Best of Skagit 2016

Best Book Store:

Village Books

Chuck and Dee Robinson love books, and they set out to build a bookstore for lovers of books. They succeeded spectacularly. Through the years, changes in the book vending business have been mighty, and competitive forces have been fierce, but Village Books remains the illuminated center of Bellingham’s literary life—a place for readers, for writers, for the curious who want to more about the crafting and business of books. For decades a mainstay of Fairhaven’s main street, Chuck and Dee recently opened a second store in Lynden. Because books are a love that must be everywhere shared.
Where: 1200 11th St.; 430 Front St., Lynden
Info: [url=http://www.villagebooks.com]http://www.villagebooks.com[/url]


Best Music Store:

Hugo Helmer Music

In recent years, music stores—especially large ones that offer a wide selection of instruments and accoutrements—have gotten a bit of a bad reputation. But Skagit mainstay Hugo Helmer is different. Their staff is knowledgeable, but not forceful or intrusive. Their service department takes great pride in standing behind their work. But the big draw is the incredible array of music instruments and equipment the expansive one-stop shop offers, as well as a customer-service ethos that encourages patrons to try before they buy. That’s how you stay in business for 80-plus years.
Where: 1025 S. Goldenrod Rd., Burlington
Info: [url=http://www.hugohelmermusic.com]http://www.hugohelmermusic.com[/url]


Best Shoe Store:

Mi Shoes

When we say Michelle Bouma is consistently putting her best foot forward, it’s not just a clever play on words. Since starting the mini-but-mighty Mi Shoes on Bellingham’s Railroad Avenue 11 years ago, the energetic entrepreneur has expanded her fashionable realm. These days, you’ll also find the products of her keen eye for what women want to wear at Commercial Street’s Heroine, and at Mi Shoes Lynden, which is expected to open sometime this week. Look for a grand opening celebration there Nov. 12, and rest assured that, in the meantime, the award-winning downtown Bellingham store is going strong.
Where: 1315 Railroad Ave., 511 Front St., Lynden
Info: [url=http://www.mishoes.com]http://www.mishoes.com[/url]


Best Burger:

Fiamma Burger

Bellingham’s burger scene is ripe with mouthwatering offerings, but Fiamma Burger—the offspring of the award-winning La Fiamma—stands apart from the crowd. Similar to Fiamma’s pizza, their burgers feature top-notch flavors, all the sides you could wish for and a dizzying array of innovative combos. Head on down to their Railroad Avenue location and take a seat overlooking the street. On your first bite, you’ll know precisely why they were voted Bellingham’s Best Burger. P.S. Don’t forget about the milkshakes.
Where: 1309 Railroad Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.fiammaburger.com]http://www.fiammaburger.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.maxdales.com]http://www.maxdales.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.2020-solutions.com]http://www.2020-solutions.com[/url]


Best Celebrity:

The Laughs You Leave

Yes, yes—Ryan Stiles always tops the list of Best Bellebrity. But the editors want to give a special shout-out this year to Peter Gunn, who was also in the fond thoughts of many readers. In his unofficial capacity, Peter was a sort of People’s Mayor of Bellingham, and certainly its biggest booster and ambassador. He cared for the streets and for the people on them, always ready with a joke or barb or keen observation. He was a Brooklyn standup comedian in every setting and sense, with steady delivery and the precision timing of a cuckoo clock. He was a friend and a wise counselor, always. Our streets are darker without his gleam.


Best Brewery:

Boundary 
Bay Brewery

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Bellingham is undeniably a beer town. We’re recognized around the region and the United States as home to some of the best beer around. With about 10 breweries to choose from, you really can’t go wrong. Boundary Bay is what started the tap trend, recently celebrating 21 years of crafting award-winning beer. But at Boundary, it’s not just about the beer. They’ve been a cornerstone in our community the entire time—the granddaddy that keeps getting better.
Where: 1107 Railroad Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.bbaybrewery.com]http://www.bbaybrewery.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.mountbakery.com]http://www.mountbakery.com[/url]


Best Casino:

The Skagit Casino Resort

Not long ago, I spent a weekend sampling the delights of the Skagit Valley Casino. From their expansive buffet that truly tested my ability to consume shameful quantities of delicious food to their robust amount of gaming tables and rotating slot machines to the top-notch entertainment that can be regularly found in its Pacific Showroom and Winners Lounge, one need not take a gamble on Vegas to have a high-rolling good time. Round out your visit with a stay in one of their rooms that range from highly affordable to all-out luxury and you might just be tempted to let it ride and never leave. I know I was.
Where: 5984 Darrk Lane, Bow
Info: [url=http://www.theskagit.com]http://www.theskagit.com[/url]


Best Pizza:

La Fiamma Wood Fire Pizza

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’Hamsters love their pizza. Year after year, this query always receives the most votes and is the most fiercely contested category in Best of Bellingham. Always beloved, this year La Fiamma received nearly one vote in five. One of the reasons? This unique and creative pizzeria expanded the hours of Pye Hole. La Fiamma now includes lunch hours for their convenient late-night window where you can walk up and get a hot slice of wood-fired crispy-cheesy goodness. Because Bellingham must have its great pizza at all hours!
Where: 200 E. Chestnut St.
Info: [url=http://www.lafiamma.com]http://www.lafiamma.com[/url]


Best Salon:

Per Dona

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Mount Vernon’s Per Dona makes the cut in the fierce competition for Best Salon. Their beautiful downtown Mount Vernon location offers more than just expert hair help—they also provide skin care, manicures and pedicures, waxing services, makeup applications and lessons, peels, and bridal services—pretty much everything required to make you look (and feel) your best.
Where: 601 S. First St., Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.perdonasalon.com]http://www.perdonasalon.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.rockrye.com]http://www.rockrye.com[/url]


Best Bakery :

