Best of Skagit 2016

Best Bakery:

Mount Bakery

On a recent rainy weekend morning, the line of people waiting for a table at the downtown Bellingham location of the Mount Bakery stretched beyond the covered patio and onto the sidewalk. Those braving the elements appeared resolute—most likely dreaming of menu items such as the "Best Benny" (served atop savory Belgian waffles), crepes both savory and sweet, cinnamon rolls, scones, fruit galletes, cream puffs, lemon tarts and beyond. It was cold outside, but thanks to the promise of the locally and lovingly sourced menu items awaiting the folks in line, they were already warm on the inside.
Where: 308 W. Champion St., 1217 Harris Ave.
Info: http://www.mountbakery.com


Best Italian:

La Traviata Ristorante Italiano

La Conner, small-town wonder that it is, hardly lacks for places to score an excellent meal, so it makes sense the Italian food you deemed Skagit’s best would be found there. Family owned and operated, La Traviata sources its dishes straight from Florence, Colombia, Sicily, Sardinia, and Capri, and the menu, which skews heavily on the traditional side, is huge and varied. If you have a tough time deciding, know that you can’t go wrong with the lasagna, vitello picata (that’s veal piccata to you and me), lobster ravioli, gnocchi de patate, or any of the 10-inch pizzas on the menu. Trust that no matter what you order, all will be homemade, perfectly cooked and preceded by house-made rolls, soft and still warm from the oven.
Where: 201 Morris St., La Conner
Info: http://www.latraviataitaliano.com


Best Band:

Whiskey Fever

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Jack Mattingly first realized he wanted to be a musician when he was in the fourth grade. Presumably, he spent the time between then and now honing his craft and luring other likeminded music-makers to help him realize that dream. The result is Whiskey Fever, a four-piece band that describes itself as “rocky-tonk acousta-billy,” with definite indie rock leanings. In other words, their catchy songs of love and life fall right in line with the impressive regional musical tradition they’re part of, which probably has a little something to do with why so many of you voted for them in this hotly contested category.
Info: http://www.facebook.com/WhiskeyFeverBand


Best Movie Theatre:

Pickford Film Center

Pickford Cinema wins Best Theatre category
Shocking no one, the not-so-tiny-but-definitely-mighty Pickford Film Center has won this category every single year by a margin that is an excellent indicator of just how thoroughly the theater is embraced by the community at large. Currently, the Pickford is at the beginning of their annual celebration of all things documentary, Doctober, which is the largest festival of its kind on the West Coast. Powered by volunteers and beloved by Bellingham, the Pickford makes good on its “more than movies” mission 365 days a year.
Where: 1318 Bay St.
Info: http://www.pickfordfilmcenter.org


Best Massage:

PRIME Massage & Sports Medicine

If there’s anything aging has taught me, it’s that bodies don’t bounce back when they’re in their 40s as easily as they do when they’re in their 20s. Luckily, people like PRIME Massage & Sports Medicine’s Kerry Gustafson are there to help. In addition to getting out the kinks associated with the regular wear-and-tear of human musculature, Kerry also prescribes exercises and wellness hints as a way to stop the pain before it starts. She must be doing something right, as this is her fourth consecutive win in this category.
Where: 1433 N. State St.
Info: http://www.primebellingham.com


Best Home Furnishings:

The Greenhouse

A denoument to the beloved and venerable store for home gear and furnishings, Chris Foss and Foster Rose have been searching for a new owner to bring the skills and customer service required for another generation of homemakers preparing for their next adventure. Chris and Foster transformed their business from a household plant and card store into a destination shopping place in the mid-1980s, helping anchor the downtown district in a time of great ferment. In the decades since, they’ve cemented the Greenhouse’s reputation for high-quality goods and services—something any new owner would be lucky to buy into.
Where: 235 Cornwall Ave.
Info: http://www.greenhouse.com


Best Pet Store:

Bellingham Pet Supply

We are a community of pet owners and we put a lot of consideration into how we feed and care for our pets, if the number of truly great pet stores around here is any indication. Recently joining their ranks is Bellingham Pet Supply, which is owned by lifelong local Julian Friedman. A carefully chosen array of products to keep your creatures happy and healthy, free delivery and homegrown ownership by a guy who is the proud owner of three adorably weird-looking dogs are just a few of the reasons you’ve deemed this newcomer to be the best.
Where: 1701 N. State St.
Info: http://www.bellinghampetsupply.com


Best Park:

Boulevard Park

Boulevard Park
A Cascadia Weekly editor lives in a spot with a view of Bellingham’s most popular park, and witnessing the many ways in which people from all walks of life utilize the public space is her favorite binge-watch. Because of Boulevard’s example we understand how important access to our waterfront is, and we now know that when we are given that access, we use it to its fullest capacity, seven days a week, 365 days a year. City planners, take heed.
Where: 470 Bayview Dr.
Info: http://www.cob.org


Best Place to See Live Music:

Conway Muse

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
Info: http://www.conwaymuse.com


Best Mexican:

Jalapeños Family Mexican Restaurants

You’ve just got to love a place that features Bellingham’s biggest burrito—a monster tortilla packed with spicy goodness the size of a bread loaf—as well as the town’s biggest margarita, too—a frosty fishbowl of lime-sour tequila. But they also have lunch specials and happy hour menus that extend much further into the day than many restaurants, making Jalapeños an extraordinary place to hold a business lunch. They have several locations. My favorite is the central waterfront, with sunny outdoor seating that looks down our industrial-strength waterway with intense longing at the shimmering green islands in the distance.
Where: 501 W. Holly St., 1007 Harris Ave., 2945 Newmarket St.
Info: http://www.jalapenos-wa.com


Best Breakfast:

Old Town Cafe

Dawn’s breaking a little later these days, and there’s a feeling of frost in the air. Old Town’s up early, and the mugs of aromatic coffee are steaming. There’s a little gathering this morning at the community table, the first laughs of the day from people who’ve been up and at ’em before the birds started chirping. What am I having? I think it’s definitely, definitely going to be something different today, but—the Number Nine, of course. Smiling, Adrienne turns her ticket book around so I can see it. She’d already written down #9, because for me it’s always the same. You can depend on it. The table erupts in another laugh.
Where: 316 W Holly St.
Info: http://www.theoldtowncafe.com


Best Waitperson:

Caitlin Beebe, Aslan Brewing Co.

