Best of Skagit 2016

Best Artist:

Lloyd Houston

At La Conner’s Sibling Studio, it’s a family affair. Since 2002, when mixed-media artist Lloyd Houston and his sister Christie moved back to the town where they were raised, the duo have been following their muses in a variety of ways. In Lloyd’s case, photography shares creative space with prints, writing, imagery, painting, sculpture, ginormous jigsaw puzzles and something he calls “BEM Boxes.” To create the art that defies categorization, Houston—who’s celebrating his second win in this coveted category—says he looks to the past to lead him. See his work at the multiple-award-winning Conway Muse, or schedule a time to check out the printmaking machinations at Sibling Studio.
Where: La Conner
Info: http://www.siblingstudio.com


Best Yoga Studio/Best Yoga Instructor:

Studio 1010

When she’s not busy helping her community as an Anacortes City Council member, raising her family and tending an urban farm, Liz Lovelett can be found teaching Hatha Yoga classes at Studio 1010. With a catchphrase of “Exhilarate Your Body. Stimulate Your Mind. Ignite Your Creativity,” the space is much more than a yoga studio—it’s also a gathering place where people come to feel united in body, mind and spirit.
Where: 1010 Sixth St., Anacortes
Info: http://www.studio1010.net


Best Fine Dining:

Saltine

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It’s quite possible that Saltine won in this category on the strength of its fried green olive appetizer and the prosciutto-wrapped chicken they can’t take off the rotating menu lest all of Bellingham revolt. At the forefront of the city’s recent dining revolution, Saltine offers a thoughtfully edited selection of seasonal fare in an elegant-but-comfortable atmosphere that has been popular with Bellinghamsters since their very first dinner service. Fine dining has had a tough time getting a toehold in Bellingham. And then came Saltine.
Where: 114 Prospect St.
Info: http://www.saltinebellingham.com


Best Place to Dance:

Rumors Cabaret

Every Wednesday this month, the Panty Hoes drag queens—hosted by Aruba Sterling and Mahogony Knight—literally reach out to the LGBTQ community and drag dancers to the floor. Their show runs until 11:30pm, which—every night, any night—is like the witching hour at Rumors, where crowds rush in to writhe and whirl under the bright lights to music spun by the most talented DJs in the city. The drinks are cheap and well-mixed, served with style by a talented and good-looking waitstaff. Alternative? Mandatory.
Where: 1119 Railroad Ave.
Info: http://www.rumorscabaret.com


Best Salon:

Honey Salon

Walking through the doors of Honey Salon, you feel like you’ve traveled outside our little corner of the PNW and into a swanky salon in New York City; warm, exposed brick walls, wood floors, beautiful lighting, comfy window seats—you feel stylish upon entering. But the design aesthetic is nothing compared to the beauty within the hands of the people that make up Honey. The artists behind the shears are committed to giving you their best, while making you look yours. Traditional services apply (cuts, color), but Honey also offers sugaring, makeup, straight shaves and more. Turns out the sweetest Honey is found in our own backyard.
Where: 310 W. Holly Street
Info: http://www.honeybellingham.com


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: http://www.facebook.com/farmstrongbrewing


Best Realtor:

Dominic Pettruzzelli

Dominic Pettruzzelli wins best realtor in Skagit Valley
There isn’t much Dominic hasn’t accomplished in the last nine years of his real estate career. From “Rookie of the Year” to the cover of Realtor Magazine, the list of his accomplishments goes on and on. But what really sets the Pettruzzelli team apart is Dominic’s passion for helping others build net worth through homeownership, which deservedly garnered him this year’s title of Best Realtor.
Where: 425 Commercial St., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.pettruzzelli.com/realestate


Best Margarita:

Black Sheep

When it comes to margaritas, Black Sheep is unapologetic about its lack of a blender. “Sorry not sorry” reads a note above the long menu of tequila-inspired cocktails offered on the regular—and on the rocks—at the self-described “bar with tacos.” Whether you’re in the mood for a simple yet delicious Dude-a-rita (made with Lunazul reposado, triple sec, limes and lemons) or want to get fancy with a Siddha (Classico reposado, Kuma turmeric liqueur and limes), the award-winning Holly Street hideout will slake your thirst with the best margarita in town.
Where: 215 W. Holly St.
Info: http://www.blacksheepbellingham.com


Best Bike Shop:

Skagit Cycle Center

At Skagit Cycle, you’re not going to be stereotyped as a sissy if you inform employees you’re looking for sturdiness, not speed. “Cycling intensity levels range from gleeful joyrides to foaming-at-the-mouth, all-out efforts and anything in between,” the spokespeople at the Skagit Valley hub say when talking about why bicycling is the best exercise around. “This ability to choose your perfect pace is what makes cycling so much fun and so accessible to just about everyone,” they add. And with 1,000-plus conveyances to choose from, it seems as if Skagit Cycle Center is apt to have a perfect ride for just about everybody.
Where: 1704 Burlington Blvd., Burlington and 1620 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: http://www.skagitcylecenter.com