Mount Bakery

Judging by the number of excellent places to partake of baked goods in town, Bellingham has itself a bit of a sweet tooth. And while the Mount Bakery does everything well (cough, eggs Benedict, cough), it particularly excels at those sweet treats we love to eat, but do not necessarily love to bake for ourselves. Its buttery, infinitely layered croissants are my go-to—chocolate first, ham and cheese next and whatever is left in the case if they’re out of the first two. My coworkers are devoted to the chocolate chip cookies. And then there are the cinnamon rolls. And the Belgian chocolate truffle cake. And…
Where: 308 W. Champion St./1217 Harris Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.mountbakery.com]http://www.mountbakery.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.birdsviewbrewingcompany.com]http://www.birdsviewbrewingcompany.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.wecu.com]http://www.wecu.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.facebook.com/WhiskeyFeverBand]http://www.facebook.com/WhiskeyFeverBand[/url]


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: [url=http://www.labelsconsignment.com]http://www.labelsconsignment.com[/url]


Best Indian:

Naan & Brew

Naan and Brew
O.K., I admit it. They had me at the “Brew.” But you just cannot beat this restaurant’s lunch buffet, where you can taste the commanding flavors of Subcontinent on a single plate; and if by chance you did not get enough, you can go back for another plate. It’s a great taster to try, but I do recommend going back in the evening for the entrees that pair quite nicely with—you guessed it—the brews on tap.
Where: 200 East Maple St.
Info: [url=http://www.naanandbrew.com]http://www.naanandbrew.com[/url]


Best Gym:

Riverside Health Club

At Riverside Health Club, the goal is simple: setting you up for success no matter where you are on your health journey. Beautiful, state-of-the-art facilities and knowledgeable and passionate trainers provide the opportunity to find the best workout for you, whether it’s in the pool, on the racquetball court, or in the weight room. Nutritional services and personal training are also available among the astounding 100 classes offered at its two locations.
Where: Mount Vernon, Sedro-Woolley
Info: [url=http://www.riversidehealthclub.com]http://www.riversidehealthclub.com[/url]


Top News Story:

#MeToo and Bellingham’s (Alleged) Bad Men

From the restaurant sector to professional and political spheres, from up on the hill at WWU to down at the brewery, men in Bellingham have really outdone themselves, being accused of the full bingo card of sexual misconduct—groping, sexually assaulting and harassing, and exposing themselves to women who, frankly, are fed up and not having it. To the women who have come forward: Thank you. We see you. We admire your courage and we support you. To any confused men trying to navigate these rapidly changing times and wondering under what circumstances it is appropriate to show someone your penis: Keep it in your pants. If you have not gotten permission, you do not have consent. When we want to see it, we’ll ask.


Best Craft Cocktail:

Swim Club

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I imagine Havana as I walk in—sunshine slanting through the window slats, the air filled with the snap of bitters. I order an Old Fashioned, thinking that is about as basic a cocktail as there is. Fool that I am, was I wrong! The drink is expertly made, layered with top-shelf liquors electrified by citrus rind—a zingy mix on an old recipe. As I sip, flavors opening, I watch my bartender with ease carve from a humble cucumber a beautiful flower for another drink. That one I also must try.
Where: 1147 11th St.
Info: [url=http://www.swimclubbar.com]http://www.swimclubbar.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.labelsconsignment.com]http://www.labelsconsignment.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.avenuebread.com]http://www.avenuebread.com[/url]


Best Farm:

Schuh Farm

Schuh-Farms-by-Jessamyn-Tuttle-(5).jpg
Family owned and operated Schuh Farm has been in business for more than 50 years, providing Cascadia with fresh fruits, vegetables, plants, flowers, eggs, baked goods (their pies are to die for) and old-fashioned family fun. There’s a bit of magic to the farm regardless of the season, and there’s something for everyone, big or small. Make Schuh Farm a must-stop destination today—and through December, as there’s always something new on the acreage.
Where: 15535 State Route 536, Mount Vernon
Info: (360) 424-6982


Best Barbecue:

Big Stick BBQ

Big_Stick_BBQ_by_Jessamyn_Tuttle_(6)-o.jpg
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: [url=http://www.bigstickbarbecue.com]http://www.bigstickbarbecue.com[/url]


Best Bakery:

Farm to Market Bakery

Few things in life are better than waking up on a sunny Saturday and cruising down breathtakingly scenic Chuckanut Drive into the Skagit Valley and stopping at the Farm to Market Bakery for a sweet thing, cup of coffee and a little community commingling. Owned by Jim and Lisa Kowalski and next door to the Rhododendron Cafe, which they also own, Farm to Market has a menu full of all of our favorites, made with local ingredients and done right. On the sweet side, the Triple Chocolate Pecan Brownies and their signature Lime-Soaked Polenta Cake will never do you wrong, but if you happen to be there early enough on a Saturday or Sunday morning, you could have the great good fortune of scoring a coveted and rare Pecan Sticky Bun, and then you’ll know you’re really living right.
Where: 5507 Chuckanut Drive, Bow
Info: [url=http://www.rhodycafe.com/farmtomarketbakery]http://www.rhodycafe.com/farmtomarketbakery[/url]


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 Brewery:

Bastion Brewing Company

Bastion_Brewing_by_Jessamyn_Tuttle_(3)-o.jpg
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: [url=http://www.bastionbrewingcompany.com]http://www.bastionbrewingcompany.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.jalapenos-wa.com]http://www.jalapenos-wa.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.blackdropcoffeehouse.com]http://www.blackdropcoffeehouse.com[/url]


Best Park:

Boulevard Park

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Although I can definitely do without having to spend another summer watching the grounds of Boulevard Park be trenched apart by a clamorous array of hydraulic tools and machinery, that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the utility improvements. Installing all those new water/sewer/power/telecommunications pipes reduces many hazards and since most of the wounds are starting to heal I feel extra-grateful to be able to roam the expanded beach-nourishment footprint seeking solace among the drift stills and rock revetments that help stabilize and protect this singular stretch of urban shoreline from wind shear and wave energy.
Where: 470 Bayview Dr.
Info: [url=http://www.cob.org]http://www.cob.org[/url]


