Best of Skagit 2016

Best Music Festival:

Riverwalk Summer Concert Series

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


Best Women’s Clothing Store:

Labels

I’ve lived in Bellingham for 10 years. I’ve been frequenting Labels for approximately nine years, nine months, and a few days, give or take. Sage Bishop and her savvy staff have clearly been doing something very right, as they’ve won this award for the last several years—and 2017 is no exception. From new to lightly used shoes, purses, dresses, jewelry, clothing, home goods and more, Labels has everything in style needed for your wardrobe and home. I, for one, can’t wait for the next 10 years of being a loyal Labels lover.
Where: 2332 James Street, 3927 Northwest Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.labelsconsignment.com]http://www.labelsconsignment.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 Indian:

Taste of India

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


Best Lunch:

Carver’s Cafe

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


Best Breakfast:

Home Skillet

Home_Skillet_1a.jpg
Tina and Kirby White got good with grits in cozy conditions the adventuresome way—they practiced culinary arts at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. There, color, grace, style and a gentle humor helped nourish an extended working family through long, frosty, seldom sunny mornings. That’s the tradition they’ve built at their Sunnyland breakfast nook, where Bellingham’s family rubs elbows over spicy huevos rancheros, chorizo and eggs, and tater tot hash with piping mugs of dark roast to stave off the coming winter chill. Last time I was there, I knew everyone in the joint. It’d been a while since I’d seen these old friends, and it was good to break the fast with them again.
Where: 521 Kentucky St.
Info: [url=http://www.homeskilletinsunnyland.com]http://www.homeskilletinsunnyland.com[/url]


Calm Water Massage:

Calm Water Massage

Mount Vernon-based massage therapist Traci Fralic has been known to make house calls, but that's far from the only reason Calm Water Massage has won this award seven years in a row. "Complete body relaxation" is touted at the Pine Square locale, and if being free of assorted aches and pains isn't enough of a reason to book an appointment, consider the wonder that is the "Raindrop Technique."
Where: 312 Pine St., Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.calmwatermassage.com]http://www.calmwatermassage.com[/url]


Best Margarita, Best Bartender:

Brendan O’Neill @ Black Sheep

Black_Sheep_by_Jessamyn_Tuttle_(1)-o.jpg
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 Credit Union:

WECU

Buying a home is daunting. It’s the most significant financial decision you’ll make in your whole life (there’s a reason it’s called a mortgage), and very few people are both experts on the topic and friends you can trust. WECU practically holds master classes on home equity and home finance, and has a dedicated staff to help guide you in your financial decisions. WECU is Whatcom County’s largest financial institution, with more than 98,000 members. Banks are for-profit; credit unions are not-for-profit. This means that credit unions do not have to put profit first. And that means they can put their members first with higher savings rates and lower interest rates.
Where: 600 E. Holly St., and numerous other community branches
Info: [url=http://www.wecu.com/contact-us/]http://www.wecu.com/contact-us/[/url]


Best Fast Food:

Boomers Drive-In

Boomers_1a.jpg
“Best burgers on the planet?” I think they’re being modest about our mostly burger-less solar system. She arrives at my car foot sore, and I admire her approach that is both seriously practical and droll. What’s the difference between Combo One and Combo Two? I ask—already knowing. Combo One comes with a hard ice cream milkshake, she replies. Why would anyone choose Two? I query. She doesn’t know, either, she laughs. Parents drive up with their kids, who are thrilled, and they share something together out of another, simpler time that I imagine they’ll remember as a family for many years. Without leaving my car, without leaving the solar system, I am transported.
Where: 310 N. Samish Way
Info: [url=http://www.boomersdrivein.com]http://www.boomersdrivein.com[/url]


Best Bookstore:

Village Books

Village_Books_by_Jessamyn_Tuttle_(4)-o.jpg
What does it mean when an internationally renowned author on a limited eight-city tour across North America proclaims that the only place he wants to stop in your state is the beloved bookstore in your hometown? In the case of Markus Zusak—the author of The Book Thief, a tome that sold 16 million copies worldwide and spent more than 500 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list—it means your local bookstore’s reputation far exceeds the zip code where you reside. On Tues., Oct. 15, when Zusak shares his new masterpiece Bridge of Clay at Village Books, be sure to shower accolades on the staff who makes collaborations like this possible—not to mention helping secure umpteen Best of Bellingham wins.
Where: 1200 11th St., Bellingham,
and 403 Front St., Lynden
Info: [url=http://www.villagebooks.com]http://www.villagebooks.com[/url]


Best Place to See Live Music:

Wild Buffalo

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I’m pretty sure the second the Wild Buffalo announced that Odesza would be there for a DJ set back in May, they clinched a win in this category—again. The venue just celebrated its 20th anniversary, and shows no signs of slowing down, thanks in no small part to owner and talent booker Craig Jewell. In the coming days, the Buff will host Dinosaur Jr. (Oct. 25), Built to Spill (Oct. 28), Justin Townes Earle (Nov. 4), Matisyahu (Nov. 15-16), and more (that you can read about on pg. 26). And if the past is any predictor of the future, Jewell is about due for yet another impossibly big show announcement. Stay tuned.
Where: 208 W. Holly St.
Info: [url=http://www.wildbuffalo.net]http://www.wildbuffalo.net[/url]


Best Performance Theatre:

DiOM Theater

theater1-o.jpg
“The support this town gives to new work is always amazing to me,” iDiOM Theater founder Glenn Hergenhahn-Zhao says of the love showed by Best of Bellingham voters. “We have made a career making silly, irreverent and I hope occasionally beautiful theater at iDiOM. Sometimes we have our doubts about that life choice, but it’s always gratifying to get a vote of confidence from the community. This year especially so, since we are a bit nomadic as we build the Sylvia Center for the Arts. We feel the love, Bellingham, and we want to pass it on to the performing arts community at large. Thank you for letting us do what we do. Thank you for coming to see the things we write. It would be a lonely and ridiculous occupation if you didn’t."
Where: 205 Prospect St.
Info: [url=http://www.idiomtheater.com]http://www.idiomtheater.com[/url] or 
www.sylviacenterforthearts.org


Best Italian:

D’Anna’s Cafe Italiano

I’ve been a regular at D’Anna’s since the restaurant was just big enough for a few tables and the menu consisted of three or four different kinds of homemade ravioli and a couple of choices of sauce. As it was for so many of you, it was love at first bite, and the romance only deepens with time. Everything at D’Anna’s, from the pasta to the sauces to the sausage to the focaccia bread served with every order, is homemade from D’Anna family recipes and served up by a friendly and experienced wait staff. Watching D’Anna’s cooks sauté and flambé in the restaurant’s open kitchen is the best dinner theater in town.
Where: 1317 N. State St.
Info: [url=http://www.dannascafeitaliano.com]http://www.dannascafeitaliano.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 Attorney:

Brock Stiles

Originally founded by Bill Stiles in 1951, Brock followed his father’s footsteps into the family business, Stiles Law. He has been practicing in Skagit County for more than 30 years, covering a vast array of legal services including personal injury, workers comp, probate, estate and real estate planning, and landlord/tenant disputes—meaning you can leave your legal issues in his capable hands.
Where: 925 Metcalf St., Sedro-Woolley
Info: [url=http://www.stileslaw.com]http://www.stileslaw.com[/url]


Best Gear Store:

REI

The mountain is cold this morning. An early mist lifts from the river, above its rush is a promise of blue. I shiver a bit from a light sweat from the bike ride down here, and zip up my fleece. From here it is an hour’s climb to the meadow, wildflowers gone but not yet touched by frost. Off-season is the best season. Get out there.
Where: 400 36th St.
Info: [url=http://www.rei.com]http://www.rei.com[/url]


Best News Story:

Protesting Kids

As they did across the country, hundreds of students throughout Skagit County walked out of their classrooms last month as part of a national demonstration to honor the victims of shootings, to call attention to gun violence and demand change. They’ve taken up signs and have marched for indigenous rights, for farm labor rights, for environmental justice, for the rights of immigrants and displaced and oppressed people. They’re only just getting started, and now they’re registering to vote. Children are our future; and these kids make us proud.


