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 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.
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 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 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 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
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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 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 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
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
Best Place to Take Your Kids:
Perch and PlayA little owl told me the best place to take my unborn child is here. Apparently, children's eyes bulge out of their heads at the colorful and playful sights and parents, overwhelmed by responsibility, are able to temporarily detach their loving munchkins to roam free. In turn, they can work and grab a glass of wine. I'm going to be a parent soon. May Perch and Play embrace my child like Bellingham has embraced this amazing business.
Where: 1707 N. State St.
Best 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.
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.
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 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 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
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
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 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
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
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.
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.
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 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 Place to Buy Men’s Clothes:
Gary’s Men’s & Women’s WearLet’s be honest, this is the place where women wish men would buy their clothes. And where smart men do buy their clothes. Gary’s offers the finest selection of shirts, slacks, jackets and ties from quality manufacturers from Los Angeles to New York. Celebrating their 36th anniversary, Gary’s offers a fall discount followed by a charitable fashion runway Oct. 24.
Where: 128 W. Holly St.
Best Place to Meet 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 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 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 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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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 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 ?
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 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
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.
Best County Eats:
The Fork at Agate BayClambering from the Hertz Trail early on a crisp fall morning we stumble into the Fork. I order the Forks Benedict with cheesy grits on the side. She orders the creamy polenta and eggs. Steaming mugs of fresh roasted coffee while we wait. The place is dressed down for the morning, like us. It's going to be a great day.
Where: 2530 North Shore Rd.
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
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 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
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.
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.
India GrillWhenever my pops leaves his hermitage on Lummi Island to come into the big city for lunch, he requests we meet at India Grill for its can't-be-beat afternoon buffet. I don't know if it's the paneer, tikka, masala, lamb curry or rice pudding that gets him excited, but I do know that, time after time, he gets up for seconds and, at the end of the meal, is left with a clean plate and a full belly.
Where: 1215 Cornwall Ave.
Best 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
Pure Bliss DessertsI have a problem and its name is the Pure Bliss lemon bar. Judging from your votes, you have similar problems that begin and end at Pure Bliss’ little slice of dessert heaven on Cornwall Avenue. Although the lemon bar is my current love, I’ve also flirted with their coconut cake, shortbread cookies, Chocolate Bliss cake and many other items on their menu of sweet treats. And I haven’t even mentioned their seasonal offerings. Pumpkin cheesecake, I’m coming for you.
Where: 1424 Cornwall Ave.
Christianson's NurseryLike the plants they carefully tend to ensure continued longevity, the growers-that-be at Christianson's Nursery have made putting down roots a part of their business plan—whether it's via the dizzying array of annuals and perennials on display and up for sale, or by ensuring their verdant Mount Vernon acreage also works as a way to help preserve the storied history of the Skagit Valley. The former is helped along by a bevy of green thumbs (including owners John and Toni Christianson) and the latter can be seen in a variety of historic structures that have been relocated onto the property and restored to, once again, be of use.
Where: 15806 Best Rd.
Best 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 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.
Best Bartender & Waitperson:
Dennis Schafer, Lorraine Fast, Oyster Bar at Bayou on Bay
Where: 1300 Bay 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.
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.
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
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
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 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 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.
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 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.
Best Place ?for a First Date:
Temple BarIt would not be the Best of Bellingham were the Temple Bar not to emerge the winner in at least one category. While the welcoming bar on Champion Street is a little less dominant this year than in the past, as anyone who has tried to find a table there many nights of the week knows, the bar's popularity is not on the wane in the least. And why would it be? A carefully culled wine list, some of the best cocktails in town, a menu of imaginative small bites and meals, as well as unbeatable ambiance, all combine to make it the perfect place to launch what could be a lifelong romance.
Where: 306 W. Champion St.
Best Place to Walk Your Dog:
Lake PaddenExplode out of car and gambol through the grass. Bound directly to the shoreline and commence serious sniffing. Go waging off into the brush just far enough until you discover the stinkiest, most rancid possible chunk of something from the forest and clamp it tight in your maw like it’s the most precious, invaluable treasure the earth has ever known. Don’t disgorge said odiferous item until your owner forces you to. Find a nice big tree to pee on. Take a quick bath in the lake. Shake yourself dry. Repeat. Whether you’re an elderly Affenpinscher or a juvenile Brussels Griffon, that’s the dog’s-eye view of Padden magic in a nutshell.
