Best of Skagit 2014
Best of Skagit
From towering snow-capped peaks, Skagit’s raging rivers tumble to the broad flats and onward to mucky black beaches thick with shellfish and waterfowl. Dotting everywhere are big bountiful farms and tiny towns, each with their peculiar flavors. Edison, Concrete, Conway, Fish Town and others offer charming main streets—it's like stepping back in time. Even bustling places such as Anacortes and Sedro-Woolley offer their quiet, contemplative spaces.
So big is Skagit, we’ve split our focus across two issues—this week, the seeds of those special places. Next week, the bountiful harvest of food and spirits.
Best Place for a Massage:
Calm Water MassageCalm Water Massage gets our super-prestigious secret gold medal award, because technically, this would be their fifth year winning (we skipped a year). And knowing how much you folks love this place, it only makes sense. Seriously Skagit, you've made it clear there's only one place in the valley that gets your vote. Calm Water, better living.
Where: 308 Pine St., Mount Vernon
Washington ParkOgle the Olympics. Rubberneck Rosario. Behold behemoth barges and bevies of buoyant birds. Hike the hilly headland habitat. Observe ophiolite outcroppings. Scrutinize sandy seashore stretches. Brave the bodacious boat launch bustle. Populate picturesque picnic tables. Gormandize grilled goodies on the grass. Negotiate a noon-hour nap. Salute sanguine sunsets. But whatever you do out there, make sure to luxuriate long and linger lavishly because of all the publicly owned pearls in Anacortes, this 220-acre parcel of parkland beams brightest beyond.
Where: 6300 Sunset Ave., Anacortes
Best Jewelry Store:
Warren JewelersWhen it comes to jewels and gems, precious metals for that particular person, or lovely adornments to award yourself, time and time again Warren Jewelers is your go-to. And we get it, Skagit. They've been around since 1973, and are the official jeweler of the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, which is a pretty huge deal.
Where: 1126 Burlington Blvd., Burlington
Christianson's NurseryLike the plants they carefully tend to ensure continued longevity, the growers-that-be at Christianson's Nursery have made putting down roots a part of their business plan—whether it's via the dizzying array of annuals and perennials on display and up for sale, or by ensuring their verdant Mount Vernon acreage also works as a way to help preserve the storied history of the Skagit Valley. The former is helped along by a bevy of green thumbs (including owners John and Toni Christianson) and the latter can be seen in a variety of historic structures that have been relocated onto the property and restored to, once again, be of use.
Where: 15806 Best Rd.
Best Bike Store:
Skagit CycleFor 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
Il GranaioIt's been more than 20 years since I visited Italy, but the generous nature of the European country's citizens (not to mention the memory of their simple yet delicious pastas, salads and the best sandwich I've eaten in my entire life) have stuck with me ever since. The fare Italian native Alberto Candivi brings to his 13-year-old Mount Vernon-based restaurant, Il Granaio, reminds me of time time I spent traveling his homeland. The fresh ingredients are sourced locally, the pasta is made onsite and the menu—featuring a mouthwatering variety of traditional Italian dishes—is authentically inspired. You could travel to Italy to taste-test for yourself, but isn't it easier just to call Il Granaio and reserve a table?
Where: 100 E. Montgomery, Ste 110, Mount Vernon
Nell Thorn Restaurant & PubDinner at La Conner's Nell Thorn restaurant—now in a new home on the Swinomish Channel—is truly a special event, whether you're partaking of their locally sourced and thoughtfully produced dinner entrees in the restaurant, or enjoying more casual dishes at the bar. It should come as no surprise, then, that dessert at Nell Thorn would be as inventive as the rest of the menu. While the options change depending on what's fresh and in season, recent dessert items have included everything from panna cotta with berries to Skagit Mud, which is the brownie sundae to end all brownie sundaes.
