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Best of Bellingham 2013

Best of Bellingham

This Week's Cover

 

Best Neighborhood:

Sunnyland

The 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.

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Best Deli:
  • Google+

Old World Deli

Because 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.
Info: http://www.oldworlddeli1.com

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Best Pho:
  • Google+

Soy House

beef stock and noodles,
tofu thick and onion sweet,
slurp it with a smile
Where: 400 W. Holly St.
Info: http://www.soyhouserestaurant.com

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Best Dessert:
  • Google+

Nell Thorn Restaurant & Pub

Dinner 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
Info: http://www.nellthorn.com

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Best Place to Take Kids, Best Kids Spot:
  • Google+

Perch and Play

I 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

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Best Italian:
  • Google+

D’Anna’s Cafe Italiano

Recently, I went to Las Vegas where I ate pasta in a high-end Italian restaurant. All it did was make me long for the cozy confines and homemade pasta of D'Anna's. A perennial winner in this category, D'Anna's offers huge plates of pillowy, just chewy enough, handmade and perfectly cooked pasta bathed in succulent sauces served up by a friendly staff. The incredible food (manicotti, you are the one for me) combined with their knack for making everyone who darkens their door feel like family is why you'll find me--and most of Bellingham--choosing D'Anna's when a dose of comfort food is the only thing that will do.
Where: 1317 N. State St.
Info: http://www.dannascafeitaliano.com

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Best Park:
  • Google+

Boulevard Park

This 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.

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Best Kids Store:
  • Google+

Kids Northwest

Let’s face it; kids in the Northwest are the best. Why? Because they have parents that enjoy all the finer things the Northwest lifestyle brings. In business for more than 30 years, Kids Northwest understands your child’s needs: sustainable and durable clothing, fantastic footwear and the little things in between. It’s your little Cascadian’s dream store for keeping up with mom and dad.
Where: 1319 Cornwall Ave.
Info: http://www.kidsnorthwest.com

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Best Asian:
  • Google+

Rachawadee Thai Cafe

So 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
Info: http://www.rachawadeecafe.com

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Best Band:
  • Google+

Mount Eerie

Few 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.
Info: http://www.pwelverumandsun.com

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Best Place ?for a First Date:
  • Google+

Temple Bar

It 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.
Info: http://www.templebarbellingham.com

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Best Happy Hour:
  • Google+

Anthony's

We 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
Info: http://www.anthonys.com

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Best Happy Hour, Best Place to Impress a Date, Best Bartender:
  • Google+

Rock and Rye Oyster House, Dennis Schafer

One 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.
Info: http://www.rockrye.com

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Best Beach:
  • Google+

Clayton Beach

From 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. ?
Info: http://www.parks.wa.gov

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Best Asian:
  • Google+

On Rice

Bellingham 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.
Info: http://www.onricethai.com

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Best Theater:
  • Google+

Mount Baker Theatre

Although 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

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Best Sushi:
  • Google+

Blue Fin Sushi

BlueFinSushi-o.jpg
A rant: A California roll is, IMO, not sushi. I want the sounds of Japan fumbling from my lips when I order—unagi nigiri, gyoza, hamachi, miso—and the tastes of Japan tumbling past my lips when I eat. I want a Bento box, not avocado or lox. There are precious few places that make great sushi, and Blue Fin is the best of them.
A tanka:
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
Info: http://www.bluefinbellingham.com

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Best Barbecue:
  • Google+

Coconut Kenny’s

Forever 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

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Best Yoga:
  • Google+

Yoga Northwest

Yoga 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

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Best Casino, Best Breakfast:
  • Google+

Skagit Valley Casino Resort

As 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
Info: http://www.theskagit.com

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Best Steak:
  • Google+

Max Dale's Steak & Chop House

Like 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
Info: http://www.maxdales.com

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Best BBQ:
  • Google+

Dad's Diner A Go-Go

Dad 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

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Best Gallery:
  • Google+

Smith & Vallee Gallery

Class 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.
Info: http://www.smithandvallee.com

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Best Burger:
  • Google+

Fiamma Burger

As 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.
Info: http://www.fiammaburger.com

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Best Breakfast, Best Vegetarian:
  • Google+

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. ?
Info: http://www.theoldtowncafe.com

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Best Scandal:
  • Google+

Quite a Pickle

Things 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.

