Best of Bellingham 2016
Best Sandwich :
Avenue Bread’s ever-rising empire has extended over the years to the far reaches of Whatcom County. Thanks to their homemade artisan breads and consistently high-quality ingredients, their sandwich offerings are, without question, the best in town. And with locations in downtown Bellingham, Sunnyland, Fairhaven, and now Lynden you’ll never be without their turkey melts, clubs, Reubens and beyond. Personally, I like their breakfast “eggenues” on stops from brisk morning bike commutes.
Where: Downtown Bellingham, Sunnyland,
Fairhaven, and Lynden
Leaf & Ladle
Soon after Linda Melim and her daughter Morgan Gaunt opened Leaf & Ladle in the summer of 2013 , I inhaled a memorable chicken panini and a serving of “grandpa’s potato salad” there while lunching with a group of lady friends—one of whom admitted she had already ordered the new restaurant’s vegan Caesar salad “four or five” times that week. In the years since, the dynamic duo has expanded their locally sourced array of sandwiches, soups, salads, wraps, casseroles and seasonal specials (vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options are always on the menu) to include a case full of delicious to-go offerings. “We want everyone to feel like they have the option to get really good food, fast,” the women say. Mission accomplished.
Where: 1113 N. State St.
Best Pet Store:
Bellingham Pet Supply
We are a community of pet owners and we put a lot of consideration into how we feed and care for our pets, if the number of truly great pet stores around here is any indication. Recently joining their ranks is Bellingham Pet Supply, which is owned by lifelong local Julian Friedman. A carefully chosen array of products to keep your creatures happy and healthy, free delivery and homegrown ownership by a guy who is the proud owner of three adorably weird-looking dogs are just a few of the reasons you’ve deemed this newcomer to be the best.
Where: 1701 N. State St.
Best Bakery :
Judging by the number of excellent places to partake of baked goods in town, Bellingham has itself a bit of a sweet tooth. And while the Mount Bakery does everything well (cough, eggs Benedict, cough), it particularly excels at those sweet treats we love to eat, but do not necessarily love to bake for ourselves. Its buttery, infinitely layered croissants are my go-to—chocolate first, ham and cheese next and whatever is left in the case if they’re out of the first two. My coworkers are devoted to the chocolate chip cookies. And then there are the cinnamon rolls. And the Belgian chocolate truffle cake. And…
Where: 308 W. Champion St./1217 Harris Ave.
Best Happy Hour / Bartender:
Rock and Rye/ Dennis Schafer
Both Rock and Rye’s happy hour and its bartender Dennis Schafer have had a lock on our hearts pretty much since the restaurant on the ground floor of the Herald building opened its doors. For good reason, too. Fresh-shucked oysters, inventive small plates priced for sampling and cocktails—really good ones—on tap all combine to make Rock and Rye the ideal spot for both evening and late-night happy hour. And if you’re looking for an expertly mixed fancy adult beverage, history has shown that you want Dennis Schafer behind the bar, a place where he does some fine work indeed.
Where: 1145 N. State St.
Best News Story:
Lummi Nation defeats a coal dump
Lummi tribal leaders burned a million-dollar bribe from the company that wanted to build a coal export pier on the site of their ancestral village at Cherry Point, Xwe’chieXen. “Kwel hoy’,” they shouted: We draw the line. They asked the federal government to enforce the treaty that protects the tribe’s right to fish in usual and accustomed places, with usual and accustomed catches. The federal government agreed. We cheered.
Blue Fin Sushi
Near yummy yoshi
Crazy monkey, lion king
Call and beckon me.
Where: 102 S. Samish Way
Best Bike Store:
Bellingham has one of the most bike-centered populations in the United States. We love our rides. At the center of our fair city is Kulshan Cycles. If it wasn’t for them, we’d probably all be riding around on Flintstone-style stone wheels and dinosaur-drawn carriages. Kulshan Cycles, where superior customer service, an awesome bike selection and a stellar maintenance crew keep Bellingham upright and peddling—even through the rain.
Where: 100 E .Chestnut St.