Where: 116 1st St., La Conner
Best Watering Hole:
The Brown Lantern Ale HouseI have no problem whatsoever making the statement that, if I lived closer to Anacortes, I would make the Brown Lantern my home away from home. It seems those of you who are fortunate enough to be in close proximity to this longtime watering hole would agree with that sentiment. A menu of better-than-average pub grub (the burgers, oh the burgers) and a carefully chosen array of rotating taps to match—not to mention live music—make the Brown Lantern an enticing and award-winning place to hang out.
Where: 412 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Best Hardware Store:
Ace HardwareGet ready for spring at this locally owned full-service supplier of tools and paints, gardening and nursery supplies. After the work is done, they also sell camping and fishing gear and a wide assortment of patio furniture.
Where: 1720 Q Avenue, Anacortes
Info: (360) 293-3535
Taylor ShellfishHeck, we didn't specify what kind of farm! Just south of the Oyster Creek hairpin on scenic Chuckanut Drive, you'll descend to Taylor's nets open along Samish Bay. Oysters, clams, mussels and crab, you name it, the Taylor family has been tending shellfish here for more than a century. Fresh and plentiful shellfish are tended by a knowledgable and helpful staff.
Where: 2182 Chuckanut Drive, Bow
El Gitano Mexican RestaurantBest South of the Border south of the border, Gitano's boasts a big menu of Tex-Mex in generous portions. Several locations from LaConner to Mount Vernon and, yes, even Bellingham. My favorite is Burlington, tucked away on Fairhaven Avenue like an old Spanish mission. Their margarita is the best swallow this side of Capistrano.
Where: 624 East Fairhaven Avenue, Burlington
Best Shoe Store:
Stowe's Shoes & ClothingStowe's. The name just sounds sturdy and dependable, doesn't it? Founded in 1940, this Burlington outfitter tailors an authentic Pacific Northwest style. Normcore? More like Stormcore, keeping our feet warm and dry in the chill we call summer.
Where: 420 E. Fairhaven Avenue, Burlington
Girl'd CheeseI feel the same way about puns that I feel about grilled cheese sandwiches: when concocted correctly, they are a wonder to behold. It's no wonder, then, that Girl'd Cheese has attracted my attention. In addition to the clever wordplay evident in its name, Karyl Lawson's lunch window in the Freeland Keystone Building in downtown Anacortes features to-go comfort food of the best kind—grilled cheese sandwiches that range from traditional (cheddar) to what can only be described as gourmet (Jarlsberg with bacon and apple slices, anyone?). Diners can call ahead for a hot lunch, or take their sandwiches home, grill 'em, and serve them straight from the frying pan. You go, Girl'd.
Where: 619 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Mount EerieFew people exemplify Anacortes' lo-fi, proudly DIY, stubbornly idiosyncratic musical tradition quite like Phil Elverum. As Mount Eerie, his one-man musical outlet, Elverum's approach to making music proves it is possible to still be analog in this digital world and the result is a catalog of work that resonates far beyond the tiny town on Fidalgo Island he calls home. When he's not busy making music, he can be found painting (most of the artwork found on Mount Eerie albums is his own), or releasing albums by the likes of Woelv and Thanksgiving under his own imprint, P.W. Elverum & Sun, Ltd.
Best Place to Buy Chicken Feed:
Skagit Famers SupplyA cooperative supplying farmers since 1934, this country store has grown to serve a dozen communities east to Montana. From feed and seed to pets and vet supplies, this company keeps Skagit's agricultural roots growing.
Where: Stores in Burlington, Freeland, Mount Vernon, Oak Harbor, Sedro-Woolley, and Stanwood
Best Thrift Store:
Value VillageHeading to a 1950s-Evil-Villain-Gaudy Jewelry Party for the holidays? Just need a new pair of drawers? While many thrift stores abound in our neck of the woods, Value Village's vast selection can't be beat. I recently located a 1980s pink pantsuit and wide-brimmed pink sun visor for $9. While their use will remain a secret, Value Village's popularity will not.
