Best of Bellingham 2019
What does it mean when an internationally renowned author on a limited eight-city tour across North America proclaims that the only place he wants to stop in your state is the beloved bookstore in your hometown? In the case of Markus Zusak—the author of The Book Thief, a tome that sold 16 million copies worldwide and spent more than 500 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list—it means your local bookstore’s reputation far exceeds the zip code where you reside. On Tues., Oct. 15, when Zusak shares his new masterpiece Bridge of Clay at Village Books, be sure to shower accolades on the staff who makes collaborations like this possible—not to mention helping secure umpteen Best of Bellingham wins.
Where: 1200 11th St., Bellingham,
and 403 Front St., Lynden
Best Gear Store:
A crispness enters the air and the rains have returned. Autumn has already unfolded in the high country. Folks call it “off season,” but I’ve never really understood why—it is the best season. You need gear, though. A T-shirt and shorts won’t cut it. You need a hood for the rain, and a jacket for the chill; footwear, not flip-flops. REI has been outfitting for the outdoors in Bellingham for more than 20 years. Seasons change. Their quality and service never does.
Where: 400 36th St.
Best Real Estate Agent:
Eric J. Larson, Coldwell Banker Bain
Buying or selling a home—especially in a market as permanently red-hot as Bellingham’s—comes with a lot of pressure, both financial and emotional. As such, who you trust with your home sweet home is of paramount importance. In a hotly contested category, Coldwell Banker Bain’s Eric J. Larson garnered the most votes. With deep roots in the community and almost two decades of experience, Larson brings knowledge, skill and pride of place to each client and every home bought or sold. Home is where the heart is, after all.
Where: 3610 Meridian St.
Make.Shift Art Space
When it comes to the art on display at Make.Shift Art Space’s main gallery, thinking outside of the box is the norm. To wit: October’s featured exhibit, “Die-O-Rama: A Tiny Haunted House Extravaganza,” sees local artists re-creating their biggest fears on a teeny-tiny scale. But that’s not all. In addition to the award-winning gallery, the all-ages, 8,000-square-foot DIY art and music venue also features more than 20 studios, a live music performance space, and KZAX 94.9, a low-power radio station. In short, if you need an affordable place to “make a mess and show it off,” they’ve got you covered.
Where: 306 Flora St.
Best Bank/Credit Union:
As a credit union, Whatcom Educational Credit Union is crystal clear that they value people over profits. From personal loans to mortgage loans, educational seminars to Education First grants, WECU is focused on putting community first—something their 128,000 members can really get behind. Prime example: During the months of October and November, every time you use your WECU debit card, you’ll earn a penny, and they’ll also donate a penny to local causes throughout Whatcom County.
Where: Multiple locales in Bellingham
Best Theater Company:
Sylvia Center for the Arts
When iDiOM Theater was founded by Glenn Hergenhahn-Zhao in fall of 2001, it was with an aim to present high-quality, innovative, original works to its patrons. For 14 years, it did just that—plus a whole lot more—in a small space on Cornwall Avenue. Since morphing into the Sylvia Center for the Arts and making the move to a much larger locale on Prospect Street, its mission has expanded to include gathering a number of other arts organizations under its creative umbrella, thus turning a former laundry building into a thriving, multi-venue performance space. Oct. 11-12 will feature the 53rd iteration of the 48 Hour Theater Festival—a feat that will see approximately 12 new short plays created in the course of a single weekend—and is a great way to celebrate Sylvia’s much-deserved win in this category.
Where: 205 Prospect St.
Best Cannabis Product:
I was wary of the prerolled “Thick Wicket” joint I purchased last weekend. The specimen was huge and skunky and intimidating. I’d told my friendly budtender I was hoping to head outside to do yard work after testing it, and he assured me the hybrid strain from the perennially popular growers of Subdued Excitement (SUBX) was smooth and wouldn’t throw me for a loop. Soon after inhaling a few puffs, I was wandering the garden with a trowel in hand and enjoying the autumnal splendor. While I likely wouldn’t mow the lawn while under the influence of Thick Wicket, it was just the ticket for an afternoon of weeding in the sun.
Best Barista, Best Brunch, Best Coffeehouse :
Gloria Baldwin @ Camber
That Camber won in multiple categories is hardly a surprise, given that the coffeehouse does just about everything incredibly well. Its coffee is thoughtfully sourced and expertly roasted and brewed by its knowledgeable and friendly staff, including multiple Best of Bellingham winner and lead barista Gloria Baldwin. Its brunch menu, which changes with the seasons, is a creative and delicious way to start the day, whether you’re ordering their vegan cashew cream toast or the perfectly balanced rosemary lamb burger.
