Best of Skagit 2017
Ristretto Coffee Lounge and Wine Bar
If you can’t come up with the scratch for a trip to Europe, spending time at Mount Vernon’s Ristretto Coffee Lounge and Wine Bar might be the next best thing. Whether you’re sipping on a smokey espresso (beans provided by Seattle’s Victrola Coffee Roasters) or a glass of wine (red, white or sparkling), the relaxed, welcoming atmosphere is one where you’re encouraged to settle in and plan your next adventure.
Where: 416 First St., Mount Vernon
By the end of March, the Lincoln Theatre’s Sound + Hearing Campaign had reached nearly 25 percent of its $150,000 goal needed to bring a state-of-the-art sound and listening system to the restored 1926 historic vaudeville and silent movie house in the heart of downtown Mount Vernon. If you’ve ever enjoyed the programming at the Lincoln—whether it was via listening to renowned musicians, a National Theatre Live viewing, a production by a local theater company pr a panel discussion on the Skagit foodshed—now is the time to donate.
Where: 712 S. First St., Mount Vernon
The Rhody Cafe
It should come as no surprise that the same folks who took home this year’s Best Bakery honors would clean up in this category as well. Right next door to the Farm to Market Bakery is a Chuckanut Drive mainstay, the Rhody Cafe, which has had a longstanding commitment to hyperlocal ingredients, seasonal menu planning, and small-town charm. The desserts rotate along with the menu, and when you want to end your meal with the best sweet treats of the season, this is where you go.
Where: 5521 Chuckanut Drive, Bow
This is not Whiskey Fever’s first win in this category, and if frontman Jack Mattingly has his way, it won’t be their last. Mattingly decided while still in grade school that he wanted to be a musician, and he’s been making that childhood dream come true ever since. He played solo for a minute, and then found a crew of likeminded music-makers that became Whiskey Fever. The rest is history in the making.
It’s not on Ciao Bella’s regular menu, but if diners ever see gnocchi make an appearance in a daily special, they should order it—no questions asked. Owners Michele and Francesca hail from southern Italy, and in addition to serving pasta, sauces and bread made from scratch, the duo also brings authenticity to the table—whether it’s in the flavors of the Pollo Valtelina or having dinner served with a smile by the Anacortes restaurant’s owners.
Where: 1560 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Smith & Vallee Gallery
It’s no surprise Best Artist winner Pieter VanZanden’s mind-bending sculptures have spent time in the gallery at the end of Edison’s Gilkey Avenue. Since woodworkers Andrew Vallee and Wesley Smith turned a century-old schoolhouse into a creative hub that houses both established and emerging talents from around the region, the artists who exhibit at Smith & Vallee Gallery are consistently worth meandering down Chuckanut Drive to see. “The thing I love most is getting to see people connecting and falling in love with art,” gallery manager Lucy Martin says. “It’s truly the best.”
Where: 5742 Gilkey Ave., Edison
Calm Water Massage:
Calm Water Massage
Mount Vernon-based massage therapist Traci Fralic has been known to make house calls, but that’s far from the only reason Calm Water Massage has won this award seven years in a row. “Complete body relaxation” is touted at the Pine Square locale, and if being free of assorted aches and pains isn’t enough of a reason to book an appointment, consider the wonder that is the “Raindrop Technique.”
Where: 312 Pine St., Mount Vernon
Birdstock at Birdsview Brewery
Skagit celebrates beer at every corner and its festivals are no different. Birdstock at Birdsview Brewery is the place to be, but not just to party. Birdstock began 11 summers ago because the owners of Birdsview wanted to give back to the local fire department. It has now become the fire department’s biggest fundraiser.
Where: 38302 Washington 20, Concrete
Ideally, the only reason for operating a chainsaw anywhere in or around the 1,600-acre crown of Blanchard Mountain would be to help keep the trail corridors open. Then—instead of repeatedly chewing up the forest to generate money for schools—this only-of-its-kind parcel could be re-designated to function as Washington State’s first experiential institution, a “living classroom” where students would be encouraged to encounter the regenerative forces of the natural world.