Whatcom Family YMCA
There was a time in my life when I reserved a couple nights of the week for kickboxing aerobics classes at the Whatcom Family YMCA. The sessions were full of women of every shape and fitness level, and were also social in nature. Years later, the vibe hasn’t changed much (even if my ability to karate-kick has). Whether you’re lifting free weights, soaking up the stellar view of Bellingham Bay from the comfort of a stationary bicycle, swimming, taking a class—or signing your kids up for one—acceptance is the name of the game, and all are welcome.
Where: 1256 N. State St.
Best Place to Buy Pot:
With two locations in Bellingham staffed with knowledgeable budtenders, 2020 Solutions is your go-to when you’re looking to go green. Want the new “sticky-icky?” 2020 has all of your weed needs, from flowers to edibles to everything in between. This was a tight category, with Trove just a spliff-width from taking the title. But 2020 Solutions pulled away in the end. What do you expect from a weed store that looks as good as they do and has two locations in our weed-friendly burg?
Where: 2018 Iron St. and 5755 Guide Meridian
Best Fast Food:
There are so many wonderful things on the menu, why do I always order the same thing—Combo #1, your classic Boomer Burger with waffle fries and a chocolate shake made with real ice cream? That combination is so good, I never want to mess with perfection. O.K., I admit it: Sometimes I change up to onion rings instead of fries. The Boomer’s staff say this: “Our goal has always been for our guests to leave a little bit happier than when they arrived. It’s only hamburgers and we are unlikely to change the world. But we hope some of that incremental happiness we try to provide will create a butterfly effect and make the planet a little bit better place to be.” How can you not love that, Bellingham?
Where: 310 N. Samish Way
Best Gear Store:
“You walk in there and you get to have a lot of dreams,” Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, noted in an interview about her legendary 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail journey with no backpacking experience, too-small boots, and a massive pack. REI helped her with all these things, and made her journey lighter. “That’s where it began for me,” she said. “We can remake ourselves in the wild, and REI teaches you how to do it.”
Where: 400 36th St.
Old World Deli
I’m not sure it is possible for me to express the depth of my love for Old World Deli, and judging by the number of votes they get in this category every year, I’m far from the only one who feels that way. I’m in it for the sandwiches—their specials board is what decides my day’s eating habits—and while I’m watching them be carefully crafted from premium ingredients by the most entertaining staff in town, I also watch all of you browse the constantly rotating wine selection, order party plates of cheeses and cured meats, and procure all the pasta, sauce, spices and condiments necessary to living the life of the righteously well-fed.
Where: 1228 N. State St.
PRIME Massage & Sports Medicine
If there’s anything aging has taught me, it’s that bodies don’t bounce back when they’re in their 40s as easily as they do when they’re in their 20s. Luckily, people like PRIME Massage & Sports Medicine’s Kerry Gustafson are there to help. In addition to getting out the kinks associated with the regular wear-and-tear of human musculature, Kerry also prescribes exercises and wellness hints as a way to stop the pain before it starts. She must be doing something right, as this is her fourth consecutive win in this category.
Where: 1433 N. State St.
Busara Thai Cuisine
As much as I relish being able to savor the delectable Thai cuisine that emerges from the kitchen at Busara for lunch and dinner, I’m even more appreciative of its winter-proof southeast Asian decor. Although I’m apt to patronize their pagoda-esque parlor on a regular basis throughout the year, it’s during the cold, darker heart of our more inclement seasons that I appreciate the resident ambience to its most soothing degree. Whether I’m sitting down for transformative portions of crispy duck in ginger sauce or just stopping by to pick up extra spicy green curry takeout, it feels like I’ve gone 7,000 miles away—to a much warmer part of the Pacific.
Where: 404 36th St.
Old Gold Tattoo
I have one tattoo. It’s pretty special to me. Old Gold Tattoo has inked more than one tattoo in its years of service on State Street (right next to the Shakedown). This walk-in tattoo shop is open seven days a week and allows customers to either choose from any of its custom designs or bring in their own. I have many friends that have raved about their experience at Old Gold. If I ever get a second tattoo, I’ll be sure to take a seat under their steady hands.
Where: 1222 North State St.