Best Beach:

Washington Park

Life’s a beach once you pass through the gate at Anacortes’ Washington Park. From Sunset Beach on the north end to West Beach on the south—and all the coves, bluffs and tide pools in between—you can dilly-dally your day away in contented quietude among a panoramic multitude of seaside vantage points. Regardless of whether you happen to spot a pod of orcas charging through Rosario Strait, the wave-lapped, kelp-hugged, pebble-bedded shores of Fidalgo Island’s preeminent peninsula are worth your precious time.
Where: 6300 Sunset Ave., Anacortes
Info: [url=http://www.anacorteswa.gov]http://www.anacorteswa.gov[/url]


Best Italian:

Il Granaio

Inside Mount Vernon’s Grainery building, Il Granaio owner and Chef Alberto Candivi creates his own brand of magic. A native of Italy, Alberto’s passion for cooking has graced the Skagit Valley for nearly 20 years, and we are all the better for it. In addition to fresh, handmade pasta, house specialties and room for private parties, you can also learn from the chef himself by participating in one of Alberto’s Italian cooking classes.
Where: 100 W. Montgomery St. #110, Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.granaio.com]http://www.granaio.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.eaglehavenwinery.com]http://www.eaglehavenwinery.com[/url]


Best Gallery:

Dakota Art Gallery

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According to Dakota Art Gallery Director Hannah Cwiek, big changes are in the works for the two-year-old creative space abutting Cornwall Avenue's Dakota Art Supplies. Although the focus for the award-winning venue will still be on contemporary art and curated exhibits, Cwiek is hoping to make the space a nonprofit—meaning it'll be easier to host Draw-A-Thon's and other fundraisers for organizations like Northwest Youth Services, Earthjustice, Community to Community Development, and more. In November, the public can get directly involved with the gallery by coming into the store and picking up a small canvas (for free), painting on it, then turning it back in for an upcoming exhibit.
Where: 1324 Cornwall Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.dakotaartgallery.com]http://www.dakotaartgallery.com[/url]


Best Place to Get a Tattoo:

Sabbath Tattoo

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Whether you’re getting your first tattoo, covering over a poorly rendered mermaid you got on your lower back when you were a drunk college student, or completing a large-scale vision on your arm, Sabbath Tattoo is where you go when you want to get inked. Earning points for high-quality work, exemplary customer service, cleanliness and professionalism, the Grand Avenue mainstay has earned your trust—something that is vitally important when it comes to permanently changing the landscape of your epidermis.
Where: 107 Grand Ave.
Info: (360) 671-2228


Best Asian/Take-out:

Rachawadee Thai Cafe

Rachawadee wins best Thai in Skagit Valley
How can so much wonderful flavor be packed into so tiny a lunch counter? Little bigger than a food truck, Rachawadee features a rich selection of dishes from Thailand’s coast to the interior with an authentic heat that really opens your taste buds (and pores!). On this visit, I ordered their Noodle Boat, a beef stew in a savory broth with thick, chewy noodles. Delicious.
Where: 410 W. Gates St., Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.rachawadeethai.com]http://www.rachawadeethai.com[/url]


Best Ski Shop:

Backcountry Essentials

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What’s the Essentials? Their knowledge that you’ll need to save some of your budget for the slopes, because skiing is no longer an inexpensive sport. And that means good gear at good prices. But the backcountry is about more than slopes, and this shop caters to the whole outdoor community, from climbers to campers. Owners Chris and Erica Gerston say, “Our business philosophy recognizes that, while we have to sell a certain amount of gear to remain open, we ideally want to be a resource and meeting place where people can find out the latest information on trails, routes and conditions, swap stories about where they have been, or learn about the pros and cons of the ‘latest and greatest’ in gear. Since we love to test gear, we can give you the real dirt on everything we sell—how functional it is, how well it holds up, and how it compares to other products in its category.” In this category, Backcountry Essentials is one of a kind.
Where: 214 W. Holly St.
Info: [url=http://www.backcountryessentials.net]http://www.backcountryessentials.net[/url]


Best BBQ:

JT’s Smokin’ BBQ

Jt's Smokin BBQ
You gotta chase this fire truck! Juicy brisket on a biscuit—with that sweet, searing mustard tang grabbing taste buds—served with baked beans and potato salad. With a side, of course, of Kulshan when this truck pulls up at their brewery.
Where: Kulshan Brewery, Tues. and Thurs.
Info: [url=http://www.jtsmokinbbq.com]http://www.jtsmokinbbq.com[/url]


Best Deli:

Old World Deli

I can no longer remember a time before Old World Deli existed in my life and I no longer want to. The State Street mainstay could probably get by on its carefully curated wine selection and selection of house made, cured and smoked meats alone, but that’s just the tip of a very tasty iceberg. Because they have all the fixins—pasta, sauces, cheeses, and exotic relishes, condiments and spices—for you to make your own meal. Or, if you’re lazy like me, they’ll make you a perfect sandwich, salad or bowl of soup from their premium ingredients. I generally go for the sandwiches on the specials board, but sometimes only a #12 will do.
Where: 1228 N. State St.
Info: [url=http://www.oldworlddeli1.com]http://www.oldworlddeli1.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.villagepizza.org]http://www.villagepizza.org[/url]


Best Grocery:

Community Food Co-op

Secrets revealed: At least once a week, I go to the Food Co-op for an early-morning breakfast. Grits or oatmeal, scrambled eggs, potatoes—with chorizo gravy, if you’d like. Comes to about $12 with dark roast coffee, which is about the cheapest, most filling meal around on a tight schedule. I look over the bulletin board, filled with community events and information about the food co-operative I, in part, own. The Community Food Co-op Board is in intricately involved in nutrition and the local food web, working to increase the supply of local, sustainable and organic food by supporting and establishing projects that strengthen the local farming community. So much more than a grocery store—yet they’re really good at that part, too.
Where: 1220 N. Forest St., 315 Westerly Rd.
Info: [url=http://www.communityfood.coop]http://www.communityfood.coop[/url]


