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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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
Where: See Stanger’s work during most downtown Art Walks at the Pickford Dream Space Studios, 1318 Bay St.
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 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
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
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 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
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
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 Grocery Store:
Community Food Co-opA competitive category with Trader Joe’s coming up hot on the outside, threatening to overtake Haggen, the Community Food Co-op still takes the checkered flag FTW among readers. Maybe it is pride of membership in this locally owned cooperative; maybe it is the excellent quality and selection of organic produce, full-service deli and wholesome foodstuffs; maybe it’s the focus on healthy living and community engagement. Maybe it’s that all your friends shop there. Likely it is a healthy sampling from each of these columns.
Where: 1220 N. Forest St.; 315 Westerly at Cordata Pkwy.
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.
Best Music Store:
The BusinessIn a world where no one is getting rich running a record store, places like the Business in Anacortes are growing ever more rare and decidedly more precious. And when you throw in the long history the space that houses the Business possesses—a history that has, in no small part, helped to shape Anacortes' singular and vital music scene—it's no wonder the shop is a repeat winner in this category. And their carefully curated selection can't be beat as well.
Where: 402 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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 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.
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
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 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 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.
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
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."
Lincoln TheatreEvery city should be lucky enough to have a place like the Lincoln Theatre. They should be lucky enough to be able to watch both live-action and cinematic performances under the same welcoming roof. If they're very lucky, the building that houses said performances will be as beautiful as it is historic (the Lincoln Theatre was built as a vaudeville and silent movie house in 1926), and stewarded by a dedicated staff of arts lovers. The Lincoln Theatre is all those things, and your votes are proof you know just how lucky you are.
Where: 712 S. 1st St., Mount Vernon
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.
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 Place to Eat in the County:
The Fork at Agate BayIn the chill of fall, we hike the Hertz Trail along the foggy north shore of Lake Whatcom. Afterward, we’re famished and stop at the Fork at Agate Bay. Like a fine pastry, the place is plain and bit crusty on the outside, warm and delicious inside—with simply the best Eggs Benedict you’ll find north of Seattle, fantastic salads and bistro finger foods with ingredients from local farms. Dinners are served on white table linens with fine wines. Outstanding.
Where: 2530 North Shore Rd.
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 Bartender & Waitperson:
Dennis Schafer, Lorraine Fast, Oyster Bar at Bayou on Bay
Where: 1300 Bay St.
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.
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 Fast Food:
Boomers Drive*InStanding like a beacon of hope among the much-maligned and increasingly dangerous urban blight along North Samish Way, Boomers continues to serve up delicious basketfuls of Bellingham's favorite fast food--thick burgers bursting with flavor, giant orders of fries, milkshakes and more--with unwavering culinary gusto. In the name of urban improvement, I'd love to see Boomers expand over there.
Where: 310 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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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 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.
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 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
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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
Best Place for a First Date, Best Cocktail:
Where: 306 W. Champion 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
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.
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
Old World DeliBecause Old World Deli is a proper deli, you can buy all manner of meats, cheeses, pastas, spices and whatever other accoutrements you require to whip up a tasty meal, and score the perfect bottle of wine via their carefully chosen selection to wash it down with. No doubt it is those things that earned Old World your many, many votes in this category. Me, I go to Old World for the sandwiches, the specials in particular, which are crafted from house-made meats and are among some of the most delicious meals I have eaten in my life. Everything on the menu is thoughtfully prepared by Old World's sassy staff of unabashed food geeks, and I can't live if living is without them--and their string of wins in the category tells me neither can you.
Where: 1228 N. State 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
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
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 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 ?
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 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 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.
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
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
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 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 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.
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.
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
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 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 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
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.
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
Best Breakfast, Best Vegetarian:
Old Town Cafe"Number Nine?" Adrienne asks, and it's always the answer. We both laugh. Big mug of steaming black joe. A couple of firefighters across from me are up at the crack of dawn. Near them, old hippies hold hands, still in love after all these years. The sun breaks free and lights the heights of Lummi Island. Not everything in life is dependable; breakfast should be.
Where: 316 W. Holly St. ?
Best Local Scandal:
Kasey AndersonWhen he lived in Bellingham, Kasey Anderson was mostly seen as a mild-mannered alt-country musician. It was only after he departed our fair burg that things took a turn for the scandalous. To recap: Anderson bilked a group of more than 30 investors out of half a million dollars (give or take) by telling them he was making an album to benefit the West Memphis Three—an album that was to have included tracks by Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga, and more. Along the way, he impersonated everyone from Springsteen’s manager to one of the wives of the WM3, earning the attention of the FBI, a lawsuit against him and an indictment and conviction on wire fraud charges. He’ll be singing the jailhouse blues at his sentencing next month.
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.
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
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.
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 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
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 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.
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.
Smith & Vallee GalleryClass is no longer in session at Edison's Smith & Vallee Gallery, but in visits to the former schoolhouse—a high-ceilinged, wide-open space with gleaming, century-old wood floors and heaps of natural light—I usually can't help but learn a little something about art, ideas and beauty. Woodworkers Wes Smith and Andrew Vallee have created a haven for local and regional artists to show and sell their work, and their multiple wins in this category prove that, along the way, they've been educated, too. >What: View Skagit Valley painter Dedrick Ward's paintings through April 27.
Where: 5742 Gilkey Ave.
Fiamma BurgerAs any burger lover knows, a good burger is far more than the slab of mystery meat stuffed into a boring bun that you'll find at any fast-food drive thru. Which is why Bellingham's burger lovers take themselves to Fiamma Burger when desire strikes. Sure, the standard-issue beef (or grass-fed, if you prefer) is delicious enough, but why stop there when lamb, chicken sausage, salmon and more are on the menu? And the choices are not limited to type of meat; you can top your burger with everything from hatch green chiles and guacamole to smoked onions and an egg. Slather everything with delectable curry mayo and allow it erase all your memories of mediocre fast-food fare.
Where: 1309 Railroad 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.