Best Theater Company:

iDiOM Theater at the Sylvia Center

theater01.jpg
"The love and support of our patrons has seen us through 16 years of independent theater, through good times and bad, and through our transformation from a little production company to our ambitious new Sylvia Center project," Artistic Director Glenn Hergenhahn-Zhao says to those who cast their votes, once again, for iDiOM Theater. "Our team, our crew, and our audiences are about to all grow in leaps and bounds. Thank you for letting us do what we love and dreaming big with us. We are excited about the year ahead, and the years to come."
Where: 205 Prospect Street
Info: [url=http://www.idiomtheater.com]http://www.idiomtheater.com[/url] or www.sylviacenterforthearts.org


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


Best Food Truck:

StrEAT Food

I’ve been known to cajole my boyfriend into spending Saturday mornings ferrying me to garage sales by promising to buy him a post-bartering lunch at StrEAT Food. It’s an easy sell. Since James and Poem Pitzer’s multiple-award-winning mobile food truck is typically parked at one of the two Kulshan Brewing Company locales or at the nearby Wander Brewing, I order our favorite items from the short-but-amazing menu—a mouthwatering chicken artichoke sandwich for me, a savory lamb gyro pita for him, large fries, plus an order of vanilla crème brulee when we need a treat—while he grabs us each a cold beer and a place to sit. All in all, we both get a great deal.
Where: Kulshan Brewing Co., Wander Brewing
Info: [url=http://www.streatfood.me]http://www.streatfood.me[/url]


Best Artist:

Pieter VanZanden

In Edison-based artist Pieter VanZanden's hands, plastic bottles become barnacles and mollusks, wood is magicked into beaks and tentacles, and plastic army men woven together turn into a life-sized sculpture of a soldier. A construction worker with a creative bent, VanZanden's works can be viewed April 30 at the Edison Studio Tour and during the month of May at Smith & Vallee Gallery's 10th anniversary exhibit. "Edison is where dreams come true," the emerging artist says of his hometown. Indeed.
Info: [url=http://www.smithandvallee.com]http://www.smithandvallee.com[/url]


Best Place to 
Play Cards/Slots:

Swinomish Casino & Lodge

I can think of few locales more perfect for a celebration or staycation than the Swinomish Casino & Lodge. When you’re not gaming at one of their tables or trying your luck at a slot machine, you can relax in one of the well-appointed rooms in the Lodge and enjoy the view of scenic Padilla Bay. When hunger strikes, your only difficulty will be in deciding which of its many eateries suits your cravings. And if your idea of a good time is a round of golf, the Swin’s stunning 18-hole course is waiting for you to tee up.
Where: 12885 Casino Dr., Anacortes
Info: [url=http://www.swinomishcasinoandlodge.com]http://www.swinomishcasinoandlodge.com[/url]


Best Celebrity:

Ryan Stiles and Misha Collins

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


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


Best Band:

Whiskey Fever

Whiskey_Fever-o1.jpg
Jack Mattingly first realized he wanted to be a musician when he was in the fourth grade. Presumably, he spent the time between then and now honing his craft and luring other likeminded music-makers to help him realize that dream. The result is Whiskey Fever, a four-piece band that describes itself as “rocky-tonk acousta-billy,” with definite indie rock leanings. In other words, their catchy songs of love and life fall right in line with the impressive regional musical tradition they’re part of, which probably has a little something to do with why so many of you voted for them in this hotly contested category.
Info: [url=http://www.facebook.com/WhiskeyFeverBand]http://www.facebook.com/WhiskeyFeverBand[/url]


