Best of Bellingham 2013
Best of Bellingham
SunnylandThe center of gravity has shifted in Bellingham.
In the years we’ve been polling readers on their favorite haunts and hidey-holes, we’ve seen the focus crawl from the Southside to Columbia, veer south again to the central district and now eastward to what was not so very long ago perhaps the least likely of favorite neighborhoods, Sunnyland. Why Sunnyland? Well, Trader Joe’s, for starters. HomeSkillet. Kulshan Brewery and StrEAT Food. Hardware Sales. In fact, it is that delightful mix of residence and industrial-strength business that yields Sunnyland its wondrous, quirky charm. Artists work from their back of their homes and sell from their commercial storefronts—their efforts showcased each summer in the Sunnyland Stomp.
But favorite places are found all over Bellingham. Here again we present our readers picks of the best, brightest and boldest in the City of Subdued Excitement.
Il GranaioIt's been more than 20 years since I visited Italy, but the generous nature of the European country's citizens (not to mention the memory of their simple yet delicious pastas, salads and the best sandwich I've eaten in my entire life) have stuck with me ever since. The fare Italian native Alberto Candivi brings to his 13-year-old Mount Vernon-based restaurant, Il Granaio, reminds me of time time I spent traveling his homeland. The fresh ingredients are sourced locally, the pasta is made onsite and the menu—featuring a mouthwatering variety of traditional Italian dishes—is authentically inspired. You could travel to Italy to taste-test for yourself, but isn't it easier just to call Il Granaio and reserve a table?
Where: 100 E. Montgomery, Ste 110, Mount Vernon
Best Casino, Best Breakfast:
Skagit Valley Casino ResortAs a person who has been lured by the seductive charms of the Skagit Valley Casino Resort, I can fully understand why so many of you deemed this casino your favorite. Sure, the many gaming tables and slot machines—along with the attendant potential to win big—are the stated draw, but with varied musical entertainment (Rick Springfield and Steve Earle are both on the upcoming entertainment roster) and well-appointed hotel rooms, the Skagit exists to show all who enter a good time. And there's no better cure for the aftereffects of too much fun than a hearty breakfast, which is why you cast your votes for Skagit Skillet at the casino, where fast and friendly service comes with every plate of pancakes.
Where: 5984 N Darrk Ln
Five GuysIn a world where not all burgers are created equal, Five Guys is creating unequaled burgers. Always made from fresh-ground beef (one of the chain's claims to fame is that none of their locations have freezers, which means their meat is never frozen), their burgers are as juicy as they are tasty. But what sets Five Guys apart from all those other burger barns is the incredible variety of free toppings they'll augment your burger with. With more than 250,000 possible combinations to choose from, ranging from grilled mushrooms to steak sauce, you could eat a lifetime's worth of meals there without having the same burger twice.
Where: 1870 Marketplace Dr., Burlington
Best Hardware Store:
Hardware SalesI recently found myself at Hardware Sales and it occurred to me, “If it all hits the fan and anarchy prevails, the first place I’m going to gear up is Hardware Sales.” You will find nowhere in the region with more qualified and knowledgeable employees. Granted, if it hits the fan, I’m pretty sure those fine people won’t be working there to answer my questions.
Where: 2034 James St.
Best Watering Hole:
The Brown Lantern Ale HouseI have no problem whatsoever making the statement that, if I lived closer to Anacortes, I would make the Brown Lantern my home away from home. It seems those of you who are fortunate enough to be in close proximity to this longtime watering hole would agree with that sentiment. A menu of better-than-average pub grub (the burgers, oh the burgers) and a carefully chosen array of rotating taps to match—not to mention live music—make the Brown Lantern an enticing and award-winning place to hang out.
Where: 412 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Best Stop on the North Cascades Highway:
Elk FieldGet out of town! Skagit County is vast, from comb-able beaches to the snow-capped peaks of the Cascades. Skagit Land Trust's property on State Route 20 near Concrete has long been known to locals as "the elk field." The property provides food and shelter for more than 50 elk during the winter and spring seasons, and a nursery to fish and songbirds of many species.
Where: Three miles from Concrete
Make.Shift Art SpaceIt is not an exaggeration to say that I've become a monthly Art Walker--as have many others--because of Make.Shift Art Space. Their approach to sourcing exhibits is innovative and inclusive and speaks to the overall ethos of the organization itself--one that sees bands, artists, small businesses and, coming soon, a low-power radio station, all coexisting under the welcoming roof of their Flora Street collective. A marvel of organization, drive and resourcefulness, Make.Shift makes doing everything with next to nothing look easy--and fun.
Where: 306 Flora St.
Ryan ChanelAnacortes' own Ryan Chanel shears away the competition this year in our always-close "Best Salon" category, and for darn good reason. This bright, funky little studio has seasoned stylists, perfect products and guarantees you'll walk out looking and feeling like a brand new person. They also do wedding hair and makeup for all you spring and summer brides.
Where: 915 7th St., Anacortes
Info: (360) 873-8155
Old Town CafeOn rainy fall days in Bellingham, the Old Town Café is about the warmest place to be. Whether snuggled together in booths or cozied up to strangers at one of the common tables buzzing with conversation, vegetarians and vegans coexist with carnivores and everybody goes home happy about the mostly local and organic menu items they ate for breakfast or lunch—whether it was a tofu scramble, super vegetarian chili, gluten-free hotcakes or a falafal wrap.
Where: 316 W. Holly St.
D’Anna’s Cafe ItalianoRecently, I went to Las Vegas where I ate pasta in a high-end Italian restaurant. All it did was make me long for the cozy confines and homemade pasta of D'Anna's. A perennial winner in this category, D'Anna's offers huge plates of pillowy, just chewy enough, handmade and perfectly cooked pasta bathed in succulent sauces served up by a friendly staff. The incredible food (manicotti, you are the one for me) combined with their knack for making everyone who darkens their door feel like family is why you'll find me--and most of Bellingham--choosing D'Anna's when a dose of comfort food is the only thing that will do.