Where: 525 East College Way, Mount Vernon
Best Casino, Best Breakfast:
Skagit Valley Casino ResortAs a person who has been lured by the seductive charms of the Skagit Valley Casino Resort, I can fully understand why so many of you deemed this casino your favorite. Sure, the many gaming tables and slot machines—along with the attendant potential to win big—are the stated draw, but with varied musical entertainment (Rick Springfield and Steve Earle are both on the upcoming entertainment roster) and well-appointed hotel rooms, the Skagit exists to show all who enter a good time. And there's no better cure for the aftereffects of too much fun than a hearty breakfast, which is why you cast your votes for Skagit Skillet at the casino, where fast and friendly service comes with every plate of pancakes.
Where: 5984 N Darrk Ln
Best Tulip Farm:
RoozengaardeEven longtime Skagitonians who cringe at the influx of tourists and traffic the Tulip Festival brings to the Skagit Valley every April admit to making time to stop by the Roozengarde display garden when the blooms are in their full glory. They're smart about perusing the petals, however, and suggest those who visit the artistically crafted garden —which itself contains a quarter-of-a-million bloomers—and surrounding 15 acres full of the festival's namesake get there early in the day to avoid the rush, wear shoes that can withstand a little mud, and bring umbrellas in case of rain. One more thing: It's hard to resist the urge to tiptoe through the tulips, but, alas, you must.
Where: 15867 Beaver Marsh Rd., Mount Vernon
Lincoln TheatreEvery city should be lucky enough to have a place like the Lincoln Theatre. They should be lucky enough to be able to watch both live-action and cinematic performances under the same welcoming roof. If they're very lucky, the building that houses said performances will be as beautiful as it is historic (the Lincoln Theatre was built as a vaudeville and silent movie house in 1926), and stewarded by a dedicated staff of arts lovers. The Lincoln Theatre is all those things, and your votes are proof you know just how lucky you are.
Where: 712 S. 1st St., Mount Vernon
Best Breakfast, Best Casino:
Skagit Valley Casino ResortAs a person who has been lured by the seductive charms of the Skagit Valley Casino Resort, I can fully understand why so many of you deemed this casino your favorite. Sure the many gaming tables and slot machines—along with the attendant potential to win big—are the stated draw, but with varied musical entertainment (Rick Springfield and Steve Earle are both on the upcoming entertainment roster) and well-appointed hotel rooms, the Skagit exists to show all who enter a good time. And there's no better cure for the aftereffects of too much fun than a hearty breakfast, which is why you cast your votes for Skagit Skillet at the casino, where fast and friendly service comes with every plate of pancakes.
Where: 5984 N Darrk Ln, Bow
Best Music Festival:
Summer MeltdownWith a 2014 artist roster that includes STRFKR, Lord Huron, Neon Indian, and festival founders True Spokes (with more bands still to be announced), this year's Summer Meltdown is shaping up to be the biggest one yet for the homegrown music festival. Despite all that, I feel fairly certain that instead of using this space to extol Meltdown's many well-known virtues, festival organizers would rather I remind you that they've organized a Stay Oso Strong benefit taking place April 5 at the Wild Buffalo and featuring current and former Meltdown artists. Given Meltdown's proximity to the landslide area, their ties to the affected community run as deep as the community-minded ethos that's always been at the core of this unique festival.
Where: Whitehorse Mountain Amphitheater, Darrington
Best Ski Store:
Hidden Wave BoardshopThe staff at Burlington's Hidden Wave Boardshop are well aware of the stony stereotype snowboarders are known for. It's one reason they recently assured customers that, if they smelled smoke coming from the back of the store, not to be alarmed. You see, in addition to selling everything from boarding to skating gear, the outdoor store with a big personality has also started printing their own shirts in the shop—hence the warning about the unfamiliar odor. Now, when you pick up your new bearings, you can also walk away with a homegrown hoodie.
Where: 896 S. Burlington Blvd.