Taste of India
The Hindu gods have many hands and many mouths, as though in mirrors facing one another, reflecting infinity. I often think of this while poring over the menu in the brightly lit, many-mirrored dining area of Taste of India, longing for so many more hands, more mouths to enjoy all of their savory vindaloo and biryani and tandoori dishes served with buttery naan—the flavors of eternal summer. Their vegetarian menu alone is the most generous in the city. On Fridays, they have dancers—their hands, their mouths awash with light.
Where: 3930 Meridian St.
When Dakota Art Store made the decision to move from their longtime digs on Cornwall Avenue to a significantly larger venue a little more than a block away in the summer of 2014, it wasn’t long before they knew they’d made the right decision to stay in the urban core. The “neighborhood art store”—which has been providing creative supplies to the legions of artists in Bellingham since 1994—saw a significant uptick in walk-in traffic, both from people interested in sourcing supplies and also from those strolling through the exhibits showing in the adjacent gallery space. Judging by the crowds who gather at every Art Walk to view edgy new works—like this month’s “Familiar Hindsight,” which sees artists Hannah L. Rivers and Bonnie Smerdon using paintings to reconstruct inherent memories—the gallery has become an entity of its own.
Where: 1324 Cornwall Ave.
By the time this issue goes to press, the results of the nail-biting presidential election will be decided. Luckily, La Fiamma’s win for Best Pizza—our most-answered category on this year’s Best of Bellingham ballot—isn’t likely to be contested. In a city of many pizza palaces, voters ensured the wood-fired wonders at the longtime Railroad Avenue hotspot came out on top. Whether you prefer your pie topped with pepperoni, sausage, roasted potatoes, steak, shrimp, arugula or seven kinds of cheese, there’s something on the menu for everyone—regardless of what political party you affiliate yourself with.
Where: 200 E. Chestnut St.
Tina and Kirby White got good with grits in cozy conditions the adventuresome way—they practiced culinary arts at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. There, color, grace, style and a gentle humor helped nourish an extended working family through long, frosty, seldom sunny mornings. That’s the tradition they’ve built at their Sunnyland breakfast nook, where Bellingham’s family rubs elbows over spicy huevos rancheros, chorizo and eggs, and tater tot hash with piping mugs of dark roast to stave off the coming winter chill. Last time I was there, I knew everyone in the joint. It’d been a while since I’d seen these old friends, and it was good to break the fast with them again.
Where: 521 Kentucky St.
Shearer’s Hair Design
Did Deborah Shearer decide she wanted to cut hair for a living because of her name, or did she change her name to better reflect her chosen profession? That’s one of the many things you can ask the owner of Shearer’s Hair Design when you schedule a haircut, coloring, perm or eyebrow or lash tint with her or one of the other experienced beauticians at the popular Yew Street locale, which is taking home its first win in the “Best Salon” category—proving they’re a cut above the rest.
Where: 2420 Yew Street Rd.
Aaron M. Lukoff
Running afoul of the law to the extent that you need to seek legal counsel is never really a good time, but hiring Aaron Lukoff can almost make lawyering up fun. But don’t mistake his personable manner for a lighthearted approach to his job—he’s a fierce advocate for his clients with loads of legal experience. His counsel is wise, his rates are reasonable and he’ll even let you play the arcade games in his office’s lobby.
Where: 215 Flora St.
Best Auto Dealer :
Dewey Griffin Subaru
You can tell a lot about people by how they treat animals. Just ask the staff at Dewey Griffin Subaru, who in addition to providing the many Subaru devotees of Bellingham with a stellar selection of new and used vehicles for nearly 50 years, also offer a dog-friendly loaner car and have an onsite dog park with direct trail access to Whatcom Falls Park. Through October, the Iowa Street headquarters also acted as a drop-off point for donations of toys, food and other pet supplies for the Whatcom Humane Society. Additionally, they step up to the plate where helping their fellow humans is concerned, having recently donated a significant amount to the Bellingham Food Bank’s annual “Feed the Need” Community Food Drive.
Where: 1800 Iowa St.