Best Brunch, Best Barista:

Camber and Gloria Baldwin

Like many of you, I wasn’t sure what to make of Camber when it first appeared on our already fairly caffeinated coffee scene. Like many of you, I have been thoroughly won over by its abundant charms. In a town where brunch is serious business, Camber’s thoughtful, creative and beautifully plated dishes stand out, and when you’re wanting coffee to wash down that delicious chicken and waffle, barista Gloria Baldwin is who you prefer to have expertly craft your life-giving elixir from one of Camber’s specialty roasts.
Where: 221 W. Holly St.
Info: [url=http://www.cambercoffee.com]http://www.cambercoffee.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.aslanbrewing.com]http://www.aslanbrewing.com[/url]


Best Deli:

Gere-a-Deli

Gere-a-deli wins best deli in Skagit Valley
With a list of deli sandwich options a mile long, it’s arguable that the hardest part about eating at Gere-a-Deli is finding your favorite. But the list doesn’t stop there. The eatery that has been feeding Anacortes residents since 1981 also features a fantastic salad and soup menu, as well as baked in-house desserts. Need to feed a group? Yep, they’ve got you covered there, too.
Where: 502 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: [url=http://www.geradeli.com]http://www.geradeli.com[/url]


Best Neighborhood:

Sunnyland

Sunnyland
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 Coffee Shop:

Ristretto

Coffee. It’s a love affair in the Pacific Northwest. There’s something about sipping a delicious cup of joe on a rainy April morning that makes the weather a little more bearable. Ristretto Coffee Lounge and Wine Bar has dominated this category for the last four years, and understandably so. Perfectly roasted Seattle-based Victrola coffee will delight even the most finicky of coffee palates, especially when expertly executed by Ristretto’s team. Do something kind for yourself today and head to Ristretto’s. You deserve it.
Where: 416 First St., Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.ristrettocoffeelounge.com]http://www.ristrettocoffeelounge.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.birdsviewbrewingcompany.com]http://www.birdsviewbrewingcompany.com[/url]


Best Bike Shop:

Skagit Cycle

From trail rides to tulip trots, casual rides to extreme competitions, anyone from the novice to expert rider can rest assured Skagit Cycle will be there there every pedal of the way. The full-service pros have bikes for every type of rider, and will take care of you at every crossroad. Just in the area for a few days? Then check out their rental options.
Where: 1704 S. Burlington Blvd. Burlington; 1620 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: [url=http://www.skagitcyclecenter.com]http://www.skagitcyclecenter.com[/url]


Best Salon:

Studio Galactica

Two days after my latest haircut by Studio Galactica’s Kimberly Ross, I wasn’t yet tired of the accolades coming my way. Like all of the mane-tamers at the Cornwall Avenue locale, Ross knows exactly what she’s doing, but still listens to her clients when they tell her what they want (yep, even if it’s a perm or a mullet). The no-tipping salon is also jam-packed with local art and interesting things to look at, so there’s no chance of getting bored while you’re getting beautified.
Where: 1519 Cornwall Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.studiogalactica.net]http://www.studiogalactica.net[/url]


Best Coffee Shop / Barista:

Black Drop Coffee House/
Ryan Siu

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Every spring, the Black Drop Coffee House pits zombies against survivors when they host a “Save Our City!” game of natural selection in downtown Bellingham. It’s an apt metaphor for what they do very other day of the year, when they turn the undead—people who haven’t yet dosed themselves with their favorite Black Drop mocha, latte, doppio or straight-up cup of java sourced from freshly roasted beans provided by Maniac Roasting—into fully cognizant (and caffeinated) humans. And, thanks to the care the staff takes to make every beverage exceptional, year after year staff members such as the talented Ryan Siu take home the Best Barista award.
Where: 300 W. Champion St.
Info: [url=http://www.blackdropcoffeehouse.com]http://www.blackdropcoffeehouse.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.naanandbrew.com]http://www.naanandbrew.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.calmwatermassage.com]http://www.calmwatermassage.com[/url]


Best Place to Dance:

Rumors Cabaret

Rumors
It’s 10pm, and it is like magic—suddenly a line down the block of people waiting to get in and groove on a crowded floor to vinyl expertly spun. The bewitching hour arrives, drinks stylishly and expertly served. Boy spots boy; girl nods knowingly to girl. It is tribal. It is gris-gris. It is fun.
Where: 1119 Railroad Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.rumorscabaret.com]http://www.rumorscabaret.com[/url]


Best Band/Musician :

Polecat

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As one could easily surmise, this is not Polecat’s first win in this category. The perennially popular bluegrass/folk/Americana band continues to draw big crowds—indeed, they just played their latest in a string of packed-out Halloween shows at the Wild Buffalo. High-energy performances coupled with impeccable musicianship and their proven ability to get audiences up and dancing have ensured Polecat’s place in the pantheon of Bellingham’s beloved bands.
Info: [url=http://www.polecatmusic.com]http://www.polecatmusic.com[/url]


Best Pizza:

Pacioni’s Pizzeria

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It’s nice to know we’re not the only ones who think Pacioni’s has the best pie this side of the Mississippi. Using only the finest ingredients, their Neapolitan-style pizza is, in a word, delizioso. In addition to their incredible pie, handmade calzones, delectable pastas and paninis, visitors can enjoy their recently opened market with baked-in-house desserts, espresso, fresh sandwiches, ice cream and more. Also, their incredible wine list is sure to please even the pickiest of palates. Dinner tonight, anyone?
Where: 606 S. 1st St., Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.pacionis.com]http://www.pacionis.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.wta.org]http://www.wta.org[/url]