Where: 221 W. Holly St.
Leaf & Ladle
This little lunch counter opens early and stays open late, serving generous portions of heathy and wholesome mixed greens salads, wraps, paninis and scratch-made soups—for dining in, or packaged to go for a hungry lunch crowd. Their menu changes with the season’s freshest vegetables, with the ripening flavors of autumn currently in demand. Owner Linda Melim has acquired the space next door and plans to open LL Libations later this month, serving mixed cocktails to the late-night leaf-eaters.
Where: 1113 N. State St.
Info: (360) 319-9718
D’Anna’s Cafe Italiano
Less a restaurant and more a local institution, D’Anna’s has won every year in this category. It might have something to do with the enormous plates of pasta, every noodle, ravioli and manicotti—and their fillings—made from scratch and lovingly coated with house-made sauces, much of it from the D’Anna family recipe book. It could be the fresh focaccia that comes with every meal, or the mouthwatering desserts that follow. Maybe it’s the line cooks that crank out dishes with speed and efficiency right before your very eyes. Possibly it’s the staff that treats everyone like a regular no matter if it’s your first visit or your 50th. Likely it’s all of that. Please never change a thing, D’Anna’s. You’re perfect just the way you are.
Where: 1317 N. State St.
Big Stick BBQ
Oh dog, this is a food truck worth chasing—thick brisket rubbed over a slow fire until it falls from the bone, with all the fixins served alongside whatever fine local brew’s near where they’re wandering—and, yeah, a lot of the time Big Stick is serving at Wander Brewing. Sometimes, it’s at Stones Throw. Follow the Big Stick on Twitter, and then you’ll know.
Where: Wherever food trucks wander
Best Bike Store:
Fanatik Bike Co.
Rest assured that when you find a new ride at Fanatik Bike Co.—or help customize it through their handy Bike Build program—you’ll be purchasing your two-wheeler from people who will likely be hitting the trails as soon as they leave their day job (and will gladly share their favorite rides with you). That love of the outdoors is part of what makes the spacious State Street bike hub so beloved. Since 2004, founders Mark and Kathy Salisbury have hired staff members who are as passionate about mountain biking (and more) as they are, and it shows. You’ve come a long way since your humble beginnings in a car garage, Fanatik.
Where: 1812 N. State St.
La Fiamma Wood Fire Pizza
According to the number crunchers at La Fiamma, each of their large wood-fired pizzas features 132 square inches of toppings. That’s likely one of the reasons the food hub at the intersection of Chestnut Street and Railroad Avenue has long been a destination for those who know a great pizza when they taste one. Quality ingredients and choices for meat-lovers, vegetarians, vegans, omnivores, gluten-intolerants, pescatarians and those who prefer “just cheese, please” are also reasons you return. My favorite is the shrimp-and-pesto enhanced Finn, but I’m also fond of classics such as the meaty Brooklyn Bridge. If you don’t want to commit to a full meal deal, drop by the window of the Pye Hole—located on the Chestnut Street side of the eatery—for a slice or two from lunchtime until late-night.
Where: 200 E. Chestnut St.
Best Movie Theater:
Pickford Film Center
The Pickford Film Center’s string of wins in this category remains unbroken, and few arts organizations in Bellingham are more beloved than the no-longer-tiny-but-definitely mighty movie theater that brings the best in independent, foreign and genre films you won’t find anywhere else. Right now, the PFC is in the middle of its annual Doctober event, and by the time it concludes, 60 documentaries will show on its three screens. With programs like Doc-ED, its volunteer staff and support of and involvement with other nonprofits and community-minded organizations, the PFC lives up to its “more than movies” motto 365 days a year.
Where: 1318 Bay St., 1416 Cornwall Ave.
Best Auto Dealer:
Dewey Griffin Subaru
Bellingham loves its Subarus, so it comes as no surprise that the winner in this category would be a Subaru retailer. But Dewey Griffin is so much more than a car dealership. With their motto of “Let’s all put a little in and there will be a lot for everyone,” Dewey Griffin has donated more than $1.2 million in the last five years to such charitable organizations as Blue Skies for Children, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and others, and were named the Subaru Love Promise Retailer of the Year for 2019. No wonder Bellingham has been trusting Dewey Griffin with its business—and its precious Subarus—for more than 30 years.
Where: 1800 Iowa St.