Best Bike Store:
Lucky for all of us fair-weather bikers, we’re entering prime biking season. It’s time to pull those two-wheelers out of their sheds and send them in for a little TLC at Skagit Cycle. Or maybe you just need a new one. They have more than 1,000 bikes in stock and have three locations, so start looking.
Where: Anacortes, Burlington, Oak Harbor
Serving Anacortes cured meats, aromatic cheeses and savory soups for 35 years, Gere-a-Deli serves a magnificent sandwich, piled high with lots of options. I gravitate toward the classic styles—the meatloaf sandy, the chicken salad, the Italian sub—but there’s modern and vegetarian gourmet selections, too. On this chilly rainy day I ordered the housemade tomato soup and a toasted mozzarella cheese sandwich. It was like stepping back into the best days childhood.
Where: 502 Commercial Ave. Anacortes
Ded Reckoning at Compass Wines
It’s possible the red stuff coursing through Doug Charles’ veins is wine. Since first becoming involved in the industry in 1978, Charles has been a cheerleader for Washington state wines—first at regional restaurants, and now at Compass Wines, the Anacortes-based wine shop he co-founded with Will Parks in 2001. Ded Reckoning Wines kicked in in 2004, featuring high-quality wines still in the barrel, making a stop at Compass Wines a must for grape-lovers everywhere.
Where: 1405 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Skagit Burger Express
O.K., this place takes a little finding, east along Highway 20 heading into Sedro-Woolley. A modest old red caboose serving up the biggest, thickest, juiciest gourmet burgers you’ll ever bite into. On the advice of my friend, I ordered the Atomic Mushroom burger—a startling, electrifying blast of flavor, ground zero for ground beef.
Where: 1172 State Rt 20, Sedro-Woolley
Info: (360) 707-8778
Best Tulip Farm:
If you were to wend your way to RoozenGaarde, you would find field after field ablaze with the tulips for which the area is so famous. It is a carefully cultivated, wholly natural wonder of the world, and it draws thousands every year who make the pilgrimage to the Skagit Valley to take in the riot of color that has made the region famous. But the tulip fields, while certainly a sight unto themselves, are merely the gateway to a county that boasts a rich history of agriculture and art, and is inhabited by folks who proudly hew to a fiercely local lifestyle. With its distinct and disparate cities and towns, natural beauty from field to sea and the miles of scenic routes and backroads that link it all, there is much treasure to found in Skagit, if only you know where to look. What follows is that which you’ve deemed the region’s best, the places that have earned your votes and your love, the ones that exist right in your own bountiful backyard.
Best of Skagit compiled by Carey Ross, Amy Kepferle, Tim Johnson, Scott Pelton, and Trail Rat. Photos by Jessamyn Tuttle
Where: 15867 Beaver Marsh Road, Mount Vernon
Best Bed & Breakfast:
The Nantucket Inn
Coastal confusion can be found in the Nantucket Inn’s moniker, but when visitors wake up in the 1920s-era colonial mansion and behold views of Fidalgo Bay and Mt. Baker, they’ll know without a doubt they’re in Anacortes, not New England. And, once they’re sitting at the breakfast table, proprietors Jessica and Mike Ferguson will share with their guests how to further enjoy a visit to the valley they’ve called home for more than 20 years.
Where: 3402 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
In Edison-based artist Pieter VanZanden’s hands, plastic bottles become barnacles and mollusks, wood is magicked into beaks and tentacles, and plastic army men woven together turn into a life-sized sculpture of a soldier. A construction worker with a creative bent, VanZanden’s works can be viewed April 30 at the Edison Studio Tour and during the month of May at Smith & Vallee Gallery’s 10th anniversary exhibit. “Edison is where dreams come true,” the emerging artist says of his hometown. Indeed.