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Best Casino:
  • Google+

Silver Reef Casino

With more than 50,000 square feet of gaming space and a slate of fabulous, famous-name entertainment, Silver Reef is an odds-on favorite. But my friends at Lummi Nation tell me the spacious hotel and spa are the hot hand, and the big draw with special rates and diamond dividends. Book a long weekend there.
Where: 4876 Haxton Way, Ferndale
Info: http://www.silverreefcasino.com

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Best Coffee Drive-Thru:
  • Google+

Cool Beans

How 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.
Info: 756-0506

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Best Coffee Shop:
  • Google+

Black Drop CoffeeHouse

I 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.
Info: http://www.blackdropcoffeehouse.com

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Best Mexican:
  • Google+

Taco Lobo

It’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.
Info: http://www.tacolobowas.com

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Best Place for a First Date, Best Cocktail:
  • Google+

Temple Bar

TempleBar-o.jpg
It wouldn’t be the Best of Bellingham without the Temple Bar sweeping at least a couple of categories. And well it should. A true Bellingham gem, the Temple Bar has long been a perfect first date locale. And it’s no wonder the cozy spot on Champion Street won cocktail honors given the amount of thought that goes into every glass—thought that has seen Temple Bar owner Chelsea Farmer turn part of her backyard into the Farmlette, where she grows ingredients that go straight from garden to glass. That’s some serious dedication to strong drink.
Where: 306 W. Champion St.
Info: http://www.templebarbellingham.com

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Best Place to Eat in the County:
  • Google+

The Fork at Agate Bay

In 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.
Info: http://www.theforkatagatebay.com

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Best News Story:
  • Google+

Green Arrow

Yes, 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.

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Best Sushi:
  • Google+

Sakura Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar

Look, 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

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Best Pet Store:
  • Google+

Whatcom Humane Society

Bellingham 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.
Info: http://www.whatcomhumane.org

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Best Place to See Live Music:
  • Google+

Wild Buffalo

The 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.
Info: http://www.wildbuffalo.net

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Best Sandwich:
  • Google+

Avenue Bread

I'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.
Info: http://www.avenuebread.com

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Best Bookstore:
  • Google+

Easton's Books

We 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
Info: http://www.eastonsbooks.com

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Best Hardware Store:
  • Google+

Ace Hardware

Get 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

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Best Vegetarian:
  • Google+

Old Town Cafe

On 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.
Info: http://www.theoldtowncafe.com

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:
  • Google+

Cafe Akroteri


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Best Place to Take Your Kids:
  • Google+

Perch and Play

A 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.
Info: http://www.perchandplay.com

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Best Gallery:
  • Google+

Make.Shift Art Space

It 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.
Info: http://www.makeshiftproject.com

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Best Place to Buy Men’s Clothes:
  • Google+

Gary’s Men’s & Women’s Wear

Let’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.
Info: 733-2180

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Best Artist:
  • Google+

Toby Stanger

bestartist-o.jpg
In Toby Stanger’s creative universe, artistically rendered beer cans and guns might be seen commingling with cigarette-smoking birds, fantastical sea creatures and owls locked up in straitjackets. The longtime Bellingham painter creates work that is both playful and haunting, and, as can be attested by his win in this esteemed category, also worth taking notice of. “Nature and my surroundings really inspire me and my art,” Stanger says, “and I also find a lot of inspiration and support from my talented friends and the huge art community here.” Looks like the feeling is mutual, Toby.
Where: See Stanger’s work during most downtown Art Walks at the Pickford Dream Space Studios, 1318 Bay St.
Info: http://www.tobystanger.com

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Best Furniture:
  • Google+

Greenhouse

It’s no wonder the Greenhouse rules this category. Sure, you can get a couch on just about any street corner in Bellingham during certain times of the year, but that’s not what someone I know refers to as “good furniture.” Every single piece in the Greenhouse’s thoughtfully chosen selection is good furniture, stylish, comfortable and built to last. Good furniture is a good investment and the returns are always high at the Greenhouse.
Where: 1235 Cornwall Ave.
Info: http://www.greenhousehome.com

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Best Bookstore:
  • Google+

Village Books

At 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.
Info: http://www.villagebooks.com