October is memorable for Lydia Place. It was during that month in 1989 that the first family moved into the nonprofit’s nascent transitional housing facility. Thirty years later, the organization has never wavered on their stance that “every family deserves a home.” Started by a task force of can-do women who saw a need for safe housing for women and children experiencing homelessness, Lydia Place has grown from an eight-bedroom, single-family home to a full-service organization that serves more than 150 families at a time. It’s community service in action, and it’s beautiful to behold.
The Laughs You Leave
Yes, yes—Ryan Stiles always tops the list of Best Bellebrity. But the editors want to give a special shout-out this year to Peter Gunn, who was also in the fond thoughts of many readers. In his unofficial capacity, Peter was a sort of People’s Mayor of Bellingham, and certainly its biggest booster and ambassador. He cared for the streets and for the people on them, always ready with a joke or barb or keen observation. He was a Brooklyn standup comedian in every setting and sense, with steady delivery and the precision timing of a cuckoo clock. He was a friend and a wise counselor, always. Our streets are darker without his gleam.
Best Home Store:
Glassware and gadgets and pretty white linens
Coffee and candles and things for Thanksgiving
Beautiful bakeware tied up with string
The Greenhouse has all of your favorite things!
Trinkets and towels and small little dishes
Sweet-smelling soaps are what your soul wishes
Gifts for your loved ones that make your heart sing
The Greenhouse has all of your favorite things.
Where: 1235 Cornwall Ave.
Best Pet Doctors:
Northshore Veterinary Hospital
My friend and hiking buddy is wise and knows better, but she caught her leg where it should not have been. I rushed to rescue her, and I know my “rescue” made everything worse. I felt panic like I have seldom known. She needed a doctor, and we found one—caring friends at NSVH. They are Whatcom County’s best small-animal hospital. She’s still hiking, although she’s getting a little gray. Learn from me, and get a dedicated doctor for your pet.
Where: 1486 Electric Ave.
There’s something so cozy about Thai food and fall. On Rice has been crowned as the winner once again for Best Asian, and with three Bellingham-based locations, you’re just a few minutes away at any given time. Got a hunger pang for Panang? A passion for potstickers? Feelin’ nice with fried rice? No need to slow your egg roll, because today—and every day—is the perfect day for yum.
Where: 209 N. Samish Way, 1224 Harris Ave., 2200 Rimland Dr. #100
Best Fine Dining:
It’s quite possible that Saltine won in this category on the strength of its fried green olive appetizer and the prosciutto-wrapped chicken they can’t take off the rotating menu lest all of Bellingham revolt. At the forefront of the city’s recent dining revolution, Saltine offers a thoughtfully edited selection of seasonal fare in an elegant-but-comfortable atmosphere that has been popular with Bellinghamsters since their very first dinner service. Fine dining has had a tough time getting a toehold in Bellingham. And then came Saltine.
Where: 114 Prospect St.
Silver Reef Casino Resort
I love Lummi Nation, and all they do. Their casino and resort is a centerpiece of their business face, a world-class community conference center that serves international visitors and tribal members alike. A new executive wing offers destination hotel spa and resort services, another wing offers a powerful forum auditorium for a symposium. And, yes, you can throw dice and play cards, too, in a welcoming setting. Lummi love to laugh, but there is a deep seriousness, too. They know leadership is service. Like Lummi Nation itself, the Silver Reef offers so much more.
Where: 4876 Haxton Way, Ferndale
Oops—readers as active and engaged as ours can get in a few scrapes now and then. But more than that, they need a law advocate for the major transitions in their lives. Shawn Alexander specializes in real estate, contracts and family law, and is an essential ally for a generation taking the biggest steps they ever will in their lives. He is a strong lifeguard for those who should not wade into the deep alone.
Where: 1400 King St. Suite B-105
Info: (360) 529-3309
What can’t Ben Mann do? In addition to the audacious amount of creativity the painter brings to the public sphere—from storefront murals to gallery shows, tulip festivals to colorful calendars—he’s also a published author, a traveling teacher who shares his skills with local youth, and a philanthropist who donates works to nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity, Whatcom Humane Society, Brigid Collins, and far beyond. Last summer, he was the Grand Marshal during the Bellingham Pride Parade, where he led the procession with aplomb. Congratulate Mann on his latest win in this coveted category during the second weekend of the Whatcom Artist Studio Tour, Oct. 12-13, where he’ll be holding court at his third-floor studio in the historic Fairhaven district.
Where: 1000 Harris Ave.