Where: 1317 N. State St.
Best Shoe Store:
Mi ShoesLast January, I spent a few days on an exotic vacation sharing space with Mi Shoes owner Michelle Bouma. I can now attest to the fact that no matter where she is or what she’s doing—whether she’s helping a patron find the perfect boots for autumn or lolling about in a bikini under a palm tree—Michelle owns and wears great shoes. Her style takes root at her Railroad Avenue store, where she’s created a dream shoe closet for women to peruse at their leisure.
Where: 1315 Railroad Ave.
Mount EerieFew people exemplify Anacortes' lo-fi, proudly DIY, stubbornly idiosyncratic musical tradition quite like Phil Elverum. As Mount Eerie, his one-man musical outlet, Elverum's approach to making music proves it is possible to still be analog in this digital world and the result is a catalog of work that resonates far beyond the tiny town on Fidalgo Island he calls home. When he's not busy making music, he can be found painting (most of the artwork found on Mount Eerie albums is his own), or releasing albums by the likes of Woelv and Thanksgiving under his own imprint, P.W. Elverum & Sun, Ltd.
Best Best Place for a First Date, Best Place to Meet Women, Best Coffeehouse:
North Cove Coffee HouseSkagit County, you've managed to jam coffee, finding a date and then going on a date into one highly caffeinated locale. Considering it's North Cove Coffee House, we're not surprised. Since coming on the scene in 2011, you've relied on them to keep you alert and abuzz with their specialty coffee drinks. May you find everlasting love and perfectly brewed coffee on your next trip to North Cove Coffee House.
Where: 1130 South Burlington Blvd., Burlington
Kulshan BreweryLast year, they were the new kid on the block who upset Goliath. This year, Kulshan Brewery is an established purveyor of penultimate pints. With an expanded tap selection, a covered patio on the way and the best selection of food carts in Cascadia, they don’t look to be losing this title anytime soon.
Where: 2238 James St.
Taco LoboIt’s never a shocker when we count the BoB ballots and find Taco Lobo emerging as the clear winner in this category. Since Luis Santos opened the eatery in 1999, the Magnolia Street staple has proven to be just what Bellingham wants in its Mexican food; authentic and contemporary fare served just right, with smiles for everybody—and margaritas for some of us.
Where: 117 W. Magnolia St.
Mount Baker TheatreAlthough the Mount Baker Theatre has been around long enough to house a resident ghost, the venerable performing arts institution--which was built in 1927--has kept up with the times. In addition to hosting big names like Joan Baez and Branford Marsalis in their current season, the creative hub also draws upon homegrown talent to fill seats--whether it's via their Summer Rep shows, MBT Main Stage Repertory productions (which recently produced an amazing version of Little Shop of Horrors), area entities such as the Jazz Project taking advantage of their nonprofit status to book the Encore Room for Art of Jazz gigs, or Whatcom Symphony Orchestra concerts. Comedy, musicals, dance productions, blues blowouts, silent films and more are still on the horizon for the 2014/15 season, so look ahead and book your tickets now--and when you go, be sure to keep an eye out for Judy, the resident ghost.
Where: 104 N. Commercial St.
Info: 734-6080 or http://www.mountbakertheatre.com
Taylor ShellfishHeck, we didn't specify what kind of farm! Just south of the Oyster Creek hairpin on scenic Chuckanut Drive, you'll descend to Taylor's nets open along Samish Bay. Oysters, clams, mussels and crab, you name it, the Taylor family has been tending shellfish here for more than a century. Fresh and plentiful shellfish are tended by a knowledgable and helpful staff.
Where: 2182 Chuckanut Drive, Bow
Taco LoboDemocracy is cool. And the Bill of Rights is pretty sweet. But to be perfectly honest, the thing I probably enjoy most about living in the United States is getting to eat Mexican food. Tamales, tortillas, tacos--I seek them out wherever in this great country of ours I roam. Fortunately, here in Bellingham we are graced with an ever-expanding plethora of outstanding Mexican restaurants, of which Taco Lobo ranks right at the top. Although I happen to be a registered enthusiast of their pollo verde, that never seems to stop me from delving across party lines into carne asada territory every now and again. And I never, ever forget to exercise my right to vote at their self-serve salsa bar.
Where: 117 W. Magnolia St.
Best Jewelry Store:
Warren JewelersWhen it comes to jewels and gems, precious metals for that particular person, or lovely adornments to award yourself, time and time again Warren Jewelers is your go-to. And we get it, Skagit. They've been around since 1973, and are the official jeweler of the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, which is a pretty huge deal.
Where: 1126 Burlington Blvd., Burlington
Best Theater Company:
iDiOM TheaterThe proof’s in the pudding, people: If iDiOM Theater continues to produce entertaining and enlightening seasons that offer both quality and quantity, you will vote for them. Looks like 2013 is no different. “In the first month of the season, we’ve produced a rock opera, 12 short plays, two performances by internationally acclaimed visiting artists and six short films,” Artistic Director Sol Olmstead reports. “It wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t have tons of support from the people of Bellingham.”
Where: 1318 Cornwall Ave.
YMCAIf I were confined to limiting my daily activities to a single public road in Bellingham, I’d choose State Street in a heartbeat. On this thoroughfare, I already frequent a variety of eateries, spend my allotted hours at work, bank, bowl, listen to live music and—when I’m feeling motivated to better my life—get quality workouts at the YMCA (I’m fond of the rowing machines). In addition to the quality workout facilities and the variety of classes offered for everyone from toddlers to seniors, the organization is also committed to social responsibility. To that end, I’d like to point out that donations for the Community Food Drive can be dropped off at the “Y” through Oct. 18.
Where: 1256 N. State St.
Max Dale's Steak & Chop HouseLike stepping back to an glorious era of thick steaks and sizzling chops served with a helping of potatoes and gravy, assisted with an icy cocktail and the sounds of laughter and honky-tonk. A guilty pleasure without the guilt. Check out their happy hour in the Martini Lounge from 3-6pm daily.