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


Best Pot Grower:

Trail Blazin’ Productions

Trail Blazin’ Productions
When it comes to the Cannabis Alliance, a “bud oath” is more important than a “blood oath.” As founding members of the nonprofit advocating for a sustainable and ethical cannabis industry, Juddy and Danielle Rosellison of Bellingham’s Trail Blazin’ Productions take their commitment to pesticide-free, sustainably-grown, hand-trimmed cannabis seriously. From their Division Street nursery, they send their potent products throughout the state, sharing their marijuana mission with the masses. In Bellingham proper, find their superior strains at Trove (218 N. Samish Way), Herbal Legends (2118 James St.) and all three 2020 Solutions locales.
Info: [url=http://www.trailblazinproductions.com]http://www.trailblazinproductions.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 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: [url=http://www.ghyogalounge.com]http://www.ghyogalounge.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.skagitcyclecenter.com]http://www.skagitcyclecenter.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 Day Trip:

Birdsview Brewery

Beer is a big deal in Cascadia. This is reinforced when the Best Day Trip category is won by a brewery. I've often stopped by Birdsview on my way past and snagged a growler before heading to epic adventures in the Cascades. Make sure to roll through on your next Skagit adventure.
Where: 38302 Washington 20, Concrete
Info: [url=http://www.birdsviewbrewingcompany.com]http://www.birdsviewbrewingcompany.com[/url]


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


Best Pot Store:

Herbal Legends Cannabis

Before recreational marijuana was legalized, the Healthy Living Center in Bellingham earned a reputation for stocking high-quality and effective medical cannabis for those able to purchase it under doctor’s orders. When Washington legalized the plant unilaterally, the family-owned business continued to offer superior products and service, but changed its name to Herbal Legends and opened another store in Mount Vernon. So whether you’re searching for flowers, wax, vape cartridges or edibles, rest assured the cannabis consultants at Herbal Legends still put the needs of their customers first.
Where: 2714 Henson Rd., Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.hlcannabis.com]http://www.hlcannabis.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.homeskilletsunnyland.com]http://www.homeskilletsunnyland.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 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 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: [url=http://www.pickfordfilmcenter.org]http://www.pickfordfilmcenter.org[/url]


Best Trail:

Oyster Dome

Oyster Dome
Whether we’re grinding up the dog hair switchbacks from Chuckanut Drive or sauntering through the fern glades on the Samish Bay Connector, the prospect of enjoying the view afforded by this rocky seaside brow never fails to beckon us deeper into the raw, rugged heart of Blanchard Mountain. It’s our go-to promontory for scenic stimulation that never fails to keep us striving ever upward through the clouds.
Where: Pacific NW Trail, Bow
Info: [url=http://www.wta.org]http://www.wta.org[/url]


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 Brewery:

Wander Brewing

Colleen and Chad Kuehl pour some tasty beers from their taps, but it’s the welcoming “come as you are” atmosphere and abiding sense of old-school subdued excitement inside their converted creekside warehouse that imbues the Wander experience with an extra-savory blend of community-infused flavor. I’m quite smitten with their Shoe Toss Rye IPA and Global Mutt Baltic Porter, but I frequently leave enough room at my table to accommodate a Belgian Blond.
Where: 1807 Dean Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.wanderbrewing.com]http://www.wanderbrewing.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 Casino:

Silver Reef Hotel Casino Spa

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I’m getting a lift out to the Silver Reef on the back roads by a Lummi elder. There are two cars ahead of us on the road. “Indian Country traffic jam,” my droll driver comments. He tells me how Silver Reef was first dreamed of as a community gathering space, with generous meeting areas and conference facilities. The tribe, which tries to look ahead seven generations, understood casino operations and gaming, important as they are, are only one facet of the experience they imagined for Silver Reef, a launch point for an authentic travel adventure unique to the Salish Sea. The luxury hotel, spa and specialty suites have grown in size and beauty in recent years. The entertainment and events programming continue to deepen and improve. Now I see that we’re on the right road, he and I, and in the distance ahead is the destination.
Where: 4876 Haxton Way, Ferndale
Info: [url=http://www.silverreefcasino.com]http://www.silverreefcasino.com[/url]


Best Pet Hospital:

Maplewood Animal Hospital

Whether you’re there for a simple vaccination or an emergency, a visit to the vet is always nerve-wracking for your precious pets—and you. In a town where high-quality animal care is plentiful, it’s that much more meaningful that you’ve singled out Maplewood Animal Hospital as your favorite. They combine advanced technology, dedication to preventative care, commitment to customer service and a staff of veterinarians and assistants that are as compassionate as they are knowledgeable. They’re the cats meow.
Where: 2869 W. Maplewood Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.maplewood-vet.com]http://www.maplewood-vet.com[/url]


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 Band:

Whiskey Fever

This is not Whiskey Fever’s first win in this category, and if frontman Jack Mattingly has his way, it won’t be their last. Mattingly decided while still in grade school that he wanted to be a musician, and he’s been making that childhood dream come true ever since. He played solo for a minute, and then found a crew of likeminded music-makers that became Whiskey Fever. The rest is history in the making.
Info: [url=http://www.facebook.com/WhiskeyFeverBand]http://www.facebook.com/WhiskeyFeverBand[/url]


Best Hardware Store:

Ace Hardware Anacortes

Will it ever stop raining? My gutters filled to flooding and their sheer weight loosened them from the house. They needed fastening and caulking. Ace provided all I needed for the repairs. Now spring seems ready to burst like a pent-up critter, the buds are like ripe melons and the lawn is a jungle. So I’m heading back to Ace to meet spring with a passion. And this time I’m also buying the stuff I’ll need for grilling.
Where: 1720 Q Ave., Anacortes
Info: [url=http://www.aceanacortes.com]http://www.aceanacortes.com[/url]


Best Craft Cocktail, Best Waitperson:

Swim Club and Dennis Schafer

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Step past the billowing gauze curtains into a time machine to a bright and airy other place—Havana, or Cairo. In this stylish setting, bartender extraordinaire Dennis Schafer mixes drinks expertly—fresh cucumber is unwoven into a beautiful spiral, fresh mint clipped and placed just so, with a thoroughness and meticulous detail. Time is taken in a drink’s preparation, and that in turn invites you to take time in its enjoyment. Chin-chin, mon amis. Life is wonderful.
Where: 1147 11th St.
Info: [url=http://www.swimclubbar.com]http://www.swimclubbar.com[/url]


Best Steakhouse:

Max Dale’s Steak & Chop House

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


Best Nursery:

Garden Spot Nursery

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Tucked behind Trader Joe’s, Garden Spot is a moist and quiet little Eden, bursting with potted flora and phyta. The staff know and love all aspects of gardening. They know rhizomes and root-stalks and, yes, they’ll get into the weeds of this if you ask them. Strange as it sounds to say, I’ve found their dirt to be a particularly excellent mix at a reasonable cost. From there, the foundation is laid for all the kingdoms from zucchini to asparagus.
Where: 900 Alabama St.

