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.
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.
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
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
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
Studio GalacticaDuring work hours, Bellingham-based actress and Kimberly Ross can be found trimming hair and acting as the resident “perm specialist” at Studio Galactica. As one of founder Mandy McCoy’s employees, Ross, like her coworkers, is interested in making the salon a cut above the rest. “We’re all small business owners working here together, so we’re all invested in the business,” McCoy says on a short video about the space. Plus, with a no-tipping policy—and a no-judgement ethos—she says it’s “unlike anything else you’re ever going to experience in Bellingham.” She’s right.
Where: 1519 Cornwall Ave.
Washington ParkOgle the Olympics. Rubberneck Rosario. Behold behemoth barges and bevies of buoyant birds. Hike the hilly headland habitat. Observe ophiolite outcroppings. Scrutinize sandy seashore stretches. Brave the bodacious boat launch bustle. Populate picturesque picnic tables. Gormandize grilled goodies on the grass. Negotiate a noon-hour nap. Salute sanguine sunsets. But whatever you do out there, make sure to luxuriate long and linger lavishly because of all the publicly owned pearls in Anacortes, this 220-acre parcel of parkland beams brightest beyond.
Where: 6300 Sunset Ave., Anacortes
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
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.
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
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 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.
Best Hardware Store:
Ace HardwareGet ready for spring at this locally owned full-service supplier of tools and paints, gardening and nursery supplies. After the work is done, they also sell camping and fishing gear and a wide assortment of patio furniture.
Where: 1720 Q Avenue, Anacortes
Info: (360) 293-3535
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
Best Bike Trail:
Interurban TrailOutside and on the move. Embarking and/or looping back on our next big adventure. Stretching our legs the smart way. Narrowing our travel focus down into a single, multipurpose corridor while simultaneously expanding the quality of our peddle-pushing space exponentially. Interstate 5 might be the busiest north-south thoroughfare to cut a swath through Bellingham, but it takes the Interurban to carry the true pulse of our knobby-tire-loving city.
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 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
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.
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.
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
Best Place to Buy Women’s Clothes, Best Consignment Store:
LabelsWhen Labels made its big move from Ellis to James Street—right across from Trader Joe’s—they had to put up a sign reminding those who were struggling to find a parking space at the popular grocery store that their lot was only intended for Labels customers. You see, Labels needs every space they can get. Women flock there on the regular to find deals on everything from brand-name shoes to party dresses, jeans, blouses, accessories and more. And since they can sell their wearable wares to the consignment store, there’s always the promise of cold, hard cash.
Where: 2332 James St., 3927 Northwest Ave.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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 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
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
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.
Sakura Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi BarLook, cucumber and avocado wrapped in rice is not sushi! Sushi is tuna, salmon, albacore, eel, creatures of the sea in delightful combinations. Sakura understands this, offering a full menu of nagiri and sashimi creative combinations. Sakura specializes in hibachi tabletop barbecue, which means you are entertained by skillful chefs who prepare your meal in front of you as you dine.
Where: 1830 South, Burlington
Info: (360) 588-4281
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 Breakfast, Best Casino:
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, Bow
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
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 Happy Hour:
Anthony'sWe all know that when you go fishing you're supposed to be drinking. Anthony's now allows you to do both, right from the comfort of their amazing restaurant in Anacortes. Order a fish type appetizer and wash it down with the a pint from a local brewery. What's better than that? Maybe knowing your hard-earned dollars will go a long way.
Where: 1207 Q Ave., Anacortes
Old World DeliIt is one of the Great Truths of my life that I don’t decide my day’s eating plan until I see what the specials at Old World Deli are. I eat there so often and love it so much even Old World’s owners, Anna and Christos Adams, have been known to mock me. The deli offers so much to love, from the aforementioned sandwiches (oh, how I love them) to drool-inducing deli meats and handmade sausage to a surprising selection of cheese to a carefully curated collection of wine, and their landslide victory and multiple wins in this category mean I’m not the only one under its spell.
Where: 1228 N. State 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.