Where: 2030 Riverside Drive, Mount Vernon
India GrillWhenever my pops leaves his hermitage on Lummi Island to come into the big city for lunch, he requests we meet at India Grill for its can't-be-beat afternoon buffet. I don't know if it's the paneer, tikka, masala, lamb curry or rice pudding that gets him excited, but I do know that, time after time, he gets up for seconds and, at the end of the meal, is left with a clean plate and a full belly.
Where: 1215 Cornwall Ave.
Best Deli, Best Grocery Store, Best Vegetarian:
Skagit Valley Food Co-opA foodie friend of mine recently asked me: "If you could only chose one restaurant to eat at for the rest of your life around these parts, which one would it be?" "Skagit Valley Food Co-op!" I replied, envisioning my future full of delicious made-to-order deli sandwiches, bountiful trays of black bean and zucchini lasagna, multifold plates full of organic salad bar fixings, infinite cups of flavor-packed, non-GMO corn chowder, rapturous chai lattes and a mouthwatering array of blueberry scones, chocolate chip cookies and peanut butter brownies. "Hmmm," remarked the fastidious foodie, mulling over an apparent paradox in my response. "Although I'd be inclined to postulate that a co-op isn't necessarily a restaurant, in this case, I'm inclined to agree with you. Just because their indoor dining area happens to be tucked in the same building with bountiful fresh produce, a plentitude of bulk bins an olive bar, and some of the most intriguing beer and wine selections in our neck of the woods hardly stops that place from providing one scrumptiously deep and infinitely satisfying dining experience after the next."
Where: 202 S. First St., Mount Vernon
On Rice Thai CuisineWhen you’ve got a hankering for quality Thai food—and, judging by your votes in this category, year after year, many of you do on a regular basis—On Rice is your go-to for everything from Pad Thai to Swimming Rama to Drunken Noodles. And, with three locales to choose from, you’ll always be close enough to satisfy that craving.
Where: Samish Way, Rimland Drive, and Harris Avenue
Best Place to Take Kids, Best Kids Spot:
Perch and PlayI don’t have kids, but every kid I know loves Perch and Play for the amazing amount of fun events, the toys and the massive play structure. Every parent I know loves the being able to wear their kids out with supervised play. (Pretty sure the access to wine and beer helps too.) This cross-generational appeal looks to be working for this local business, and we expect them to be the number one spot for kids and parents alike for years to come.1707 N. State St.www.perchandplay.com
Black Drop CoffeehouseThis category says as much about our readers as it does about their coffee. In a town with more coffee chains and franchises than a woods has trees, Weekly readers choose the tiny, warm and intimate Black Drop. The roasters and servers are friends, and like the best of friends they need no second introduction to know how you like your coffee served. It’s like your neighbor’s kitchen, only cleaner. Now joyously sing, “Sweet sweet coffee nectar of the mind, restorer of the soul.”
Where: 300 W. Champion St.
Riverside Health Club"You don't have to be perfect to walk in, but plan on walking out better," is the RHC motto. The Riverside has been keeping Skagit fit since 1971 with a full range of training and workout amenities that includes water fitness, yoga and weight-training.
Where: 2225 Riverside Drive, Mount Vernon
Best Place to See Live Music:
Wild BuffaloBased solely on personal observation, I'd guess that the Wild Buffalo has sold out more shows in 2014 than ever before, making their continued supremacy in this always-competitive category unsurprising. After years of refining their strategy, they've nailed down an approach to booking that really works, offering a little bit of something for everyone while keeping prices as reasonable as possible. The Buffalo has also developed a reputation for treating bands and patrons exceedingly well, and is doing more than their fair share to maintain Bellingham's reputation as a live music destination that is second to none.
Where: 208 W. Holly St.
Most Notable Local Character:
Alice ClarkMost of us know Alice Clark as one of the founders and brain trust behind the Pickford Film Center. When she’s not busy building and helping to sustain a multimillion-dollar, state-of-the-art, nonprofit art-house movie theater, she’s baking and selling pies at the Farmers Market and to local restaurants under the guise of Alice’s Pies. And when she’s not busy doing all of that, she’s organizing the Sunnyland Stomp. It is not hyperbole to say that our town is unequivocally a better place because Clark lives here and we can’t wait to see what she gets up to next.
Mount BakeryI don't know how early the clever culinarians at the Mount Bakery have to get up in the morning in order to produce the locally sourced artisanal baked goods they're famous for, but I'm guessing most of us are still under the covers in a REM state when they get started. Perhaps we're dreaming of the eatery's coconut macaroons, tartlets, truffles, layer cakes and Belgian waffles. Upon waking, we'll realize that it really is the season for the pumpkin scones draped in a maple-walnut glaze to make an appearance on the menu, and we'll get dressed, head to the Mount Bakery, and make our dreams a reality.
Where: 308C W. Champion St./1217 Harris Ave.
Best Food Truck:
StrEAT FoodParked outside Kulshan Brewery about half the time, mobile the rest, StrEAT Food blows the doors off what most of us think of when we think of food trucks. Yes, they start with regular truck fare—a rotation of tacos, burgers, sandwiches and the like—then supercharge the engine with savory ingredients and gourmet gusto, from fiery falafels to muffaletta-smothered hotdogs to hot-and-sweet gyros and beyond. Catch them if you can.
Best Place to Meet Men:
Cabela'sStep into the man cave! Skagit likes their men raw-boned and ready for the rivers and ravines. Cabela's is an awesome supplier of hunting, fishing and camping gear. Reckon they sell razors, too, but you'd hardly know it by looking at the hardened grizzlies searching the aisles.
Where: GPS Coordinates 48.084484, -122.187116, Tulalip
Info: (360) 474-4880
Best Lunch, Best Pizza:
Goat MountainNobody makes a crust like Goat Mountain, cracker-crisp on the bottom, chewy tender where they layer on the house-made sauces and cheeses and fresh herbs. Each day there's a different menu board of pizzas, and they go fast. Get some!