Best Place to Dance:
The Edison InnI don't dance anywhere, and I've danced at the Edison Inn. Judging by your all your votes and the Edison's previous wins in this category, I'm not the only one who has given the more than 100-year-old dance floor a workout. With live music every weekend, this homey bar in Bow is the de facto entertainment destination for locals and visitors alike. In fact, one of the Cascadia Weekly's own editors went on a first date at the Edison Inn, and five years later, credits the bar's many charms for her continued happy coupledom.
Where: 5829 Cains Court, Bow
Five GuysIn a world where not all burgers are created equal, Five Guys is creating unequaled burgers. Always made from fresh-ground beef (one of the chain's claims to fame is that none of their locations have freezers, which means their meat is never frozen), their burgers are as juicy as they are tasty. But what sets Five Guys apart from all those other burger barns is the incredible variety of free toppings they'll augment your burger with. With more than 250,000 possible combinations to choose from, ranging from grilled mushrooms to steak sauce, you could eat a lifetime's worth of meals there without having the same burger twice.
Where: 1870 Marketplace Dr., Burlington
Max Dale's Steak & Chop HouseLike stepping back to an glorious era of thick steaks and sizzling chops served with a helping of potatoes and gravy, assisted with an icy cocktail and the sounds of laughter and honky-tonk. A guilty pleasure without the guilt. Check out their happy hour in the Martini Lounge from 3-6pm daily.
Where: 2030 Riverside Drive, Mount Vernon
Best Stop on the North Cascades Highway:
Elk FieldGet out of town! Skagit County is vast, from comb-able beaches to the snow-capped peaks of the Cascades. Skagit Land Trust's property on State Route 20 near Concrete has long been known to locals as "the elk field." The property provides food and shelter for more than 50 elk during the winter and spring seasons, and a nursery to fish and songbirds of many species.
Where: Three miles from Concrete
Smith & Vallee GalleryClass is no longer in session at Edison's Smith & Vallee Gallery, but in visits to the former schoolhouse—a high-ceilinged, wide-open space with gleaming, century-old wood floors and heaps of natural light—I usually can't help but learn a little something about art, ideas and beauty. Woodworkers Wes Smith and Andrew Vallee have created a haven for local and regional artists to show and sell their work, and their multiple wins in this category prove that, along the way, they've been educated, too. >What: View Skagit Valley painter Dedrick Ward's paintings through April 27.
Where: 5742 Gilkey Ave.
Rosario BeachIn my ongoing quest to achieve unmitigated beachside comfort among the salted shores of Fidalgo Island's outermost fringes, I have developed a rather striking tendency to utilize any and all naturally occurring intertidal materials like my own personal bedroom furniture. The pebble beach at Rosario, for instance, has become one of my go-to-favorite mattresses. The sea breezes down there are downright medicinal and the forest-fringed maritime scenery stands unmatched. But my favorite part is—even after yet another epic, four- hour, sun-drenched snooze—I never have to make the bed.
Where: Fidalgo Island
Easton's BooksWe lamented the loss of Scott's Bookstore in Mount Vernon to such an extent that we eliminated this category from last year's Best of Skagit roundup. How foolish we were when Easton's Books still exists, and has since this family-owned bookstore first opened its doors in 1976. Row upon row of gently used and well-loved books cram the nearly floor-to-ceiling bookshelves—and if in-person browsing isn't in the cards for you, their website means their abundant tomes are a mere click or two away.
Where: 701 South 1st St., Mount Vernon
Best Place to Get a Tattoo:
Tiny Tim'sTiny Tim's might have you thinking of tip-toeing through those tulips at this year's festival, but if you're looking for a tattoo shop with decades of experience, expert skills with reasonable prices, and a truly family owned experience, tip-toe right on over to Sedro-Woolley and see the fine folks at Tiny Tim's.