Susan Lehman Salon
Susan Lehman is proof you don’t need a fancy salon with a billion chairs and a crew of shampoo girls to earn a devoted following. Lehman operates her salon right out of her Bow Hill home. Make no mistake: Lehman is not going to seat you in a folding chair in the middle of her kitchen to redo your hairdo. She’s built herself a proper full-service salon, complete with natural and organic products and spa services. It’s like having a spa day with one of your girlfriends, only better.
Where: 5799 Jennifer Lane, Bow Hill
Info: (360) 708-9223
Best Pot Store:
If the tulips have taken on hues reminiscent of melting rainbows, it might be because of the pit stop you made for edibles at Mount Vernon’s Loving Farms. But that’s not the only thing recreational marijuana users will find at the popular pot shop conveniently located near the freeway in Mount Vernon; everything from oils to dabs to buds, wax and more can be located inside its welcoming doors—provided you’re over 21.
Where: 2615 Old Hwy 99 S. Rd., Mount Vernon
Best Place to Dance/Best Place to Meet Men & Women/Best Bartender:
The Old Edison Inn/Audra Robson
At least one Weekly staffer had a first date at the Old Edison Inn that turned into a long-term relationship, and so can vouch for the seductive powers of its oysters and burgers, its shuffleboard tables, its dance floor and its welcoming small-town vibe. That same staffer knows that after making the drive to Bow, there’s nothing better than walking in the door to the Edison and seeing bartender Audra Robson grinning from behind the bar, ready with an enthusiastic greeting and refreshing cocktail.
Where: 5829 Cains Court, Bow
The daily menu is etched on a blackboard, and it changes often. The talented cooks are always experimenting, and so should you. I order the buttermilk biscuits and gravy. My partner chooses the brisket hash, smoked in-house. The walls are crowded with years of photos of celebrities both local and distant who smile down on us.
Where: 906 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: (360) 899-5269
Best Place to Get a Tattoo:
Good Vibes Body Art
By design, the women calling the shots at Good Vibes Body Art will get under your skin. At the Mount Vernon mainstay—which has been tattooing and piercing Skagit residents since opening in 1999—clear communication is key, ensuring the vision of the mysterious multi-hued mermaid you envision in your head is the same work of art that will make it onto your body.
Where: 503 S. First St., Mount Vernon
Best Day Trip:
Beer is a big deal in Cascadia. This is reinforced when the Best Day Trip category is won by a brewery. I’ve often stopped by Birdsview on my way past and snagged a growler before heading to epic adventures in the Cascades. Make sure to roll through on your next Skagit adventure.
Where: 38302 Washington 20, Concrete
Best Happy Hour:
Chuckanut Manor Seafood & Grill
If your idea of happy hour is discount pitchers and fried bar food, hie thyself to Chuckanut Manor, stat. There, you’ll be treated to oysters (Blau, of course, freshly shucked, breaded, broiled or Rockefeller), tacos (pulled pork, smoked chicken or halibut), tapas (crispy polenta, truffled green beans, etc.), drink specials and more, all in quite possibly the most scenic locale on Chuckanut Drive.
Where: 3056 Chuckanut Dr., Bow
Skagit Farmers Supply’s Country Stores
A mission to “support agriculture” may sound simple, but if you take into account that Skagit Farmers Supply has been following that credo since 1934, it takes on a whole new meaning. Whether your acreage is of the sprawling ranch variety or you’re looking to spruce up your yard, the cooperative’s Country Stores located throughout the Skagit Valley will help get the jobs done.
Where: Sedro-Woolley, Burlington, Mount Vernon
Best Grocery/Best Vegetarian:
Skagit Valley Food Co-op
In my lifelong dedication to their tuna salad sandwich I’ve convinced myself that if the world could learn to become more like the deli/bakery department at Skagit Valley Co-op, it would be a better place. Throw in the organic garden center, fresh vegetable section and the bulk area and you essentially have paradise on Earth. Whether I’m wolfing a non-GMO double-scoop cone or slurping a sustainable fresh-roasted cuppa, my love for this farm-to-table Mecca continues to grow. And now—thanks to its recent C-Square expansion—there is even more of it to love.