Best Happy Hour:
Rock and Rye
Bellingham is very serious about its happy hours, making this a hotly contested category. Of all the places that do happy hour well, Rock and Rye is in a league of its own with cocktails on tap and a menu of small plates that can easily become a meal. I like to start with freshly shucked happy hour oysters before moving on to a bowl of mussels, a plate of beef carpaccio or a heaping helping of poutine, if I’m feeling extra hungry. With all-day happy hour on Sunday, your day of rest can become a day at Rock and Rye.
Where: 1145 N. State St.
Blue Fin Sushi
Oh, autumn shivers,
softly, tender octopus
yields to our warm mouths
cold ocean so deep,
hot flavors of wasabi
and of ginger soy
we discover humble
knowing of bright sea and fields,
Where: 102 S. Samish Way
Best Place to Get a Massage:
Prime Sports Institute
A little more than a year ago, a multidisciplinary sports medicine clinic opened on North State Street with a goal of helping people maintain healthy, active lifestyles through a comprehensive approach to wellness—including athletic training, physical therapy, coaching, sports nutrition and acupuncture. Luckily, part of their fitness formula also includes massage. Kerry Gustafson, one of the four massage therapists on staff, is also the owner. As an expert at sports therapy, she says her obsession is “connecting the dots to dysfunction in your body and returning you to the sports and activities you love.”
Where: 1704 N. State St.
In Vino Veritas
Oh, Bellingham! it appears our readers aren’t exactly sure what a winery is, you named so many choices. Some readers named vintners. A favorite was Vinostrology, a cozy wine nook with a unique wine station dispensary and cheese plates perfect to share with friends. Others named vendors and wine merchants like Seifert & Jones, with their outstanding regional and international selections—many excellent choices priced under $20 per bottle. As far as actual wineries, you chose Moon Alchemy Wine, an exciting adventure of flavors old and new from winemakers Geneviève and Matthew Stirling.
We’ll note that cider is also a fermented fruit product, and there are several of these new businesses in Bellingham. We’ll add it as a new category next year.
Where: Vinostrology Wine Lounge and Merchant, 120 W. Holly St.
Where: Seifert & Jones, 19 Prospect St.
Where: Moon Alchemy Wine, 301 W. Holly St.
Although I can definitely do without having to spend another summer watching the grounds of Boulevard Park be trenched apart by a clamorous array of hydraulic tools and machinery, that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the utility improvements. Installing all those new water/sewer/power/telecommunications pipes reduces many hazards and since most of the wounds are starting to heal I feel extra-grateful to be able to roam the expanded beach-nourishment footprint seeking solace among the drift stills and rock revetments that help stabilize and protect this singular stretch of urban shoreline from wind shear and wave energy.
Where: 470 Bayview Dr.
Best Food Truck:
Despite the fact that StrEAT Food has a rotating roster of special menu items on its mobile menu, I typically have a Pavlovian response to their savory chicken artichoke sandwich—which, it should be noted, also includes bacon, onions and a grilled bun (the perfect touch). While parked outside of Kulshan Brewery on a recent Saturday, one of the specials at Bellingham’s perennially favorite food truck was shrimp and grits, and although my mind was urging me to go for the regular, my seafood-loving body took over and ordered something new. I was so glad I did, as was my date, who after eying the devoted way I was devouring my meal, offered me a couple of bites of his reliably delicious Gyro Pita in exchange for a taste. I was happy to oblige.
Where: K2, Carne, Fringe Brewing, Kulshan Brewing Co., Wander Brewing
At Fiamma, they take their burgers very seriously—making everything from scratch and offering patty choices with everything from black beans to bison to salmon, with several stops in between—and topping them with a dizzying array of accoutrements, such as smoked onions, Hatch green chilies, crispy fried potatoes and more. However, they don’t take themselves so seriously, slinging premium burgers in an atmosphere that prizes fun over pretension. Judging by your votes, Fiamma Burger is where you go when you want to have it your way.
Where: 1309 Railroad Ave.
In the heady days leading up to Oct. 11—when they dropped their limited-release American Scream IPA, featuring 400 pounds of locally sourced raspberries from Samson Farms in Everson—the wizards at Wander Brewing embraced the bodacious bounty of the Yakima hop harvest with an experimental fervor that made local hopheads exceedingly happy. Back in August, they finished their Googly Eyes DIPA with Citra and Ekuanot Cryo hops. Hot on the heels of that they mixed Saaz, Triumph, and Styrian Wolf hops into a savory swill called Ground Hop Day. For September, they dumped 400 pounds of freshly picked Centennial hop cones into their 400 Cents Fresh Hop IPA and dry-hopped an aromatic blend of Galaxy and Azacca hops into the much-anticipated Synthesizah Kveik IPA. They didn’t stop there, of course, but I’ve run out of space to keep gushing about their beer.