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: http://www.rumorscabaret.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 Nonprofit:

Lydia Place

October is memorable for Lydia Place. It was during that month in 1989 that the first family moved into the nonprofit’s nascent transitional housing facility. Thirty years later, the organization has never wavered on their stance that “every family deserves a home.” Started by a task force of can-do women who saw a need for safe housing for women and children experiencing homelessness, Lydia Place has grown from an eight-bedroom, single-family home to a full-service organization that serves more than 150 families at a time. It’s community service in action, and it’s beautiful to behold.
Info: http://www.lydiaplace.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 Bed & Breakfast:

Katy’s Inn

In 1882, Captain John Peck built a lovely Victorian residence on a hill in the Skagit Valley. It’s the oldest house in La Conner, and anyone can spend the night there—provided you clear it first with Kimberly Good Rubenstein, the new owner of Katy’s Inn. Like the former proprietors, the fifth-generation Skagitonian has already done plenty to preserve the integrity of the 133-year-old landmark. Lucky guests will also discover Rubenstein is convinced the farm-to-table breakfast spread she offers her visitors every morning is a perfect way to introduce them to Skagit County.
Where: 503 S. 3rd Ave., La Conner
Info: http://www.bedandbreakfastlaconner.com


Best Breakfast/BBQ:

Dad’s Diner

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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 Bike Shop:

Kulshan Cycles

Anyone who’s ever thrilled at the way it feels to ride a bicycle down a steep hill can likely also attest to the not-so-great feeling that occurs when you discover the brakes on your two-wheeled conveyance need some assistance. That’s where Eric and Kae Moe of Kulshan Cycles come in. When the duo took over the bike business from previous owner Jack Kimmes in 2005, Eric had already put in a decade at the Chestnut Street locale, making him an ideal successor to the now-35-year-old shop—which is known not only for its enviable selection of bike-related products, but also for the crew’s ability to fix pesky brakes (and so much more), host clinics and weekly bike rides, and sharing their love of riding with the public. (Honorable mention: Earl’s Bike Shop.)
Where: 100 E. Chestnut St.
Info: http://www.kulshancycles.com


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 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: http://www.honeybellingham.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 Mechanic:

Travis Wysong at Honest T Auto

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He calls himself Captain of the Ship at Honest T—but to be really honest, Travis Wysong is both admiral and able-bodied seadog. Need an engine tuneup before climbing the higher reaches of the North Cascades Highway? Need your your riding mower prepped for an expedition into the teeming forests of tall lawn grass? That squeak got you bothered? Travis will get under the hood and tackle the nuts and bolts of the situation.
Where: Collins Road, Sedro-Woolley
Info: (360) 399-1976 or http://www.facebook.com/HonestTAuto


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 Winery:

In Vino Veritas

Oh, Bellingham! it appears our readers aren’t exactly sure what a winery is, you named so many choices. Some readers named vintners. A favorite was Vinostrology, a cozy wine nook with a unique wine station dispensary and cheese plates perfect to share with friends. Others named vendors and wine merchants like Seifert & Jones, with their outstanding regional and international selections—many excellent choices priced under $20 per bottle. As far as actual wineries, you chose Moon Alchemy Wine, an exciting adventure of flavors old and new from winemakers Geneviève and Matthew Stirling. We’ll note that cider is also a fermented fruit product, and there are several of these new businesses in Bellingham. We’ll add it as a new category next year. Where: Vinostrology Wine Lounge and Merchant, 120 W. Holly St. Info: http://www.vinostrology.com Where: Seifert & Jones, 19 Prospect St. Info: http://www.sjwinemerchants.com Where: Moon Alchemy Wine, 301 W. Holly St. Info: http://www.moonalchemywine.com


Best Happy Hour:

Rock and Rye

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Bellingham is very serious about its happy hours, making this a hotly contested category. Of all the places that do happy hour well, Rock and Rye is in a league of its own with cocktails on tap and a menu of small plates that can easily become a meal. I like to start with freshly shucked happy hour oysters before moving on to a bowl of mussels, a plate of beef carpaccio or a heaping helping of poutine, if I’m feeling extra hungry. With all-day happy hour on Sunday, your day of rest can become a day at Rock and Rye.
Where: 1145 N. State St.
Info: http://www.rockrye.com


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: http://www.cabelas.com


Best Farm:

Wallace Farms

I love potatoes. Perhaps it’s my Irish heritage, but if given the opportunity, I’d eat them at every meal. So when readers voted the potato-centered Wallace Farms as Best Farm, my excitement level for writing about the beloved spud was much higher than it probably should have been. The Skagit Valley has incredible growing conditions for taters—red, white, yellow, purple and russet—but it’s the Wallace family that has stayed tried and true to what they grow for more than 100 years. And to you, dear Wallaces, I tip my hat. Thank you.
Where: 10412 Chuckanut Dr., Burlington
Info: http://www.wallacespuds.com