Where: 202 S. First St., Mount Vernon
Railroad Pub & Pizza
Burlington is making a habit of this—refitting a classic old brick and mortar building and filling it with fresh food and friendly spirits. The Railroad Pub offers wood-fired pizzas—comfortable old favorites like pepperoni line up alongside startling exotics like Brussels & Bacon—paired with an ample selection of draft beers from local breweries. And, wine, if you’re so inclined.
Where: 122 S Spruce St., Burlington
Best Asian/Best Take-Out:
Rachawadee Thai Cafe
So good, and so tiny! I’m of the opinion that Rachawadee Thai is the best you’ll find in five counties and beyond. And I am not alone. The classic kitchen lunch counter seats fewer than a dozen, so it’s not surprising we all favor their takeout. Check out the daily specials, and try an early or late lunch to beat the crowd and enjoy the many tastes of Thailand.
Where: 410 W Gates St., Mount Vernon
Best Clothing Store:
Stowe’s Shoes & Clothing
I don’t want to be the belle of the ball. I want to be able to find footwear that will keep me dry whether I’m gardening or hiking and clothing that doesn’t require dry cleaning. Since 1940, Stowe’s Shoes & Clothing in downtown Burlington has made sure those living and working in the Pacific Northwest find both comfort and confidence in what they’re wearing—and that’s my kind of style.
Where: 420 E. Fairhaven Ave.
Skagit Valley Casino Resort
There’s more than one way to get lucky, and the Skagit Valley Casino Resort has all of them covered. Roll the dice at their plentiful gaming tables. Take in a show of high-caliber entertainment (Vanessa Williams and John Michael Montgomery are both coming soon). Eat a delicious meal in one of their restaurants. Book a room and stay the night to do it up just right. Everything at the Skagit may be a gamble, but a good time is guaranteed.
Where: 5984 Darrk Lane, Bow
COA Mexican Eatery
An early morning spent tramping Padilla Bay’s trails and negotiating a backlog of tulip field traffic had us famished. After locating the Mount Vernon faction of COA, our day trip turned into a culinary adventure. The flavors of Mexico came alive in the complexly simple pork tacos and taco salad we ordered, but we could also taste the ingredients grown closer to home. And, just our luck, it was $5 Friday—meaning the discounted margaritas went down all the smoother.
Where: 102 S. 10th St., Mount Vernon; 214 Maple Ave., La Conner
Farm to Market Bakery
Although tiny, the Bow-Edison area boasts a couple of excellent places to procure baked goods. The Breadfarm, which almost scored enough votes to notch a win in this competitive category, and the Farm to Market Bakery, which barely edged it out. The Farm to Market Bakery might be named for the road near which it sits, but it also speaks to the ethos of this welcoming spot. Everything is homemade and most of it from local ingredients. While all of their offerings are delicious, the Pecan Sticky Buns will make a true believer out of you.
Where: 5507 Chuckanut Drive, Bow
Bastion Brewing Company
There are now 10 breweries across Skagit County, and another is on its way. But you have voted Bastion Brewing as the best of the bunch. With its casual restaurant and kid-friendly setting this brewery is the place to be for all occasions. They offer an IPA, Porter, Session Ale and many other styles that will make both locals and visitors happy.
Where: 12529 Christianson Rd., Anacortes
Best News Story:
Skagit knows the importance of farming to the economy, and the importance of migrant labor to farming. Too harsh a national policy on labor, too much fear and uncertainty in a vital, irreplaceable work force and suddenly crops are threatened in the fields. Climate change, too, is a concern for the future of farms. People have taken to the streets in labor marches, they’ve assembled in protest of fossil fuel expansions, they’ve let their voices be heard in support of human dignity and personal liberty. Because Skagit is a place worth fighting for.
