Chicken mole enchiladas at Ruta Oaxaca, which just opened its...

Chicken mole enchiladas at Ruta Oaxaca, which just opened its second Long Island restaurant, in Woodbury. Credit: Newsday/Scott Vogel

For Ruta Oaxaca and the band of brothers behind it — two sets of them, actually, Jose and Pedro Castillo, and chefs Carlos and Felipe Arellanos — the prudent thing would have been to wait for a liquor license before opening their latest restaurant, in Woodbury. But the pressure finally became too great.

“I had 140 phone calls from people asking when we’d be open,” said Jose Castillo, taking a break from obsessively checking his email for a go-ahead from the NYS Liquor Authority. “I told everyone the situation, and they said, that’s fine, we want your food.”

It was Thursday late morning—the liquor license would come the next day—and Ruta’s latest dining room, pink and decorated with gaily painted and sculpted alebrijes, fantastic creatures of Mexican folk art, was quiet for perhaps the last time in a long while.. At noon, the doors would open, crowds would presumably descend on the 62-seat bar-restaurant, and a new chapter would begin for the Castillos, the Arellanos and their already popular Mexican concept, which made its debut in Astoria in 2021. That success led to a Patchogue location last year — and Ruta’s ascendance to Newsday’s Top 100 list — which itself led to the Woodbury installment and a fourth Ruta, in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood, currently scheduled to open in late January.

“I remember the first day we opened in Astoria. We had big dreams and not a big name, but we had that word Oaxaca,” said Castillo. “People have been there, they know Oaxacan food. So we had to wear those shoes well.”

As with all Rutas, the Woodbury menu is “Oaxaca predominant, but with dishes from all over the country,” featuring starters such as shrimp flautas ($15), guacamole customized to heat preference ($14) and spinach-and-corn empanadas ($14); taco trios of birria ($21) carnitas ($20) and al pastor ($19); quesadillas ($15-17); entrees such as grilled octopus ($34); and daily brunch favorites like huevos rancheros ($17) and chilaquiles ($16). But it’s the restaurant’s passion for and execution of Oaxacan dishes, especially those with Oaxacan mole, that have put Ruta on the map. The chicken mole enchiladas ($26) are definitive, their tortillas heavily stuffed and heavily smothered by a sauce redolent of cinnamon and smoke, its flavor drawn from weeks of kitchen prep time and centuries of southern Mexican cooking.

“My other two partners were born and raised in Oaxaca,” said Castillo of the Arellanos. “In their hometown, grandma comes in with fresh cooked chicken breast, fresh cooked mole, fresh corn tortillas, and you just sit at the table, wrapping the tortilla with the chicken and mole in it. You can’t ask for better.

“And once you add a little mezcal or Modelo, you can’t lose.”

Ruta Oaxaca’s newest location is at 8025 Jericho Tpke., Woodbury, 516-515-9620, rutaoaxacamex.com. Opening hours are Monday through Thursday from noon to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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