Where: 215 W. Holly Street ?
Tulip Valley Vineyard and OrchardAlthough Mount Vernon's Tulip Valley Vineyard is open every weekend from May to October, it's only during the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival that the venue—which is located in the heart of the petal-pushing region just east of Beaver March Road—keeps its doors open on a daily basis. Visitors can drop by the barn every day through April to taste Washington-grown wines and hard ciders, peruse works by local artists and purchase vino to take home. While you're there, you can also enjoy the always enticing scenery. Cheers!
Where: 16163 State Route 536, Mount Vernon
Fiamma BurgerBellingham is home to some pretty good burgers, but none of them mix substance with style quite like Fiamma Burger. The ingredients are high-quality and super-local, elevating even their basic cheeseburger to great heights. But the joy in the Fiamma Burger menu comes from deviating from the norm, and sampling everything from bison to salmon to their homemade (and delicious) veggie patty. If you’re feeling frisky, I suggest the B’Ham Burger, which features prosciutto, a fried egg and abject burger bliss.
Where: 1309 Railroad Ave.
Best Ski Store:
Hidden Wave BoardshopThe staff at Burlington's Hidden Wave Boardshop are well aware of the stony stereotype snowboarders are known for. It's one reason they recently assured customers that, if they smelled smoke coming from the back of the store, not to be alarmed. You see, in addition to selling everything from boarding to skating gear, the outdoor store with a big personality has also started printing their own shirts in the shop—hence the warning about the unfamiliar odor. Now, when you pick up your new bearings, you can also walk away with a homegrown hoodie.
Where: 896 S. Burlington Blvd.
Best Brewery, Best Brewpuller:
Tess Golling at Kulshan Brewing CompanyKulshan offers the full spectrum of finely crafted brews, from frosty pilsner pales to a roasted barley red and rich, chocolatey stouts. Mature beers served by people who know beers to people who love beers. The food, the frills, they leave in the trucks.
Where: 2238 James St.
Best Movie Theater:
Pickford Film CenterFrom a tiny grassroots effort staffed mostly by volunteers, the Pickford Film Center has grown into a nonprofit powerhouse and model for art-house theaters everywhere--and is still staffed mostly by volunteers. That mix of offering a world-class movie-going experience along with a healthy dose of community (and popcorn with real butter) is what have made the PFC such a beloved local institution. I should know, after having worked there as a projectionist for nearly 15 years, I feel your love with every movie ticket I sell.
Where: 1318 Bay St./1416 Cornwall Ave.
Boulevard ParkThis perennial favorite is getting a facelift as city and private contractors complete a beach softening and shoreline improvements that replaces old rebar and rip-rap with real beaches of sand and gravel, a pleasing and public use of the Greenways levy you voted for. You could always play there; now you can wade there.
Best Tulip Farm:
RoozengaardeEven longtime Skagitonians who cringe at the influx of tourists and traffic the Tulip Festival brings to the Skagit Valley every April admit to making time to stop by the Roozengarde display garden when the blooms are in their full glory. They're smart about perusing the petals, however, and suggest those who visit the artistically crafted garden —which itself contains a quarter-of-a-million bloomers—and surrounding 15 acres full of the festival's namesake get there early in the day to avoid the rush, wear shoes that can withstand a little mud, and bring umbrellas in case of rain. One more thing: It's hard to resist the urge to tiptoe through the tulips, but, alas, you must.
Where: 15867 Beaver Marsh Rd., Mount Vernon
Village BooksAt Village Books, world-renowned authors read from the same podium as regional scribes and up-and-coming wordsmiths. Also sharing space are new books and used books, a curious cadre of kids and adults, a café that also doubles as a gathering space, and owners Chuck and Dee Robinson—Fairhaven mainstays who have proven time and again that community is important, and, darn it, so is reading.
Where: 1200 11th St.
Best News Story:
Green ArrowYes, Interstate 5 collapsed into the Skagit River. Readers glanced at that, briefly, then ran off to look at the funny arrow shot at a squirrel. Or so that was the story David Wayne Jordan, 36, told Sheriff’s deputies in August after he was caught firing an arrow loaded with marijuana on to a balcony at the jailhouse. Jordan admitted to firing the arrow, but said he was trying to kill a squirrel. “He had no explanation as to why squirrel hunting requires attaching marijuana to an arrow,” deputies noted drily. He faces charges of introducing contraband to a corrections facility.
Best Place for a First Date, Best Cocktail:
Where: 306 W. Champion St.
WasabeeI don't know why I even bother perusing the lunch menu at Wasabee anymore, since I always get the same thing--two spicy tuna rolls and one spicy Dragon roll. While it's true I've been perfectly happy when I strayed from my tried-and-true order with salmon nigiri or unagi (barbecued eel), I always return to the aforementioned delicacies, which are guaranteed to get me in the mood for sushi. Judging by Wasabee's multiple wins in this category over the years, it does the same thing to you, too.
Where: 105 E. Chestnut St.
HomeSkilletThanks to Tina and Kirby White—spouses who met as cooks in Antarctica, got hitched in New Zealand, and traveled the globe together before settling down in the PNW—HomeSkillet has become a wonderful, weird Bellingham breakfast beacon. It draws patrons to its neon-hued Sunnyland hub with colossal, affordable portions of food worth dying for (I’m looking at you, HomeSkillet Poutine and cinnamon roll French toast), endearing quirkiness (I’m looking away from you, bathroom full of creepy clowns) and honest-to-goodness warmth. As the diner is diminutive, expect a wait at peak times and on the weekends. But, trust us, it’s worth it.
Where: 521 Kentucky St.
Best Coffee Drive-Thru:
Cool BeansHow can the city’s best coffee stand be near the city’s worst freeway interchange? O.K.,now I know it’s early morning and you haven’t had your caffeine jolt, but think about it, will you, while you idle at the light, the aroma of fresh beans filling your senses, hot espresso warming your cold hands. Cool Beans roasts theirs fresh every day. Their baristas are bright and cheerful. They’re a welcome green light to your morning.