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: [url=http://www.rei.com/stores/bellingham]http://www.rei.com/stores/bellingham[/url]


Best Hunting and Fishing Gear:

Cabela’s

Well, it ain’t strictly in Skagit, but who’s fussing? Cabela’s is like REI for people who hunt things. And who eat the things they hunt around a camp stove. I love wandering this outfitter’s jungle, the thickets of rods and reels, the racks of boats and canoes, critter dioramas at every turn, and the gun library where every stock and caliber has a story and a staffer who can tell it. When you’re ready to hit the rivers and woods of the high country, make Cabela’s your first stop.
Where: 9810 Quil Ceda Blvd., Marysville
Info: [url=http://www.cabelas.com]http://www.cabelas.com[/url]


Best Brewery:


Farmstrong Brewery

The craft beer boom has hit Skagit County, and Farmstrong Brewery is bringing its best beers to the table. Their IPAs offer up an intoxicating flora and fruit profile. Mike Armstrong and Todd Owsley opened Farmstrong late last summer, and their delicious ales have quickly found their way into regional storefronts and tap handles, innovating with everything from local coffee roasters and delectable saisons. Located right off of I-5 on Stuart Road, you’re just a hop, skip and a jump away from trying an amazing pint.
Where: 110 Stewart Rd., Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.facebook.com/farmstrongbrewing]http://www.facebook.com/farmstrongbrewing[/url]


Best Place for Hunting & Fishing Supplies:


Holiday Sports

Whether you’re angling for pinks and cohos from the banks of the Skagit River, gunning for mulies on the backside of Cultus Mountain, or taking a family camping trip, the Steen family has you covered. Need a chrome and glow dodger with pink squid and glow insert for your early morning sockeye session on Baker Lake? No problemo. Looking for varmint cartridges, new/used firearms, rangefinders or a skilled expert to mount your rifle scope and sight your bore? Then make tracks to Burlington for an outfitting experience that is guaranteed to bolster your game bag—and your creel.
Where: 895 Nevitt Road, Burlington
Info: [url=http://www.holidaysportsburlington.com]http://www.holidaysportsburlington.com[/url]


Best Gym:

Whatcom Family YMCA

There was a time in my life when I reserved a couple nights of the week for kickboxing aerobics classes at the Whatcom Family YMCA. The sessions were full of women of every shape and fitness level, and were also social in nature. Years later, the vibe hasn’t changed much (even if my ability to karate-kick has). Whether you’re lifting free weights, soaking up the stellar view of Bellingham Bay from the comfort of a stationary bicycle, swimming, taking a class—or signing your kids up for one—acceptance is the name of the game, and all are welcome.
Where: 1256 N. State St.
Info: [url=http://www.whatcomymca.org]http://www.whatcomymca.org[/url]


Best Theater:


Lincoln Theatre

Lincoln Theatre wins best theater in Skagit Valley
If there’s any doubt Mount Vernon’s Lincoln Theatre is a valuable asset, look to the “Drinkin’ for the Lincoln” fundraiser taking place through April at the Skagit Food Co-op and its Third Street Cafe—who will donate $1 from every Ninkasi six-pack or pint sold to the Lincoln’s historic preservation and arts programs. And the Lincoln gives back to its community in spades, whether it’s screening films that show a different worldview or point to local issues, hosting top-notch productions from Skagit Valley-based theater companies, bringing both Grammy Award-winning musicians and high school jazz programs alike to its historic stage, or focusing on important community conversations.
Where: 712 S. First St., Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.lincolntheatre.org]http://www.lincolntheatre.org[/url]


Best Artist:

Ben Mann

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If the City of Bellingham were to choose an art mascot, chances are good painter Ben Mann would be one of the first names on the list of candidates. His color-filled creations—which often draw attention to the iconic idylls of the place we live and love—already stretch beyond canvases on the walls of local restaurants and businesses and on to the city’s actual streetscapes, bringing cheer to the cloudiest of days. Catch the multiple-award-winner in his natural habitat during the Whatcom Artist Studio Tour Oct. 6-7 and 13-14, when Mann will open his space in Fairhaven’s Morgan Building Studios and Gallery to the masses.
Where: 1000 Harris Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.ben-mann.com]http://www.ben-mann.com[/url]


Best Bakery/Breakfast/Dessert:

Calico Cupboard

Despite April showers dampening the world outside, it’s all smiles and friendly faces when you walk through the door of Calico Cupboard. There’s a warm buzz in the air, servers expertly weaving in between full tables of happy customers and the smell of heavenly baked goods summoned from every corner. A trio of amazing locations to visit in Skagit Valley mean you can try all of their winning categories. Three cheers all around.
Where: 720 1st St., La Conner; 901 Commercial Ave., Anacortes; 121-B Freeway Dr., Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.calicocupboardcafe.com]http://www.calicocupboardcafe.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.stowesshoesandclothing.com]http://www.stowesshoesandclothing.com[/url]


Best Day Trip on Hwy 20:

Cascadian Farm

There’s a satellite feature on Cascadian Farm’s website that makes it possible to tour the lush acreage off Highway 20 in the upper Skagit Valley without ever having to leave your house. Sure, it’s cool to zoom in on the shot of greenhouse with the Cascade Mountains as a scenic backdrop or peruse the 28-acre organic farm’s corn and fruit fields, pollinator flower garden, and nearby log jam and salmon habitat on the Skagit River—but our readers prefer the real thing. And with good reason; by the time you’ve arrived to check out the pioneering farm behind the organic food brand that’s been around for four decades—and is open to the public from May through October—you’ve already soaked up a day trip’s worth of stellar scenery.
Where: 55931 State Route 20, Rockport
Info: [url=http://www.cascadianfarm.com]http://www.cascadianfarm.com[/url]


Best Coffee Shop:

Black Drop Coffee House, Dylan Kloch and Ryan Siu

In a town of plentiful places to procure a cuppa, the Black Drop is your favorite year in and year out. And it’s not difficult to figure out why. With a commitment to ethically sourced, locally roasted and robustly flavored coffee that is matched only by the care and technique with which it is brewed, pulled and poured by Black Drop baristas—including Ryan Siu and Dylan Kloch, fixtures behind the coffee shop counter—they aim for nothing short of perfection with every order. Plus, all that superior coffee is served up in an inclusive and community-minded atmosphere, making it easy to eschew homebrew for the Black Drop.
Where: 300 W. Champion St.
Info: [url=http://www.blackdropcoffeehouse.com]http://www.blackdropcoffeehouse.com[/url]


Best Place to Meet People, Best Pot Store:

2020 Solutions

Your favorite place—or places, given 2020 Solutions’ three locations—to procure pot is also your favorite place to score a date, a little bit of synergy that makes perfect sense. While you’re perusing 2020’s selection of flower, edibles, concentrates, topicals and more, you can also chat up the marijuana-minded person beside you and potentially emerge with some Kush and a crush. Now that’s one unforgettable high.
Where: 2018 Iron St., 5655 Guide Meridian, 4770 Pacific Hwy.
Info: [url=http://www.2020-solutions.com]http://www.2020-solutions.com[/url]


Best Breakfast/BBQ:

Dad’s Diner

Dads_Diner_BBQ_by_Jessamyn_Tuttle-o.jpg
The daily menu is etched on a blackboard, and it changes often. The talented cooks are always experimenting, and so should you. I order the buttermilk biscuits and gravy. My partner chooses the brisket hash, smoked in-house. The walls are crowded with years of photos of celebrities both local and distant who smile down on us.
Where: 906 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: (360) 899-5269


Best BBQ:

Double Barrel BBQ

A secret of the Skagit, you’ve got to—I don’t know—get invited to a wedding or something to sample Double Barrel’s rich, savory meats that just fall from the bone. That’s because their southern style pit BBQ business is focused on catering. They take their time with their orders, slow smoking their meats over oak and fruit woods. They’ve made a wedding crasher out of me.
Where: 108 W. Moore St., Sedro-Woolley
Info: [url=http://www.doublebarrelbbq.com]http://www.doublebarrelbbq.com[/url]


Best BBQ:

Bayou on Bay

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It is a quintessential downtown Bellingham experience to walk by Bayou on Bay early in the day and be bathed in the warm, welcoming scent of smoked meat. Like many of you, I have eaten my way through the popular restaurant’s menu and can vouch that its Cajun/Creole offerings are delicious, its brunch is as legit as the Bloody Marys they serve alongside it and everything is cranked out, mostly from scratch, in its tiny kitchen. Also coming out of that impossibly small space is really good barbecue, and it makes its way into all parts of the menu: brisket hash (my favorite) in the morning, pork po boys at lunch, smoked chicken wings at happy hour and barbecue ribs at dinner. Show up on Wednesdays for rib night and your slab of meet comes with a side of beer. They’ll supply the napkins.
Where: 1300 By St.
Info: [url=http://www.bayouonbay.com]http://www.bayouonbay.com[/url]


Best News Story:

Save the Whales

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Skagit is a land of wild rivers, soaring glacier peaks, fertile valleys and forested dots of islands sprinkling an inland sea. Powerful predatory whales live in these waters and feed on the tastiest wild fish on earth, the Chinook. Ours is as exotic as any landscape on the planet, and perhaps it is more threatened than many. Those whales—the southern resident orcas—aren’t especially shy and can be viewed almost daily, although their numbers are in precipitous decline. Deaths in their pods have exceeded live births, threatening a spiral to extinction. They’re sick, and they’re starving. The cause? Increased human activity around the Puget Sound, as a region that is loved too much and too recklessly. Alarmed by the decline of these iconic creatures, the Washington Legislature this session passed sweeping protections for the Salish Sea’s ailing orca population. Championed by lawmakers who represent Skagit and the San Juans, a quartet of bills cover a variety of measures, including whale watching, pollution and more. Yet budgets passed by the House and Senate so far contain no funding to continue the governor’s task force on orca recovery. There’s no agreement on plans to increase Chinook runs. And revenue measures to help pay for everything, from increasing hatchery production to enforcement of habitat protections, have yet to be decided. As we dedicate this issue to celebrate all the best our region has to offer in scenic beauty, in recreation, in menus and samplings that are unique to who we are, let us acknowledge how fragile it is and how fierce we must be in its protection.
Info: [url=http://www.whaleresearch.com]http://www.whaleresearch.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.pureblissdesserts.com]http://www.pureblissdesserts.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.skagitcounty.net]http://www.skagitcounty.net[/url]


Best Greek:

Cafe Akroteri

I’ve been spending time at Cafe Akroteri on and off for nearly 20 years, and recently realized I love it as much for its dolmathes, spanikopita and souvlaki as I do for its welcoming atmosphere. Here, I’ve gathered with friends, coworkers and strangers—typically in the roomy bar, where the tables can easily be moved together as the party expands—for Christmas parties, political discussions, pre-concert dinners and romantic interludes. It’s here you can also take advantage of the smokin’ bar special—a gyro and a beer for $10.50.
Where: 1219 Cornwall Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.cafeakroteri.com]http://www.cafeakroteri.com[/url]


Best Place to Dance:

Rumors Cabaret

One of the joys of shaking what your mama gave you on the dance floor at Rumors Cabaret is that you don’t have to worry about being judged for your moves—or for anything else, for that matter. Since 1994, the LGBTQ-friendly bar and dance club on Railroad Avenue has been one where patrons can be themselves, and where they want to dance like everybody’s watching. Whether you’re coming through the doors for a stiff drink, a titillating drag show, or to lose yourself on the welcoming dance floor, Rumors is where you want to do it.
Where: 1119 Railroad Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.rumorscabaret.com]http://www.rumorscabaret.com[/url]