Where: 1807 Dean Ave.
Best Place to Meet People, Best Pot Store:
Your favorite place—or places, given 2020 Solutions’ three locations—to procure pot is also your favorite place to score a date, a little bit of synergy that makes perfect sense. While you’re perusing 2020’s selection of flower, edibles, concentrates, topicals and more, you can also chat up the marijuana-minded person beside you and potentially emerge with some Kush and a crush. Now that’s one unforgettable high.
Where: 2018 Iron St., 5655 Guide Meridian, 4770 Pacific Hwy.
Best Margarita, Best Bartender:
Brendan O’Neill @ Black Sheep
It’s been a big year for Black Sheep. Moving from their former tiny location to their much larger neighboring spot leaves more room for margaritas (and tacos, of course). Whether you’re more traditional and opt for the Dude-A-Rita or are feeling a bit more daring and go for the Pina Furnado, there’s a margarita available to please even the pickiest of palates. And if you’re lucky, this year’s Best Bartender, Brendan O’Neill, will be pouring the tequila and crafting your cocktail.
Where: 211 W. Holly St.
Community Food Co-op
Secrets revealed: At least once a week, I go to the Food Co-op for an early-morning breakfast. Grits or oatmeal, scrambled eggs, potatoes—with chorizo gravy, if you’d like. Comes to about $12 with dark roast coffee, which is about the cheapest, most filling meal around on a tight schedule. I look over the bulletin board, filled with community events and information about the food co-operative I, in part, own. The Community Food Co-op Board is in intricately involved in nutrition and the local food web, working to increase the supply of local, sustainable and organic food by supporting and establishing projects that strengthen the local farming community. So much more than a grocery store—yet they’re really good at that part, too.
Where: 1220 N. Forest St., 315 Westerly Rd.
Best Music Store:
In previous years, this category has been a knockdown, drag-out competition between downtown Bellingham’s two music-store mainstays, Everyday Music and Avalon Records. After the tragic fire that gutted Avalon, Everyday Music got the majority of your votes, although nearly all of you mentioned Avalon when you cast your ballots. To Everyday Music, we say, keep up the good work. We need you more than ever now. To Avalon, we miss you, and are grateful for all of your years spent making Bellingham a more musical place.
Where: 115 E. Magnolia St.
Best Place to See Live Music:
I’m pretty sure the second the Wild Buffalo announced that Odesza would be there for a DJ set back in May, they clinched a win in this category—again. The venue just celebrated its 20th anniversary, and shows no signs of slowing down, thanks in no small part to owner and talent booker Craig Jewell. In the coming days, the Buff will host Dinosaur Jr. (Oct. 25), Built to Spill (Oct. 28), Justin Townes Earle (Nov. 4), Matisyahu (Nov. 15-16), and more (that you can read about on pg. 26). And if the past is any predictor of the future, Jewell is about due for yet another impossibly big show announcement. Stay tuned.
Where: 208 W. Holly St.
Now that the 1,600-acre core of Blanchard Mountain has finally achieved long-overdue status as a protected “Natural Area,” we can run/hike/crawl up to Oyster Dome without suffering under the threat of losing one of our most mature and deeply cherished coastal forest ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest to ever-encroaching clear-cuts. It took a sizable land swap, plus a $10 million allocation from Washington State Legislature, to ensure that Washington Department of Natural Resources will henceforth manage this landscape for conservation and recreational uses instead of turning its timber into cash. But everybody comes out a winner in this decisive hard-fought victory of the Blanchard Mountain Strategy Group.
Best Bloody Mary Best Patio Seating:
Bayou On Bay
Whether made by a bartender or mixed yourself at the restaurant’s DIY bloody mary bar, Bayou on Bay’s bloody marys are the real deal: slightly spicy, flavorful, and poured strong and true, just like all of the signature drinks on their cocktail menu. During the summer months, it seems like all of Bellingham posts up on Bayou’s expansive, dog-friendly patio, happy to take in the view and watch the world go by over po’ boys and popcorn shrimp. As seasonal traditions go, it’s one of Bellingham’s best.
Where: 1300 Bay St.
Best Women’s Clothing Store:
On a recent Saturday afternoon, Labels’ James Street locale was full of women of all ages and sizes combing through the racks of the consignment store in search of deals. Judging by the loaded bags shoppers who were walking out the doors were carrying, pretty much everybody was successful in their mission. It’s not difficult to find what you need at Labels—whether it’s an Eileen Fisher dress, a cardigan from the Gap, a long-sleeve Eddie Bauer shirt or almost-new Danskos—as the racks are constantly replenished with “cute, current and clean” consignments that are sold at a fraction of what you’d pay at a big-box retailer.