Best Place to Meet Men:
Sin and Gin Tour
When it comes to Bellingham’s dating scene, this is a fascinating win. Every summer, the “Sin and Gin” tours in downtown Bellingham and Fairhaven are led by costumed historians from the Bureau of Historical Investigation, Bellingham’s unique gift and tour company. Sign up for one of their excursions and get to know Bellingham’s deep-seated sin—or, as they call it, “a guided walking tour exploring the history of vice in Bellingham.” You’ll be sussing out Bellingham’s brothels of old and, while you’re at it, you’ll most likely run into the man of your dreams—even if he is a ghost haunting a building.
Where: 217 W Holly St.
Best Food Truck:
During a recent sojourn to Kulshan Brewery—after consuming my weight in StrEAT burgers and reuben dogs over the past few years—I finally mustered up the gumption to give the gyro pita a try. “Well?” queried my lunch date as she witnessed me annihilate the entire tzatziki-drizzled roasted lamb and beef concoction before she even got started on her chicken artichoke sandwich. “How is it?” “Mmm,” I said, wiping my beard with my shirt cuff as I scooped up another mouthful of golden crisp fries. “It was unequivocally the right thing to do.” Then—after suitably cleansing my palate with a prodigious measure of Bastard Kat IPA—I zipped back outside to order another.
Where: Find the trailer at Kulshan Brewery, K2,
and Samuel’s Furniture
Best Cocktail :
At the Redlight, many of the cocktails come with musical connotations, but no matter how fierce their titles might be—treat yourself to a Reign in Blood, Le Butcherette or Warm Gun—they are mixed by an excellent crew of bartenders from ingredients that are made in-house wherever and whenever possible. That means the strawberry/peppercorn vodka for my Blonde Redhead is infused on the premises, and the hot apple cider for my seasonally available Autumn Sweater is probably mulled by the person taking my drink order. The same thoughtfulness permeates the small spot tucked away on State Street, which is how it has come to occupy such a big spot in our hearts.
Where: 1017 N. State St.
Best Home Furnishings:
A denoument to the beloved and venerable store for home gear and furnishings, Chris Foss and Foster Rose have been searching for a new owner to bring the skills and customer service required for another generation of homemakers preparing for their next adventure. Chris and Foster transformed their business from a household plant and card store into a destination shopping place in the mid-1980s, helping anchor the downtown district in a time of great ferment. In the decades since, they’ve cemented the Greenhouse’s reputation for high-quality goods and services—something any new owner would be lucky to buy into.
Where: 235 Cornwall Ave.
Wait Staff at Old Town Cafe
This is the only time the entire staff of a restaurant has won a Best of Bellingham award, and it is only fitting that the Old Town Cafe servers are the first. After all, we patiently wait in long lines every single weekend to be served scrambles, sandwiches, pancakes and plate after plate of the much-beloved Number Nine by this crackerjack and eternally sunny crew who handle the crowds—and Bellingham’s long-term love affair with the Old Town—with great skill and good humor.
Where: 316 W. Holly St.
Best Auto Repair:
It says something subtle and marvelous about Bellingham that our favorite mechanics specialize in mending fuel-efficient and innovative European and Japanese model autos. Sometimes, they do break! Harmony has been working on European-built vehicles since 1979—just about the time gas-guzzlers were going the way of the dino—and they know them quite well by now. Smart cars for smart drivers, repaired by smart mechanics—all cylinders firing.
Where: 1922 Grant St.
Bayou on Bay
It is a quintessential downtown Bellingham experience to walk by Bayou on Bay early in the day and be bathed in the warm, welcoming scent of smoked meat. Like many of you, I have eaten my way through the popular restaurant’s menu and can vouch that its Cajun/Creole offerings are delicious, its brunch is as legit as the Bloody Marys they serve alongside it and everything is cranked out, mostly from scratch, in its tiny kitchen. Also coming out of that impossibly small space is really good barbecue, and it makes its way into all parts of the menu: brisket hash (my favorite) in the morning, pork po boys at lunch, smoked chicken wings at happy hour and barbecue ribs at dinner. Show up on Wednesdays for rib night and your slab of meet comes with a side of beer. They’ll supply the napkins.
Where: 1300 By St.