Best Bookstore:

Village Books

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that possibly no local institution is as beloved as Village Books. Like every one of you, I have whiled away countless hours at the expansive and community-minded Fairhaven bookseller, perusing its three floors of tomes, picking up items on my reading list, and stopping to sip coffee at the Book Fare Cafe before buying a piece of fudge from Paper Dreams. And seriously, if there is any local delight sweeter than earning a free book through their Reader Rewards program, I have yet to discover it. Never change, Village Books.
Where: 1200 11th St.
Info: [url=http://www.villagebooks.com]http://www.villagebooks.com[/url]


Best Auto Dealer:

Dewey Griffin

Perhaps it’s because we live in the Pacific Northwest, where the affinity for Subarus, flannel and a local cup of Joe are the staple of Cascadians. Or maybe it’s because the fine folks at Dewey Griffin have a proven track record of providing superior customer service before, during and after purchasing your beloved ride. In business since 1967, they not only sell new and used cars, but also offer servicing, repair, parts and tires. They even have a dog park for while you wait. Tried, true and Fido-approved.
Where: 1800 Iowa St.
Info: [url=http://www.deweygriffinsubaru.com]http://www.deweygriffinsubaru.com[/url]


Best Tattoo:

Old Gold Tattoo

I have one tattoo. It's pretty special to me. Old Gold Tattoo has inked more than one tattoo in its years of service on State Street (right next to the Shakedown). This walk-in tattoo shop is open seven days a week and allows customers to either choose from any of its custom designs or bring in their own. I have many friends that have raved about their experience at Old Gold. If I ever get a second tattoo, I'll be sure to take a seat under their steady hands.
Where: 1222 North State St.
Info: [url=http://www.facebook.com/OldGoldTattoo]http://www.facebook.com/OldGoldTattoo[/url]


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: [url=http://www.primebellingham.com]http://www.primebellingham.com[/url]


Best Clothing Store:

Oliver-Hammer

Dad’s old fly rod was balanced heavy to lift back and come forward flat and straight to throw a weightless lure. I stripped off line from the reel and watched the fly dance on the sparkling surface of the current. In one pocket of my heavy flannel shirt was the leather book full of flies tied for any river, big and small. The pocket of my weather jacket held a big lunch. The sun crawled lazily from behind a rain cloud, hot on my neck. Whatever nature brought, I was dressed for it. I saw the fly dip, a cautious nibble, the reel sang.
Where: 817 Metcalf St., Sedro-Woolley
Info: [url=http://www.oliverhammer.com]http://www.oliverhammer.com[/url]


Best Bookstore:

Village Books

Village Books in Fairhaven
When we opine that Village Books is a local bookstore with a global focus, it’s not hyperbole. In addition to decades of providing nearly a block full of carefully selected reading material for its patrons, the powers that be at the Fairhaven-based locale—current co-owners include Paul Hanson, Kelly Evert, and Sarah Hutton—bring authors from near and far to the staunchly independent bookstore’s doorstep, week after week, year after year. Since 1980, Village Books’ official motto has been “building community one book at a time,” but we think it should also extend to “broadening horizons in ways both small and large, and making sure reading stays as relevant as breathing.”
Where: 1200 11th St.
Info: [url=http://www.villagebooks.com]http://www.villagebooks.com[/url]


Best Music Store:

Hugo Helmer Music

Hugo Helmer Music wins best music store in Skagit Valley
It’s tough to miss the venerable Hugo Helmer—after all, it’s a fairly large bright yellow building that acts as a musician-drawing beacon. Once inside the expansive store that has been in business for more than 80 years, you’ll find a paradise of instruments, gear, accessories and all of the bits required to realize any rock star dream. A robust rental program and a full-service repair shop for when you windmill off the stage and smash your guitar’s headstock makes Hugo Helmer a worthy collaborator for any musical project. Where: 
Info:
Where: 1025 S. Goldenrod Rd., Burlington
Info: [url=http://www.hugohelmermusic.com]http://www.hugohelmermusic.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.labelsconsignment.com]http://www.labelsconsignment.com[/url]


Best Salon:

Honey Salon

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“An artistic oasis of beauty” is how Honey Salon defines itself, and it’s easy to agree with their astute observation. From taking the greatest of care with their clients' hair and skin to opening up their roomy, high-ceilinged space for bimonthly art exhibits, the team at the Holly Street hive are committed to making your world a lovelier place. Plus, as the first salon in Bellingham to join Green Circle Salons, they’re bettering their ecological footprint by implementing simple changes that will make their space, and their industry, more sustainable.
Where: 310 W. Holly St.
Info: [url=http://www.honeybellingham.com]http://www.honeybellingham.com[/url]


Best Italian :

D’Anna’s Cafe Italiano

D’Anna’s wins in this category every single year, which gives me the opportunity to write a love letter to my favorite Bellingham eatery every single year. An inviting locale and waitstaff who have been there just this side of forever are the sides to a main course of the best Italian food you’ll find anywhere—all scratch-made on the premises. From parmagianas and lasagna to several kinds of ravioli to pasta augmented by more sauces, proteins and other add-ins than you can shake a noodle at, right on down to the manicotti that is, for my money, the best meal in town, D’Anna’s does a belly good.
Where: 1317 N. State St.
Info: [url=http://www.dannascafeitaliano.com]http://www.dannascafeitaliano.com[/url]


Best Clothing Stores:

Bargains Galore Thrift Store, House of Style Boutique and Salon

House of Style wins best place to buy clothes in Skagit Valley
If you’re considering dropping by Bargains Galore or House of Style, be aware the Mount Vernon-based retailers are shuttered on Sundays. I found that out the hard way, but was still able to suss out what led to a tie in this coveted category. Both community-minded establishments offer deals—a sign in front of Bargains Galore boasted a “75 percent off pants” sale, and a peek at a “locals only” placard inside the House of Style promoted a hefty discount to local customers—and each business also expands its vision to include more than clothing. At either locale, patrons can expect a win-win experience.
Where: 224 Chenoweth St., 510 S. First St., Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.bargainsgalorethrift.org]http://www.bargainsgalorethrift.org[/url], www.houseofstylemv.com