Info: [url=http://www.garden-spot.com]http://www.garden-spot.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.subdued-excitement.com]http://www.subdued-excitement.com[/url]


Best Cocktail :

Redlight

At the Redlight, many of the cocktails come with musical connotations, but no matter how fierce their titles might be—treat yourself to a Reign in Blood, Le Butcherette or Warm Gun—they are mixed by an excellent crew of bartenders from ingredients that are made in-house wherever and whenever possible. That means the strawberry/peppercorn vodka for my Blonde Redhead is infused on the premises, and the hot apple cider for my seasonally available Autumn Sweater is probably mulled by the person taking my drink order. The same thoughtfulness permeates the small spot tucked away on State Street, which is how it has come to occupy such a big spot in our hearts.
Where: 1017 N. State St.
Info: [url=http://www.redlightbellingham.com]http://www.redlightbellingham.com[/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 Breakfast:

Old Town Cafe

They open at 6:30am, and that’s plenty early for all but the most sleepless of ’hamsters. We crowd in at the big community table—socialists all!—and are joined for a moment by glum police lamenting the loss of their morning Rocket Donut. It’s too early to laugh, but we do anyway, and the strong coffee helps. I order my usual, the Number Nine. For so many years now—going on 50—Old Town has generously opened its doors at Thanksgiving, and our table talks again about volunteering to help serve. This is community. This is Bellingham. This is truly the most important meal of the day.
Where: 316 W. Holly St.
Info: [url=http://www.theoldtowncafe.com]http://www.theoldtowncafe.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 Toy Store:

Fairhaven Toy Garden

Fairhaven Toy Garden
Toy Garden isn’t really a kid’s store. Not completely. It’s actually a wishing well for grownups, tickling how they remember they grew up, filled with the kinds of colorful and well crafted treasures they recall from childhood, and the kind they’ve always dreamed they’d provide to their own children. And now parents can—toys that make you think, toys that make you play, toys for joy. As the owners say, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
Where: 909 Harris Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.fairhaventoygarden.com]http://www.fairhaventoygarden.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 Gym:

Whatcom Family YMCA

The Whatcom Family YMCA is exploring a partnership with the City of Bellingham to expand the Arne Hanna Aquatic Center near Civic Field into a new community health and wellness center and headquarters for the YMCA. It’s a move that is sure to leverage and increase the many wonderful recreation fitness and family activities the YMCA provides—but as someone who has enjoyed the downtown facility for two decades, I can’t help but feel a little gut-punched by the news. It’s like losing an old friend who’s moving to a new neighborhood. The board of directors will evaluate the plan by April 2019. Until then, I’ll work on getting into better shape for a longer jog over to Lakeway.
Where: 1256 N. State St.
Info: [url=http://www.whatcomymca.org]http://www.whatcomymca.org[/url]


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


Best Neighborhood:

Sunnyland

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


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


Best Asian:

On Rice

She gets off the plane from a year in Europe, and I see immediately what she’s craved and what she’s missed about Bellingham—a heaping bowl of Pud Thai with seafood and another of Panang Curry with rice. Gone! Something else? How about the Monk’s Party stir fry or a bowl of searing good Tom Yum? It’s a homecoming, the flavors of the East served way out West.
Where: 2200 Rimland Drive; 206 North Samish Way; 1224 Harris Ave
Info: [url=http://www.onricethai.com]http://www.onricethai.com[/url]


Best Auto Repair:

JP Automotive

The Ford Ranger had a worrisome shudder, and the guys at JP Automotive took me right in. Gave me a loaner so I could tool around town while they worked. The repair didn’t hit my wallet too hard, but the guys told me it could have been avoided with some regular maintenance. Well, I’ve been back ever since.
Where: 1304 Memorial Hwy., Mount Vernon
Info: (360) 336-3496


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


Best Dessert:

Pure Bliss Desserts

Much to the delight of our collective sweet tooth, there’s more competition than ever in Bellingham for this category. But with its newly expanded space that allows the expert bakers of Pure Bliss more square footage to craft the cakes, cupcakes and other confections that are their stock in trade, and more display cases to show them off, Pure Bliss earned the lion’s share of the votes once again. Maybe it’s the rotating monthly cheesecake that did it. Or the gluten-free carrot cake. Or the chocolate bliss cupcakes. Or the lemon wedge. Or the Belgian chocolate torte. Or the sea salt chocolate chip cookies…
Where: 1424 Cornwall Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.pureblissdesserts.com]http://www.pureblissdesserts.com[/url]