Best Movie Theater:
Pickford Film Center
This year, as part of the Pickford Film Center’s annual Doctober festival, the theater was able to extend an invitation to more than 5,000 students in Whatcom County to come and see a free documentary under the umbrella of its Doc Ed program. It’s just one of the many ways in which the nonprofit art-house movie theater takes its motto of “more than movies” seriously. Programs like Doc Ed, along with the PFC and Limelight’s carefully chosen lineup of independent and foreign films, endlessly delightful volunteer staff and state-of-the-art movie houses are just some of the things that have earned them an unbroken string of wins in this category—that, and the real butter on the popcorn, of course.
Where: 1318 Bay St./1416 Cornwall Ave.
Painter Ben Mann doesn’t take his third Best of Bellingham win for granted. In fact, one of his past awards already hangs in a place of honor on the wall in his Fairhaven studio—right next to his hard-earned college diploma. “I feel immensely lucky—having hit a place where the subjects I most love to paint seem to readily connect with the locals,” the artist and educator says when asked how it feels to have been embraced by the citizens of the ‘ham, who can see his vibrant paintings everywhere from the walls of Elizabeth Station to Mallard Ice Cream to Barkley Village, Bellingham Public Library, and far beyond. “I’m honored,” Mann says, “especially as our art scene grows in scale and diversity.”
What do you get when you divide 36 (the number of years Yoga Northwest has been offering Iyengar yoga to the public) by nine (the amount of times they’ve won in the “Best Yoga Studio” category? While you may think the correct answer is four, it’s more complex than that—mainly because longevity is part of the equation. With classes for every age and body type and a commitment to “vibrant health, mindful living and inner peace” for everyone, their 10th win is a no-brainer.
Where: 1440 10th St.
Garden Spot Nursery
What in the heck is a “lasagna bulb” pot? If you were one of the attendees at a recent class on the topic at the Garden Spot Nursery, you would’ve gotten your hands dirty finding out (spoiler alert: it’s a layered pot containing bulbs designed to provide steady blooms through winter and into the spring). Sure, the longtime plant purveyors at the Garden Spot—led by owner Marcy Plattner—will be happy to sell you perennials, annuals, seeds and everything else necessary to cultivate your own piece of paradise, but the hands-on guidance they provide is one of the many reasons the Alabama Street mainstay has been voted “Best Nursery” four years in a row.
Where: 900 Alabama St.
Best Place to Dance:
Every Wednesday this month, the Panty Hoes drag queens—hosted by Aruba Sterling and Mahogony Knight—literally reach out to the LGBTQ community and drag dancers to the floor. Their show runs until 11:30pm, which—every night, any night—is like the witching hour at Rumors, where crowds rush in to writhe and whirl under the bright lights to music spun by the most talented DJs in the city. The drinks are cheap and well-mixed, served with style by a talented and good-looking waitstaff. Alternative? Mandatory.
Where: 1119 Railroad Ave.
Best Shoe Store:
When we say Michelle Bouma is consistently putting her best foot forward, it’s not just a clever play on words. Since starting the mini-but-mighty Mi Shoes on Bellingham’s Railroad Avenue 11 years ago, the energetic entrepreneur has expanded her fashionable realm. These days, you’ll also find the products of her keen eye for what women want to wear at Commercial Street’s Heroine, and at Mi Shoes Lynden, which is expected to open sometime this week. Look for a grand opening celebration there Nov. 12, and rest assured that, in the meantime, the award-winning downtown Bellingham store is going strong.
Where: 1315 Railroad Ave., 511 Front St., Lynden
Best Music Store:
It is only fitting that Everyday Music and Avalon are kitty-corner from one another downtown, as they tend to trade off this category from year to year. Per usual, the battle was a close one, but when the votes were counted, Everyday Music came out ahead. Their inventory is expansive—mainstream releases and strange gems alike can be found there—their hours are conducive to lunchtime and late-night browsing, and the staff is willing to guide you on your musical journey or leave you be to browse.
Where: 115 E. Magnolia St.
Best Live Music:
Live music is the lifeblood of Bellingham’s ample entertainment scene, and judging by how many times the Wild Buffalo has carried this category, it is the spot you seek out when you’re looking to have a musical good time. And why not? With an upcoming schedule that includes Shovels & Rope, Built to Spill, Justin Townes Earle, Too Short, and whatever else owners Craig Jewell, Joey Crahan, and Lee Huffman can come up with, the Buff offers something for everyone. Even Macklemore thinks so.