Where: 20 Lakeway Dr., 1817 Cornwall Ave., 2716 Meridian St.
Make.Shift Art SpaceWe are lucky in that Bellingham is home to many art galleries and many of them were well-represented by your votes in this category. However, once again, you deemed Make.Shift the best in town. With minimal resources at hand, the nonprofit multipurpose space on Flora Street operates with an ethos that favors inspiration, innovation and ingenuity above all else, and the proof of that hangs on their walls, month after month.
Where: 306 Flora St.
Best Music Festival:
Summer MeltdownWith a 2014 artist roster that includes STRFKR, Lord Huron, Neon Indian, and festival founders True Spokes (with more bands still to be announced), this year's Summer Meltdown is shaping up to be the biggest one yet for the homegrown music festival. Despite all that, I feel fairly certain that instead of using this space to extol Meltdown's many well-known virtues, festival organizers would rather I remind you that they've organized a Stay Oso Strong benefit taking place April 5 at the Wild Buffalo and featuring current and former Meltdown artists. Given Meltdown's proximity to the landslide area, their ties to the affected community run as deep as the community-minded ethos that's always been at the core of this unique festival.
Where: Whitehorse Mountain Amphitheater, Darrington
Best Place to Get a Tattoo:
Tiny Tim'sTiny Tim's might have you thinking of tip-toeing through those tulips at this year's festival, but if you're looking for a tattoo shop with decades of experience, expert skills with reasonable prices, and a truly family owned experience, tip-toe right on over to Sedro-Woolley and see the fine folks at Tiny Tim's.
Where: 500 W. State St., Sedro-Woolley
Best Music Festival:
Subdued Stringband JamboreeFirst, let us take a moment to appreciate the fact that an area as small as ours has enough music festivals to merit a category in the Best of Bellingham. Now that we've reflected on our good fortune, it is time to congratulate the Subdued Stringband Jamboree on another win in this category. After 14 years of existence, the 2014 incarnation of Stringband was deemed the best yet, and your votes in this category bear this out. Great music and a hospitable location at the Deming Log Show Fairgrounds make this family-friendly, community-minded pickin' party a favorite year in and year out.
Best Happy Hour, Best Place to Impress a Date, Best Bartender:
Rock and Rye Oyster House, Dennis SchaferOne of this year's biggest Best of Bellingham winners is Rock and Rye, a restaurant that seems to be charming everyone who encounters it. With an inventive menu that skews fresh, local and seasonal--all at reasonable prices--a stunning locale on the ground floor of the historic Herald building and a happy hour featuring tasty snacks as well as drinks expertly mixed by bartender and Best of Bellingham favorite Dennis Schafer, Rock and Rye is a welcome new presence on our dining landscape--and they've got the votes to prove it.
Where: 1145 N. State St.
Garden Spot NurseryPlease hold for a special report from the Garden Spot Nursery: Due to the recent spate of rain and wind, hatches are being battened and the walls in the greenhouse have gone up. Does this mean the popular Alabama Street plant center is closing for the season? Far from it. Whether it’s autumn or winter, spring or summer, owner Marcy Plattner and her merry band of Master Gardeners can be found selling—and giving advice about—perennials, annuals and everything in between. You’re really growing on us, Garden Spot.
Where: 900 Alabama St.
Michael WoodWhen it comes to taking pictures, finding the right subject matter is everything. It's one reason Mount Vernon-based photographer Michael Wood appreciates the natural beauty of the county he's called home for the past four years. "There are so many reasons to love living in, and being a photographer in, the Northwest, and Skagit County in particular," Wood says. "I can go from the beach to the Cascades in less than an hour. Combine that with the history and architecture of the local towns and cities, and the great people that live in them, and there's never a shortage of subjects for my photos."
Cafe AkroteriThe last time I was at Cafe Akroteri was during happy hour, and the ladies I was with in the bar ordered a table's worth of appetizers to share--everything from dolmathes to spanakopita, feta with olives, hummus and pita bread (and more). When our food came we descended upon the meal like hungry Greek warriors and, before long, the platters were empty. That was per usual at the longtime restaurant, which has been making traditional Greek dishes at its downtown Bellingham locale since 1986. Leftovers from CafAe Akroteri? Nope, not gonna happen.
Where: 1219 Cornwall Ave.
Best Place to Get a Tattoo:
Sabbath TattooBellingham has its fair share of great tattoo parlors—ask anyone on the street, and you’ll probably get a different answer on where to go. But Bellingham has chosen Sabbath Tattoo as its first love, and for good reason. These talented and professional artists go above and beyond the industry standard, and whether it’s your first or 50th tattoo, you’ll know you’re in safe, and extremely capable, hands.
Where: 109 Grand Ave.
Best Place to Buy Chicken Feed:
Skagit Famers SupplyA cooperative supplying farmers since 1934, this country store has grown to serve a dozen communities east to Montana. From feed and seed to pets and vet supplies, this company keeps Skagit's agricultural roots growing.
Where: Stores in Burlington, Freeland, Mount Vernon, Oak Harbor, Sedro-Woolley, and Stanwood
Clayton BeachFrom high tide to low tide and all sea levels in between, no other single stretch of Chuckanutian coastline serves up quite as much outdoor-recreation-induced goodness as Clayton does. Although epic seaside bouldering remains my go-to favorite activity down there, I am also susceptible to random bursts of swimming, free-form tide pool exploring and extended bouts of water fowl watching, sunset gazing and nap-taking. Whether I'm looking to embark on a salty adventure or just seeking out a cool, breezy dose of family-friendly fun, Clayton puts the "be\0x2559 in""beachingham."""
Where: 245 E. Chuckanut Dr. ?