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Best Music Festival:
  • Google+

Subdued Stringband Jamboree

First, 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.
Info: http://www.stringbandjamboree.com

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Most Notable Local Character:
  • Google+

Alice Clark

Most of us know Alice Clark as one of the founders and brain trust behind the Pickford Film Center. When she’s not busy building and helping to sustain a multimillion-dollar, state-of-the-art, nonprofit art-house movie theater, she’s baking and selling pies at the Farmers Market and to local restaurants under the guise of Alice’s Pies. And when she’s not busy doing all of that, she’s organizing the Sunnyland Stomp. It is not hyperbole to say that our town is unequivocally a better place because Clark lives here and we can’t wait to see what she gets up to next.

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Best Bike Trail:
  • Google+

Interurban Trail

Outside 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.

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Best Gallery:
  • Google+

Make.Shift Art Space

We are lucky in that Bellingham is home to many art galleries and many of them were well-represented by your votes in this category. However, once again, you deemed Make.Shift the best in town. With minimal resources at hand, the nonprofit multipurpose space on Flora Street operates with an ethos that favors inspiration, innovation and ingenuity above all else, and the proof of that hangs on their walls, month after month.
Where: 306 Flora St.
Info: http://www.makeshiftproject.com

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Best Neighborhood:
  • Google+

Sunnyland

What'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.

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Best Theater Company:
  • Google+

iDiOM Theater

The 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.
Info: http://www.idiomtheater.com

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Best Salon:
  • Google+

Studio Galactica

During 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.
Info: http://www.studiogalactica.net

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Best Pizza:
  • Google+

La Fiamma Wood Fire Pizza

There 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.
Info: http://www.lafiamma.com

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Best Local Scandal:
  • Google+

Kasey Anderson

When 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.

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Best Place to Meet Women:
  • Google+

Daphnes Fairhaven

He 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
Info: 778-3462

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Best Place to Dance:
  • Google+

The Edison Inn

I 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
Info: http://www.theedisoninn.com

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Best Indian Food:
  • Google+

India Grill

I’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.
Info: http://www.indiagrill.us

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Best Mexican:
  • Google+

El Gitano Mexican Restaurant

Best 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
Info: http://www.elgitano.net

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Best Thrift Store:
  • Google+

Goodwill

Every 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

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Best Place to Impress a Date:
  • Google+

Anthony’s at Squalicum Harbor

Grab 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
Info: http://www.anthonys.com

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Best Winery:
  • Google+

Tulip Valley Vineyard and Orchard

Although 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
Info: http://www.tulipvalley.net

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Best Bike Store:
  • Google+

Kulshan Cycles

Bellingham 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.
Info: http://www.kulshancycles.com

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Best Music Store:
  • Google+

The Business

In 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
Info: http://www.thebusinessanacortes.com

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Best Music Festival:
  • Google+

Summer Meltdown

With 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
Info: http://www.summermeltdown.com

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Best Asian:
  • Google+

On Rice Thai Cuisine

When 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
Info: http://www.onricethai.com

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Best Shoe Store:
  • Google+

Mi Shoes

Last 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.
Info: http://www.mymishoes.com

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Best Place for a Massage:
  • Google+

Calm Water Massage

Calm 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
Info: http://www.calmwatermassage.com

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Best Italian:
  • Google+

D’Anna’s Cafe Italiano

Since 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.
Info: http://www.dannascafeitaliano.com

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Best Pizza:
  • Google+

Village Pizza

I'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

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Best Lunch, Best Take-Out:
  • Google+

Diego’s Mexican Grill

It’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
Info: http://www.diegosmexicangrill.com/

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Best Ski Store:
  • Google+

Hidden Wave Boardshop

The 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.
Info: http://www.hiddenwave.net

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Best Indian:
  • Google+

India Grill

Whenever 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.
Info: http://www.indiagrill.us

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Best Bakery:
  • Google+

Skagit River Bakery & Cafe

If 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

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Best Food Truck:
  • Google+

StrEAT Food

Parked 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.
Where: http://www.twitter.com/streatfood
Info: http://www.streatfood.me/

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Best Jewelry Store:
  • Google+

Warren Jewelers

When 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
Info: http://www.warrenjewelers.net

