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 Shoe Store:
  • Google+

Stowe's Shoes & Clothing

Stowe's. The name just sounds sturdy and dependable, doesn't it? Founded in 1940, this Burlington outfitter tailors an authentic Pacific Northwest style. Normcore? More like Stormcore, keeping our feet warm and dry in the chill we call summer.
Where: 420 E. Fairhaven Avenue, Burlington
Info: http://www.stowesshoesandclothing.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 Place to Buy Women’s Clothes, Best Consignment Store:
  • Google+

Labels

When 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.
Info: http://www.labelsconsignment.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 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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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 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 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 Breakfast:
  • Google+

HomeSkillet

Thanks 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.
Info: http://www.homeskilletinsunnyland.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 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 Dessert:
  • Google+

Pure Bliss Desserts

I 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.
Info: http://www.pureblissdesserts.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 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 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 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 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 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 Bike Store:
  • Google+

Skagit Cycle

For a 10-spot, area women can sign up for an April 17 workshop happening at the Skagit Cycle Center and learn a few valuable life lessons—such as how to fix a flat, spruce up a drivetrain, lubricate a chain and give their two-wheelers a safety check. You see, in addition to selling bikes, the longtime retailer is interested in not only keeping riders on the road, but also sharing their love of cycling with others. A sentence in their online bio sums up their community-minded ethos: "We welcome friendly chats with fellow riders who want advice on local rides, how to improve technique off-road or on, or where to get a good sandwich to stick in your seat-bag before you head out for the day's ride."
Where: 1704 Burlington Blvd., 1970 Walton Dr. (also in Burlington), and 1620 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: http://www.skagitcyclecenter.com

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Best Place to Buy Chicken Feed:
  • Google+

Skagit Famers Supply

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

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Best Brewery:
  • Google+

Kulshan Brewery

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

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Best Fast Food:
  • Google+

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
Info: http://www.boomersdrivein.com

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Best Sandwich:
  • Google+

Avenue Bread

I’m willing to bet that every single person who voted for Avenue Bread in this category—and there were a lot of you—would also have been able to tell us exactly what their favorite Avenue sandwich is. A bread bastion and Bellingham institution, Avenue Bread is the de facto locale when we are looking to eat a meal that lives between two slabs of bread. And what bread it is. I know the rosemary sea salt loaves get all the love, but I could live on Avenue’s English muffins (which they use to make their excellent Eggenues) and be perfectly happy.
Where: Railroad Avenue/James Street/Fairhaven
Info: http://www.avenuebread.com

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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 Sushi:
  • Google+

Wasabee

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

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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 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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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 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 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 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 Movie Theater:
  • Google+

Pickford Film Center

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

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Best Place to Meet Men:
  • Google+

Cabela's

Step 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

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Best Brewery:
  • Google+

Skagit River Brewery and Pub

On 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
Info: http://www.skagitbrew.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 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+

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 Brewery, Best Brewpuller:
  • Google+

Tess Golling at Kulshan Brewing Company

Kulshan offers the full spectrum of finely crafted brews, from frosty pilsner pales to a roasted barley red and rich, chocolatey stouts. Mature beers served by people who know beers to people who love beers. The food, the frills, they leave in the trucks.
Where: 2238 James St.
Info: http://www.kulshanbrewery.com

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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 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 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 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 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 Artist:
  • Google+

Michael Wood

When it comes to taking pictures, finding the right subject matter is everything. It's one reason Mount Vernon-based photographer Michael Wood appreciates the natural beauty of the county he's called home for the past four years. "There are so many reasons to love living in, and being a photographer in, the Northwest, and Skagit County in particular," Wood says. "I can go from the beach to the Cascades in less than an hour. Combine that with the history and architecture of the local towns and cities, and the great people that live in them, and there's never a shortage of subjects for my photos."
Info: http://www.bigriverphotography.net

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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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:
  • Google+

Cafe Akroteri


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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 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 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 Farm:
  • Google+

Taylor Shellfish

Heck, 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
Info: http://www.taylorshellfish.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 Park:
  • Google+

Boulevard Park

I'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.
Info: http://www.cob.org

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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 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 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 Greek:
  • Google+

Cafe Akroteri

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

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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 Beach:
  • Google+

Rosario Beach

In my ongoing quest to achieve unmitigated beachside comfort among the salted shores of Fidalgo Island's outermost fringes, I have developed a rather striking tendency to utilize any and all naturally occurring intertidal materials like my own personal bedroom furniture. The pebble beach at Rosario, for instance, has become one of my go-to-favorite mattresses. The sea breezes down there are downright medicinal and the forest-fringed maritime scenery stands unmatched. But my favorite part is—even after yet another epic, four- hour, sun-drenched snooze—I never have to make the bed.
Where: Fidalgo Island
Info: http://www.deceptionpassfoundation.org

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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 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 Place to Get a Massage:
  • Google+

PRIME Massage and Sports Medicine

This is not your average massage studio. And after being open for only a year and a half, Kerry Gustafson is making quite the name for herself. PRIME Massage offers the athlete and active person assistance by reducing tension, increasing range of motion, improving performance and helping achieve peak performance—in addition to offering athletic training. With an impressive list of certifications and achievements in the athletic field, Kerry is your go-to gal for all your athletic wellness needs.
Where: 1433 N. State St.
Info: http://www.primebellingham.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 Gym:
  • Google+