Best Auto Repair:

Bellingham Automotive

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


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: [url=http://www.vinostrology.com]http://www.vinostrology.com[/url] Where: Seifert & Jones, 19 Prospect St. Info: [url=http://www.sjwinemerchants.com]http://www.sjwinemerchants.com[/url] Where: Moon Alchemy Wine, 301 W. Holly St. Info: [url=http://www.moonalchemywine.com]http://www.moonalchemywine.com[/url]


Best Massage:

PRIME Massage & Sports Medicine

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

Bayou On Bay

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Whether made by a bartender or mixed yourself at the restaurant’s DIY bloody mary bar, Bayou on Bay’s bloody marys are the real deal: slightly spicy, flavorful, and poured strong and true, just like all of the signature drinks on their cocktail menu. During the summer months, it seems like all of Bellingham posts up on Bayou’s expansive, dog-friendly patio, happy to take in the view and watch the world go by over po’ boys and popcorn shrimp. As seasonal traditions go, it’s one of Bellingham’s best.
Where: 1300 Bay St.
Info: [url=http://www.bayouonbay.com]http://www.bayouonbay.com[/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 Place to Dance/Place to See Live Music/Best Bartender:

Conway Muse

Conway Muse wins best place to see live music in Skagit Valley
Year after year, no one cleans up in more Best of Skagit categories than the Conway Muse. That’s saying something for a venue that exists in a town way off the beaten path and with a population of fewer than a hundred people. The header on the Muse’s website calls it “where the magic happens,” and that magic has a whole lot to do with owners, Elfa Gisla and Tom Richardson. And if you’re the type of person who likes your magic in the form of an expertly crafted and poured cocktail, Kelly Hayton is who you most want to see behind the bar, as her multiple wins in this category can attest.
Where: 18444 Spruce St., Conway
Info: [url=http://www.conwaymuse.com]http://www.conwaymuse.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 Gallery:

Smith & Vallee Gallery

It's no surprise Best Artist winner Pieter VanZanden's mind-bending sculptures have spent time in the gallery at the end of Edison's Gilkey Avenue. Since woodworkers Andrew Vallee and Wesley Smith turned a century-old schoolhouse into a creative hub that houses both established and emerging talents from around the region, the artists who exhibit at Smith & Vallee Gallery are consistently worth meandering down Chuckanut Drive to see. "The thing I love most is getting to see people connecting and falling in love with art," gallery manager Lucy Martin says. "It's truly the best."
Where: 5742 Gilkey Ave., Edison
Info: [url=http://www.smithandvallee.com]http://www.smithandvallee.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 Brunch/Bloody Mary:

Trainwreck Bar & Grill

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


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


Best Band/Musician :

Polecat

polecat.jpg
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 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 Attorney:

Aaron M. Lukoff

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Running afoul of the law to the extent that you need to seek legal counsel is never really a good time, but hiring Aaron Lukoff can almost make lawyering up fun. But don’t mistake his personable manner for a lighthearted approach to his job—he’s a fierce advocate for his clients with loads of legal experience. His counsel is wise, his rates are reasonable and he’ll even let you play the arcade games in his office’s lobby.
Where: 215 Flora St.
Info: [url=http://www.lukofflegal.com]http://www.lukofflegal.com[/url]


Best Outdoor Seating, Best Bloody Mary:

Bayou on Bay

bayou_bloody.jpg
Probably because we spend so much of the year surviving the elements, when we actually get to bask in the sunshine, we want to thrust our pale bodies into the light as often as possible. As such, outdoor seating is a very big deal in Bellingham, and as the voting showed in this category’s inaugural year, folks definitely have their allegiances. With its singular downtown locale, revamped family-style seating and friendly vibe—not to mention the best bloody marys in town—perennially popular Bayou on Bay is your favorite place to shed some layers, order up a drink and a snack, and soak up the sun.
Where: 1300 Bay St.
Info: [url=http://www.bayouonbay.com]http://www.bayouonbay.com[/url]