Best 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.
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 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
Mount BakeryI don't know how early the clever culinarians at the Mount Bakery have to get up in the morning in order to produce the locally sourced artisanal baked goods they're famous for, but I'm guessing most of us are still under the covers in a REM state when they get started. Perhaps we're dreaming of the eatery's coconut macaroons, tartlets, truffles, layer cakes and Belgian waffles. Upon waking, we'll realize that it really is the season for the pumpkin scones draped in a maple-walnut glaze to make an appearance on the menu, and we'll get dressed, head to the Mount Bakery, and make our dreams a reality.
Where: 308C W. Champion St./1217 Harris Ave.
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.
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.
On RiceBellingham loves its Asian food--I mean the L-O-V-E, shout-it-from-the-rooftops kind of love. But when it comes time to decide where to eat your favorite curry (Panang, three stars, please!), rice or noodle dish, On Rice is your household favorite. This is an authentic kind of love, and makes my heart (and belly) very happy.
Where: 206 N. Samish Way/2200 Rimland Dr./1224 Harris Ave.
Best Coffee Shop:
Black Drop CoffeeHouseI used to live above the Black Drop. I'd wake up in the morning and its dark black"kick-ass" coffee would waft under my nose. That is when the addiction started. Since then, I've been buying bags of it. Come to find out, the coffee isn't even the best part. The Black Drop people are pretty kick-ass too. Head on down, and enjoy the veritable ass-kicking from the coffee--and the people.
Where: 300 W. Champion 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. ?
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
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
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 Movie Theater:
Pickford Film CenterFrom a tiny grassroots effort staffed mostly by volunteers, the Pickford Film Center has grown into a nonprofit powerhouse and model for art-house theaters everywhere--and is still staffed mostly by volunteers. That mix of offering a world-class movie-going experience along with a healthy dose of community (and popcorn with real butter) is what have made the PFC such a beloved local institution. I should know, after having worked there as a projectionist for nearly 15 years, I feel your love with every movie ticket I sell.
Where: 1318 Bay St./1416 Cornwall Ave.
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.
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.
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
On Rice Thai CuisineWhen you’ve got a hankering for quality Thai food—and, judging by your votes in this category, year after year, many of you do on a regular basis—On Rice is your go-to for everything from Pad Thai to Swimming Rama to Drunken Noodles. And, with three locales to choose from, you’ll always be close enough to satisfy that craving.
Where: Samish Way, Rimland Drive, and Harris Avenue
Best Place for a First Date, Best Cocktail:
Where: 306 W. Champion 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.
SunnylandWhat's the best neighborhood? The one you live in, judging from this fiercely competitive category. With more than 2,400 entries in the Cascadia Weekly readers choice awards, every neighborhood was named again and again. But with so many terrific places--Trader Joe's, Hardware Sales, Kulshan Brewing Company, Jeckyl & Hyde, Homeskillet, on and on--Sunnyland comes out on top.
Where: See Stanger’s work during most downtown Art Walks at the Pickford Dream Space Studios, 1318 Bay St.
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
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 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
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.
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 Chicken Feed:
Skagit Famers SupplyA cooperative supplying farmers since 1934, this country store has grown to serve a dozen communities east to Montana. From feed and seed to pets and vet supplies, this company keeps Skagit's agricultural roots growing.
Where: Stores in Burlington, Freeland, Mount Vernon, Oak Harbor, Sedro-Woolley, and Stanwood
Clayton BeachFrom high tide to low tide and all sea levels in between, no other single stretch of Chuckanutian coastline serves up quite as much outdoor-recreation-induced goodness as Clayton does. Although epic seaside bouldering remains my go-to favorite activity down there, I am also susceptible to random bursts of swimming, free-form tide pool exploring and extended bouts of water fowl watching, sunset gazing and nap-taking. Whether I'm looking to embark on a salty adventure or just seeking out a cool, breezy dose of family-friendly fun, Clayton puts the "be\0x2559 in""beachingham."""
Where: 245 E. Chuckanut Dr. ?
Best 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 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.