the past 35 years, stylists have come and gone, but they’ve always remained friends, Torres said. Today, Hair Innovations has nine stylists — two of whom have been with the salon for 20-30 years — and one nail tech.

“We have three new stylists who are so excited about hair,” Torres said. “They’re up-to-date on the latest styles, and enjoy showing off their work on social media.

“It’s cool that people like us,” he said. “For them to choose us is an honor, because there are so many great salons in the county.”

Best Barber Shop

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Ray Rae’s Barbershop

233 N. Main St., Belen

Phone: 252-1360

Hours: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday-Friday; 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday

and Sunday

Ray Rae’s Barbershop owner Ray Feldbusch, is a 2010 graduate of the Albuquerque Barber College, opened his shop in November 2013. This is the fifth time the business has been voted Best Barbershop.

With five barbers on staff, Ray Rae’s Barbershop offers everything from hot towel face shaves with a genuine straight razor to designs and even charcoal black masks and shaping eyebrows.

With a new ping pong table to play, customers, including kids, can kick back and play while waiting their turn in the chair.

“It’s really exciting,” Feldbusch said of winning again. “This is a blessing for my barbers because they work really hard to do a good job.”

Best Financial Institution

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State Employees Credit Union

• 19390 N.M. 314, Belen

Phone: 864-0335

• 280 Emilio Lopez Rd., Los Lunas

Phone: 565-8400

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Wednesday; 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Thursday to Friday

Drive thru hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday-Friday

For the third year in a row, State Employees Credit Union has been voted the Best Financial Institution in the county.

“This is so exciting. What an honor that they have chosen us again,” said Tina Varela, SECU Los Lunas branch manager.”

Varela said the credit union’s staff strives to provide exceptional service, going above and beyond to help members, and be a part of the community.

Belen branch manager Robin Silva said knowing there are plenty of other options in the community for financial services, she and her staff were very proud to be voted the Best of Valencia County again.

“We are so happy that many people think of us when they think of a financial institution,” Silva said. “This is a good company to work for, and it makes us happy the services we offer to members are appreciated and they enjoy working with us.”

The Belen SECU was established about 26 years ago, and the Los Lunas branch followed about 10 years later.

SECU is open to anyone who lives or works in Valencia County, as well as state employees and their families living anywhere in New Mexico.

Best Funeral Home