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: http://www.dakotaartgallery.com


Best Mexican:

Taco Lobo

When the Cascadia Weekly offices were directly above the Taco Lobo headquarters on Champion Street, my pavlovian responses would kick in every afternoon around lunchtime, when the smells of Mexico would find their way through open windows or air ducts. At least once a week, I’d act on my impulses and order a carne asada burrito or pollo verde. The made-from-scratch tortillas and salsas were a boon. And thanks to our proximity to the eatery, my lunch would still be warm when I sat down at my desk to consume it.
Where: 117 W. Magnolia St.
Info: http://www.tacolobo.net


Best Attorney:

Sean McKee

Not just an attorney, Sean McKee is also a local business owner and longtime musician, which puts him into contact with folks from all walks of Bellingham life and truly makes him a community stakeholder. His deep roots here are part of what led him to law, and his is a practice devoted to helping people out. This is likely why he emerged the winner in this crowded category.
Where: 215 Flora St.
Info: (360) 647-5251


Best Music Festival:

Downtown Sounds

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After years spent retooling and reconfiguring their setup to accommodate ever-growing crowds, this year Downtown Sounds took over two blocks of Bay and Prospect streets, effectively doubling their footprint--and it was an unqualified success, judging by both the hordes of people who showed up for the five Wednesday-evening concerts of the wildly popular summer series, and their win in this category. You keep building it, Downtown Sounds, and we will keep coming.
Where: Bay and Prospect streets
Info: http://www.downtownbellingham.com/downtown-sounds


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 Place to Dance, Best Place to See Live Music:

Wild Buffalo

One need look no further than the Wild Buffalo’s string of wins in the category to see that Bellingham truly does consider the venue their favorite place to see live music. The Buff's almost magical ability to entice national talent to town has made inroads into the EDM scene, snaring big house, trance, dubstep and other artists in their tractor beam, and earning them a new accolade: Best Place to Dance. Well done, Wild Buffalo.
Where: 208 W. Holly St.
Info: http://www.wildbuffalo.net


Best Auto Dealer:

Foothills Toyota

Over the rivers and through the hills, you can tell a lot about a Skagitonian by the rigs they drive. These are sensible cars, with an eye toward rugged off-road capacity. They’re imports mostly, which means good fuel-efficiency and full features. Where Skagitonians buy their rigs says just as much—high value at a good low price from a family dealership that’s been selling cars for just about as long as there have been cars.
Where: 1881 Bouslog Rd., Burlington
Info: (360) 757-7575


Best Vegetarian:

Shambala Bakery & Bistro

Shambala Bakery & Bistro wins best vegetarian food in Skagit Valley
Using only non-GMO products, Shambala Bakery & Bistro in downtown Mount Vernon offers a plethora of gluten-free breads, carefully crafted sandwiches, wraps, salads, soups, sauces and even pizza with attention paid to every menu item, and with allergy sensitivities in mind. The food lovingly prepared here is a vegetarian and vegan’s dream. Even if you’re not following that particular food path, the fare is undeniably delicious. Be kind to yourself. Eat at Shambala.
Where: 614 S. First St., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.shambalabakery.com


Best Auto Repair:

Bellingham Automotive

When it comes to your vehicle, the team at Bellingham Automotive knowns exactly how important service is to keep your major purchase running. And regardless if your ride is brand-new or has seen better days, their commitment to excellence in providing you with support and service ensures your safety on the road—not only for now, but for years to come. Their impressive expertise in both foreign and domestic vehicles will also leave you with peace of mind. During October, they’ll even check your battery for free.
Where: 4416 Hannegan Rd.
Info: http://www.bellinghamautomotive.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 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: http://www.perdonasalon.com


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: http://www.rachawadeethai.com


Best Cannabis Product:

SUBX

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I was wary of the prerolled “Thick Wicket” joint I purchased last weekend. The specimen was huge and skunky and intimidating. I’d told my friendly budtender I was hoping to head outside to do yard work after testing it, and he assured me the hybrid strain from the perennially popular growers of Subdued Excitement (SUBX) was smooth and wouldn’t throw me for a loop. Soon after inhaling a few puffs, I was wandering the garden with a trowel in hand and enjoying the autumnal splendor. While I likely wouldn’t mow the lawn while under the influence of Thick Wicket, it was just the ticket for an afternoon of weeding in the sun.
Info: http://www.subdued-excitement.com


Best Nursery:

Christianson’s 
Nursery & Greenhouse

On the way to Edison for a late lunch after a dizzying tour through downtown Mount Vernon, I bellowed “pull over!” when we passed by Christianson’s Nursery. I handed my date a Power Bar to snack on, and we set off to explore the expansive grounds and greenhouses that house the largest selection of roses and perennials in Northwest Washington. After a quick peek at the annual “Art in the Schoolhouse” exhibit in the 1880s-era restored schoolhouse, we were back on the road.
Where: 15806 Best Rd., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.christiansonsnursery.com


Best Pot Store/Head Shop/Place to Meet Men and Women:

2020 Solutions

2020 Solutions
When 2020 Solutions opened its first cannabis-related business at 4:20pm on July 10, 2014, it became Bellingham’s second retail pot store—and one of the first in the state to offer recreational marijuana to the masses. In the years since, high demand for the product has resulted in a proliferation of neighborhood joints offering everything from buds to concentrates, edibles and accessories (pipes, papers, grinders, vaporizers, etc.). Keeping up with the competition, 2020 Solutions has added two venues to their original Iron Street locale, made their mantra “responsible, knowledgeable, discreet” a reality, built warm and welcoming spaces that resemble high-end bars—perfect for locking eyes with the cutie checking out the Blackberry Kush—and made one-stop-pot-shopping a cinch.
Where: 2018 Iron St., 5655 Guide Meridian, 4770 Pacific Hwy.
Info: http://www.2020-solutions.com


Best Farm:

Schuh Farms

Schuh Farms wins best farm in Skagit Valley
The first time I went to Schuh Farms, it was during harvest season and I was enchanted by its many charms. There were U-pick pumpkins aplenty, a corn maze, the perfect little shop to purchase locally harvested goods and the best tractor ride in Skagit County. Happily, the Schuh Family opens its doors daily from April through December to allow you and your posse to have fun on the farm.
Where: 15565 WA-536, Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.facebook.com/schuh-farms


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 Brewery:

Farmstrong Brewing Company

Farmstrong Brewery wins best brewery in Skagit Valley
“Crafting award-winning beer while remaining agriculturally independent is no longer a dream, but a reality,” a staffer at Farmstrong Brewing Company recently told us. They weren’t kidding. After spending a year tweaking recipes, the Mount Vernon-based brewery can now boast that every brew they pour was made with grain that was grown, malted and brewed within a 10-mile radius. So while you’re on the Farmstrong patio sipping a Valley Gold in the spring sunshine, you can rest assured it quite literally tastes like the place it comes from. Where: 
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Where: 110 Stewart Rd., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.farmstrongbrewing.com


Best Artist:

Ben Mann

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What can’t Ben Mann do? In addition to the audacious amount of creativity the painter brings to the public sphere—from storefront murals to gallery shows, tulip festivals to colorful calendars—he’s also a published author, a traveling teacher who shares his skills with local youth, and a philanthropist who donates works to nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity, Whatcom Humane Society, Brigid Collins, and far beyond. Last summer, he was the Grand Marshal during the Bellingham Pride Parade, where he led the procession with aplomb. Congratulate Mann on his latest win in this coveted category during the second weekend of the Whatcom Artist Studio Tour, Oct. 12-13, where he’ll be holding court at his third-floor studio in the historic Fairhaven district.
Where: 1000 Harris Ave.
Info: http://www.ben-mann.com


Best Mexican:

COA Mexican Eatery

An early morning spent tramping Padilla Bay's trails and negotiating a backlog of tulip field traffic had us famished. After locating the Mount Vernon faction of COA, our day trip turned into a culinary adventure. The flavors of Mexico came alive in the complexly simple pork tacos and taco salad we ordered, but we could also taste the ingredients grown closer to home. And, just our luck, it was $5 Friday—meaning the discounted margaritas went down all the smoother.
Where: 102 S. 10th St., Mount Vernon; 214 Maple Ave., La Conner
Info: http://www.coaeatery.com


Best Movie Theater:

Pickford Film Center

This year, as part of the Pickford Film Center’s annual Doctober festival, the theater was able to extend an invitation to more than 5,000 students in Whatcom County to come and see a free documentary under the umbrella of its Doc Ed program. It’s just one of the many ways in which the nonprofit art-house movie theater takes its motto of “more than movies” seriously. Programs like Doc Ed, along with the PFC and Limelight’s carefully chosen lineup of independent and foreign films, endlessly delightful volunteer staff and state-of-the-art movie houses are just some of the things that have earned them an unbroken string of wins in this category—that, and the real butter on the popcorn, of course.
Where: 1318 Bay St./1416 Cornwall Ave.
Info: http://www.pickfordfilmcenter.org


Best Stop on Highway 542:

North Fork Beer Shrine

Best stop on the way to Mt. Baker? It’s a trick question. Actually, everyone knows the mountains are just an excuse to get out of town for the real destination: a frosty pint and a hearty slice of wood-fired pizza near a place called Welcome. Church Mountain is my cathedral, but the North Fork is my shrine.
Where: 6186 Mt. Baker Hwy, Deming
Info: http://www.northforkbrewery.com


Best New Story:

Water Woes

This jail tax sure has everyone talking. But maybe it gets resolved by voters in November? What doesn’t get resolved? All the water issues that surround an oversubscribed water supply. Sure, it rains a lot here; but not all the time and not at certain times of the year. Stream flows diminish and salmon runs suffer. And now we’ve got rural well owners who’ve lost their exemption and who now want to crowd into the line ahead of others with a demonstrated water right. Home construction collides with other imperatives. It’s a big mess and it won’t be sorted out anytime soon.