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Bellingham native. Outdoor enthusiast. Belly dancer. Currently double-majoring in both Anthropology and Wildlife Research and Conservation, Caitlin Beebe is as brilliant as she is charismatic. Caitlin has worked at Aslan from the very beginning, and if you ask any customer or coworker about her, expect exactly zero surprise that she won in this competitive category. Her bubbly, vivacious nature ensures laughter abounds and leaves all who the enter the doors to Aslan with a memorable experience. Cheers all around.
Where: 1330 N. Forest St.
Info: http://www.aslanbrewing.com


Best Trail:

Oyster Dome

Now that the 1,600-acre core of Blanchard Mountain has finally achieved long-overdue status as a protected “Natural Area,” we can run/hike/crawl up to Oyster Dome without suffering under the threat of losing one of our most mature and deeply cherished coastal forest ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest to ever-encroaching clear-cuts. It took a sizable land swap, plus a $10 million allocation from Washington State Legislature, to ensure that Washington Department of Natural Resources will henceforth manage this landscape for conservation and recreational uses instead of turning its timber into cash. But everybody comes out a winner in this decisive hard-fought victory of the Blanchard Mountain Strategy Group.
Info: http://www.wta.org


Best Gear Store:


Dick’s Sporting Goods

A jungle teeming with sports and game supplies almost conceals a small forest of rods and reels at Dick’s. If you’re like me, you’re more into forests than fields, and creeks more than courts, and gaiters more than sneakers, and rainbows more than rinks. Doesn’t matter. Dick’s services it all with many brands, and a splendor of vendors.
Where: 2000 S. Burlington Blvd
Info: http://www.dickssportinggoods.com


Best Pizza:

Village Pizza and Wheelhouse Bar

Pizza is our most fiercely divided and voted-upon category. We get it, Cascadians. You like your ‘za. And this year you deemed Village Pizza as the ruler of all. From fresh dough baked each morning and standard favorites to unique toppings such as mandarin oranges, oysters or shrimp, their menu is sure to please every palate.
Where: 807 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: http://www.villagepizza.org


Best Live Music:

Wild Buffalo

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Live music is the lifeblood of Bellingham’s ample entertainment scene, and judging by how many times the Wild Buffalo has carried this category, it is the spot you seek out when you’re looking to have a musical good time. And why not? With an upcoming schedule that includes Shovels & Rope, Built to Spill, Justin Townes Earle, Too Short, and whatever else owners Craig Jewell, Joey Crahan, and Lee Huffman can come up with, the Buff offers something for everyone. Even Macklemore thinks so.
Where: 208 W. Holly St.
Info: http://www.wildbuffalo.net


Best Place to Meet Men:

Sin and Gin Tour

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When it comes to Bellingham’s dating scene, this is a fascinating win. Every summer, the “Sin and Gin” tours in downtown Bellingham and Fairhaven are led by costumed historians from the Bureau of Historical Investigation, Bellingham’s unique gift and tour company. Sign up for one of their excursions and get to know Bellingham’s deep-seated sin—or, as they call it, “a guided walking tour exploring the history of vice in Bellingham.” You’ll be sussing out Bellingham’s brothels of old and, while you’re at it, you’ll most likely run into the man of your dreams—even if he is a ghost haunting a building.
Where: 217 W Holly St.
Info: http://www.thebureaubellingham.com


Best Auto Dealer :

Dewey Griffin Subaru

You can tell a lot about people by how they treat animals. Just ask the staff at Dewey Griffin Subaru, who in addition to providing the many Subaru devotees of Bellingham with a stellar selection of new and used vehicles for nearly 50 years, also offer a dog-friendly loaner car and have an onsite dog park with direct trail access to Whatcom Falls Park. Through October, the Iowa Street headquarters also acted as a drop-off point for donations of toys, food and other pet supplies for the Whatcom Humane Society. Additionally, they step up to the plate where helping their fellow humans is concerned, having recently donated a significant amount to the Bellingham Food Bank’s annual “Feed the Need” Community Food Drive.
Where: 1800 Iowa St.
Info: http://www.deweygriffensubaru.com


Best Yoga Studio:

Riverwalk

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Whether a dabbler, a fitness enthusiast or a daily devotee, finding a studio that feels like home is often the key to success when it comes to building a personal yoga practice. Since 2014, you’ve been taking your tense muscles and weary bones to the soothing atmosphere and skilled instructors of Riverwalk Yoga Studio. They cater to yogis at all stages and abilities with classes that range from “Easy Like Sunday Morning” to more intermediate-level offerings. All that, and they’ll teach you to belly dance too. Namaste all the way.
Where: 117 N. 1st St. #5, Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.riverwalkstudio.net


Best Bookstore:

Village Books

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What does it mean when an internationally renowned author on a limited eight-city tour across North America proclaims that the only place he wants to stop in your state is the beloved bookstore in your hometown? In the case of Markus Zusak—the author of The Book Thief, a tome that sold 16 million copies worldwide and spent more than 500 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list—it means your local bookstore’s reputation far exceeds the zip code where you reside. On Tues., Oct. 15, when Zusak shares his new masterpiece Bridge of Clay at Village Books, be sure to shower accolades on the staff who makes collaborations like this possible—not to mention helping secure umpteen Best of Bellingham wins.
Where: 1200 11th St., Bellingham,
and 403 Front St., Lynden
Info: http://www.villagebooks.com


Best Clothing Store:

Labels

Thanks to an $18 store credit a bestie gifted me with when she left town, a recent visit to Labels’ James Street locale resulted in the price of my purchase—a cute-but-casual dress from Ambrielle, a form-fitting Miracle City sweater, and two fancy throw pillow covers from the store’s housewares section—being a measly two cents. Although I felt like a criminal, it was a legit deal. My friend had consigned clothes, which had since been sold, or donated to We Care or Ragfinery. That $18 credit was hers (now mine) to spend on other low-priced, high-quality items at the bustling business. All in all, was a win-win situation.
Where: 2332 James St.; 3927 Northwest Ave.
Info: http://www.labelsconsignment.com


Best Deli, Best Lunch:

Old World Deli

We know you love Old World Deli because we see you there during our frequent visits to partake of a porchetta, East Coast sub or Cuban sandwich lunch special. You’re talking to Christos and Anna about wine, ordering platters of meat and cheeses from Zach or shopping for dinner from their expansive shelves of pastas, sauces, condiments, spice blends and cocktail supplies before meandering over to the cold cases for house-cured meats and homemade sausages. They’re hosting one of their monthly prime rib nights on Thurs., Oct. 17. We’ll see you there.
Where: 1228 N. State St.
Info: http://www.oldworldbellingham.com


Best Italian food/Pizza:

Pacioni’s Italian Restaurant

A word of warning: Do not peruse Pacioni’s menu of mouthwatering Italian favorites and Neapolitan-style pizzas unless you are actually in the restaurant and able to order their delectable fare. Because if you’re reading online from a distance, the list of ingredients for their Chef’s Choice pizza (Pacioni’s Italian sausage, pepperoni, Black Forest ham and mushrooms), South First calzone (portobello mushrooms, basil pesto, fresh chopped garlic, roasted red peppers, ricotta and mozzarella) or any of their traditional Italian fare (penne gorgonzola, traditional lasagna, spaghetti with meatballs, etc.) will make your mouth water unmercifully. Trust me, I know. And I haven’t even mentioned their heavenly desserts.
Where: 606 S. 1st St., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.pacionis.com


Best BBQ:

Kelley’s 
BBQ & Catering

Heavens and holy smokes, I about fainted when I drove up to Kelley’s little red wood pit, the barbecue smelled so sweet and savory. They do it up Ole Miss style, slow cooked and delicately crisped, moist and falling from the bone. I ordered the No. 5 Family Combo—a wonderful sampler, with a rack of spare ribs, pulled pork, half a chicken and cowboy-style baked beans. There was plenty to take home.
Where: 805 W. Division St., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.kelleysbbq.com


Best Music Festival:

Riverwalk Summer Concert Series

One thing we do exceedingly well in this corner of the Pacific Northwest is marry our love of music to our love of our lovely outdoor spaces. Nowhere is that more evident than at Mount Vernon’s Riverwalk Plaza every Thursday night from the beginning of July until September. That’s where the Riverwalk Summer Concert Series takes place, which is free, family-friendly and open to all. This year’s series features the likes of the Chris Eger Band, Rabbit Wilde, the Geoffrey Castle Trio, Polecat, Rivertalk, and more. The events are designed not only to entertain, but also to draw people to Mount Vernon’s Riverwalk, a beautifully scenic spot that was almost a decade in the making.
Where: Riverwalk Plaza, Mount Vernon
Info: 
www.mountvernonchamber.com/riverwalk-summer-concert-series


Best Pizza:

La Fiamma Wood Fire Pizza

According to the number crunchers at La Fiamma, each of their large wood-fired pizzas features 132 square inches of toppings. That’s likely one of the reasons the food hub at the intersection of Chestnut Street and Railroad Avenue has long been a destination for those who know a great pizza when they taste one. Quality ingredients and choices for meat-lovers, vegetarians, vegans, omnivores, gluten-intolerants, pescatarians and those who prefer “just cheese, please” are also reasons you return. My favorite is the shrimp-and-pesto enhanced Finn, but I’m also fond of classics such as the meaty Brooklyn Bridge. If you don’t want to commit to a full meal deal, drop by the window of the Pye Hole—located on the Chestnut Street side of the eatery—for a slice or two from lunchtime until late-night.
Where: 200 E. Chestnut St.
Info: http://www.lafiamma.com


Best Bartender/Best Place for a Date/To Meet Men and Women/To See Live Music:

Kelly Hayton @ Conway Muse

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Probably, when most of us dream of our ideal, most idyllic, life-in-a-small-town scenario, it includes a place like the Conway Muse. Much more than a music venue/restaurant/bar, it is a community hub worth making the trip for—and by the number of votes they got and the amount of categories the Muse swept, it’s a journey you’re only too happy to make. Not just a place to see music of many genres, it’s also a likely locale for those looking for love, and if it’s a bright smile behind the bar and an expertly mixed cocktail you’re after, Kelly Hayton is the bartender for you.
Where: 18444 Spruce St., Conway
Info: http://www.conwaymuse.com


Best Artist:

Lloyd Houston

If you find yourself talking about the images and assemblages Lloyd Houston has on rotating display at the Conway Muse, be aware the artist might be sitting nearby, watching to see how you react to the work. “I like to sit in the space near where the art is, and listen and watch,” Houston says. “Everything rewards attention; some people do really observe, and some just blow by.” Houston, a born-and-bred Skagitonian who spent time in the Air Force and lived in Olympia for decades before moving back to the valley, now shares studio space with his younger sister on tribal land near La Conner, developing photographs and making one-of-a-kind jigsaw puzzles. When asked to describe how winning the Best Artist title makes him feel, Houston is succinct: “I dig it,” he says.
Info: http://www.siblingstudio.com


Best Indian:

Taste of India

The Hindu gods have many hands and many mouths, as though in mirrors facing one another, reflecting infinity. I often think of this while poring over the menu in the brightly lit, many-mirrored dining area of Taste of India, longing for so many more hands, more mouths to enjoy all of their savory vindaloo and biryani and tandoori dishes served with buttery naan—the flavors of eternal summer. Their vegetarian menu alone is the most generous in the city. On Fridays, they have dancers—their hands, their mouths awash with light.
Where: 3930 Meridian St.
Info: 647-1589


Best Celebrity:

Ryan Stiles and Misha Collins

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This year’s battle between Bellingham-based celebrities—also known as “Bellebrities”—came down to two famous fellas who have achieved worldwide acclaim for their admirable action on the small screen (Ryan Stiles for Whose Line is It Anyway? and Misha Collins for Supernatural), but haven’t let it go to their heads. Instead, the actors have made Bellingham and Whatcom County their home base, and make it a point to do good things for the community they call home (Stiles by providing a home for improvisational comedy at the Upfront Theatre, and Collins through his nonprofit, Random Acts of Kindness). Sure, they could live anywhere, but instead they’ve chosen to make this lovely city by the bay an important part of their lives.
Info: http://www.theupfront.com or www.randomacts.org


Best Gallery:

Smith & Vallee Gallery

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Woodworkers Wesley Smith and Andrew Vallee stopped commuting to Edison a long time ago. Instead, they planted roots in the small Skagit town, where they grew their eco-friendly furniture-making business, Smith & Vallee Woodworks, and eventually restored a century-old schoolhouse and opened a gallery featuring both accomplished and emerging local and regional artists. Andrew lives in an adjoining space with his family, and Smith and his wife and son reside nearby, making the journey to work an enjoyable one. In fact, at the collaborative “Warping the Bubble” exhibit opening for Fidalgo Island-based sculptor Lanny Bergner and Skagit Valley glass artist Rik Allen on April 9 at Smith & Vallee Gallery, there’s a good chance you might run into one (or both) of the founders checking out the award-winning art scene they helped create.
Where: 5742 Gilkey Ave., Edison
Info: http://www.smithandvallee.com


Best Pot Store:

2020 Solutions

2020 Solutions Wins Best of Bellingham Award
It’s not surprising that Bellingham’s Best Pot Store—or, in this case, stores—carries strains created by SubX, which our voters deemed the best grower around. “We partner with growers that are able to provide a consistent, high-quality product to you, our guest,” the 2020 team explains. “We focus on creating an experience that allows you to spend time with a professional, knowledgeable budtender. Our budtenders will guide you through the process and offer suggestions to enhance your cannabis experience.” In other words, if you’re not sure how many enhanced brownies you can eat without retreating to the fetal position, don’t be afraid to ask.
Where: 2018 Iron St., 5655 Guide Meridian, 4770 Pacific Hwy.
Info: http://www.2020-solutions.com


Best Happy Hour:

Chuckanut Manor Seafood & Grill

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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
Info: http://www.chuckanutmanor.com


Best Lunch:

Leaf & Ladle

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Soon after Linda Melim and her daughter Morgan Gaunt opened Leaf & Ladle in the summer of 2013 , I inhaled a memorable chicken panini and a serving of “grandpa’s potato salad” there while lunching with a group of lady friends—one of whom admitted she had already ordered the new restaurant’s vegan Caesar salad “four or five" times that week. In the years since, the dynamic duo has expanded their locally sourced array of sandwiches, soups, salads, wraps, casseroles and seasonal specials (vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options are always on the menu) to include a case full of delicious to-go offerings. “We want everyone to feel like they have the option to get really good food, fast,” the women say. Mission accomplished.
Where: 1113 N. State St.
Info: facebook.com/LeafandLadle


Best Breakfast:

Home Skillet

Don’t be daunted by the line that forms outside Home Skillet on weekend mornings—well, most mornings. If you’ve visited the Sunnyland staple before, you know the food prepared by co-owner Kirby White is well worth the wait. Once you’ve made it inside the small-but-mighty eatery, don’t dither. Place your order with Tina White or one of the other no-nonsense waitstaff—whether it’s for giant platters of biscuits and sausage or chorizo gravy, a poutine “skillet,” cinnamon roll French toast, a meat-and-egg-filled “Barnyard,” corned beef so tasty it’ll make you eat more than you wanted to, or a breakfast burrito big enough to feed the entire table—eat what you can (trust us, you’ll have leftovers), then scram. Someone else is waiting to eat breakfast, and they’re hungry.
Where: 521 Kentucky St.
Info: http://www.homeskilletsunnyland.com


