Best of Skagit 2016

Best Place for a First Date, Best Happy Hour:

Temple Bar

Not long ago, I met friends for happy hour. It had been a bit since I had been to Temple Bar, and we ended up staying for more than four hours. Wine was flowing, cheese plates were nibbled, nuts were pecked, olives were noshed and laughter was abundant; not just from our table, but every table around us. It was one of those memories that stays with you for a while. And now, when one of us suggests meeting up again, the question will always be “...Temple?” Friend dates or otherwise, we love you, Temple Bar.
Where: 306 W. Champion St.
Info: http://www.templebarbellingham.com


Best Place to Buy Pot:

High Society

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


Best 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 Burger:

Five Guys Burgers and Fries

I love burgers. Crave them, in all their many forms. I’m not a snob about it though. When nothing but a reliable burger from a chain restaurant will do, like many of you, my chain of choice is Five Guys. And why not? The menu is simple: it is literally just burgers in a couple of sizes (cheese and bacon optional), fries, hot dogs and a handful of random sandwiches probably no one ever orders. The magic comes from the melding of thin patty to gooey cheese—and the 15 different condiments and toppings from which to choose, for no additional charge. With more than 250,000 possible combinations, you could eat a different burger every single day for the next 685 years. Imagine the delicious glory.
Where: 1870 Marketplace Dr., Burlington
Info: http://www.fiveguys.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 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 Band:

Polecat

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I don’t know how many times Polecat has won in this category, but their proverbial trophy wall is home to more than a few Best of Bellingham awards. Year after year, concert after concert, they remain perennially popular—and if you’ve ever seen them play, it’s not hard to figure out why. Energetic bluegrass that crosses genres and is played with great skill is their stock in trade, and their on- and off-stage charm earns them fans in Bellingham and beyond.


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 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 Band:

Sky Colony

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


Best Theater:

Lincoln Theatre

By the end of March, the Lincoln Theatre's Sound + Hearing Campaign had reached nearly 25 percent of its $150,000 goal needed to bring a state-of-the-art sound and listening system to the restored 1926 historic vaudeville and silent movie house in the heart of downtown Mount Vernon. If you've ever enjoyed the programming at the Lincoln—whether it was via listening to renowned musicians, a National Theatre Live viewing, a production by a local theater company pr a panel discussion on the Skagit foodshed—now is the time to donate.
Where: 712 S. First St., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.lincolntheatre.org


Best Performance Space:

Lincoln Theater

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Bluesman Robert Cray, actress Maggie Smith, the Coen Brothers, illusionist Caleb Sigmon, the incomparable Buster Keaton, and an assorted batch of space pirates were—or will be—among the performers visiting Mount Vernon’s historic Lincoln Theatre during the month of April. While it’s true not all of them will be there in person, seeing a film on the big screen in a lovingly restored vaudeville and silent movie house is pretty much the next best thing. And if you make it to the storied theater’s 90th anniversary celebration Sat., April 23 for a viewing of Keaton’s Steamboat Bill Jr. and One Week, you’ll also be treated to the best in time travel, courtesy of the theater’s Mighty Wurlitzer and a 35-cent entry fee.
Where: 712 S. First St., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.lincolntheatre.org


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 Takeout:


Rachawadee Thai Cafe

It’s likely the reason Rachawadee was voted Best Takeout is due to the diminutive size of this Mount Vernon dining establishment—as in, the restaurant literally seats about 10 people. Maybe less. But none of that matters once you taste the culinary wonders cranked out by the tiny kitchen. Forget about this being the best Thai food you’ll find in Mount Vernon, or even in the whole of the Skagit Valley—this very well might be the best Thai food you’ll ever eat in your life. For real. It’s that good. No matter what you order, be it spring rolls, soups, salads, noodles, curries or all of the above, it will be cooked to order to your particular spice level (four stars might melt you from the inside out) and so delicious you’ll think there must be magic in the mix.
Where: 410 W. Gates St., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.rachawadeethaicafe.com


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 Thrift Store:

Value Village

Whenever I’m stricken by the need for a little quality retail therapy, Value Village is my first stop. Last week I fished an almost-new Black Diamond collapsible avalanche shovel out of the bins for a screaming deal ($5!). And the week before that I scored a mint-condition 1964 Smith-Corona Corsair Deluxe manual typewriter for $27. Three weeks ago, I gifted myself a pinstripe suit for $30 and had just enough funds left over to raid the book section. For less than a 10-spot I added a quality paperback edition of Life with Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse and a 1983 Buyer’s Club edition of Stephen King’s Christine to my shelves. My girlfriend thinks I’m an addict. She’s probably right. But at least I own the first pinstripe blazer in my life to show for it.
Where: 150 E. Bellis Fair Pkwy.
Info: http://www.valuevillage.com


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: http://www.trailblazinproductions.com


Best Place to Dance/Best Place to Meet Men & Women/Best Bartender:

The Old Edison Inn/Audra Robson

At least one Weekly staffer had a first date at the Old Edison Inn that turned into a long-term relationship, and so can vouch for the seductive powers of its oysters and burgers, its shuffleboard tables, its dance floor and its welcoming small-town vibe. That same staffer knows that after making the drive to Bow, there’s nothing better than walking in the door to the Edison and seeing bartender Audra Robson grinning from behind the bar, ready with an enthusiastic greeting and refreshing cocktail.
Where: 5829 Cains Court, Bow
Info: http://www.theoldedison.com


Best BBQ:


Dad’s Diner

Crowding the walls are years and years of photos of luminaries local and distant who’ve dined here and gone to heaven. She orders the biscuits. I order the brisket. Hers comes topped with gravy generous with bacon, sausage and ham—all smoked and cured in Dad’s smoker. Mine is the Memphis. It’s not even on the blackboard menu, but the waitress recommends it. Smoked brisket served moist with savory house-made barbecue sauce on Texas toast, cooled with a tangy coleslaw. “It’s good,” the waitress said. Heck, she says that about everything on (and not always on) Dad’s handwritten menu. She is always right.
Where: 906 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: (360) 840-2938


Best Yoga:

Yoga Northwest

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


Best Happy Hour:

Train Wreck

The official times are 3-6pm Mondays through Fridays, but I’m guessing any span of time spent at the Train Wreck Bar & Grill qualifies as “happy hour.” At a recent brunch-turned-into-lunch outing with close friends at the Burlington hotspot, we made our way past a grinning 21-and-over crowd to a “secret” room in the back, where we spent the next couple of hours enjoying each other’s company while eating locally sourced burgers and seafood and drinking perfectly concocted Bloody Marys and area ciders and ales. And when a train rolled by, not only did we have a primo view from our hideout near the tracks, but we also scored $1 tequila shots thanks to a longstanding special the establishment offers when its namesake makes an appearance. It was a happy hour, indeed.
Where: 427 E. Fairhaven Ave., Burlington
Info: http://www.trainwreckbar.com


Best Italian:

D’Anna’s Cafe Italiano

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One day, a dish will come along that will dethrone D’Anna’s manicotti from the top of my personal pantheon of Bellingham’s Perfect Meals—just kidding, that day will never come. It’s no secret what makes D’Anna’s so good: Everything that comes out of the restaurant’s kitchen is homemade, from the perfect pasta to the sausage inside my manicotti to the sauces and right on down to the focaccia bread served with every meal. But you need not take my word for it when you can watch the best staff of tattooed line cooks in town craft your meal right before your very eyes.
Where: 1317 N. State St.
Info: http://www.dannascafeitaliano.com


Best Bartender:

Redlight Staff

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Like so many of you, the Cascadia Weekly staff is fond of the State Street “sparkle bar.” Inventive craft cocktails comprised of house-made ingredients are their area of expertise—and between all the members of their capable staff, that expertise is considerable. Under new ownership, the Redlight now offers a menu of homemade wontons and other assorted snacks to accompany their excellent drinks, but no matter what changes they make, top-notch service in one of the coziest bars in town will always be a mainstay.
Where: 1017 N. State St.
Info: http://www.facebook.com/redlightbellingham


Best Music Store:

Hugo Helmer Music

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


Best Gallery:

Dakota Gallery

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When Dakota Art Store made the decision to move from their longtime digs on Cornwall Avenue to a significantly larger venue a little more than a block away in the summer of 2014, it wasn’t long before they knew they’d made the right decision to stay in the urban core. The “neighborhood art store"—which has been providing creative supplies to the legions of artists in Bellingham since 1994—saw a significant uptick in walk-in traffic, both from people interested in sourcing supplies and also from those strolling through the exhibits showing in the adjacent gallery space. Judging by the crowds who gather at every Art Walk to view edgy new works—like this month’s “Familiar Hindsight,” which sees artists Hannah L. Rivers and Bonnie Smerdon using paintings to reconstruct inherent memories—the gallery has become an entity of its own.
Where: 1324 Cornwall Ave.
Info: http://www.dakotaartgallery.com


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 Greek:

Cafe Akroteri

We’d just come from the thousands-strong Women’s March through downtown Bellingham when one of the older friends I was sharing a table with during a late lunch at Café Akroteri’s brick-lined bar said something that reminded me of Athena, the Greek warrior goddess known for her reason, wisdom and intelligence. “I’ve been fighting against tyranny for more than 30 years, and I’m not about to stop now,” she said as we discussed election-focused issues while devouring soul-nourishing platters of hummus and pita bread, dolmathes, spanikopita, lamb gyros, and mousaka. “Don’t you stop, either.”
Where: 1219 Cornwall Ave.
Info: http://www.cafeakroteri.com


Best Massage:

PRIME Massage & Sports Medicine

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


Best Asian Food/Takeout:

Rachawadee Cafe

It makes perfect sense that Rachawadee Thai Cafe would win in both of these categories. This tiny, off-the-beaten-path Mount Vernon stalwart cranks out not just the best Thai food in the Skagit Valley, but the best Thai food its many devotees have ever had—by a very long shot. Whether you show up for lunch or dinner, be prepared to wait in line, and with a very limited amount of counter seating, ordering your soups, curry and noodle dishes for takeout is often the only option. But don’t let any of that deter you—the only thing as good as the food is watching the floor show as Rachawadee’s experienced cooks work their exotic magic with seemingly pedestrian ingredients. The restaurant wins every year because it is, simply, the best.
Where: 410 W. Gates St., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.rachawadeethaicafe.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 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 Gallery:

Smith & Vallee Gallery

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


Best Dessert:

Pure Bliss

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


Best 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 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 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 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: http://www.smithandvallee.com


Best Celebrity:

Ryan Stiles and Misha Collins

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


Best 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 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 Coffee Shop:

Ristretto

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


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: http://www.birdsviewbrewingcompany.com


Best Farm Store/Nursery:

Country Store

In 1934, the Skagit Grange Supply opened with a mission to provide high-quality products for the ever-growing community of Skagit Valley farmers. The original name has changed, but the directive has stayed the same. So whether you’re enhancing your lawn or garden, sourcing food for your chickens, cows or indoor pets, picking out hardware, or fueling up at one of the three stores located throughout the county, rest assured they’ve got you covered.
Where: 1276 S. Burlington Blvd., Burlington; 915 Moore St., Sedro-Woolley; 900 Riverside Dr., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.countrystore.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


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 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 Barbecue:

Back East BBQ

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“All you’ll need is a fork,” read a sign heralding the house-smoked wonders to be found within Back East BBQ’s mobile unit, which was parked in front of Fairhaven’s Stones Throw Brewery on a recent sunny Saturday. My date was skeptical about the plastic cutlery’s carving abilities when I returned to our table on the brewery’s upstairs patio with generous servings of Texas-smoked beef brisket and Carolina smoked pork—both of which had been dry rubbed and slowly cooked over wood-fed fires for as many as 10 to 20 hours—but before long we both realized the savory, succulent meat was fall-apart tender, and the claim was true. “This really is the best barbecue in Bellingham” my dining partner said in between bites of brisket, hush puppies and potato salad. “Next time, let’s try the beer-fried chicken."
Where: Stones Throw Brewing Co., Wander Brewing, and beyond.
Info: http://www.backeastbbq.com


Best Vegetarian:

Leaf & Ladle

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If I were vegetarian or vegan, I would eat all of my meals at Leaf & Ladle. To be clear, everything—meaty or not—that comes out of the minuscule kitchen of the homey State Street spot is so delicious it’s difficult to comprehend how it could be produced in a space that appears to be about two square feet, but the meat-free dishes are where Leaf & Ladle truly shines. The menu is small, simple and updated regularly, and you’ll always find at least one vegetarian salad, sandwich, wrap and quesadilla on it, as well as a range of vegetarian soups (try the Caribbean black bean pumpkin or Thai-spiced wild mushroom). Eat every meal at Leaf & Ladle, never crave meat again.
Where: 1113 N. State St.
Info: (360) 319-9718