Best Trail:

Little Mountain

During my most recent session in this amply forested, vertically well-endowed Mount Vernon city park, I peddled my junker up the 1.5-mile paved entrance road to the 934-foot summit and rubbernecked the tulip fields, the San Juan Islands, Olympic Mountains, and Mt. Baker. Then—to savor as much single-track goodness as my played-out shocks and antiquated gear shifter allowed—I wheeled my way down Sidewinder to the service road that spit me out onto Huff N Puff. Upon finally reaching the High Road, I decided to go Over the Top so I could cruise the contours of Upper Surfer’s Way and Lower Surfer’s Way before departing via La-Z-Boy with a smile that stayed glued on my face for days.
Info: [url=http://www.mountvernonwa.gov]http://www.mountvernonwa.gov[/url]


Best Theater:

Lincoln Theatre

In April alone, Mount Vernon’s Lincoln Theatre will host performances by Six Gun Sal, Jet City Improv, high school jazz bands from around Skagit County, the SVA Rainbow Alliance Drag Show, and a return engagement by perennially popular comedian Paula Poundstone. Additionally, a big-screen viewing of The Kid will help celebrate the venue’s 92nd anniversary. To find out how to get involved with the storied space—which has won this coveted award umpteen times—the month will also include open houses April 20-22 during the Tulip Festival Street Fair. Take a tour, browse the selection of film posters for sale, listen to tunes being played on the Mighty Wurlitzer, and learn about how you can help make the magic happen.
Where: 712 S. First St., Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.lincolntheatre.org]http://www.lincolntheatre.org[/url]


Best Day Trip:

Artist Point

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Even smack-dab in the dead of winter—when the uppermost 2.7 miles of the Mt. Baker Highway lie buried beneath 10 feet of pow-pow—the curvaceous contours of Kulshan Ridge provide panoramic vistas and topographic inspiration to a steady stream of skiers, snowshoers and boot-packers who ascend from the back lot at Heather Meadows with survival gear on their backs and resilient grins on their faces. Although these intrepid day-trippers might look like a bunch of crazy pilgrims, there is a proven methodology to their madness. They have long since realized that Artist Point actually becomes easier to access before the road gets plowed and all the trails melt out.
Info: [url=http://www.wsdot.wa.gov]http://www.wsdot.wa.gov[/url]


Best Burger:

Fiamma Burger

“Oh Burger! My Burger!—these are the words I’m sure Walt Whitman would be uttering had circumstances been a bit different and he found himself walking through the doors of Fiamma Burger. Exceptionally delicious from start to finish, the friendliest burger folks behind the bun, and all at a price point that you can take the whole family in? Clearly winning. On top of it all, their extensive burger menu also features breakfast, happy hour, desserts, and more. I feel kind of bad ol’ Walt never got the chance to indulge.
Where: 1309 Railroad Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.fiammaburger.com]http://www.fiammaburger.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.lafiamma.com]http://www.lafiamma.com[/url]


Best Beach:

Washington Park

Although there’s hardly a shortage of panoramic vantage points to catch a soul-stirring sunset on Fidalgo Island, none of them succeeds to help capture the rapture quite as stunningly as the cliffy swath of forested, flower-meadow-endowed shoreline that fronts this mountain rimmed island-jeweled Anacortes city park.
Where: 6300 Sunset Dr., Anacortes
Info: [url=http://www.cityofanacortes.org]http://www.cityofanacortes.org[/url]


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: [url=http://www.blacksheepbellingham.com]http://www.blacksheepbellingham.com[/url]


Best Nursery/Best Place to Buy Chicken Feed:

The Country Store

Like many indelible institutions in the Skagit Valley, the Country Store has a fascinating backstory. And when customers attend in-store garden parties taking place Sat., April 23 at locales in Burlington, Sedro-Woolley, and Mount Vernon, they can find out more about how a 46-member cooperative that was founded in 1934 with a commitment to source high-quality products for area farmers grew into a 13-store business serving both small- and large-scale farmers throughout the region. At the hands-on event—which will feature free soil and help with planting garden goods you purchase at the Country Store in pots you bring from home—you can also inquire how it is possible that, in more than 80 years, the company has had only three general managers. Pick up some chicken feed sourced by Skagit Farmers Supply while you’re at it.
Where: 1276 S. Burlington Blvd., Burlington; 900 Riverside Dr., Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.countrystore.net]http://www.countrystore.net[/url]


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: [url=http://www.thebureaubellingham.com]http://www.thebureaubellingham.com[/url]


Best Coffeehouse:

Ristretto Coffee Lounge and Wine Bar

Washington is in zero shortage of coffee houses; you can typically find one on every corner. So, while the locals all know that this is the best place to get an incredible cup o’ joe, this sweet little shop is garnering a second (and third, and fourth) stop for all those traveling near (and far) coming for the Tulip Festival and every other thing the beloved Skagit Valley has to offer. The best part? You can come in for a cup of coffee in the morning, and join them again for a glass of wine in the evening.
Where: 416 S. 1st St., Mount Vernon
Info: (360) 336-0951


Best Burger:

Fiamma Burger

At Fiamma, they take their burgers very seriously—making everything from scratch and offering patty choices with everything from black beans to bison to salmon, with several stops in between—and topping them with a dizzying array of accoutrements, such as smoked onions, Hatch green chilies, crispy fried potatoes and more. However, they don’t take themselves so seriously, slinging premium burgers in an atmosphere that prizes fun over pretension. Judging by your votes, Fiamma Burger is where you go when you want to have it your way.
Where: 1309 Railroad Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.fiammaburger.com]http://www.fiammaburger.com[/url]