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Best Music Store:
  • Google+

Everyday Music

Since “music store” is a fairly nonspecific descriptor, winners in this category could come from a number of retail sectors. But, as in years past, Everyday Music managed to cut through any confusion and emerge with the votes required to be crowned the best. And why not? They’re pretty much open during any/all waking hours, have an expansive and eclectic collection of music and a staff willing and able to help you find you new favorite band.
Where: 115 E. Magnolia St.
Info: http://www.everydaymusic.com

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Best Place to Get a Tattoo:
  • Google+

Sabbath Tattoo

Bellingham 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.
Info: 671-2228

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Best Italian:
  • Google+

Il Granaio

It'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
Info: http://www.granaio.com

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Best Grocery Store:
  • Google+

Community Food Co-op

A 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.
Info: http://www.communityfood.coop

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Best Place to See Live Music:
  • Google+

The Conway Muse

Conway 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
Info: http://www.conwaymuse.com

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Best Gym:
  • Google+

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
Info: http://www.riversidehealthclub.com

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Best Place to See Live Music:
  • Google+

Wild Buffalo

Based 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.
Info: http://www.wildbuffalo.net

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Best Take-Out:
  • Google+

Girl'd Cheese

I 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
Info: (360) 202-8698 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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Best Place to Meet Men or Women:
  • Google+

Rumors Cabaret

It'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. ?
Info: http://www.rumorscabaret.com

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Best Watering Hole:
  • Google+

The Brown Lantern Ale House

I 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
Info: http://www.brownlantern.com

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Best Coffeehouse:
  • Google+

Black Drop Coffeehouse

This 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.
Info: http://www.blackdropcoffeehouse.com

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Best Band:
  • Google+

Br’er Rabbit

brer_rabbit-o.jpg
It was looking like the mighty, mighty Polecat would retain their hold on this category until, in a surprising twist, Br’er Rabbit emerged the winner. Surprising, not because Br’er Rabbit is somehow undeserving of the award, but more due to the fact that this foot-stompin’ folk trio is new to making music in our part of the world. New to us though they may be, they’ve made serious inroads into the hearts and playlists of local music lovers. Consider this award the late arrival of the Welcome Wagon, and the votes a sign that we’re happy to have you, Br’er Rabbit.
Info: http://www.brerrabbitmusic.com

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Best Deli:
  • Google+

Old World Deli

It is one of the Great Truths of my life that I don’t decide my day’s eating plan until I see what the specials at Old World Deli are. I eat there so often and love it so much even Old World’s owners, Anna and Christos Adams, have been known to mock me. The deli offers so much to love, from the aforementioned sandwiches (oh, how I love them) to drool-inducing deli meats and handmade sausage to a surprising selection of cheese to a carefully curated collection of wine, and their landslide victory and multiple wins in this category mean I’m not the only one under its spell.
Where: 1228 N. State St.
Info: 738-2090

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Best Gear Store:
  • Google+

REI

Walked 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.
Info: http://www.rei.com

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Best Fast Food:
  • Google+

Boomers Drive*In

Standing 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
Info: http://www.boomersdrivein.com

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Best Park:
  • Google+

Washington Park

Ogle 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
Info: http://www.cityofanacortes.org

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Best Thrift Store:
  • Google+

Value Village

Heading 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
Info: http://www.valuevillage.com

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Best Place to Walk Your Dog:
  • Google+

Lake Padden

Explode 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.

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Best Best Place for a First Date, Best Place to Meet Women, Best Coffeehouse:
  • Google+

North Cove Coffee House

Skagit 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
Info: http://www.northcovecoffeehouse.com

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Best Burger:
  • Google+

Fiamma Burger

Bellingham 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.
Info: http://www.fiammaburger.com

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Best Place to Get a Tattoo:
  • Google+

Tiny Tim's

Tiny 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
Info: http://www.tinytimstattoos.com

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Best Burger:
  • Google+

Five Guys

In 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
Info: http://www.fiveguys.com

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Best Nursery:
  • Google+

Christianson's Nursery

Like 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.
Info: http://www.christiansonsnursery.com

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Best County Eats:
  • Google+

The Fork at Agate Bay

Clambering 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.
Info: http://www.theforkatagatebay.com

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