Where: 208 W. Holly St.
Boundary Bay Brewery
Bellingham is undeniably a beer town. We’re recognized around the region and the United States as home to some of the best beer around. With about 10 breweries to choose from, you really can’t go wrong. Boundary Bay is what started the tap trend, recently celebrating 21 years of crafting award-winning beer. But at Boundary, it’s not just about the beer. They’ve been a cornerstone in our community the entire time—the granddaddy that keeps getting better.
Where: 1107 Railroad Ave.
When the Cascadia Weekly offices were directly above the Taco Lobo headquarters on Champion Street, my pavlovian responses would kick in every afternoon around lunchtime, when the smells of Mexico would find their way through open windows or air ducts. At least once a week, I’d act on my impulses and order a carne asada burrito or pollo verde. The made-from-scratch tortillas and salsas were a boon. And thanks to our proximity to the eatery, my lunch would still be warm when I sat down at my desk to consume it.
Where: 117 W. Magnolia St.
Silver Reef Casino Resort and Spa
The Lummi have a saying, “When the tide is out, the table is set.” The saying speaks to the generosity of the Lummi people in matters of feast and festival. There’s a deep, trans-generational understanding within the tribe that the Silver Reef must grow and update to serve a changing demographic. To that end, a beautiful new wing was recently dedicated for the resort, providing ample convention center facilities and additional spa capacity. They’re gambling on a tide, and that’s always a good bet.
Where: 4876 Haxton Way, Ferndale
Best Performance Theatre:
“The support this town gives to new work is always amazing to me,” iDiOM Theater founder Glenn Hergenhahn-Zhao says of the love showed by Best of Bellingham voters. “We have made a career making silly, irreverent and I hope occasionally beautiful theater at iDiOM. Sometimes we have our doubts about that life choice, but it’s always gratifying to get a vote of confidence from the community. This year especially so, since we are a bit nomadic as we build the Sylvia Center for the Arts. We feel the love, Bellingham, and we want to pass it on to the performing arts community at large. Thank you for letting us do what we do. Thank you for coming to see the things we write. It would be a lonely and ridiculous occupation if you didn’t.”
Where: 205 Prospect St.
Info: http://www.idiomtheater.com or www.sylviacenterforthearts.org
Recently, when I was feeling peckish and craving the flavors of the Mediterranean, I made my way to Cafe Akroteri, Bellingham’s longtime Greek food stalwart. Normally, I’m a sampler platter kind of girl, which allows me to satiate my longing for Akroteri’s tasty spanakopita, dolmathes, Greek salad and more on one snackable and shareable plate. But this time, I scored their gyro and draft beer special, a budget-friendly deal that gets savvy diners a gyro meal and beer for a little more than a sawbuck—which is a whole lot cheaper than a plane ticket to Greece.
Where: 1219 Cornwall Ave.
Best Book Store:
Chuck and Dee Robinson love books, and they set out to build a bookstore for lovers of books. They succeeded spectacularly. Through the years, changes in the book vending business have been mighty, and competitive forces have been fierce, but Village Books remains the illuminated center of Bellingham’s literary life—a place for readers, for writers, for the curious who want to more about the crafting and business of books. For decades a mainstay of Fairhaven’s main street, Chuck and Dee recently opened a second store in Lynden. Because books are a love that must be everywhere shared.
Where: 1200 11th St.; 430 Front St., Lynden
Thanks to a small army of dedicated volunteers who donated time and plenty of elbow grease during a graffiti-removal work party earlier this summer, the sandstone cliff faces along our most beloved stretch of shoreline are free of puerile ornamentation and vile vulgarisms. Although it’s heartening to see how quickly our go-to splash zone was rendered family-friendly again, you have to wonder just what the hell is going wrong in our society that so many doofuses feel entitled to turn our publicly owned natural treasures into a medium for their own insipid close-mindedness.