Best Bike Store:
Skagit CycleFor a 10-spot, area women can sign up for an April 17 workshop happening at the Skagit Cycle Center and learn a few valuable life lessons—such as how to fix a flat, spruce up a drivetrain, lubricate a chain and give their two-wheelers a safety check. You see, in addition to selling bikes, the longtime retailer is interested in not only keeping riders on the road, but also sharing their love of cycling with others. A sentence in their online bio sums up their community-minded ethos: "We welcome friendly chats with fellow riders who want advice on local rides, how to improve technique off-road or on, or where to get a good sandwich to stick in your seat-bag before you head out for the day's ride."
Where: 1704 Burlington Blvd., 1970 Walton Dr. (also in Burlington), and 1620 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Best County Eats:
The Fork at Agate BayClambering from the Hertz Trail early on a crisp fall morning we stumble into the Fork. I order the Forks Benedict with cheesy grits on the side. She orders the creamy polenta and eggs. Steaming mugs of fresh roasted coffee while we wait. The place is dressed down for the morning, like us. It's going to be a great day.
Where: 2530 North Shore Rd.
Best Movie Theater:
Pickford Film CenterIn the past, this category has been, admittedly, a shoo-in for the Pickford. But now that Bellingham is home to the Barkley Village theater, competition is a little stiffer for the tiny-but-mighty art-house cinema. But the Pickford has a beautiful newish theater of its own, the Pickford Film Center, as well as the kind of customer loyalty that only years of great programming, responsive customer service, reasonably priced concessions and real butter can buy. See you at the movies.
Where: 1318 Bay St.
Best Place to Buy Men’s Clothes:
Gary’s Men’s & Women’s WearLet’s be honest, this is the place where women wish men would buy their clothes. And where smart men do buy their clothes. Gary’s offers the finest selection of shirts, slacks, jackets and ties from quality manufacturers from Los Angeles to New York. Celebrating their 36th anniversary, Gary’s offers a fall discount followed by a charitable fashion runway Oct. 24.
Where: 128 W. Holly St.
Best Place to Meet Men or Women:
Rumors CabaretIt's 10:55pm and Bellingham is quiet. Suddenly, boom. The 11th hour strikes and people are lining up at the door to dance. Where'd all these beautiful people come from? The music is great, the drinks are cheap and expertly, swiftly made. They call it Bellingham's alternative nightclub. As far as I'm concerned, it's Bellingham's only nightclub.
Where: 1119 Railroad Ave. ?
Best Place to See Live Music:
Wild BuffaloThe Wild Buffalo’s reign of supremacy in this category remains intact this year, but they were given a real run for their money by the Shakedown, and the Green Frog made a strong showing as well. But at the end of the day, the Wild Buffalo prevailed, and given the sheer number of sold-out shows that happen on the regular at the expansive music venue, they are certainly more than deserving of their many Best of Bellingham accolades.
Where: 208 W. Holly St.
Rachawadee Thai CafeSo many big flavors in a place so small! This tiny 1950s lunch counter—just a counter and eight seats—busily serves up the best Thai food in two counties while you watch and inhale the unbearably delicious preparation. Get there early, or order take-out.
Where: 410 W Gates St., Mount Vernon
Yoga NorthwestYoga Northwest offers courses throughout the day in a variety of experiences for both beginners and masters through one of the most diverse styles of classical yoga. Caring, expert instructors will strengthen your posture, ease your tension and deepen your flexibility and core body strength. Let them, literally, improve your life. They’re sure to put the pick-me-up in your downward-facing dog. Namaste!
Where: 1440 10th St.
Info: http://www.yoganorthwest.com 647-0,712
Village PizzaI'm not sure why the meat-laden pie at Village Pizza is called the "Village Idiot," but I like the way it sounds just as much as the way it tastes. Visitors to the Anacortes-based pizzeria can also travel to the tropics from Fidalgo Island via the "Mandarin Island"—where Canadian bacon is joined by pineapple, green peppers and mandarin oranges—or keep it simple with the palate-approved pepperoni pizza. A friendly staff and speedy delivery service help make Village Pizza a favorite—and that's good news any way you slice it.
Where: 807 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: (360) 293-7847
Coconut Kenny’sForever a favorite in Sunnyland, Coconut Kenny’s was slathering savory barbecue sauce on their original Islander pizzas, long, long before that was a thing. I thought that was downright island happy when I first crept past the tiki torches many years ago. More like island paradise. A great place to watch the Seahawks, whether cheering over cold beers or groaning over warm comfort food. Mahalo!
Where: 2220 James St.
Info: http://www.coconutkennys.com 647-9,273
Best Lunch, Best Take-Out:
Diego’s Mexican GrillIt’s like a food truck that never gets a flat. Easy to find, fast to serve, inexpensive to eat—what’s not to love? Good food, and lots of it. Diego’s has a great little patio secreted out back and there serves a mean margarita to wash down burritos bursting with fresh flavorful stuff. Try the battered Alaska cod fish tacos, my favorite.
Where: 300 N. Samish Way
D’Anna’s Cafe ItalianoSince D’Anna’s pretty much rules this category year after year, people often ask me if I grow weary of writing of my love for their delicious pasta. The answer is, of course, no way. Although I may try on other restaurants and sometimes I stray, for my money, D’Anna’s is still the best plate of food in town, whether that plate contains homemade ravioli, succulent bruscellone, flavorful chicken D’Anna, Dungeness crab linguine or my personal favorite, the revolving roster of manicotti. I’m hungry just thinking about it.
Where: 1317 N. State St.
Boulevard ParkI'll never forget the first time I slipped out of my steaming-hot, mud-caked work boots and went frolicking over the grass patch at Boulevard Park. After spending the previous five months building trail through some of the most rugged, rain-soaked jungles the North Cascades have to offer, that place felt like a luxury resort. And it was there--while I skipped barefoot around the grounds chucking Frisbees and footballs with my crew mates for hours on end--when the thought inevitably dawned on me that relocating to Bellingham for the rest of my life would probably be a good idea.