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 Fine Dining:

Hundred North

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Eat Local. It began as a simple concept, and has become a mantra for chefs who want to create authentic dining experiences with the freshest wild salmon and choicest vegetables, berries, dairy and honey. No one embraces this idea with more passion and flair than Chef Todd Alan Martin of Hundred North. The setting is intimate and every seat in the house has a view of the kitchen, where the marvels of the menu are prepared. Eating, he promises, is a communal experience where people share laughter and love.
Where: 100 North Commercial St.
Info: http://www.hundrednorth.com


Best Auto Dealer:

Dewey Griffin Subaru

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Bellingham loves its Subarus, so it comes as no surprise that the winner in this category would be a Subaru retailer. But Dewey Griffin is so much more than a car dealership. With their motto of “Let’s all put a little in and there will be a lot for everyone,” Dewey Griffin has donated more than $1.2 million in the last five years to such charitable organizations as Blue Skies for Children, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and others, and were named the Subaru Love Promise Retailer of the Year for 2019. No wonder Bellingham has been trusting Dewey Griffin with its business—and its precious Subarus—for more than 30 years.
Where: 1800 Iowa St.
Info: http://www.deweygriffinsubaru.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 Bike Store:

Skagit Cycle

Lucky for all of us fair-weather bikers, we're entering prime biking season. It's time to pull those two-wheelers out of their sheds and send them in for a little TLC at Skagit Cycle. Or maybe you just need a new one. They have more than 1,000 bikes in stock and have three locations, so start looking.
Where: Anacortes, Burlington, Oak Harbor
Info: http://www.skagitcyclecenter.com


Best Sandwich:

Avenue Bread

Time was short. Lunch was calling. The plump-looking hoagies at the grocery store looked tempting. But then I had a better vision. Once again, as it has for several trips round the sun, my abiding fealty to the sandwich board at Avenue Bread pulled me through to a more savory situation. Within a half-hour, all I had to do was decide between an Avenue Club on rustic wheat or a Grilled Eggplant on artisanal focaccia.
Where: 1313 Railroad Ave., 2301 James St., 1135 11th St.
Info: http://www.avenuebread.com


Best Shoe Store:

Hilton’s Shoes

In 1924, J. Edgar Hoover was appointed the head of the Bureau of Investigation, Johnny Weissmuller won three gold medals at the Paris Summer Olympics, and black leather shoes were reaching peak popularity. That last fact was pertinent to the opening of Hilton’s Shoes, which was opened by Joseph Hilton that same year in downtown Bellingham and has now been providing a wide range of shoes to the public for more than 90 years. “ Hilton’s has been passed down through the generations and remains in the family,” the current owners say. “Downtown has undergone some serious changes, but our philosophy has never changed: Honesty and integrity in everything we do.”
Where: 113 W. Magnolia St.
Info: http://www.hiltonsshoes.com


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: http://www.skagitcyclecenter.com


Best Tap Room:

Elizabeth Station

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“What a 7-Eleven would be like if there was one in the Shire,” the Station folks say. It is comically true, this cozy hobbit hole at the gateway to Columbia neighborhood. Want any of a selection of a hundred beers? Friend, they’ll pour it for you into a frosty glass. You could take it to go, but then you’d miss a sunset with your kin and their fiery tales of dragons.
Where: 1400 W. Holly St
Info: http://www.elizabethstation.es


Best Breakfast:

The Rhododendron Cafe

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The Rhododendron Cafe has been enticing breakfast-lovers for years. But when Jim and Lisa Kowalski took over the cafe last year, they elevated this restaurant’s culinary delights. Have you had their salmon Eggs Benedict? No? That’s no one else’s fault but your own. Rhody Cafe is showing its craft in every plate. They even make their own English muffins, which is reason enough to head up Chuckanut Drive and stop in for an award-winning breakfast.
Where: 5521 Chuckanut Drive, Bow
Info: http://www.rhodycafe.comIa-deli.com


Best Beach:

Locust Beach

Any time of year is the right time of year to visit the coastline of Birchwood for an intertidal immersion therapy session at Locust Beach. With 200 acres of forested shoreline to absorb and inspire you, this breezy hideaway is the perfect place to hunker in the driftwood and/or launch the flotation device of your choosing. For a salty old beach bum like me it only takes a few seconds down there before my boots come off, I start shedding some layers and suddenly I’m chest-deep in the shallows grunting for joy and flapping my flippers around like a teenage walrus.
Where: Locust Road at Marine Drive
Info: http://www.cob.org


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 Movie Theater:

Pickford Film Center

The Pickford Film Center’s string of wins in this category remains unbroken, and few arts organizations in Bellingham are more beloved than the no-longer-tiny-but-definitely mighty movie theater that brings the best in independent, foreign and genre films you won’t find anywhere else. Right now, the PFC is in the middle of its annual Doctober event, and by the time it concludes, 60 documentaries will show on its three screens. With programs like Doc-ED, its volunteer staff and support of and involvement with other nonprofits and community-minded organizations, the PFC lives up to its “more than movies” motto 365 days a year.
Where: 1318 Bay St., 1416 Cornwall Ave.
Info: http://www.pickfordfilmcenter.org


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: http://www.rumorscabaret.com


Best Home Store:

The Greenhouse

Glassware and gadgets and pretty white linens Coffee and candles and things for Thanksgiving Beautiful bakeware tied up with string The Greenhouse has all of your favorite things! Trinkets and towels and small little dishes Sweet-smelling soaps are what your soul wishes Gifts for your loved ones that make your heart sing The Greenhouse has all of your favorite things.
Where: 1235 Cornwall Ave.
Info: http://www.greenhousehome.com


Best Movie Theater:

The Pickford Film Center

Pickford Film Center
The Pickford Film Center’s motto is “More than movies” and it’s a promise they make good on, offering such events as the Rooftop Cinema, annual Oscar party, Children's and Human Rights film festivals and so much more. Currently, the not-so-tiny-but-certainly-mighty independent movie theater is in the middle of Doctober, its annual, month-plus celebration of nonfiction filmmaking, which has become the largest documentary film festival on the west coast and helps anchor the PFC’s Doc-Ed and Media Literacy programs. Of course, they still show plenty of those art-house movies you love, which is how they win this category—and your hearts—year after year. That, and the real butter they put on their popcorn.
Where: 1318 Bay Street, 1416 Cornwall Ave.
Info: http://www.pickfordfilmcenter.org


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 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


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: http://www.deweygriffinsubaru.com


Best Mexican:

Taco Lobo

Hands down, the best chile relleno in a town that is fiercely competitive in that category. I had a chance recently to try their Costillas de Puerco con Nopalitos as their day’s special— pork back ribs with cactus in a flavorful sauce. How do you balance creative with authentic? Taco Lobo knows.
Where: 117 W Magnolia St.
Info: http://www.tacolobo.net


Best Realtor:

Sean Hackney, 
Muljat Group

It’s the most important decision and purchase you’ll make in your life—your abode, the place you express your dreams, the home you create for your family. You need someone who understands all this to walk you through—no high pressure, no feeling of being jammed—but, you know, sometimes you also need that gentle poke right at the end, affirming this is the right purchase for you and those you love. Sean grew up in Whatcom County, is invested in his community, and knows about neighborhoods and families. Because that’s what the job is really about. This was a hot category, with fierce competition among charismatic agents and their loyal, happy customers. Sean topped the list.
Info: http://www.facebook.com/SeanHackneyRealtor


Best Greek:

Cafe Akroteri

One of the great unsung food deals in Bellingham is Cafe Akroteri’s $10.50 gyro and beer or wine special. One of the great unsung bars in Bellingham is the one at the downtown Greek mainstay. But you’ll need some food to soak up that ouzo and retsina, and Akroteri is here to help with all your Greek favorites like moussaka, spanakopita, falafel, souvlaki and lamb of many varieties. Treat yourself to a sampler platter and try a little bit of everything.
Where: 1219 Cornwall Ave.
Info: http://www.cafeakroteri.com


Best Grocery Store:


Skagit Valley Food Co-op


Skagit Valley Food Co-op wins best grocery store in Skagit Valley
Walking the aisles of the Co-op is like a brief tour through the Skagit—fresh local produce from partner farms, a focus on the nutritious and the sustainable, and the locals who are passionate members and supporters of this thriving market. A recent expansion has brought in C-Square, the deli and bistro complex. Third Street Cafe is the only community-owned restaurant in Skagit Valley, and well beyond. Life is so good here.
Where: 202 South First Street, Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.skagitfoodcoop.com


Best Bike Store:

Fanatik Bike Co.