Where: 500 W. State St., Sedro-Woolley
Skagit River Brewery and PubOn my inaugural visit to the Skagit River Brewery, I was enjoying my first ice-cold sip of Dutch Girl Lager when a train thundered by the downtown Mount Vernon locale. Although it initially startled me—so much so that my seatmate narrowly avoided being sprayed with a mouthful of beer—I soon realized that the establishment's proximity to the train tracks was a character-adding attraction. The longtime brewery's commitment to sourcing their hops, barley and wheat in the Pacific Northwest is also worth taking note of—as is their accompanying pub fare, which ranges from wood-fired pizzas, burgers and quesadillas to fresh seafood, pork ribs and beyond.
Where: 404 S. Third St., Mount Vernon
Rachawadee Thai CafeSo many big flavors in a place so small! This tiny 1950s lunch counter—just a counter and eight seats—busily serves up the best Thai food in two counties while you watch and inhale the unbearably delicious preparation. Get there early, or order take-out.
Where: 410 W Gates St., Mount Vernon
Best Deli, Best Grocery Store, Best Vegetarian:
Skagit Valley Food Co-opA foodie friend of mine recently asked me: "If you could only chose one restaurant to eat at for the rest of your life around these parts, which one would it be?" "Skagit Valley Food Co-op!" I replied, envisioning my future full of delicious made-to-order deli sandwiches, bountiful trays of black bean and zucchini lasagna, multifold plates full of organic salad bar fixings, infinite cups of flavor-packed, non-GMO corn chowder, rapturous chai lattes and a mouthwatering array of blueberry scones, chocolate chip cookies and peanut butter brownies. "Hmmm," remarked the fastidious foodie, mulling over an apparent paradox in my response. "Although I'd be inclined to postulate that a co-op isn't necessarily a restaurant, in this case, I'm inclined to agree with you. Just because their indoor dining area happens to be tucked in the same building with bountiful fresh produce, a plentitude of bulk bins an olive bar, and some of the most intriguing beer and wine selections in our neck of the woods hardly stops that place from providing one scrumptiously deep and infinitely satisfying dining experience after the next."
Where: 202 S. First St., Mount Vernon
Quite a PickleThings haven't been pleasant at Pleasant Valley Farms, the briny bottler of pickles, peppers and sauerkraut products in Mount Vernon. The company filed a restructuring bankruptcy in 2011 only to shutter in late 2013, eliminating a full-time workforce of more than 80 employees. The company found itself in court again last September, accused of financial improprieties in the auction of company assets to continue operations in the last functioning pickling company left in the region.
Best Music Store:
The BusinessIn a world where no one is getting rich running a record store, places like the Business in Anacortes are growing ever more rare and decidedly more precious. And when you throw in the long history the space that houses the Business possesses—a history that has, in no small part, helped to shape Anacortes' singular and vital music scene—it's no wonder the shop is a repeat winner in this category. And their carefully curated selection can't be beat as well.
Where: 402 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Best Best Place for a First Date, Best Place to Meet Women, Best Coffeehouse:
North Cove Coffee HouseSkagit County, you've managed to jam coffee, finding a date and then going on a date into one highly caffeinated locale. Considering it's North Cove Coffee House, we're not surprised. Since coming on the scene in 2011, you've relied on them to keep you alert and abuzz with their specialty coffee drinks. May you find everlasting love and perfectly brewed coffee on your next trip to North Cove Coffee House.
Where: 1130 South Burlington Blvd., Burlington
Best Place to See Live Music:
The Conway MuseConway might be the smallest of small towns, but what it lacks in population, it more than makes up for in culture. Indeed, I can think of cities that are much larger that don't boast a locale quite like the Muse. Local, national and international artists have graced the Muse's two performance spaces (the Renaissance and Evolution rooms), and music of all varieties can be found there several nights a week, thanks to the unceasing efforts of owners Elfa Gisla and Tom Richardson. That those efforts are well and truly appreciated is evidenced by the Muse's continued Best of Skagit wins.