Where: 470 Bayview Dr.
Avenue BreadI’m willing to bet that every single person who voted for Avenue Bread in this category—and there were a lot of you—would also have been able to tell us exactly what their favorite Avenue sandwich is. A bread bastion and Bellingham institution, Avenue Bread is the de facto locale when we are looking to eat a meal that lives between two slabs of bread. And what bread it is. I know the rosemary sea salt loaves get all the love, but I could live on Avenue’s English muffins (which they use to make their excellent Eggenues) and be perfectly happy.
Where: Railroad Avenue/James Street/Fairhaven
Rosario BeachIn my ongoing quest to achieve unmitigated beachside comfort among the salted shores of Fidalgo Island's outermost fringes, I have developed a rather striking tendency to utilize any and all naturally occurring intertidal materials like my own personal bedroom furniture. The pebble beach at Rosario, for instance, has become one of my go-to-favorite mattresses. The sea breezes down there are downright medicinal and the forest-fringed maritime scenery stands unmatched. But my favorite part is—even after yet another epic, four- hour, sun-drenched snooze—I never have to make the bed.
Where: Fidalgo Island
Best Fast Food:
Boomers’ Drive-In“I’ll take a Big Boom and waffle fries, please!” Who knows how many hundreds of times I’ve leaned over the counter and uttered this soul-stirring refrain. Sometimes I think it would probably be easier if I just got my mantra printed on the front of a T-shirt or laminated onto a placard or something. Only problem with that is I do, in fact, occasionally get a hankering for their Cajun Inferno Burger or Bacon Swiss Chicken Burger instead. And sometimes even a side of onion rings with a blackberry milk shake too.
Where: 310 N. Samish Way
Avenue BreadI'd like to think I know my way around a sandwich pretty darn well--a sort of self-proclaimed sandwich connoisseur, if you will. So where does the Maestro of Mayo, Queen of Clubs head for her favorite sandwich? Avenue Bread, naturally. And now that the weather has taken a turn, nothing compares to a delectable sandwich accompanied by the ever-exceptional (and personal favorite) Creamy Tomato Dill soup.
Where: 1313 Railroad Ave./1135 11th St./2301 James St.
Café AkroteriThe Weekly once hosted a Christmas party at Café Akroteri’s bar that got so rowdy our dancing plastic Santa lost an important limb. But thanks to the spread the longtime Greek restaurant provided—a mix of dolmathes, spinach filo, gyros, feta and tomato salad, souvlaki, and other Mediterranean delicacies—nobody was sipping ouzo on an empty stomach, and we all went home sated—and more than a little silly.
Where: 1219 Cornwall Ave.
Where: See Stanger’s work during most downtown Art Walks at the Pickford Dream Space Studios, 1318 Bay St.
Blue Fin Sushi
Blue Fin calls heaven—
The silver flavors carouse,
and sing opera.
Wisdom fleets yet truth emerges:
Dishes dance and mouths return.
Where: 102 S. Samish Way
Best Place to Walk Your Dog:
Lake PaddenExplode out of car and gambol through the grass. Bound directly to the shoreline and commence serious sniffing. Go waging off into the brush just far enough until you discover the stinkiest, most rancid possible chunk of something from the forest and clamp it tight in your maw like it’s the most precious, invaluable treasure the earth has ever known. Don’t disgorge said odiferous item until your owner forces you to. Find a nice big tree to pee on. Take a quick bath in the lake. Shake yourself dry. Repeat. Whether you’re an elderly Affenpinscher or a juvenile Brussels Griffon, that’s the dog’s-eye view of Padden magic in a nutshell.
Best Thrift Store:
GoodwillEvery weekend through October, costume consultants will be standing by at Goodwill ready to help shoppers figure out how they want to transform themselves for Halloween. If you’re up to other sorts of revelry in the coming weeks, however, I’m sure the consultants will be happy to give you a “yay” or “nay” on your selections (which, it should be mentioned, will likely cost a fraction of what they would in a department store). Or perhaps you’re just there for the furniture, in which case you’re welcome to ignore the holiday hubbub.
Where: 1115 E. Sunset Dr.
Info: 752-2080 or http://www.seattlegoodwill.org
GreenhouseIt’s no wonder the Greenhouse rules this category. Sure, you can get a couch on just about any street corner in Bellingham during certain times of the year, but that’s not what someone I know refers to as “good furniture.” Every single piece in the Greenhouse’s thoughtfully chosen selection is good furniture, stylish, comfortable and built to last. Good furniture is a good investment and the returns are always high at the Greenhouse.
Where: 1235 Cornwall Ave.
Best Food Truck:
Diego\‘sRainy afternoon in Sunnyland and I'm at Kulshan, feeling peckish. Yonder is the Diego's truck and I order an asada burrito. It arrives, the size of my head, spicy and flavorful, a perfect match for my brew. Next time I spot that truck, I'm hitting the brakes.
Where: 300 N. Samish Way
Silver Reef CasinoWith more than 50,000 square feet of gaming space and a slate of fabulous, famous-name entertainment, Silver Reef is an odds-on favorite. But my friends at Lummi Nation tell me the spacious hotel and spa are the hot hand, and the big draw with special rates and diamond dividends. Book a long weekend there.
Where: 4876 Haxton Way, Ferndale
El Gitano Mexican RestaurantBest South of the Border south of the border, Gitano's boasts a big menu of Tex-Mex in generous portions. Several locations from LaConner to Mount Vernon and, yes, even Bellingham. My favorite is Burlington, tucked away on Fairhaven Avenue like an old Spanish mission. Their margarita is the best swallow this side of Capistrano.
Where: 624 East Fairhaven Avenue, Burlington
Best Place ?for a First Date:
Temple BarIt would not be the Best of Bellingham were the Temple Bar not to emerge the winner in at least one category. While the welcoming bar on Champion Street is a little less dominant this year than in the past, as anyone who has tried to find a table there many nights of the week knows, the bar's popularity is not on the wane in the least. And why would it be? A carefully culled wine list, some of the best cocktails in town, a menu of imaginative small bites and meals, as well as unbeatable ambiance, all combine to make it the perfect place to launch what could be a lifelong romance.