Where: 2332 James St. and 3927 Northwest Ave.
If ever there was a year that Downtown Sounds—and by association the Downtown Bellingham Partnership and its Events Director Lindsey Payne Johnstone—earned this award, it would be for its 2019 series. After being rained out the first week, and with more rain in the forecast for the second, Payne Johnstone went to work, mobilizing the considerable forces at her disposal and moving Downtown Sounds to the Depot Market Square, before finishing out the final three concerts at its home on Bay and Prospect streets. In doing so, she put together her most successful Downtown Sounds to date. The rain might be a pain, but it’s no match for the Reign of Payne.
Where: Bay and Prospect streets
Best Ski Store:
New items are downstairs; used items are a billy goat’s climb upstairs, where deals await. In the far back is a busy space like Santa’s workshop, where gear is tended and mended, tuned and made perfect for a particular use. “We’re gear geeks. We started Backcountry Essentials with the intention of being a gathering place for the local outdoor community,” say owners Chris and Erica Gerston. Their passion and expertise gleams in every item in this store.
Where: 214 W. Holly St.
Best Place to Dance:
One of the joys of shaking what your mama gave you on the dance floor at Rumors Cabaret is that you don’t have to worry about being judged for your moves—or for anything else, for that matter. Since 1994, the LGBTQ-friendly bar and dance club on Railroad Avenue has been one where patrons can be themselves, and where they want to dance like everybody’s watching. Whether you’re coming through the doors for a stiff drink, a titillating drag show, or to lose yourself on the welcoming dance floor, Rumors is where you want to do it.
Where: 1119 Railroad Ave.
Naan and Brew
Bellingham is home to a growing number of Indian restaurants, each of them with its own particular merits. But as in years past, Naan and Brew has earned the majority of your votes. The downtown restaurant’s great attention to detail results in dishes that are deeply flavorful, rich and complex, whether they’re cooked on the stovetop or in the traditional tandoor oven. To try a bit of everything, visit during lunch, where you can load up your plate at their lunch buffet with butter chicken, veggie pakoras and fresh-made naan. Order a cocktail from their full bar and take the rest of the day off
Where: 200 E. Maple St. #101
Best Yoga Studio:
We don’t think 13 is an unlucky number, and it’s likely if you ask the folks at Yoga Northwest, they’ll agree. That’s because it’s the number of times they’ve won in this category—an impressive feat, as there is no shortage of yoga studios in the area. Whether your goal is to improve flexibility, recover from injury or work toward a better connection of mind, body and spirit, the experts at Yoga Northwest bend over backward to make sure your body gets the attention it deserves.
Where: 1440 10th St., #101A
Jalapeños Family Mexican Restaurants
You’ve just got to love a place that features Bellingham’s biggest burrito—a monster tortilla packed with spicy goodness the size of a bread loaf—as well as the town’s biggest margarita, too—a frosty fishbowl of lime-sour tequila. But they also have lunch specials and happy hour menus that extend much further into the day than many restaurants, making Jalapeños an extraordinary place to hold a business lunch. They have several locations. My favorite is the central waterfront, with sunny outdoor seating that looks down our industrial-strength waterway with intense longing at the shimmering green islands in the distance.
Where: 501 W. Holly St., 1007 Harris Ave., 2945 Newmarket St.
Best Place for a First Date:
The Temple Bar is no stranger to winning this category. Its cozy atmosphere, perfectly priced happy hour, expertly crafted cocktails and scrumptious bites make this the ideal place for a first date—or any date. They’ve recently launched their fall menu, which is full of items to elicit the savory sensations of the season. Impress your first date now, celebrate your anniversaries there later. Just don’t forget to invite us to the wedding.
Where: 306 W. Champion St.
Best Day Trip on the 542:
North Fork Brewery
Whether we’re hiking, climbing, paddling, cycling, skiing, snowboarding or mostly just sightseeing, the massive angular slopes of the North Cascades are our oyster once we head eastbound from anywhere along this 57-mile stretch of mountain-hugging blacktop. And to help ease the transition upon our inevitable return to the flatlands, we are blessed to have a roadside pub as savory and solar-powered as the North Fork Brewery, where we can fuel up on a cornucopia of scratch-made fare—everything from cold pints of barrel-aged Belgian-style sours to warm bowls of Stout French Onion Soup and pans of smoked salmon-sprinkled Pineapple Express pizza.