Where: 18444 Spruce St., Conway
Dad's Diner A Go-GoDad slices and grinds his own meat in this tiny diner. He makes his own savory sauces and rubs, and smokes brisket and rubs until the meat falls tender from the bone. The best mouthwatering BBQ this side of Old Muddy.
Where: 2219 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: (360) 840-2938
Tulip Valley Vineyard and OrchardAlthough Mount Vernon's Tulip Valley Vineyard is open every weekend from May to October, it's only during the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival that the venue—which is located in the heart of the petal-pushing region just east of Beaver March Road—keeps its doors open on a daily basis. Visitors can drop by the barn every day through April to taste Washington-grown wines and hard ciders, peruse works by local artists and purchase vino to take home. While you're there, you can also enjoy the always enticing scenery. Cheers!
Where: 16163 State Route 536, Mount Vernon
Skagit River Bakery & CafeIf you've got a sweet tooth, chances are good you've stopped by one of the two Skagit River Bakery & Cafe locales—either in Anacortes or Mount Vernon. Whether you're interested in muffins the size of Glenn Beck's head, cinnamon rolls, vegan cookies, scones, hot-out-of-the-oven rolls or other delicious confections, you've made it clear this Skagit-based bakery is your go-to when your sweet side just won't shut up.
Where: 315 Main St., Mount Vernon and 808 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: (360) 336-3900
Village PizzaI'm not sure why the meat-laden pie at Village Pizza is called the "Village Idiot," but I like the way it sounds just as much as the way it tastes. Visitors to the Anacortes-based pizzeria can also travel to the tropics from Fidalgo Island via the "Mandarin Island"—where Canadian bacon is joined by pineapple, green peppers and mandarin oranges—or keep it simple with the palate-approved pepperoni pizza. A friendly staff and speedy delivery service help make Village Pizza a favorite—and that's good news any way you slice it.
Where: 807 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: (360) 293-7847
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
Best Happy Hour:
Anthony'sWe all know that when you go fishing you're supposed to be drinking. Anthony's now allows you to do both, right from the comfort of their amazing restaurant in Anacortes. Order a fish type appetizer and wash it down with the a pint from a local brewery. What's better than that? Maybe knowing your hard-earned dollars will go a long way.
Where: 1207 Q Ave., Anacortes
Michael WoodWhen it comes to taking pictures, finding the right subject matter is everything. It's one reason Mount Vernon-based photographer Michael Wood appreciates the natural beauty of the county he's called home for the past four years. "There are so many reasons to love living in, and being a photographer in, the Northwest, and Skagit County in particular," Wood says. "I can go from the beach to the Cascades in less than an hour. Combine that with the history and architecture of the local towns and cities, and the great people that live in them, and there's never a shortage of subjects for my photos."
Best Place to Meet Men:
Cabela'sStep into the man cave! Skagit likes their men raw-boned and ready for the rivers and ravines. Cabela's is an awesome supplier of hunting, fishing and camping gear. Reckon they sell razors, too, but you'd hardly know it by looking at the hardened grizzlies searching the aisles.
Where: GPS Coordinates 48.084484, -122.187116, Tulalip
Info: (360) 474-4880
Ryan ChanelAnacortes' own Ryan Chanel shears away the competition this year in our always-close "Best Salon" category, and for darn good reason. This bright, funky little studio has seasoned stylists, perfect products and guarantees you'll walk out looking and feeling like a brand new person. They also do wedding hair and makeup for all you spring and summer brides.
Where: 915 7th St., Anacortes
Info: (360) 873-8155
Sakura Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi BarLook, cucumber and avocado wrapped in rice is not sushi! Sushi is tuna, salmon, albacore, eel, creatures of the sea in delightful combinations. Sakura understands this, offering a full menu of nagiri and sashimi creative combinations. Sakura specializes in hibachi tabletop barbecue, which means you are entertained by skillful chefs who prepare your meal in front of you as you dine.
Where: 1830 South, Burlington
Info: (360) 588-4281