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Rest assured that when you find a new ride at Fanatik Bike Co.—or help customize it through their handy Bike Build program—you’ll be purchasing your two-wheeler from people who will likely be hitting the trails as soon as they leave their day job (and will gladly share their favorite rides with you). That love of the outdoors is part of what makes the spacious State Street bike hub so beloved. Since 2004, founders Mark and Kathy Salisbury have hired staff members who are as passionate about mountain biking (and more) as they are, and it shows. You’ve come a long way since your humble beginnings in a car garage, Fanatik.
Where: 1812 N. State St.
Info: http://www.fanatikbike.com


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 Celebrity/Best Theater Company:

Ryan Stiles and the Upfront Theatre

Ryan Stiles and the Upfront Theatre
If laughter truly is the best way to cure what ails you, then Ryan Stiles should be given a stethoscope and a medical degree, pronto. Since 2004, the so-tall-he’s-impossible-to-miss funnyman—a veteran of television shows such as Whose Line is it Anyway? and The Drew Carey Show—has been dropping by the improv theater company he founded in downtown Bellingham 14 years ago for both scheduled shows and also surprise performances. Sure, “Dr. Stiles” is a bona fide celebrity, but when he shares the stage with his fellow actors, they become famous in their own right. And, judging by this year’s Best Theater Company win, the mainstage mavens are working their own fan base just fine.
Where: 1208 Bay St.
Info: http://www.theupfront.com


Best Brewery:

Wander Brewing

In the heady days leading up to Oct. 11—when they dropped their limited-release American Scream IPA, featuring 400 pounds of locally sourced raspberries from Samson Farms in Everson—the wizards at Wander Brewing embraced the bodacious bounty of the Yakima hop harvest with an experimental fervor that made local hopheads exceedingly happy. Back in August, they finished their Googly Eyes DIPA with Citra and Ekuanot Cryo hops. Hot on the heels of that they mixed Saaz, Triumph, and Styrian Wolf hops into a savory swill called Ground Hop Day. For September, they dumped 400 pounds of freshly picked Centennial hop cones into their 400 Cents Fresh Hop IPA and dry-hopped an aromatic blend of Galaxy and Azacca hops into the much-anticipated Synthesizah Kveik IPA. They didn’t stop there, of course, but I’ve run out of space to keep gushing about their beer.
Where: 1807 Dean Ave.
Info: http://www.wanderbrewing.com


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 Trail:

Oyster Dome

Now that companion bills to preserve the 1,600-acre core of Blanchard State Forest for all current and future generations are working their way through the finalization process deep in Washington State Legislature, legions of loyal trail users can expect that whether they’re chugging up the switchbacks from Chuckanut Drive, contouring along the ridge line from Samish Overlook, or slogging through leeward dog hair via B-1000 Road, the crowning stand of mature timber on and around the dome will be perpetually protected from the denuding process and waiting to be savored in all its rocky, salal-carpeted glory.
Where: Pacific NW Trail, Bow
Info: http://www.wta.org


Best Casino:

Skagit Valley Casino Resort

There’s more than one way to get lucky, and the Skagit Valley Casino Resort has all of them covered. Roll the dice at their plentiful gaming tables. Take in a show of high-caliber entertainment (Vanessa Williams and John Michael Montgomery are both coming soon). Eat a delicious meal in one of their restaurants. Book a room and stay the night to do it up just right. Everything at the Skagit may be a gamble, but a good time is guaranteed.
Where: 5984 Darrk Lane, Bow
Info: http://www.theskagit.com


Best Salon:

Shearer’s Hair Design

Did Deborah Shearer decide she wanted to cut hair for a living because of her name, or did she change her name to better reflect her chosen profession? That’s one of the many things you can ask the owner of Shearer’s Hair Design when you schedule a haircut, coloring, perm or eyebrow or lash tint with her or one of the other experienced beauticians at the popular Yew Street locale, which is taking home its first win in the “Best Salon” category—proving they’re a cut above the rest.
Where: 2420 Yew Street Rd.
Info: http://www.shearershairdesign.com


Best Realtor:

Sandra McKee

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The real estate market in Bellingham is fierce. With rising home prices and escalating interest rates, it’s difficult to know who to turn to make sure your investment, or future investment, is in the right hands. That’s where Sandra McKee of John L. Scott Real Estate comes in. In real estate for just over a year and a half, McKee is already making a name for herself in this incredibly competitive field. If you’re thinking about purchasing or selling real estate, consider making her your point person.
Where: 2930 Newmarket St., 111
Info: (360) 220-1782


Best Winery:

Tulip Valley Winery

If you’re meandering along State Route 536, be on the lookout for a large 1920s-era dairy barn surrounded by three acres of grapevines and apple orchards. It’s there you’ll find the Tulip Valley Winery, a scenic family-run venue originally inspired by the lush Skagit Valley and the iconic flowers that usher in spring. In addition to enjoying tastings of the award-winning hard cider and wine sourced with locally and regionally grown grapes, visitors during the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival can also peruse an on-site art show, settle in for a picnic, visit with local vendors and even take a helicopter ride to check out the stellar view from above.
Info: https://www.tulipvalley.net