Where: 6186 Mt. Baker Hwy.
Old Town Cafe
They open at 6:30am, and that’s plenty early for all but the most sleepless of ’hamsters. We crowd in at the big community table—socialists all!—and are joined for a moment by glum police lamenting the loss of their morning Rocket Donut. It’s too early to laugh, but we do anyway, and the strong coffee helps. I order my usual, the Number Nine. For so many years now—going on 50—Old Town has generously opened its doors at Thanksgiving, and our table talks again about volunteering to help serve. This is community. This is Bellingham. This is truly the most important meal of the day.
Where: 316 W. Holly St.
Garden Spot Nursery
I was heading into Garden Spot Nursery to pick up some fall foliage when my boyfriend informed me he’d heard owner Marcy Plattner was selling the beloved Alabama Street plant store. I told him I’d dig up the dirt. After perusing some swanky Halloween displays, flats of pansies, perennials and shrubs, I settled on dreamy peachy-pink Belgian mums to adorn our front porch, and made my query at the register. A friendly employee informed me that yes, Garden Spot’s for sale, but it’s not shutting down. Plattner’s retiring, and is hoping to sell to someone who wants it to carry on. If you’re that person, rest assured that Garden Spot’s roots are strong, and the seeds of success have already been planted.
Where: 900 Alabama St.
Best Fast Food:
“Best burgers on the planet?” I think they’re being modest about our mostly burger-less solar system. She arrives at my car foot sore, and I admire her approach that is both seriously practical and droll. What’s the difference between Combo One and Combo Two? I ask—already knowing. Combo One comes with a hard ice cream milkshake, she replies. Why would anyone choose Two? I query. She doesn’t know, either, she laughs. Parents drive up with their kids, who are thrilled, and they share something together out of another, simpler time that I imagine they’ll remember as a family for many years. Without leaving my car, without leaving the solar system, I am transported.
Where: 310 N. Samish Way
Best Deli, Best Lunch:
Old World Deli
We know you love Old World Deli because we see you there during our frequent visits to partake of a porchetta, East Coast sub or Cuban sandwich lunch special. You’re talking to Christos and Anna about wine, ordering platters of meat and cheeses from Zach or shopping for dinner from their expansive shelves of pastas, sauces, condiments, spice blends and cocktail supplies before meandering over to the cold cases for house-cured meats and homemade sausages. They’re hosting one of their monthly prime rib nights on Thurs., Oct. 17. We’ll see you there.
Where: 1228 N. State St.
Best Tap Room:
“What a 7-Eleven would be like if there was one in the Shire,” the Station folks say. It is comically true, this cozy hobbit hole at the gateway to Columbia neighborhood. Want any of a selection of a hundred beers? Friend, they’ll pour it for you into a frosty glass. You could take it to go, but then you’d miss a sunset with your kin and their fiery tales of dragons.
Where: 1400 W. Holly St
Pure Bliss Desserts
Much to the delight of our collective sweet tooth, there’s more competition than ever in Bellingham for this category. But with its newly expanded space that allows the expert bakers of Pure Bliss more square footage to craft the cakes, cupcakes and other confections that are their stock in trade, and more display cases to show them off, Pure Bliss earned the lion’s share of the votes once again. Maybe it’s the rotating monthly cheesecake that did it. Or the gluten-free carrot cake. Or the chocolate bliss cupcakes. Or the lemon wedge. Or the Belgian chocolate torte. Or the sea salt chocolate chip cookies…
Where: 1424 Cornwall Ave.
It’s a drizzly Sunday morning, and the downtown brunch crowd at the Mount Bakery is on the verge of reaching full capacity. While I’d love to settle in with a Tomato Benny, I’ve just dropped by to secure a sweet treat. Among the baked-from-scratch delights, the marionberry orange scones look divine. But so too do the orange vanilla morning rolls, the ginger molasses and triple chocolate cookies, the seasonal fruit galette, and the platter of cinnamon rolls—which resemble miniature mountains topped with gooey layers of snow. After much deliberation, I settle on a raspberry cream cheese scone, secure I’ve made the right choice. But let’s face it, when it comes to Mount Bakery’s to-die-for baked goods, there in no wrong decision.
Where: 308 W. Champion St., 1217 Harris Ave.
Best Craft Cocktail:
I imagine Havana as I walk in—sunshine slanting through the window slats, the air filled with the snap of bitters. I order an Old Fashioned, thinking that is about as basic a cocktail as there is. Fool that I am, was I wrong! The drink is expertly made, layered with top-shelf liquors electrified by citrus rind—a zingy mix on an old recipe. As I sip, flavors opening, I watch my bartender with ease carve from a humble cucumber a beautiful flower for another drink. That one I also must try.