Where: Chuckanut Drive
Best Music Festival:
Subdued Stringband Jamboree
Although the pickin’ party known as the Subdued Stringband Jamboree has won in this category before, one need not gaze upon their awards to know how much Bellinghamsters love this annual event—all you have to do is make your way to the Deming Log Show Fairgrounds every August to watch festival-goers flock to the weekend-long affair, where they will dance, catch up and take in the finest old-timey and Americana bands festival founder Robert Sarazin Blake can muster. It’s a community gathering like none other, every single year.
Where: Deming Log Show Fairgrounds
If you want to know the real reason world-famous improviser Ryan Stiles so often snags the Best Celebrity crown when it comes time for these awards, you need look no further than the generosity he extends to his fellow actors at the Upfront Theatre—something the taller-than-average thespian has been doing since he founded the Bay Street space in 2004. And unlike a certain Academy Award-winning actress who’s been rumored to own a home nearby, Stiles is an approachable, affable entity—both onstage and off. So sure, Stiles and his Whose Line is it Anyway? pals may regularly sell out shows on nationwide tours, but that doesn’t mean you won’t run into him on a Thursday night in downtown Bellingham.
Where: Upfront Theatre, 1208 Bay St.
Best Italian :
D’Anna’s Cafe Italiano
D’Anna’s wins in this category every single year, which gives me the opportunity to write a love letter to my favorite Bellingham eatery every single year. An inviting locale and waitstaff who have been there just this side of forever are the sides to a main course of the best Italian food you’ll find anywhere—all scratch-made on the premises. From parmagianas and lasagna to several kinds of ravioli to pasta augmented by more sauces, proteins and other add-ins than you can shake a noodle at, right on down to the manicotti that is, for my money, the best meal in town, D’Anna’s does a belly good.
Where: 1317 N. State St.
Best Place to Meet Women:
Like many of the couples you can find populating Temple Bar on a regular basis, this is a perfectly matched pairing. Need to impress on that first date? Take your love to the Temple. Date doesn’t go well? Well, you can end it right there because you’ll probably find your lifelong partner at the table next to you. Temple Bar is really a revolving door of love, good food and drinks. We love their dessert menu—if your date makes it that far.
Where: 306 West Champion St.
Best Coffee Shop / Barista:
Black Drop Coffee House/ Ryan Siu
Every spring, the Black Drop Coffee House pits zombies against survivors when they host a “Save Our City!” game of natural selection in downtown Bellingham. It’s an apt metaphor for what they do very other day of the year, when they turn the undead—people who haven’t yet dosed themselves with their favorite Black Drop mocha, latte, doppio or straight-up cup of java sourced from freshly roasted beans provided by Maniac Roasting—into fully cognizant (and caffeinated) humans. And, thanks to the care the staff takes to make every beverage exceptional, year after year staff members such as the talented Ryan Siu take home the Best Barista award.
Where: 300 W. Champion St.
Sean Hackney, Muljat Group
It’s the most important decision and purchase you’ll make in your life—your abode, the place you express your dreams, the home you create for your family. You need someone who understands all this to walk you through—no high pressure, no feeling of being jammed—but, you know, sometimes you also need that gentle poke right at the end, affirming this is the right purchase for you and those you love. Sean grew up in Whatcom County, is invested in his community, and knows about neighborhoods and families. Because that’s what the job is really about. This was a hot category, with fierce competition among charismatic agents and their loyal, happy customers. Sean topped the list.
Best Day Trip:
Even smack-dab in the dead of winter—when the uppermost 2.7 miles of the Mt. Baker Highway lie buried beneath 10 feet of pow-pow—the curvaceous contours of Kulshan Ridge provide panoramic vistas and topographic inspiration to a steady stream of skiers, snowshoers and boot-packers who ascend from the back lot at Heather Meadows with survival gear on their backs and resilient grins on their faces. Although these intrepid day-trippers might look like a bunch of crazy pilgrims, there is a proven methodology to their madness. They have long since realized that Artist Point actually becomes easier to access before the road gets plowed and all the trails melt out.
I’ve now spent more than a year living with a bird’s-eye view of the city’s most popular park, and I can say, I’m impressed with you, Bellingham. No matter the weather—rain, wind, freezing cold, a combo of all three—you can be found running its trails, frolicking on its lawn and taking time out on its benches. You skinny dip in Bellingham Bay during the summer, and stand at the water’s edge and let the spray drench you during the winter. You love Boulevard Park, and it is lucky to have you.