Best First Date, Best Happy Hour:

Rock and Rye

Confession: I went to Rock and Rye three times in one week recently. Although none of my outings at the restaurant on the ground floor of the Herald Building were for first dates, two out of those three visits were for its stellar early and late-night happy hours. A dozen of its freshly shucked happy-hour oysters, a bowl of flavorful and spicy mussels, and a pork taco or two make me the happiest person at happy hour. A roasted beet salad if I’m feeling virtuous. Duck and pork belly poutine if I need to eat my feelings. And when Dennis Schafer—a many-time winner in the Best Bartender category—is behind the bar, I know my drinks will be creative in vision and expert in execution.
Where: Where: 1145 N. State St.
Info: http://www.rockrye.com


Best Neighborhood:

Sunnyland

What makes a great neighborhood? Well, one that is walkable, with tree-lined streets and ample parks, nearby services and entertainment. One that allows people to work from or near their homes. Many artists have moved to Sunnyland for exactly that reason, so they can run a studio out of their home—and that has produced a flourishing local arts community. Sunnyland is a nucleus for many of the favorite haunts and hangouts cited in this year’s reader survey. That dynamism has a downside, too, and Sunnyland is experiencing some growing pains from its tangy mix of industrial and commercial uses in proximity to family homes. Friends, an outdoor beer garden is a heartbreaking thing to quarrel about! I predict they’ll soon solve those problems, and continue to claim their crown as Bellingham’s favorite neighborhood. Info: http://www.sunnylandneighborhood.com


Best Place to Buy Pot:

High Society

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With the legalization of pot in Washington state, recreational marijuana stores have turned up the volume so that everyone who is curious feels comfortable. High Society is no different. They are the source for everything from concentrates to edibles and flowers. They opened in Anacortes with the mission of educating the community through “professionalism and kindness.” In return, Skagit County has proven it is pretty high on High Society.
Where: 8630 S. March Point Road, Anacortes
Info: http://www.420highsociety.com


Best Dessert:

Pure Bliss Desserts

Confession: I visit Pure Bliss at least once a week, I have tried nearly everything they bake and I am only too happy to vouch for all of it. Judging by how many of you I see there purchasing a slice of cake, a six-pack of assorted cupcakes, cookies, bars and more, you’re regular visitors as well. At the moment, nothing in the dessert cases at Pure Bliss is nearly as exciting as the sweet sounds of construction—a soon-to-be-finished renovation project will see the Cornwall Avenue shop double its footprint, and I have been assured that the already plentiful and varied selection of treats will only become more so. Challenge accepted, Pure Bliss.
Where: 1424 Cornwall Ave.
Info: http://www.pureblissdesserts.com


Best Brunch/Bloody Mary:

Trainwreck Bar & Grill

Train Wreck Bar and Grill wins Best of Skagit
The Bloody Mary that’s also a brunch, Trainwreck’s signature beverage is a meal in a mason jar. When it arrives, everyone within sight of it marvels. But there’s so much more packed into the menu—including a sinfully good bacon waffle, breakfast tacos, and French toast that tastes like its been dipped in a creamsicle. Brunch starts in the morning and carries through the afternoon, and I can’t think of a better place to spend that time than at this Burlington icon.
Where: 427 E. Fairhaven Ave., Burlington
Info: http://www.trainwreckbar.com


Best Place to Purchase Women’s Clothing:

Labels

When my best friend makes her annual journey from Boise to Bellingham, a stop at Labels is always on her must-do list of activities. Over the years, the perennially popular consignment store has netted her like-new Dansko clogs, multiple brand-name jeans, jackets, skirts, hats, earrings, and far beyond. As her hostess—and a longtime Labels lover—I’m happy to oblige when she feels the need for retail therapy. And since the prices at both Labels stores are well below market value, we both come out on top.
Where: 2332 James St., 3927 Northwest Ave.
Info: http://www.labelsconsignment.com


Best Theater Company:

iDiOM Theater at the Sylvia Center

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"The love and support of our patrons has seen us through 16 years of independent theater, through good times and bad, and through our transformation from a little production company to our ambitious new Sylvia Center project," Artistic Director Glenn Hergenhahn-Zhao says to those who cast their votes, once again, for iDiOM Theater. "Our team, our crew, and our audiences are about to all grow in leaps and bounds. Thank you for letting us do what we love and dreaming big with us. We are excited about the year ahead, and the years to come."
Where: 205 Prospect Street
Info: http://www.idiomtheater.com or www.sylviacenterforthearts.org


Best Mexican Food:

COA Mexican Eatery La Conner

La Conner, place of many delights, is not the first destination that comes to mind when we crave Mexican food. But COA Mexican Eatery aims to change that with every taco, enchilada and appropriately named Burrito Loco they sell. This is not your standard Mexican fare. Everything, from its 30-plus-ingredient mole sauce to its slow-roasted meats and right on down to its addictive guacamole, is made from scratch. Tuesdays get you one-dollar tacos, while five-dollar margaritas (their tequila selection is enviable, to say the least) can be had on Fridays. Take your Mexican cravings to La Conner and COA.
Where: 214 Maple Ave., La Conner
Info: http://www.coaeatery.com


Best Coffeehouse:

Black Drop Coffeehouse

With so many coffee shops from which to choose—each with its own fierce loyalists—the Black Drop’s string of wins in this category is telling. Simply put, they are flat-out exemplary at what they do. Whether they’re pulling perfect shots from locally roasted beans, explaining their many specialty drinks or slinging double shots of espresso on Free Doppio Friday, they execute with a minimum of fuss and an abundance of excellence. Add to that an inclusive atmosphere that tolerates everything except hate, and it’s easy to see what makes the Black Drop your favorite.
Where: 300 W. Champion St.
Info: http://www.blackdropcoffeehouse.com


Best Place to 
Get a Massage:

Calm Water Massage

Calm water massage wins best massage in Skagit Valley
Spotted on Calm Water Massage’s website is a quote from fashion designer Donna Karan: ”It’s all about finding the calm in the chaos.” Owner Traci Fralic takes that motto to heart, offering daytime getaways from aches and pains via Swedish, deep tissue, pregnancy, and hot stone massages at her serene Pine Square studio in downtown Mount Vernon. Aromatherapy is complimentary with each treatment, further removing you from the stresses of everyday life.
Where: 312 Pine St., Mount Vernon

Info: http://www.calmwatermassage.com


Best Clothing Store:

Stowe’s Shoes & Clothing

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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.
Info: http://www.stowesshoesandclothing.com


Best Fine Dining:

Nell Thorn

Nell Thorn wins best fine dining in Skagit Valley
Nell Thorn is snug and cozy and intimate as a private home. Dark hardwood tables are decked in cheerful white linen. I must try the fabulous braised lamb. My love chooses the toscano clams in a creamy sauce fragrant with fennel. We’re feeling decadent, so we share a slice of Nell’s signature French chocolate cake drizzled with a chocolate and berry sauce over warm steaming mugs of café au lait. It’s getting late and time to go home. No, not just yet.
Where: 116 S. 1st St. La Conner
Info: http://www.nellthorn.com