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: http://www.communityfood.coop


Best Park:

Whatcom Falls Park

Whether I’m sailing through via cross-country skis on the rare snow day, seeking to dazzle my latest round of out-of-town guests or simply on the hunt for a bracing dose of vertically enhanced riparian topography, Whatcom Falls Park’s chasm-friendly trail system never fails to deliver the mossy green goods. Come rain or shine, I’m pretty notorious for dawdling across the stone bridge as slow as my feet will carry me. Noisy water is good for my soul and the primordial atmosphere around it deserves to be savored.
Where: 1401 Electric Ave.
Info: http://www.cob.org


Best Deli:

Gere-a-Deli

Serving Anacortes cured meats, aromatic cheeses and savory soups for 35 years, Gere-a-Deli serves a magnificent sandwich, piled high with lots of options. I gravitate toward the classic styles—the meatloaf sandy, the chicken salad, the Italian sub—but there’s modern and vegetarian gourmet selections, too. On this chilly rainy day I ordered the housemade tomato soup and a toasted mozzarella cheese sandwich. It was like stepping back into the best days childhood.
Where: 502 Commercial Ave. Anacortes
Info: http://www.gereadeli.com


Best Vegetarian:

Leaf & Ladle

This little lunch counter opens early and stays open late, serving generous portions of heathy and wholesome mixed greens salads, wraps, paninis and scratch-made soups—for dining in, or packaged to go for a hungry lunch crowd. Their menu changes with the season’s freshest vegetables, with the ripening flavors of autumn currently in demand. Owner Linda Melim has acquired the space next door and plans to open LL Libations later this month, serving mixed cocktails to the late-night leaf-eaters.
Where: 1113 N. State St.
Info: (360) 319-9718


Best Tattoo:

Good Vibes Body Art

It’s been a long while since I got a tattoo, but if I were to venture back into the realm of enhancing my epidermis, I’d make an appointment at Good Vibes Body Art. The reasons are simple. The talented artists at the longtime Mount Vernon-based business encourage discussing the design in advance to ensure an accurate estimate of the time and money it will take, and also stress the importance of after-care. Plus, a look through the portfolios of the artists have me convinced my “canvas” would be in great hands.
Where: 503 S. First St., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.goodvibesbodyart.com


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 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: http://www.naanandbrew.com


Best Deli:

Old World Deli

Old World Deli, Belllingham
No matter the ingredients, every Old World Deli sandwich I’ve ever eaten has been made from equal parts skill, creativity and love. That’s a lot to fit into a sandwich, which is why the ones from Old World tend to get messy. But the State Street stalwart is more than just superior sandwiches. A rotating roster of thoughtfully chosen wines, house cured and smoked meats, a heavenly cheese case, dried pastas and polenta, and more exotic condiments than will fit inside the door of even the largest fridge can also be found there. Their string of wins proves that Old World has a lock on this category and on the hearts and stomachs of Bellingham.
Where: 1228 N. State St.
Info: http://www.oldworlddeli1.com


Best Music Festival:

Subdued 
Stringband Jamboree

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Although the pickin’ party known as the Subdued Stringband Jamboree has won in this category before, one need not gaze upon their awards to know how much Bellinghamsters love this annual event—all you have to do is make your way to the Deming Log Show Fairgrounds every August to watch festival-goers flock to the weekend-long affair, where they will dance, catch up and take in the finest old-timey and Americana bands festival founder Robert Sarazin Blake can muster. It’s a community gathering like none other, every single year.
Where: Deming Log Show Fairgrounds
Info: http://www.stringbandjamboree.com


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: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov


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: http://www.dannascafeitaliano.com


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: http://www.oldworlddeli1.com


Best Salon:

Adara Salon & Spa

Since 1988, Adara Salon & Spa has been putting the “care” in phrases such as “hair care,” “skin care” and “nail care.” Whether you’re seeking a new look for your locks, a feel-good facial, bridal services, deep-tissue massage or nearly anything involving trimming, waxing, polishing and tinting, the team members at the Aveda salon in Mount Vernon are there to make you feel and look your best. Are you worth it? You know you are.
Where: 1019 Cleveland Ave., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.adarasalonandspa.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 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 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: http://www.whatcomymca.org


Best Burger:

Skagit Valley Burger Express

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This little red caboose chugs out a delicious burger—the Atomic Mushroom is hefty, juicy and grill-seared, with the eponymous explosion of sauteed mushrooms and bacon on a perfectly toasted bun. Since the last time I visited they’ve added thick, creamy milkshakes done right, and a small hut for outdoor dining during April showers. The latter obscures the caboose and its signage just a little from the road, however, so look hard or you might miss this “don’t miss” burger spot on the North Cascades Highway.
Where: 1172 WA-20, Sedro-Woolley
Info: (360) 707-8778


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: http://www.cafeakroteri.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


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