Skagit River Brewery and PubOn my inaugural visit to the Skagit River Brewery, I was enjoying my first ice-cold sip of Dutch Girl Lager when a train thundered by the downtown Mount Vernon locale. Although it initially startled me—so much so that my seatmate narrowly avoided being sprayed with a mouthful of beer—I soon realized that the establishment's proximity to the train tracks was a character-adding attraction. The longtime brewery's commitment to sourcing their hops, barley and wheat in the Pacific Northwest is also worth taking note of—as is their accompanying pub fare, which ranges from wood-fired pizzas, burgers and quesadillas to fresh seafood, pork ribs and beyond.
Where: 404 S. Third St., Mount Vernon
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.
Best Indian Food:
India GrillI’ve learned a couple tricks in the years I’ve been frequenting India Grill’s lunch buffet with coworkers, friends and family members. I take it easy on the naan (which is warm and delicious, but also filling) and focus instead on the main courses—menu items such as chicken tikka, tandoori and various curries and paneers. Once I’m nearing fullness, I pause at the table for a few minutes before heading back for a serving of kheer—a sweet Indian delicacy that’s better than grandma’s rice pudding.
Where: 1215 Cornwall Ave.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Nell Thorn Restaurant & PubDinner at La Conner's Nell Thorn restaurant—now in a new home on the Swinomish Channel—is truly a special event, whether you're partaking of their locally sourced and thoughtfully produced dinner entrees in the restaurant, or enjoying more casual dishes at the bar. It should come as no surprise, then, that dessert at Nell Thorn would be as inventive as the rest of the menu. While the options change depending on what's fresh and in season, recent dessert items have included everything from panna cotta with berries to Skagit Mud, which is the brownie sundae to end all brownie sundaes.
Where: 116 1st St., La Conner
Best Shoe Store:
Stowe's Shoes & ClothingStowe's. The name just sounds sturdy and dependable, doesn't it? Founded in 1940, this Burlington outfitter tailors an authentic Pacific Northwest style. Normcore? More like Stormcore, keeping our feet warm and dry in the chill we call summer.
Where: 420 E. Fairhaven Avenue, Burlington
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.
Dad's Diner A Go-GoDad slices and grinds his own meat in this tiny diner. He makes his own savory sauces and rubs, and smokes brisket and rubs until the meat falls tender from the bone. The best mouthwatering BBQ this side of Old Muddy.
Where: 2219 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: (360) 840-2938
Easton's BooksWe lamented the loss of Scott's Bookstore in Mount Vernon to such an extent that we eliminated this category from last year's Best of Skagit roundup. How foolish we were when Easton's Books still exists, and has since this family-owned bookstore first opened its doors in 1976. Row upon row of gently used and well-loved books cram the nearly floor-to-ceiling bookshelves—and if in-person browsing isn't in the cards for you, their website means their abundant tomes are a mere click or two away.
Where: 701 South 1st St., Mount Vernon
Best Gear Store:
REIWalked into Cabela’s last weekend and thought, “REI for rednecks!” No, seriously: I tease REI because I love REI—and so do readers, growing stronger every year. REI carries the gear you need to enjoy the outdoors you love. Bikes, skis, camping and fitness gear, and quality clothing. Their knowledgable staff will help you with all your recreational needs, and they can tune your craft with frequent seminars.
Where: 400 36th St.
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.
Where: See Stanger’s work during most downtown Art Walks at the Pickford Dream Space Studios, 1318 Bay St.
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
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
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
Best Music Store:
Everyday MusicSince “music store” is a fairly nonspecific descriptor, winners in this category could come from a number of retail sectors. But, as in years past, Everyday Music managed to cut through any confusion and emerge with the votes required to be crowned the best. And why not? They’re pretty much open during any/all waking hours, have an expansive and eclectic collection of music and a staff willing and able to help you find you new favorite band.
Where: 115 E. Magnolia St.
Soy Housebeef stock and noodles,
tofu thick and onion sweet,
slurp it with a smile
Where: 400 W. Holly 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
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
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
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.
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."
Mount BakeryGenerally speaking, I go to Mount Bakery for their killer breakfasts. But I inevitably emerge with some of their made-from-scratch, Belgian-style baked goods. I am particularly fond of the cream puffs. And the chocolate truffle cake. And the orange hazelnut twists. And the cinnamon roll. And the chocolate croissants. And everything else, really.
Where: 308 W. Champion St.