Best Beach:

Clayton Beach

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Thanks to a small army of dedicated volunteers who donated time and plenty of elbow grease during a graffiti-removal work party earlier this summer, the sandstone cliff faces along our most beloved stretch of shoreline are free of puerile ornamentation and vile vulgarisms. Although it’s heartening to see how quickly our go-to splash zone was rendered family-friendly again, you have to wonder just what the hell is going wrong in our society that so many doofuses feel entitled to turn our publicly owned natural treasures into a medium for their own insipid close-mindedness.
Where: Chuckanut Drive
Info: http://www.wta.org


Best Sushi:

Blue Fin Sushi

Oh, autumn shivers, softly, tender octopus yields to our warm mouths cold ocean so deep, hot flavors of wasabi and of ginger soy we discover humble knowing of bright sea and fields, sorcerers embark
Where: 102 S. Samish Way
Info: http://www.bluefinbellingham.com


Best Women’s Clothing Store:

Labels

On a recent Saturday afternoon, Labels’ James Street locale was full of women of all ages and sizes combing through the racks of the consignment store in search of deals. Judging by the loaded bags shoppers who were walking out the doors were carrying, pretty much everybody was successful in their mission. It’s not difficult to find what you need at Labels—whether it’s an Eileen Fisher dress, a cardigan from the Gap, a long-sleeve Eddie Bauer shirt or almost-new Danskos—as the racks are constantly replenished with “cute, current and clean” consignments that are sold at a fraction of what you’d pay at a big-box retailer.
Where: 2332 James St. and 3927 Northwest Ave.
Info: http://www.labelsconsignment.com


Best Lunch/Sandwich:

Avenue Bread

When it comes to stacking signature ingredients between two (or more) slices of bread, Avenue has set the gold standard. And since they also happen to make the bread upon which all these goodies are stacked, their sandwiches exhibit extra levels of freshness, fragrance and flavor. Not only is their Rueben famously scrumptious, but they also offer a well-regarded plethora of delicious soups and salads. And, as any lunch lover knows, once you throw those into the mix, it gives them bragging rights to a special kind of midday goodness.
Where: 1313 Railroad Ave., 2301 James St., 1135 11th St.
Info: http://www.avenuebread.com


Best Bike Shop:

The HUB

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Oh, the bike lovers’ lament—a major student housing project has displaced the Alley Arts District on State Street, and along with it the HUB Community Bike Shop. The HUB is an innovative project and community space that rescues and refurbishes donated bike parts and makes them available for custom builds. They offer full-service repairs and tune-ups, in addition to a self-repair station with tools so you can be an expert in fixing your own bike. They’ve lost their home—they closed up shop in September—but not their fire. Never fear, they’re moving into a new location with a new lease near Wander Brewing. Details to come.
Info: Info: http://www.thebikehub.org


Best Festival:

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
Info: http://www.birdsviewbrewingcompany.com


Best Slots/Best Card Tables:

Skagit Valley Casino Resort

Way before the I-5 exit for the Skagit Valley Casino appears, travelers can see bright, well-lit signs beckoning them to pull over and test their luck. And judging by the number of votes we tallied for the Best Slots and Best Card Tables categories, it’s something our readers do on a regular basis. While some may come to hear big-name acts such as Melissa Manchester—who will be performing at the Pacific Showroom in late April—or enjoy a night away the casino’s hotel, others are there to test their skills at the card table or hoping to encounter lady luck at the slot machine. Whatever your reason for stopping by, it’s not a gamble to say you’ll have a good time.
Where: 5984 Darrk Lane, Bow
Info: http://www.theskagit.com


Best Casino:

Silver Reef Casino Resort

I love Lummi Nation, and all they do. Their casino and resort is a centerpiece of their business face, a world-class community conference center that serves international visitors and tribal members alike. A new executive wing offers destination hotel spa and resort services, another wing offers a powerful forum auditorium for a symposium. And, yes, you can throw dice and play cards, too, in a welcoming setting. Lummi love to laugh, but there is a deep seriousness, too. They know leadership is service. Like Lummi Nation itself, the Silver Reef offers so much more.
Where: 4876 Haxton Way, Ferndale
Info: http://www.silverreefcasino.com


Best Gym:

Whatcom Family YMCA

I admit, sometimes on a chilly morning I go just for a stretch and then the steam or sauna—just to sit in the company of people I know and have come to know. Locker room talk? Oh, yeah. Usually about the Seahawks. Heck, who am I kidding? Honestly? Always about the Seahawks. But also lots of tales of gardening and weekend-warrioring. The weights await. But let them wait a bit longer. Friends are here, and they’re talking.
Where: 1256 N State St.
Info: http://www.whatcomymca.org


Best Steak:

Max Dale’s Steak & Chop House

Max and Pauline Dale met Paul Pickering, and a legend was born along Old Highway 99. This place is like stepping back to a time when a good meal wasn’t complete unless it included a juicy steak or chop alongside a hearty vegetable, potato and green salad. Surf and turf? You got it! I take my meal in the lounge seated in a comfy high-backed booth with an expertly mixed martini. Times have never been better.
Where: 2030 Riverside Dr., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.maxdales.com


Best Yoga:

Yoga Northwest

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What do you get when you divide 36 (the number of years Yoga Northwest has been offering Iyengar yoga to the public) by nine (the amount of times they've won in the “Best Yoga Studio” category? While you may think the correct answer is four, it’s more complex than that—mainly because longevity is part of the equation. With classes for every age and body type and a commitment to “vibrant health, mindful living and inner peace” for everyone, their 10th win is a no-brainer.
Where: 1440 10th St.
Info: http://www.yoganorthwest.com


Best Artist:

Ben Mann

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“It feels amazing to be acknowledged!” painter Ben Mann says of his approximately one-millionth win in this category. “Perhaps my tiara should really be for the art of adaptation—in any given week, my paintbrush and I shuttle from classroom to commercial projects to pairing my fine art with the walls of local businesses. Born and raised here, I love that Bellingham supports art and artists! That’s something to write home about.” See his work at Mambo Italiano Fri., Oct. 27 during the Fairhaven First Friday Art Walk, and check out what he’s up to Fridays and Saturdays in November and December during “Hot Cider & Cool Art” sessions at his Morgan Block studio.
Where: 1000 Harris Ave.
Info: http://www.ben-mann.com


Best Performance Theatre:

DiOM Theater

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“The support this town gives to new work is always amazing to me,” iDiOM Theater founder Glenn Hergenhahn-Zhao says of the love showed by Best of Bellingham voters. “We have made a career making silly, irreverent and I hope occasionally beautiful theater at iDiOM. Sometimes we have our doubts about that life choice, but it’s always gratifying to get a vote of confidence from the community. This year especially so, since we are a bit nomadic as we build the Sylvia Center for the Arts. We feel the love, Bellingham, and we want to pass it on to the performing arts community at large. Thank you for letting us do what we do. Thank you for coming to see the things we write. It would be a lonely and ridiculous occupation if you didn’t."
Where: 205 Prospect St.
Info: http://www.idiomtheater.com or 
www.sylviacenterforthearts.org