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


Best Mexican:


COA Mexican Eatery

It doesn’t say so on their online menu, but if you visit Mount Vernon’s COA Mexican Eatery at lunchtime—which takes place from 11am-4pm, extending the daytime repast nearly to dinnertime—the prices on many of their award-winning menu items are significantly reduced. On a recent visit, my date was agog at the deal we got on $5 Friday margaritas (made with agave tequila and syrup), three “indescribably good” pork tacos with rice and beans and, hands-down, the best taco salad I’ve ever eaten in my life. The ingredients in our meals were simple, but the flavors were complex, lively and addiction-forming. We’ll be back, COA, and soon. In fact, I’ve got your chile relleno in my sights.
Where: 102 S. 10th St., Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.coaeatery.com]http://www.coaeatery.com[/url]


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


Best Day Trip on the 542:

North Fork Brewery

Whether we’re hiking, climbing, paddling, cycling, skiing, snowboarding or mostly just sightseeing, the massive angular slopes of the North Cascades are our oyster once we head eastbound from anywhere along this 57-mile stretch of mountain-hugging blacktop. And to help ease the transition upon our inevitable return to the flatlands, we are blessed to have a roadside pub as savory and solar-powered as the North Fork Brewery, where we can fuel up on a cornucopia of scratch-made fare—everything from cold pints of barrel-aged Belgian-style sours to warm bowls of Stout French Onion Soup and pans of smoked salmon-sprinkled Pineapple Express pizza.
Where: 6186 Mt. Baker Hwy.
Info: [url=http://www.northforkbrewery.com]http://www.northforkbrewery.com[/url]


Best Mexican Food:

COA Mexican Eatery La Conner

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


Best Pet Store:

Bellingham Pet Supply

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


Best Coffeehouse:

Ristretto Coffee Lounge and Wine Bar

Ristretto wins best coffee shop in Skagit Valley
Ristretto is exactly what you want a neighborhood coffeehouse to be: warm and inviting and full of regulars busy working, socializing or just stopping in for a cuppa. By day, they sling a variety of bagels, wraps and baked goods to go with their array of coffees, teas and smoothies (I’m a big fan of the Abuelita Mocha). By night, it becomes a cozy wine bar, offering a thoughtful selection of Washington wines and locally brewed beers, augmented by artfully crafted paninis, salads, and meat and cheese plates. If you show up for breakfast and stay all day, no one would blame you.
Where: 416 S. 1st St., Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.ristrettocoffeelounge.com]http://www.ristrettocoffeelounge.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 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 Hardware Store:

ACE Hardware Ancaortes

Designed as one stop for all your springtime needs—from lawn and garden equipment to paint, electrical and plumbing supplies for seasonal home repair. When you’re done with all the hard and heavy work, there’s even a section for recreational outdoors and sporting goods—and, yes, lawn furniture if you’re truly exhausted.
Where: 1720 Q Avenue, Anacortes
Info: [url=http://www.aceanacortes.com]http://www.aceanacortes.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.everydaymusic.com]http://www.everydaymusic.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 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 Bakery:

Farm to Market Bakery

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Although tiny, the Bow-Edison area boasts a couple of excellent places to procure baked goods. The Breadfarm, which almost scored enough votes to notch a win in this competitive category, and the Farm to Market Bakery, which barely edged it out. The Farm to Market Bakery might be named for the road near which it sits, but it also speaks to the ethos of this welcoming spot. Everything is homemade and most of it from local ingredients. While all of their offerings are delicious, the Pecan Sticky Buns will make a true believer out of you.
Where: 5507 Chuckanut Drive, Bow
Info: [url=http://www.farmtomarketbakery.net]http://www.farmtomarketbakery.net[/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]


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