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 Place to Get a Massage:
PRIME Massage and Sports MedicineThis is not your average massage studio. And after being open for only a year and a half, Kerry Gustafson is making quite the name for herself. PRIME Massage offers the athlete and active person assistance by reducing tension, increasing range of motion, improving performance and helping achieve peak performance—in addition to offering athletic training. With an impressive list of certifications and achievements in the athletic field, Kerry is your go-to gal for all your athletic wellness needs.
Where: 1433 N. State St.
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
Best Pet Store:
Whatcom Humane SocietyBellingham loves its four-legged (and two-legged!) friends. The Whatcom Humane Society recently opened their new home this year, and we couldn’t be happier for them. Although neither the Humane Society or its Fairhaven Store, Paws Awhile, is technically a pet store—one helps you find your new best friends, and the other offers gently used items and gifts that directly benefits the WHS—you can take comfort in knowing that both help Fifi, Fido, and the occasional errant chicken.
Where: 2172 Division St.
Best Toy Store:
Little Tiger ToysThese fine folks have just hit their five-year mark, and now they’ve got a little something else to celebrate. Not only do they carry everything your little one’s heart could desire (and the big ones, too), they also feature local artists in the store, and give back to our local schools. Just ask Calvin and Hobbes; life is better with a Little Tiger.
Where: 112 Grand Ave.
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
Best Bartender & Waitperson:
Dennis Schafer, Lorraine Fast, Oyster Bar at Bayou on Bay
Where: 1300 Bay St.
Best Place for a Massage:
Calm Water MassageCalm Water Massage gets our super-prestigious secret gold medal award, because technically, this would be their fifth year winning (we skipped a year). And knowing how much you folks love this place, it only makes sense. Seriously Skagit, you've made it clear there's only one place in the valley that gets your vote. Calm Water, better living.
Where: 308 Pine St., Mount Vernon
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 Thrift Store:
Value VillageHeading to a 1950s-Evil-Villain-Gaudy Jewelry Party for the holidays? Just need a new pair of drawers? While many thrift stores abound in our neck of the woods, Value Village's vast selection can't be beat. I recently located a 1980s pink pantsuit and wide-brimmed pink sun visor for $9. While their use will remain a secret, Value Village's popularity will not.
Where: 525 East College Way, Mount Vernon
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 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.
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.
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 Bike Store:
Kulshan CyclesBellingham is blessed with bikes. Bellingham is blessed with bike stores, and the competition for this category is fierce. But year after year, Kulshan tops the list of reader favorites. I think it is because the folks at Kulshan love talking about bikes as much as they like tinkering with them. Famous name bikes, perfected by seasoned mechanics who will show you how to keep them in tip-top condition.
Where: 100 E. Chestnut St.
Skagit River Bakery & CafeIf you've got a sweet tooth, chances are good you've stopped by one of the two Skagit River Bakery & Cafe locales—either in Anacortes or Mount Vernon. Whether you're interested in muffins the size of Glenn Beck's head, cinnamon rolls, vegan cookies, scones, hot-out-of-the-oven rolls or other delicious confections, you've made it clear this Skagit-based bakery is your go-to when your sweet side just won't shut up.
Where: 315 Main St., Mount Vernon and 808 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: (360) 336-3900
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 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 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
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
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.
Best Auto Repair:
Sterling AutomotiveFor longer than was convenient or practical, my beloved 1998 Nissan Maxima was without turn signals. The problem had stumped several local auto mechanics, but when I took my car to Sterling for an unrelated issue, they vowed to get to the bottom of it. They solved the mystery, speedily and without bankrupting me. And I even got a lunch recommendation out of the deal. Now that’s some excellent service.
Where: 1025 Pasco 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 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 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
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.
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
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.
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 Dance:
The Edison InnI don't dance anywhere, and I've danced at the Edison Inn. Judging by your all your votes and the Edison's previous wins in this category, I'm not the only one who has given the more than 100-year-old dance floor a workout. With live music every weekend, this homey bar in Bow is the de facto entertainment destination for locals and visitors alike. In fact, one of the Cascadia Weekly's own editors went on a first date at the Edison Inn, and five years later, credits the bar's many charms for her continued happy coupledom.
Where: 5829 Cains Court, Bow
Best Place for a First Date, Best Cocktail:
Where: 306 W. Champion St.
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
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.
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.