Where: South State Street and Bayview Drive
Best Ski Store:
You can tell a lot about the quality of rippers and shredders by where they buy their gear. Price is always an object, because expense rhymes with nonsense and the daily deal is on the slopes. Backcountry Essentials offers quality, practical gear backed by an intelligent, knowledgable staff—with prices that aren’t a wipeout.
Where: 214 W. Holly St.
Bellingham’s burger scene is ripe with mouthwatering offerings, but Fiamma Burger—the offspring of the award-winning La Fiamma—stands apart from the crowd. Similar to Fiamma’s pizza, their burgers feature top-notch flavors, all the sides you could wish for and a dizzying array of innovative combos. Head on down to their Railroad Avenue location and take a seat overlooking the street. On your first bite, you’ll know precisely why they were voted Bellingham’s Best Burger. P.S. Don’t forget about the milkshakes.
Where: 1309 Railroad Ave.
Best Clothing Store:
Thanks to an $18 store credit a bestie gifted me with when she left town, a recent visit to Labels’ James Street locale resulted in the price of my purchase—a cute-but-casual dress from Ambrielle, a form-fitting Miracle City sweater, and two fancy throw pillow covers from the store’s housewares section—being a measly two cents. Although I felt like a criminal, it was a legit deal. My friend had consigned clothes, which had since been sold, or donated to We Care or Ragfinery. That $18 credit was hers (now mine) to spend on other low-priced, high-quality items at the bustling business. All in all, was a win-win situation.
Where: 2332 James St.; 3927 Northwest Ave.
Best Band/Musician :
As one could easily surmise, this is not Polecat’s first win in this category. The perennially popular bluegrass/folk/Americana band continues to draw big crowds—indeed, they just played their latest in a string of packed-out Halloween shows at the Wild Buffalo. High-energy performances coupled with impeccable musicianship and their proven ability to get audiences up and dancing have ensured Polecat’s place in the pantheon of Bellingham’s beloved bands.
Best Head Shop :
Remember the good old, bad old days when you had to slink furtively into the patchouli-scented bong shop, cough and complain about how rough tobacco treats your throat? Yeah, right: Tobacco. Now you can just walk in and buy the water pipes and stemware you want, the vape gear, the grinders and scales and all the rest of the paraphernalia, the whole lovely lot of it. And talk to the staff instead about their latest music picks and the happenings on Railroad Avenue. Freedom is awesome.
Where: 1330 Railroad Ave.
Since Pure Bliss opened, I have made it my business to sample my way through their offerings—and business has never tasted so good. Their cakes, bars, cookies, cupcakes and whatever else they happen to have in their cases are as beautiful as they are delicious. The coconut cake is a classic, the chocolate cakes come in multiple varieties ranging from salted caramel to mocha to peanut butter to the heavy hitters, chocolate bliss and triple chocolate. I’m partial to their seasonal offerings—the pumpkin cheesecake is divine—and they also make the most decadent mocha in town, complete with homemade chocolate ganache. Pure bliss indeed.
Where: 1424 Cornwall Ave.
Community Food Co-op
It’s been nearly a year since the downtown Community Food Co-op celebrated the completion of its newly remodeled flagship store, which included a new mezzanine seating area, remodeled bathrooms, the addition of a salad bar and innovative hot bar and—across the street—a new Healthy Connections building and bakery. While the changes were welcome, we’re guessing the longtime natural grocer got your votes the old-fashioned way—by consistently offering quality service and products, and providing a place not just to shop, but also to connect with your fellow Bellinghamsters.
Where: 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Rd.
What makes a great neighborhood? In the years we’ve been polling readers for their favorite places, this category has moved steadily north—as has the emphasis on great parks, trails, schools, places to hang out, and homes that are stylish, established yet affordable have come into focus. The Elizabeth Park Summer Concert Series is just one example of a neighborhood laying out all of its finest for the enjoyment of others. Roll on, Columbia!
Best of Bellingham write-ups by Tim Johnson, Carey Ross, Amy Kepferle, Scott Pelton, and Trail Rat
Photos by Patrick Beggan (versaphotography.com)