Best Waitperson:

Wait Staff at Old Town Cafe

This is the only time the entire staff of a restaurant has won a Best of Bellingham award, and it is only fitting that the Old Town Cafe servers are the first. After all, we patiently wait in long lines every single weekend to be served scrambles, sandwiches, pancakes and plate after plate of the much-beloved Number Nine by this crackerjack and eternally sunny crew who handle the crowds—and Bellingham’s long-term love affair with the Old Town—with great skill and good humor.
Where: 316 W. Holly St.
Info: http://www.theoldtowncafe.com


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 Dessert:

Pure Bliss Desserts

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First things first: It’s pumpkin cheesecake season at Pure Bliss, which is my favorite season that is not strawberry shortcake season. But every season at the little slice of heaven that is the Cornwall Avenue cake shop is the best season if you’re a person who needs a little sweetness in your life. Whether your favorite is Salted Caramel Cake or Belgian Chocolate Torte, a Nanaimo Bar or a Lemon Wedge, a Coconut Macaroon or the hands-down best gluten-free Carrot Cupcake in existence, Pure Bliss more than lives up to its name. And their wins in this category are their just desserts.
Where: 1424 Cornwall Ave.
Info: http://www.pureblissdesserts.com


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: http://www.farmtomarketbakery.net


Best Place to Purchase Women’s Clothing:

Labels

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


Best Band:

The Wednesdays

The Wednesdays
Music scenes, including ours, have traditionally been boys’ clubs—but the Wednesdays win in this category is a welcome indication of a change that has been a long time in coming. Unabashedly feminist and unapologetically political, the Wednesdays are making music with a message—and people are listening. With a motto of “Dismantling the patriarchy by day, playing basement blues punk by night,” coupled with an electrifying live show, the Wednesdays are making their mark and making it count.
Info: http://www.facebook.com/thewedns/


Best Stop on the Mt. Baker Highway:

North Fork Brewery

Oh, the places you’ll go! Nooksack Falls. Twin Lakes. Hannegan Pass. Yellow Aster Butte. Everybody’s Store. Wake and Bakery. Graham’s. Oh, and Mt. Baker! But one place tops the list, whether going or coming—the beer shrine and their tasty pizzas. It’s a rite of passage for me. Church Mountain is my church. And the North Fork’s Son of Frog is my baptismal.
Where: 6186 Mt. Baker Hwy.
Info: http://www.northforkbrewery.com


Best Yoga Studio:

Riverwalk

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


Best Festival:

Birdstock at Birdsview Brewery

Skagit celebrates beer at every corner and its festivals are no different. Birdstock at Birdsview Brewery is the place to be, but not just to party. Birdstock began 11 summers ago because the owners of Birdsview wanted to give back to the local fire department. It has now become the fire department's biggest fundraiser.
Where: 38302 Washington 20, Concrete
Info: http://www.birdsviewbrewingcompany.com


Best 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: http://www.villagebooks.com


Best Coffee Shop:

Black Drop Coffee House, Dylan Kloch and Ryan Siu

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


Best Park:

Boulevard Park

I’ve now spent more than a year living with a bird’s-eye view of the city’s most popular park, and I can say, I’m impressed with you, Bellingham. No matter the weather—rain, wind, freezing cold, a combo of all three—you can be found running its trails, frolicking on its lawn and taking time out on its benches. You skinny dip in Bellingham Bay during the summer, and stand at the water’s edge and let the spray drench you during the winter. You love Boulevard Park, and it is lucky to have you.
Where: South State Street and Bayview Drive
Info: http://www.cob.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 Asian:

Asian One

As a frequenter of their sister restaurant in Bellingham, I can vouch for the incredible cuisine that comes from Asian One; so it was no surprise that they would sweep the competition in this Best of Skagit category. Delectable appetizers, crafty cocktails and mouthwatering entrees will keep you (and your family) coming back for more. Personal favorites? Try the Mongolian beef or the honey glazed chicken.
Where: 145 Cascade Pl. #112, Burlington
Info: http://www.asian1.us


Best Brunch, Best Barista:

Camber and Gloria Baldwin

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

Old Gold Tattoo

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


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 Music Store:

Avalon Records

Avalon Records in Bellingham
For this year’s Best of Bellingham balloting period, Avalon Records owner Chris Lamb did something unprecedented in the history of the low-key Railroad Avenue record store: He asked people to vote for his shop in this category. And so you did, knowing a rare request when you see one. As a reward, Lamb promised to offer half off of all used vinyl in the event of an Avalon win. You showed your love, now go avail yourselves of discount music. Buy a bong, some incense or a tapestry while you’re there and you’ll be all set.
Where: 1330 Railroad Ave.
Info: http://www.avalonrecordshop.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 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 Asian:

Busara Thai Cuisine

I recently spent a desperate swath of time trying to phone in my usual takeout order. At first, I just assumed the restaurant was too busy, so they weren’t able to field my call. I considered giving up, but my Pavlovian lust for green chicken curry and prawn pad thai superseded all rational thought. When my lady friend returned home an hour later looking for dinner, she was aghast to find me still on the phone. “Sweet lord, not this again,” she sighed. “Don’t you remember? Busara is closed on Tuesdays!”
Where: 404 36th St.
Info: http://www.busarabellingham.com


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: http://www.garden-spot.com


Best Place to Do Yoga:

Yoga Northwest

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For some, yoga is a way of life and a means to achieving inner peace. For others, it's an efficient way to strengthen their bodies and stretch away assorted aches and pains. At Yoga Northwest—our winner in this category for as long as we can remember—it doesn't matter if you're a yogi or a newbie, as long as you commit to the curriculum. With classes for everyone from adults to kids to teens and mothers-to-be, there's something for everyone—and every body.
Where: 1440 10th St.
Info: http://www.yoganorthwest.com


Best Mexican Food:

COA Mexican Eatery La Conner

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


Best 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: http://www.dannascafeitaliano.com


Best Bakery :

Mount Bakery

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


Best Place to See Live Music:

Wild Buffalo

The Wild Buffalo
This is far from the Wild Buffalo’s first win in this category, and if the margin of votes by which they won this year is any indication, the longstanding staple of the music scene is more beloved than ever. Owner Craig Jewell just celebrated his 10th anniversary with the venue, and he and business partners Joey Crahan and Lee Huffman commemorated the event by building a bigger, better stage to improve our live music experience. You don’t have to keep wooing us, Wild Buffalo (but please keep wooing us), we already love you.
Where: 208 W. Holly St.
Info: http://www.wildbuffalo.net


Best Italian:

La Traviata Ristorante Italiano

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


Best Grocery Store:

Community Food Co-op

Community Food Co-op
As a longtime member of the Community Food Co-op, my typical visits are pretty predictable—wine, cheese, produce, quick lunches, and my favorite hot sauce when we run out (which is often). However, one of my favorite things about the Community Food Co-op is the amount of community outreach and events they offer on a regular basis. Don’t know how to cook? They’ve got a class for that. Starting a health and wellness journey? You're covered there, as well. Beer and wine pairings? Bingo. Their commitment to community is nothing less than superb, from farmer to consumer. It's an easy win all around.
Where: 1220 N. Forest St., 315 Westerly Rd.
Info: http://www.communityfood.coop


Best Performance Theatre:

DiOM Theater

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


Best Steakhouse:

Max Dale’s Steak & Chop House

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


Best 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 Home Store:

The Greenhouse

Greenhouse
It wasn’t too long ago that the fate of the Greenhouse was unknown. Thanks to new owners BreAnne and Eric Green—yep, that’s their real surname—the beloved downtown Bellingham home store lives on, and just as fabulously as before. From coasters to Le Crueset to your Nespresso needs and Soda Streams, the Greenhouse carries the finest of fabrics on the coziest of couches, bakeware beginnings to a cornucopia of candles and so much more. I think we can all agree we’re beyond elated the Greenhouse will live on for many years to come.
Where: 1235 Cornwall Ave.
Info: http://www.greenhousehome.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 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 Lunch/Sandwich:

Avenue Bread

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


Best Happy Hour / Bartender:

Rock and Rye/ 
Dennis Schafer

Both Rock and Rye’s happy hour and its bartender Dennis Schafer have had a lock on our hearts pretty much since the restaurant on the ground floor of the Herald building opened its doors. For good reason, too. Fresh-shucked oysters, inventive small plates priced for sampling and cocktails—really good ones—on tap all combine to make Rock and Rye the ideal spot for both evening and late-night happy hour. And if you’re looking for an expertly mixed fancy adult beverage, history has shown that you want Dennis Schafer behind the bar, a place where he does some fine work indeed.
Where: 1145 N. State St.
Info: http://www.rockrye.com


Best Clothing Store:

Stowe’s Shoes & Clothing

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I don't want to be the belle of the ball. I want to be able to find footwear that will keep me dry whether I'm gardening or hiking and clothing that doesn't require dry cleaning. Since 1940, Stowe's Shoes & Clothing in downtown Burlington has made sure those living and working in the Pacific Northwest find both comfort and confidence in what they're wearing—and that's my kind of style.
Where: 420 E. Fairhaven Ave.
Info: http://www.stowesshoesandclothing.com


Best Theater Company:

iDiOM Theater at the Sylvia Center

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


Best Place to get a Tattoo:

Good Vibes Body Art

I have one tattoo. Good Vibes has been hard at work in downtown Mount Vernon since 1999. Darius, Shauna, Tiffany, and Jason have 46-plus years of collective ink experience between the four of them and, had I known I had access to such artistic expertise, I’d have let them stick me. If I ever decide to complete my full tattoo, I’ll be seeking out those good vibes.
Where: 503 S. 1st St, Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.goodvibesbodyart.com


Best BBQ:

Bayou on Bay

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


Best Fast Food:

Boomer’s Drive-In

There are so many wonderful things on the menu, why do I always order the same thing—Combo #1, your classic Boomer Burger with waffle fries and a chocolate shake made with real ice cream? That combination is so good, I never want to mess with perfection. O.K., I admit it: Sometimes I change up to onion rings instead of fries. The Boomer’s staff say this: “Our goal has always been for our guests to leave a little bit happier than when they arrived. It’s only hamburgers and we are unlikely to change the world. But we hope some of that incremental happiness we try to provide will create a butterfly effect and make the planet a little bit better place to be.” How can you not love that, Bellingham?
Where: 310 N. Samish Way
Info: http://www.boomersdrivein.com


Best Artist:

Ben Mann

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Painter Ben Mann doesn’t take his third Best of Bellingham win for granted. In fact, one of his past awards already hangs in a place of honor on the wall in his Fairhaven studio—right next to his hard-earned college diploma. “I feel immensely lucky—having hit a place where the subjects I most love to paint seem to readily connect with the locals,” the artist and educator says when asked how it feels to have been embraced by the citizens of the ‘ham, who can see his vibrant paintings everywhere from the walls of Elizabeth Station to Mallard Ice Cream to Barkley Village, Bellingham Public Library, and far beyond. “I'm honored,” Mann says, “especially as our art scene grows in scale and diversity.”
Info: http://www.ben-mann.com


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: http://www.fiammaburger.com


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 Nursery/Best Place to Buy Chicken Feed:

The Country Store

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


Best Coffee Shop / Barista:

Black Drop Coffee House/
Ryan Siu

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Every spring, the Black Drop Coffee House pits zombies against survivors when they host a “Save Our City!” game of natural selection in downtown Bellingham. It’s an apt metaphor for what they do very other day of the year, when they turn the undead—people who haven’t yet dosed themselves with their favorite Black Drop mocha, latte, doppio or straight-up cup of java sourced from freshly roasted beans provided by Maniac Roasting—into fully cognizant (and caffeinated) humans. And, thanks to the care the staff takes to make every beverage exceptional, year after year staff members such as the talented Ryan Siu take home the Best Barista award.
Where: 300 W. Champion St.
Info: http://www.blackdropcoffeehouse.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 Day Trip on Hwy 20:

Cascadian Farm

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


Best Artist:

Lloyd Houston

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


Best Fast Food:

Boomer’s Drive-In

There’s regular fast and there’s Boomer’s fast. Boomer’s fast isn’t quite as fast as regular fast, but when it comes to ordering exceptional burgers, hard ice cream shakes and waffle fries, we’ll gladly take the fast at Boomer’s every single time. And now that Boomer’s smartphone apps are available for downloading, Boomer’s fast is getting even faster.
Where: 310 N. Samish Way
Info: http://www.boomersdrivein.com


Village Books

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