YMCA

If I were confined to limiting my daily activities to a single public road in Bellingham, I’d choose State Street in a heartbeat. On this thoroughfare, I already frequent a variety of eateries, spend my allotted hours at work, bank, bowl, listen to live music and—when I’m feeling motivated to better my life—get quality workouts at the YMCA (I’m fond of the rowing machines). In addition to the quality workout facilities and the variety of classes offered for everyone from toddlers to seniors, the organization is also committed to social responsibility. To that end, I’d like to point out that donations for the Community Food Drive can be dropped off at the “Y” through Oct. 18.
Where: 1256 N. State St.
Info: http://www.whatcomymca.org

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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 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 Movie Theater:
  • Google+

Pickford Film Center

From 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.
Info: http://www.pickfordfilmcenter.org

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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 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 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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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 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 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 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 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 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 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 Tulip Farm:
  • Google+

Roozengaarde

Even 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
Info: http://www.tulips.com

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Best Food Truck:
  • Google+

Diego\‘s

Rainy afternoon in Sunnyland and I'm at Kulshan, feeling peckish. Yonder is the Diego's truck and I order an asada burrito. It arrives, the size of my head, spicy and flavorful, a perfect match for my brew. Next time I spot that truck, I'm hitting the brakes.
Where: 300 N. Samish Way
Info: 714-9426

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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 Mexican:
  • Google+

Taco Lobo

Democracy 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.
Info: http://www.tacolobowa.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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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 Beach:
  • Google+

Locust Beach

LocustBeach-o.jpg
Tucked steeply beneath the mud bluffs of north Bellingham—just a quick paddle, stroll or kite boarding session away from the mighty maw of Nooksack River—this broad, silty ribbon of water-sport-friendly shoreline features all the coveted intertidal perks of a bona fide beach-bum-friendly destination. Fact is, under ideal circumstances, I never would have chosen to divulge this particular seaside hideaway on my own. But since you, dear readers, finally decided to knock Clayton Beach off this pedestal, there was no avoiding it.

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Best Deli, Best Grocery Store, Best Vegetarian:
  • Google+

Skagit Valley Food Co-op

A foodie friend of mine recently asked me: "If you could only chose one restaurant to eat at for the rest of your life around these parts, which one would it be?" "Skagit Valley Food Co-op!" I replied, envisioning my future full of delicious made-to-order deli sandwiches, bountiful trays of black bean and zucchini lasagna, multifold plates full of organic salad bar fixings, infinite cups of flavor-packed, non-GMO corn chowder, rapturous chai lattes and a mouthwatering array of blueberry scones, chocolate chip cookies and peanut butter brownies. "Hmmm," remarked the fastidious foodie, mulling over an apparent paradox in my response. "Although I'd be inclined to postulate that a co-op isn't necessarily a restaurant, in this case, I'm inclined to agree with you. Just because their indoor dining area happens to be tucked in the same building with bountiful fresh produce, a plentitude of bulk bins an olive bar, and some of the most intriguing beer and wine selections in our neck of the woods hardly stops that place from providing one scrumptiously deep and infinitely satisfying dining experience after the next."
Where: 202 S. First St., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.skagitfoodcoop.com

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Best Running Store:
  • Google+

Fairhaven Runners & Walkers

The 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.
Info: http://www.fairhavenrunners.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 Toy Store:
  • Google+

Little Tiger Toys

These fine folks have just hit their five-year mark, and now they’ve got a little something else to celebrate. Not only do they carry everything your little one’s heart could desire (and the big ones, too), they also feature local artists in the store, and give back to our local schools. Just ask Calvin and Hobbes; life is better with a Little Tiger.
Where: 112 Grand Ave.
Info: http://www.littletigertoys.com

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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 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 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 Greek:
  • Google+

Café Akroteri

The Weekly once hosted a Christmas party at Café Akroteri’s bar that got so rowdy our dancing plastic Santa lost an important limb. But thanks to the spread the longtime Greek restaurant provided—a mix of dolmathes, spinach filo, gyros, feta and tomato salad, souvlaki, and other Mediterranean delicacies—nobody was sipping ouzo on an empty stomach, and we all went home sated—and more than a little silly.
Where: 1219 Cornwall Ave.
Info: 676-5554

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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 Bartender & Waitperson:
  • Google+

Dennis Schafer, Lorraine Fast, Oyster Bar at Bayou on Bay

DennisAndLorraine-o.jpg
Whether you’re drinking expertly mixed cocktails or stopping in for some freshly shucked oysters and a bite to eat, your votes in these two hotly contested categories prove that the Bayou Oyster Bar is doing just about everything right. With Dennis Schafer and his vast repertoire of carefully crafted libations behind the bar and Lorraine Fast handling the table service with effortless skill, you’re in good hands at the Oyster Bar.
Where: 1300 Bay St.
Info: http://www.bayouonbay.com/#oyster

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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 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 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 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 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 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 Neighborhood:
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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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