Although its nickname may be “The Hub City,” Belen actually translates from Spanish to “Bethlehem,” which itself is a Hebrew word for “House of Bread.” Meander through the city and it’s not the aroma of freshly baked bread that will waft toward you. During autumn, hazy smoke plumes drift upward from rotating steel-meshed drums, alerting your nostrils to the the smoky-sweet-pungent perfume of green chiles being roasted. Much of that chile is grown in nearby farms throughout Valencia County. At any other time of year, it’s the fragrant bouquet of red and green chiles being simmered on restaurant and home kitchen stoves that will enrapt your olfactory receptors. It seems almost unfair that Belen doesn’t translate to “House of Chile.”
Belen is justifiably proud of its culinary culture, boasting on its Tourism website that “some of the best traditional New Mexican food in the Albuquerque area comes from Belen, where year-round you can walk into any restaurant and get your fix of green and red chile.” Annual “best of Valencia County” reader’s polls on Valencia County’s News-Bulletin, celebrate the very best red and green in the county. Venerable institutions such as Pete’s Cafe (circa 1949) and Teofilo’s (1986) compete with Rutilio’s, another perennial favorite for best red and green chile in the county. Rutilio’s has a virtual strangle hold on the “best breakfast” category, thanks in large part to its legendary huevos rancheros. In recent years, Rutilio’s has also earned “best red chile” and “best enchiladas” honors.
According to the News-Bulletin, “In Valencia County, the name Rutilio’s just might be another word for delicious.” It’s been that way since 1992 when Rudy and Rebecca Jaramillo launched their Belen restaurant whose popularity hasn’t waned a bit in its nearly thirty years of operation. In 2012, their daughter Natalie and son-in-law Joey Acanfrio opened a second instantiation of Rutilio’s in Los Lunas. If the prospect of award-winning red and green chile as well as “some of the best traditional New Mexican food in the Albuquerque area,” has motivated you to take a road trip, you might not have to go venture into beautiful Valencia county. In August, 2019, Rutilio’s New Mexican Foods opened its third restaurant, this one on Juan Tabo and it’s all still in the family. This time it’s Jaramillo’s son, Dan Silva, running the restaurant with his wife, Dinica.
The Juan Tabo version of Rutilio’s is situated in the space which previously housed Beto’s Cocina, a venerable institution which pleased palates for more than a quarter-century before closing its doors in 2018. Rutilio’s is ensconced in the Sandra Shopping Center, not the most heavily trafficked center of commerce in the Duke City (an understatement). Parking spots near the restaurant are plentiful, but that’s more indicative of the ghost town feel of the shopping center with its several vacant storefronts. Rutilio’s, unfortunately, does not have a prominent storefront presence visible from Juan Tabo, a factor which will make it a challenge to compete with its neighbors Perea’s New Mexican Restaurant and La Salita.
Rutilio’s has one thing other restaurants don’t have. That would be Callie, a high-energy bundle of hospitality and smiles. To call her a server or a waitress would be to diminish her operating style and value. Callie is every bit an ambassador for the restaurant. Put yourself in her capable hands and you’re sure to enjoy the best the restaurant has to offer as well as a hot cup of coffee replenished faithfully. Callie works the early shift when “morning people” (the breakfast crowd) can enjoy her banter and warmth. She’s a peripatetic presence at the 1,900 square-foot space.
Rutilio’s shares the New Mexico state flag color palate of its elder siblings in Belen and Los Lunas. A mural on the back wall depicts red chile “trees” backdropped by balloons perhaps coming in for a landing and their favorite New Mexican food fix. It’s not a large space, but it’s got a familial feel, especially with Callie at your beck and call. You won’t be seated for very long before a basket of chips and salsa are ferried over to your table. The salsa has the viscosity of tomato sauce, but it packs a nice punch. Chips are light, crispy and lightly salted.
Mary O’Grady, a faithful Friend of Gil, who alerted me to Rutilio’s raved about Rutilio’s carne adovada plate. So did Callie who assured us it was in rarefied air. She also praised Rutilio’s red chile. That didn’t necessarily make our decision-making process an easy one. Rutilio’s offers a carne adovada breakfast plate, carne adovada cheese fries, a carne adovada plate, carne adovada enchiladas, carne adovada stuffed sopaipillas, a carne adovada taco salad, carne adovada stuffed burritos and even carne adovada quesadillas. So much carne adovada, so little time…and best of all, no cumin!
My choice were the carne adovada enchiladas with an over easy egg on top served Christmas style (both red and green chile). Callie quickly delivered a beautiful plate brimming with two rolled enchiladas engorged with carne adovada accompanied by refried beans and Spanish rice. With my first spoonful of each chile, it was readily apparent that the green chile is among the most piquant in the city. It bites back nicely. Even though it’s slowly marinated in red chile, carne adovada is typically a more “mellow” dish, one not renowned for its piquancy. Chile that packs too much punch can detract from the sweet, delicate flavor of the adovada…and Rutilio’s rendition is as good as Mary and Callie indicated it would be: tender tendrils of pure porcine perfection swaddled in fresh corn tortillas and covered in chile with shredded chile.
My brother Mario enjoyed the carne adovada stuffed sopaipilla, also Christmas style. Though we both enjoyed the green chile, he agreed it’s probably not the perfect pairing for a carne adovada best suited for an optimum adovada experience. Neither of us left any refried beans and Spanish rice on our plate, a surprise considering neither of us has much use for “Spanish” rice. The refried beans are made from New Mexico’s “other” official state vegetable, the pinto bean. Pinto beans are sweet and earthy flavor and mash easily into a creamy, tender (but certainly not beautiful) consistency.
Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. Quite often foods that appear unappetizing or even disgusting are absolutely delicious. Sopaipillas are one of those foods for which you’d never ascribe such adjectives as “malformed” or “misshapen.” They’re typically golden puffy pillows of sheer, delicious beauty. Unfortunately, the sopaipilla fryer was a bit under the weather during our visit and the sopaipillas delivered to our table were indeed misshapen and malformed with nary a puff. Thankfully, they were still delicious receptacles for honey. You’ll have to ask for the “real stuff.” The honey on the table is strictly honey-flavored syrup, but Callie will bring you packets of real honey if you ask.
Rutilio’s has the pedigree to compete in a larger market. More importantly, it’s got the carne adovada that’ll keep Duke City diners coming back…and it’s got Callie, the ambassador for adovada.
Rutilio’s New Mexican Foods
1605 Juan Tabo Blvd., N.E., Suite T,
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 20 September 2019
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Carne Adovada Enchiladas, Carne Adovada Stuffed Sopaipillas, Chips and Salsa, Sopaipillas, Coffee