Best Place to See Live Music:
It’s impossible to overstate how special of a place the Conway Muse is. Off the beaten path, in the tiniest of towns, the Muse is the definition of a destination worth seeking out. Live music happens every Friday and Saturday, with multiple artists and bands performing in two different rooms, and often spills into the rest of the week as well. Owner Elfa Gisla is the Muse’s guiding light, and its her distinctive touch that makes this unique venue feel like home.
Where: 18444 Spruce St., Conway
Although there’s hardly a shortage of panoramic vantage points to catch a soul-stirring sunset on Fidalgo Island, none of them succeeds to help capture the rapture quite as stunningly as the cliffy swath of forested, flower-meadow-endowed shoreline that fronts this mountain rimmed island-jeweled Anacortes city park.
Where: 6300 Sunset Dr., Anacortes
Best Bar/Best Cocktail:
Train Wreck Bar & Grill
The secret is out on this place as the crossroads of Skagit, and it is busy at all hours. Which is exactly what you want from a pub—lively and full of action, with a menu loaded with gourmet grub served with some joy and style. Mondays, they feature tart margaritas with housemade tacos and tamales. Wednesdays, they feature a uniquely Northwest-y hand-rolled sushi.
Where: 427 E. Fairhaven Ave., Burlington
Best Yoga Studio:
Looking to center yourself? Maybe work off a little of that winter rust? Many people seek out yoga to do both, but Skagit favors Quantum Yoga in Burlington. Not only do they have yoga, they have a juice bar. They also have classes and discounts for first-time yoga students, so if you’re looking to create a little balance in your life, drop them a line.
Where: 121 S Spruce St., Burlington
Best Auto Repair:
Honest T Auto Repair
Travis puts the T in Honest T, although I’m also convinced it stands for the personal Touch, with more than 20 years of experience under the hood, servicing motors and the gizmos that connect to them. I don’t understand it myself, when cars go shuddering and knocking. That’s why I head straight to a straight-talking mechanic. I was pleased to hear his business is expanding, with a new location. Honest T is the best policy, and it is always a pleasure when the good guys win.
Where: 809 4th St. Sedro-Woolley
Info: (360) 395-8075
Max Dale’s Steak & Chop House
Steak. It’s not exactly politically correct, is it? And yet, delicious! Max Dale’s understands this dichotomy perfectly, serving tender chops and cuts and seafood in a sinfully comfortable setting that brings memories of Sinatra and stirred martinis. It’s like stepping back in time to a thoroughly modern dining experience. Make sure you eat your vegetables, and order dessert.
Where: 2030 Riverside Dr., Mount Vernon
Best Hardware Store:
Ace Hardware Anacortes
Will it ever stop raining? My gutters filled to flooding and their sheer weight loosened them from the house. They needed fastening and caulking. Ace provided all I needed for the repairs. Now spring seems ready to burst like a pent-up critter, the buds are like ripe melons and the lawn is a jungle. So I’m heading back to Ace to meet spring with a passion. And this time I’m also buying the stuff I’ll need for grilling.
Where: 1720 Q Ave., Anacortes
Best Music Store:
Hugo Helmer Music
As can be expected, Anacortes’ the Business made a strong showing in this category. But even a store steeped in history in a town with a deep music tradition can compete with a business that’s been around just this side of forever. A one-stop shop for music equipment and accessories of all kinds, an in-store repair department as well as lessons, instrument rental and more make this the place to go when you need to make a joyful noise.
Where: 1025 S. Goldenrod Road, Burlington
Gordon Skagit Farms
The abundance and mystery of fall harvest season takes center stage during the Gordon Brothers’ annual autumn market. Every October on this third-generation, 250-acre spread you can score a bushel of Jonagolds from a U-pick orchard, navigate a corn maze, explore a haunted barn and immerse yourself in a gourd-friendly atmosphere that lends itself to pumpkin picking and a deeper appreciation for the down-to-earth atmosphere that permeates the flats.
Where: 15598 Mclean Rd., Mount Vernon