Where: 1147 11th St.
I’m not sure how many of these awards Polecat has won, but the answer lies somewhere between “some of them” and “nearly all of them.” Polecat’s perennial popularity lies in their ability to marry bluegrass with Celtic, rock, Americana and whatever other genres that suit their fancy to create lively music made for dancing. Plus, they’re just so doggone good at what they do and so delightful in how they do it. Everyone should be as easy to love as Polecat.
Any time of year is the right time of year to visit the coastline of Birchwood for an intertidal immersion therapy session at Locust Beach. With 200 acres of forested shoreline to absorb and inspire you, this breezy hideaway is the perfect place to hunker in the driftwood and/or launch the flotation device of your choosing. For a salty old beach bum like me it only takes a few seconds down there before my boots come off, I start shedding some layers and suddenly I’m chest-deep in the shallows grunting for joy and flapping my flippers around like a teenage walrus.
Where: Locust Road at Marine Drive
No matter which of the three conveniently located Avenue Bread locales we choose to patronize in Bellingham, we can rest assured that each and every scratch-made sandwich on their menu board will deliver us expediently to the intersection of wholesomeness and flavor-packed fun. In keeping with their commitment to good food, good business and community betterment, the kindly artisans at Avenue have cooked up Project Kneaded Dough—which means that along with blessing their patrons with BLTs, Eggenues, and Garden Deluxe on multigrain, every month they donate 25 cents from each loaf of bread we purchase to a local charity or school. Double yum.
Where: 1313 Railroad Ave., 2301 James St., 1135 11th St.
Bellingham Training and Tennis
Walking into Bellingham Training and Tennis for the first time, you’ll notice this isn’t your typical gym. Beautifully decorated, the high-end, state-of-the-art center provides much more than a place to hang your racket; BT&T is a community centered on the journey of wellness. Their fitness portion of the building was remodeled in 2017, and provides its many members with a wide array of classes, individual and group training, a must-see cycling room, and more. Treat yourself—and your body—right at the Fairhaven-based sports hub. You deserve it.
Where: 800 McKenzie Ave.
Two days after my latest haircut by Studio Galactica’s Kimberly Ross, I wasn’t yet tired of the accolades coming my way. Like all of the mane-tamers at the Cornwall Avenue locale, Ross knows exactly what she’s doing, but still listens to her clients when they tell her what they want (yep, even if it’s a perm or a mullet). The no-tipping salon is also jam-packed with local art and interesting things to look at, so there’s no chance of getting bored while you’re getting beautified.
Where: 1519 Cornwall Ave.
Best Place to Get a Tattoo:
Whether you’re getting your first tattoo, covering over a poorly rendered mermaid you got on your lower back when you were a drunk college student, or completing a large-scale vision on your arm, Sabbath Tattoo is where you go when you want to get inked. Earning points for high-quality work, exemplary customer service, cleanliness and professionalism, the Grand Avenue mainstay has earned your trust—something that is vitally important when it comes to permanently changing the landscape of your epidermis.
Where: 107 Grand Ave.
Info: (360) 671-2228
One of the great unsung food deals in Bellingham is Cafe Akroteri’s $10.50 gyro and beer or wine special. One of the great unsung bars in Bellingham is the one at the downtown Greek mainstay. But you’ll need some food to soak up that ouzo and retsina, and Akroteri is here to help with all your Greek favorites like moussaka, spanakopita, falafel, souvlaki and lamb of many varieties. Treat yourself to a sampler platter and try a little bit of everything.
Where: 1219 Cornwall Ave.
Best Auto Repair:
When it comes to your vehicle, the team at Bellingham Automotive knowns exactly how important service is to keep your major purchase running. And regardless if your ride is brand-new or has seen better days, their commitment to excellence in providing you with support and service ensures your safety on the road—not only for now, but for years to come. Their impressive expertise in both foreign and domestic vehicles will also leave you with peace of mind. During October, they’ll even check your battery for free.
Where: 4416 Hannegan Rd.
The center of the universe has coasted north over the years of our annual Best of Bellingham reader survey—Columbia and Sunnyland neighborhoods feature a vital mix of charming long-established Craftsman homesteads, innovative businesses and artist studios. They’ve taken their share of infill, proving urban densities can make a city come alive. The city’s bike and pedestrian plans have matured in these neighborhoods. They feel centered. And it is not at all a coincidence that so many winners in our Best of Bellingham survey are located here.