Where: 306 W. Champion St.
Best Place to Impress a Date:
Anthony’s at Squalicum HarborGrab a date. Take them to Anthony’s on the water. Your date’s mind is blown and you are guaranteed a life partner. While I can’t substantiate that order of operations, I can tell you that Anthony’s will garner you brownie points and you will enjoy the view, menu and general pleasantness that is part of this seaside attraction.
Where: 25 Bellwether Way
Best Place to Meet Women:
Daphnes FairhavenHe glides from behind the marbled bar and crosses the checked tile floor to our cozy corner. He slips to each of us a fashionable cocktail—all sweet, no bitters this time. Seems this place has been here a century, and seems it’s been that long since we last met. She studies me across the table, a smile playing at the corners of her lips, her story, once caged, delighted to be set free.
Where: 1200 10th St. #102
Pure Bliss DessertsI have a problem and its name is the Pure Bliss lemon bar. Judging from your votes, you have similar problems that begin and end at Pure Bliss’ little slice of dessert heaven on Cornwall Avenue. Although the lemon bar is my current love, I’ve also flirted with their coconut cake, shortbread cookies, Chocolate Bliss cake and many other items on their menu of sweet treats. And I haven’t even mentioned their seasonal offerings. Pumpkin cheesecake, I’m coming for you.
Where: 1424 Cornwall Ave.
Christianson's NurseryLike the plants they carefully tend to ensure continued longevity, the growers-that-be at Christianson's Nursery have made putting down roots a part of their business plan—whether it's via the dizzying array of annuals and perennials on display and up for sale, or by ensuring their verdant Mount Vernon acreage also works as a way to help preserve the storied history of the Skagit Valley. The former is helped along by a bevy of green thumbs (including owners John and Toni Christianson) and the latter can be seen in a variety of historic structures that have been relocated onto the property and restored to, once again, be of use.
Where: 15806 Best Rd.
Best Running Store:
Fairhaven Runners & WalkersThe staff at Fairhaven Runners isn’t content to find you a pair of shoes and shoo you out the door. Instead, they’re likely to invite you to one of their many weekly runs or walks—which, by the way, are free—or suggest you show up for one of their Fitness Forums, where local experts will either share their own tales of athleticism or give you tips on how to become a better, more healthy one. And, since they’re located within throwing distance of one of Bellingham’s most popular trails, once you do have those new shoes—or other running and walking-related gear—all you have to do to get started is step out the door.
Where: 1209 11th St.
SunnylandWhat's the best neighborhood? The one you live in, judging from this fiercely competitive category. With more than 2,400 entries in the Cascadia Weekly readers choice awards, every neighborhood was named again and again. But with so many terrific places--Trader Joe's, Hardware Sales, Kulshan Brewing Company, Jeckyl & Hyde, Homeskillet, on and on--Sunnyland comes out on top.
Quite a PickleThings haven't been pleasant at Pleasant Valley Farms, the briny bottler of pickles, peppers and sauerkraut products in Mount Vernon. The company filed a restructuring bankruptcy in 2011 only to shutter in late 2013, eliminating a full-time workforce of more than 80 employees. The company found itself in court again last September, accused of financial improprieties in the auction of company assets to continue operations in the last functioning pickling company left in the region.
Best Place to Take Your Kids:
Perch and PlayA little owl told me the best place to take my unborn child is here. Apparently, children's eyes bulge out of their heads at the colorful and playful sights and parents, overwhelmed by responsibility, are able to temporarily detach their loving munchkins to roam free. In turn, they can work and grab a glass of wine. I'm going to be a parent soon. May Perch and Play embrace my child like Bellingham has embraced this amazing business.
Where: 1707 N. State St.
Best Place to See Live Music:
The Conway MuseConway might be the smallest of small towns, but what it lacks in population, it more than makes up for in culture. Indeed, I can think of cities that are much larger that don't boast a locale quite like the Muse. Local, national and international artists have graced the Muse's two performance spaces (the Renaissance and Evolution rooms), and music of all varieties can be found there several nights a week, thanks to the unceasing efforts of owners Elfa Gisla and Tom Richardson. That those efforts are well and truly appreciated is evidenced by the Muse's continued Best of Skagit wins.
Where: 18444 Spruce St., Conway
Girl'd CheeseI feel the same way about puns that I feel about grilled cheese sandwiches: when concocted correctly, they are a wonder to behold. It's no wonder, then, that Girl'd Cheese has attracted my attention. In addition to the clever wordplay evident in its name, Karyl Lawson's lunch window in the Freeland Keystone Building in downtown Anacortes features to-go comfort food of the best kind—grilled cheese sandwiches that range from traditional (cheddar) to what can only be described as gourmet (Jarlsberg with bacon and apple slices, anyone?). Diners can call ahead for a hot lunch, or take their sandwiches home, grill 'em, and serve them straight from the frying pan. You go, Girl'd.
Where: 619 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Best Kids Store:
Kids NorthwestLet’s face it; kids in the Northwest are the best. Why? Because they have parents that enjoy all the finer things the Northwest lifestyle brings. In business for more than 30 years, Kids Northwest understands your child’s needs: sustainable and durable clothing, fantastic footwear and the little things in between. It’s your little Cascadian’s dream store for keeping up with mom and dad.
Where: 1319 Cornwall Ave.
La Fiamma Wood Fire PizzaThere is much pizza to be had in Bellingham, and your loyalties are fierce. When the flour settled and the votes counted, the slices you most savor come courtesy of La Fiamma. Kissed by the flame and topped with premium, locally sourced ingredients—prawns, house-smoked salmon, lamb sausage, potatoes, curry-roasted veggies and, of course, pepperoni are all on the list—these are some ridiculously tasty pies.
Where: 200 E. Chestnut St.