Best News Story:

Bad Oysters

Oysters are an indicator species of the overall health of the ecosystem. In Skagit, that ecosystem is stressed by many uses, from agriculture to—yes—shellfish harvests; and it is an ecosystem, like many others in an era of climate change, being ravaged by warming water temperatures and increased acidification (which erodes the protection of seacritter’s shells). Skagitonians are fiercely protective of the health of their marine systems, but occasionally “bad oysters” slip through that can carry any of several biotoxins—notably Vibrio and the Norovirus. Check before you dig! If you’re harvesting shellfish from open beaches, the Health Dept. advises you harvest as soon as possible with the receding tide, avoid shellfish that have been exposed to the heat of the sun, and keep your shellfish cold after harvesting. Cooking shellfish properly will inactivate and kill disease-causing agents.
Info: http://www.skagitcounty.net


Best Place to Get a Massage:

Still Life Massage and Float

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“Massage saves lives.” OK, so maybe this is my own belief, and it’s not nearly often enough that I get the chance to indulge, but I’ve gone from incredible pain to relief in just a few sessions. The licensed, knowledgeable staff of professionals at Still Life Massage and Float offer a wide array of expertly executed massage styles, from classic to medical, pregnancy to cupping, and much more. They also offer Float Therapy. I’ve heard now from two friends that say it’s an absolute must-try. If today is the first day to begin your wellness journey, might as well start it with Still Life Massage.
Where: 19 Bellwether Way #101
Info: http://www.stilllifemassage.com


Best Gear Store:

REI

Our readers love co-ops, where memberships create a more intimate relationship with the retailer. The grandfather of these member organizations is REI, which began in Seattle in 1935 when two climbers decided they needed a better way to purchase gear. That mission still holds true, with this quality outfitter providing equipment and clothing for all seasons and elevations and adventures in Cascadia. You’re welcome!
Where: 400 36th St.
Info: http://www.rei.com/stores/bellingham


Best Asian:

On Rice

There’s something so cozy about Thai food and fall. On Rice has been crowned as the winner once again for Best Asian, and with three Bellingham-based locations, you’re just a few minutes away at any given time. Got a hunger pang for Panang? A passion for potstickers? Feelin' nice with fried rice? No need to slow your egg roll, because today—and every day—is the perfect day for yum.
Where: 209 N. Samish Way, 1224 Harris Ave., 2200 Rimland Dr. #100
Info: http://www.onricethai.com


Best Band:

Whiskey Fever

Whiskey Fever wins best band in Skagit Valley
When it comes to winning in this category, this is not Whiskey Fever’s first rodeo. The band is led by Jack Mattingly, who got his start singing Elvis songs for his elementary school classmates and hasn’t stopped performing since. The band has made its reputation by waking up sometimes-sleepy Skagit County with high-octane performances, hallmarked by Mattingly’s songwriting skills and the group’s unbridled energy and desire to engage their audiences from the front row clear to the back door.
Info: http://www.facebook.com/WhiskeyFeverBand


Best Barbecue:

Big Stick BBQ

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Oh dog, this is a food truck worth chasing—thick brisket rubbed over a slow fire until it falls from the bone, with all the fixins served alongside whatever fine local brew’s near where they’re wandering—and, yeah, a lot of the time Big Stick is serving at Wander Brewing. Sometimes, it’s at Stones Throw. Follow the Big Stick on Twitter, and then you’ll know.
Where: Wherever food trucks wander
Info: http://www.bigstickbarbecue.com


Best Yoga Studio:

Quantum Health and Yoga Lounge

Quantum Health and Yoga Lounge wins best yoga studio in Skagit Valley
“Exercise daily” is one of six steps the powers that be at Quantum Health and Yoga Lounge are bending over backward to help their customers achieve on their personal pathways to optimal health. And regardless of fitness level, age or ability to master the downward dog pose, all are welcome to find out more about what it will take to feel good on a regular basis at this Burlington-based oasis.
Where: 121 Spruce St., Burlington

Info: http://www.ghyogalounge.com


Best Massage:

Calm Water

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Eight. That’s the number of times, in a row, that Calm Water Massage has dug deep to win this category. And it’s certainly not without competition—Traci Fralic is just that good. She offers traditional Swedish massage as well as deep tissue, hot stone, pregnancy and the ever-popular Raindrop technique. There’s healing magic in those hands, and you deserve a little magic in your life.
Where: 312 Pine St., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.calmwatermassage.com


Best Steakhouse:

Max Dale’s Steak & Chop House

Skagit is not the most “politically correct” place on earth—and when it comes to surf and turf, that’s a good thing! Max Dale’s serves steaks and chops thick and juicy for the appetite of a lion. The atmosphere is classic, like an airy lodge, but the menu is modern, and the trimmings include fresh vegetables and roasted potatoes alongside a mixed green salad. Old school, I order a Beefeater martini, and it is expertly mixed—stirred, not shaken—and immaculately presented. My date orders a side car. The happy hour specials go on and on. Life is good.
Where: 2030 Riverside Dr., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.maxdales.com


Best Pizza:

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
Info: http://www.railroadpizza.com


Best Ski Store:

Backcountry Essentials

You can tell a lot about the quality of rippers and shredders by where they buy their gear. Price is always an object, because expense rhymes with nonsense and the daily deal is on the slopes. Backcountry Essentials offers quality, practical gear backed by an intelligent, knowledgable staff—with prices that aren’t a wipeout.
Where: 214 W. Holly St.
Info: http://www.backcountryessentials.net


Best Dessert:

Pure Bliss

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Since Pure Bliss opened, I have made it my business to sample my way through their offerings—and business has never tasted so good. Their cakes, bars, cookies, cupcakes and whatever else they happen to have in their cases are as beautiful as they are delicious. The coconut cake is a classic, the chocolate cakes come in multiple varieties ranging from salted caramel to mocha to peanut butter to the heavy hitters, chocolate bliss and triple chocolate. I’m partial to their seasonal offerings—the pumpkin cheesecake is divine—and they also make the most decadent mocha in town, complete with homemade chocolate ganache. Pure bliss indeed.
Where: 1424 Cornwall Ave.
Info: http://www.pureblissdesserts.com


Best Tulip Farm:

RoozenGaarde

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It’s tulip time, and the fields are alive with the light and color of spring. The word’s out, and this spectacular time in the Skagit Valley is no longer a secret. But Skagit still holds a lot of secrets—mist-shrouded valleys, swollen and mighty rivers, and frosty high country thick with dark pines and devil’s club. And there are the hidey holes—the hamlets sprinkled along old forgotten highways, the winding sloughs and channels of the fertile delta, and the coast beyond—dotted with islands pungent from salt and rain. There are the bars and diners and coffeehouses, the playgrounds and trails. And there are the people who fill them, hearty and happy. And though our readers revealed some of these secrets, Skagit remains a treasure undiscovered. Entries by Tim Johnson, Amy Kepferle, Carey Ross, Stephanie Young, and Trail Rat Photos by Jessamyn Tuttle and Andy Porter
Where: 15867 Beaver Marsh Road, Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.tulips.com


Best Trail:

Oyster Dome

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In September, the state Board of Natural Resources approved the purchase of an additional 76 acres of working forest next to Blanchard State Forest in Skagit County. In addition to protecting a major public access route into the forest, the acquisitions will help replace timber revenue from the inner forest that is being put into conservation status—forever protecting the glorious views of islands and delta at the summit known as Oyster Dome. The purchase from private sellers is the final win-win-win of an agreement that protects the choicest core of existing mature forest while continuing to provide forestry jobs and revenues for schools.
Where: Blanchard Mountain
Info: http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/
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Best Casino:

Silver Reef Casino Resort and Spa

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The Lummi have a saying, “When the tide is out, the table is set.” The saying speaks to the generosity of the Lummi people in matters of feast and festival. There’s a deep, trans-generational understanding within the tribe that the Silver Reef must grow and update to serve a changing demographic. To that end, a beautiful new wing was recently dedicated for the resort, providing ample convention center facilities and additional spa capacity. They’re gambling on a tide, and that’s always a good bet.
Where: 4876 Haxton Way, Ferndale
Info: http://www.silverreefcasino.com


Best Band:

Sky Colony

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With a love for the likes of Fleet Foxes, Dawes, and Neil Young, the Sky Colony’s self-described “dream folk” manages to pay homage to its late-’60s Laurel Canyon influences while still sounding like a band rooted firmly in the Pacific Northwest’s neofolk movement. This likely has something to do with the band’s collective experience level—each member was already a musical veteran before coming together to form the Sky Colony in 2011. With their refreshingly real vocal harmonies and ever-widening appeal, they remind us that there’s a whole world of Skagit County music to be found outside of Anacortes.
Info: http://www.theskycolonymusic.com


Best Indian:

Naan and Brew

Harbhajan Singh Chana approaches with great delight and curiosity about everyone’s dining experience. We must learn more. “This is where we make the naan,” he points to places on a personal tour his efficient kitchen. “Over here is where we grind and make our own spices. This is the oven, yes, the tandoor.” True, this the real brew of Naan and Brew, but there are others, too—a full bar featuring taps of the Pacific Northwest. The lunch buffet is without peer downtown, and an excellent way to sample the complete menu of warm and exotic flavors. “We will see you again,” he predicts as we exit. And this is also true.
Where: 200 E Maple St., #101
Info: http://www.naanandbrew.com


Best Food Truck:

StrEAT Food

Years ago, when the Weekly began adding the food truck category to our annual compendium of the people and places that make Bellingham great, StrEAT Food was the clear winner. And thanks to James Pitzer’s commitment to providing locally procured, high-quality menu items—my choice typically turns out to be the chicken artichoke sandwich, but the lamb gyro pita and shrimp tacos are other family favorites—that’s pretty much been the case ever since. And although StrEAT Food has since opened a cafe in the Bellingham Cruise Terminal, their mobile eatery continues to garner forever fans wherever they go.
Where: Kulshan Brewing Co., K2, Carne, Wander Brewing, and beyond
Info: http://www.streatfood.me


Best Sushi:

Blue Fin Sushi

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Near yummy yoshi Crazy monkey, lion king Call and beckon me.
Where: 102 S. Samish Way
Info: http://www.bluefinbellingham.com


Best Neighborhood:

Sunnyland

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It’s because of the zoning, I tell people as they roll their eyes and return to their burgers and brews. Sunnyland’s special zoning allows commerce to snuggle up near residences, and for businesses to operate inside—and out of—homes. That means artists can run their studios out of their shops, tinkerers can run their shops out of their studios. It means stores and restaurants are within easy walking distance of neighborhoods, and the whole has a vibrant feel. On a broader scale, it is this connectedness that makes Bellingham work. But Sunnyland is a nucleus for this year’s best places, best nooks and hidey-holes, and best experiences as chosen by our readers. This week we focus on the places and businesses that keep Bellingham vibrant. Next Wednesday, tune in for the best in food and drink, and the people who make living here worthwhile. Compiled by Tim Johnson, Amy Kepferle, Carey Ross, Stephanie Young, and Trail Rat Photos by Jessamyn Tuttle


Best Lunch:

Carver’s Cafe

Carver's Cafe wins Best of Skagit
When you want a proper lunch, you like to hit up Carver’s Cafe at the Swinomish Casino & Lodge. Everything on the menu falls under the general header of “classic American cuisine,” but with the volume turned up. For instance, the flank steak comes with a side of cheese enchiladas, the fish and chips are made with halibut, and the “hot turkey sandwich” is really a full Thanksgiving dinner on a slab of bread. For those of you who skipped breakfast, Carver’s has you covered there too. If you time it right, you can even play a little blackjack before returning to work.
Where: Swinomish Casino & Lodge, 12885 Casino Dr., Anacortes
Info: http://www.swinomishcasinoandlodge.com/dine/carvers-cafe


Best Deli:

Gere-A-Deli

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In an old brick bank building from another era is a vault stuffed with treasures—a deli counter filled with aromatic cheeses, meats, salads and pickles. Simmering behind the counter are savory soups to pair with hand-built sandwiches on crusty bread with all the fixins. I grab Grandma Mcphee’s thick meatloaf sandy—oh, man!—and am just lucky enough to find a table. It’s lunchtime, and this Anacortes tradition is busy!
Where: 502 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: http://www.gere-a-deli.com


Best Mexican:

Jalapeños

There are several Jalapeños scattered around Bellingham (including a sizzlin’ taco bus), but my favorite is downtown—outdoor seating with a sunny view to the west of an evolving post-industrial waterfront. Diners order the Big Mama margarita and laugh at the aquarium-sized creation. They order Bellingham’s biggest burrito, thinking it cannot possibly be true, and are astonished when it arrives. Happy hour is basically just about any hour they’re open—and that’s exactly how it should be.
Where: 501 W. Holly St., 1007 Harris Ave, 2945 Newmarket Pl.
Info: http://www.jalapenos-wa.com


Best Place to Get a Massage:

The Chrysalis Inn & Spa

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The last time I was gifted an hour-long deep-tissue massage at the Chrysalis Inn & Spa, I managed to draw out the experience for nearly as long as it takes to watch Gone With the Wind. Before the appointment, I spent time in the eucalyptus steam room, then donned a fluffy bathrobe and headed to the best waiting area ever, where I sipped tea, perused a coloring book for adults, and pondered the intrinsic beauty of Bellingham Bay. I was already relaxed by the time my massage therapist/miracle worker welcomed me, and soon thereafter pondered seeing if there was any room at the inn in order to extend my staycation.
Where: 804 10th St.
Info: http://www.thechrysalis.com


Best Bank/Credit Union:

WECU

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As a credit union, Whatcom Educational Credit Union is crystal clear that they value people over profits. From personal loans to mortgage loans, educational seminars to Education First grants, WECU is focused on putting community first—something their 128,000 members can really get behind. Prime example: During the months of October and November, every time you use your WECU debit card, you’ll earn a penny, and they’ll also donate a penny to local causes throughout Whatcom County.
Where: Multiple locales in Bellingham
Info: http://www.wecu.com


Best Pot Grower:

SubX

I was a mildly high when I read the “about” section on SubX’s website, but I’m pretty sure I still would’ve giggled at their cleverly concocted descriptions even if I hadn’t been Sunday-morning stoned. In addition to explaining that Subdued Excitement grows and sells exclusively in Washington state (“near Canada”), and that their buds are 100 percent “gluten- and pesticide-free” and “hand-trimmed by hippies with decades of experience and, for the first time ever, legal jobs,” I discovered the local growers also share a love of snowboarding and Mt. Baker, and are striving for consistency, quality and sustainability in everything they do. “We are Subdued Excitement,” they surmise, “and that is exactly what we provide.”
Info: http://www.subdued-excitement.com


Best Margarita, Best Bartender:

Brendan O’Neill @ Black Sheep

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It’s been a big year for Black Sheep. Moving from their former tiny location to their much larger neighboring spot leaves more room for margaritas (and tacos, of course). Whether you’re more traditional and opt for the Dude-A-Rita or are feeling a bit more daring and go for the Pina Furnado, there’s a margarita available to please even the pickiest of palates. And if you’re lucky, this year’s Best Bartender, Brendan O’Neill, will be pouring the tequila and crafting your cocktail.
Where: 211 W. Holly St.
Info: http://www.blacksheepbellingham.com


Best Grocery/Vegetarian:


Skagit Valley Food Co-op

“The highest function of love,” wrote Tom Robbins, “is that it makes the loved one a unique and irreplaceable being.” This encapsulates how I feel about the fresh-made, organically inclined food served at the Skagit Valley Food Co-op’s deli. Specifically, my love functions highest for their tuna salad sandwich on sourdough, which has become the most treasured and indispensable part of my lunchtime reveries through the years. With this super-sandwich in my life, I am fortified against the rigors that beset me as I strive to be a better man. Without it, I become sallow and listless. Same goes for their hot soups, salads, locally made cheeses, handmade ice cream, fresh-pressed juices and fair trade espresso. Inspiration is served in many forms—including plenty of vegetarian and vegan options—at the Skagit Co-op. And I’m always ready to eat.
Where: 202 S. First St., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.skagitfoodcoop.com


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
Info: http://www.goodvibesbodyart.com


Best Brewery:

Bastion Brewing Company

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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
Info: http://www.bastionbrewingcompany.com


Best Yoga Studio:

Quantum Yoga

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
Info: http://www.qhyogalounge.com


Best Casino:

Silver Reef Hotel Casino Spa

Silver Reef Casino
Lummi are a wise and resourceful people, and they plan for generations to come. Some years back tribal leaders understood demographics were changing and casino crowds were seeking a new experience. They expanded their casino operations to include a top-flight destination resort and convention center, and a community center for their nation. If you haven’t toured their casino recently, you’re missing a spectacular treat.
Where: 14876 Haxton Way, Ferndale
Info: http://www.silverreefcasino.com


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
Info: http://www.rachawadeethaicafe.com


Best Auto Repair:

Bellingham Automotive

A few years ago, I took a rock to the radiator of my aging-but-still-ticking Nissan Maxima. I polled my Facebook friends to see who to entrust my beloved Maxxie to, and when tallied, the winner of that vote was the same as this one: Bellingham Automotive. Sure enough, the customer service was great and very professional and the repair work was done right--and righteously fast. They even hauled me to and from their Hannegan Road shop via their tricked-out courtesy car. Getting back on the road again has never been so simple.
Where: 4116 Hannegan Road
Info: http://www.bellinghamautomotive.com


Best Destination on Highway 20:

Birdsview Brewery

The pass was just cleared, but we weren’t going much past Diablo and the Ruby Arm, still frosty from winter. On the way back, we hit the place everyone chooses—coming or going. The Birdsview brewpub was packed, tables filled with folks spinning yarns and unraveling the hokum. I ordered the malty SasScotch; my partner called for the Ditsy Blonde and clowned as she drank it. We weren’t ready to say goodbye, so we parked on a quiet street in Hamilton and walked down to marvel at the Skagit, pregnant with the spring thaw.
Where: 38302 WA-20, Concrete
Info: http://www.birdsviewbrewingcompany.com


Best Winery:


Eagle Haven Winery

The artisan libations Eagle Haven Winery crafts from the fruits of its lush orchards near Sedro-Woolley are worth pulling off the freeway to procure, but visitors shouldn’t just grab their purchases and go. Whether you’re sipping a glass of raspberry wine by the fire in the tasting room, touring the vineyard, listening to live music as part of an outdoor summer concert series, or dropping by the inaugural farmers market—which opens in late May—there’s always something to experience at Eagle Haven.
Where: 8243 Sims Rd., Sedro-Woolley
Info: http://www.eaglehavenwinery.com


Best Barista, Best Brunch, Best Coffeehouse
:

Gloria Baldwin @ Camber

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That Camber won in multiple categories is hardly a surprise, given that the coffeehouse does just about everything incredibly well. Its coffee is thoughtfully sourced and expertly roasted and brewed by its knowledgeable and friendly staff, including multiple Best of Bellingham winner and lead barista Gloria Baldwin. Its brunch menu, which changes with the seasons, is a creative and delicious way to start the day, whether you’re ordering their vegan cashew cream toast or the perfectly balanced rosemary lamb burger.
Where: 221 W. Holly St.
Info: http://www.cambercoffee.com


Best Place to Get a Massage:

Prime Sports Institute

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A little more than a year ago, a multidisciplinary sports medicine clinic opened on North State Street with a goal of helping people maintain healthy, active lifestyles through a comprehensive approach to wellness—including athletic training, physical therapy, coaching, sports nutrition and acupuncture. Luckily, part of their fitness formula also includes massage. Kerry Gustafson, one of the four massage therapists on staff, is also the owner. As an expert at sports therapy, she says her obsession is “connecting the dots to dysfunction in your body and returning you to the sports and activities you love.”
Where: 1704 N. State St.
Info: http://www.primebellingham.com


Best Place to Dance/Place for a First Date/Place to See Live Music/Meet-Up:

Conway Muse

Oh, Conway Muse, how do we love thee? Well, we don’t need to count the ways, we can simply count the awards this tiny-town entertainment powerhouse has racked up. This multidisciplinary artistic hub is your Skagit go-to when you seek live music, are picking a perfect spot for a first date or meet-up or you just need to dance the night away. The only thing that can possibly make a visit to the Muse even better is a cocktail (or three—we don’t judge) expertly mixed by your favorite bartender Kelly Hayton, who is always ready with a surplus of drink knowledge and her trademark warm smile. No wonder the Muse is your end-all, be-all destination for fun, year in and year out. Best Bartender: Kelly Hayton at the Conway Muse
Where: 18444 Spruce St., Conway
Info: http://www.conwaymuse.com


Best Music Store:

Everyday Music

In previous years, this category has been a knockdown, drag-out competition between downtown Bellingham’s two music-store mainstays, Everyday Music and Avalon Records. After the tragic fire that gutted Avalon, Everyday Music got the majority of your votes, although nearly all of you mentioned Avalon when you cast your ballots. To Everyday Music, we say, keep up the good work. We need you more than ever now. To Avalon, we miss you, and are grateful for all of your years spent making Bellingham a more musical place.
Where: 115 E. Magnolia St.
Info: http://www.everydaymusic.com


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