Best of Skagit 2016

Best Farm:

Gordon Skagit Farms

The abundance and mystery of fall harvest season takes center stage during the Gordon Brothers’ annual autumn market. Every October on this third-generation, 250-acre spread you can score a bushel of Jonagolds from a U-pick orchard, navigate a corn maze, explore a haunted barn and immerse yourself in a gourd-friendly atmosphere that lends itself to pumpkin picking and a deeper appreciation for the down-to-earth atmosphere that permeates the flats.
Where: 15598 Mclean Rd., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.gordonskagitfarms.com


Best BBQ:

Kelley’s 
BBQ & Catering

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


Best 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: http://www.whatcomymca.org


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: http://www.lafiamma.com


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 Yoga Studio:

Quantum Yoga

Looking to center yourself? Maybe work off a little of that winter rust? Many people seek out yoga to do both, but Skagit favors Quantum Yoga in Burlington. Not only do they have yoga, they have a juice bar. They also have classes and discounts for first-time yoga students, so if you're looking to create a little balance in your life, drop them a line.
Where: 121 S Spruce St., Burlington
Info: http://www.qhyogalounge.com


Best Book Store:

Village Books

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


Best Beach:

Washington Park

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


Best News Story:

Lummi Nation defeats a coal dump

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Lummi tribal leaders burned a million-dollar bribe from the company that wanted to build a coal export pier on the site of their ancestral village at Cherry Point, Xwe’chieXen. “Kwel hoy’,” they shouted: We draw the line. They asked the federal government to enforce the treaty that protects the tribe’s right to fish in usual and accustomed places, with usual and accustomed catches. The federal government agreed. We cheered.


Best Theater:

Lincoln Theatre

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


Best Place to Meet Women:

Temple Bar

Like many of the couples you can find populating Temple Bar on a regular basis, this is a perfectly matched pairing. Need to impress on that first date? Take your love to the Temple. Date doesn’t go well? Well, you can end it right there because you’ll probably find your lifelong partner at the table next to you. Temple Bar is really a revolving door of love, good food and drinks. We love their dessert menu—if your date makes it that far.
Where: 306 West Champion St.
Info: http://www.templebarbellingham.com


Best Beach:

Locust Beach

Locust Beach
An inspiring interplay between wind, water and forest give this extra-sandy, driftwood-entangled oasis on Bellingham Bay the capacity to generate a righteous overabundance of rest and relaxation opportunities that require repeated visits. Kiteboarding, skim-boarding and generalized paddle sports are highly recommended depending on current conditions. But even if all you aspire to do is kick off your shoes and feel the tidal action surging around your bare toes, you’ll still get peppered with a plentitude of serendipitous shoreline spectacles.
Where: 3161 Locust Ave.
Info: http://www.cob.org


Best Pot Grower:

SubX

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


Best 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 Sushi:

Blue Fin Sushi

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Two haiku: Depths of sea, surround me, make me your prisoner I will eat you whole Samish sashimi, you octopi all my thoughts Blue Fin, I thank you
Where: 102 S. Samish Way
Info: http://www.bluefinbellingham.com


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 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 Sushi:

Blue Fin

I am fussy about my sushi, and a traditionalist. You’ve got to have unagi, and you have to have tako, and ikura and uni. And you have to offer it fresh rolled by the piece or in combo. Served in a box? Sure. Blue Fin gets it all right, masterfully created and exotically presented.
Where: 102 S. Samish Way
Info: http://www.bluefinbellingham.com


Best Pot Store:

Loving Farms

Rest assured you won’t get blown off at Loving Farms, where the budtenders at the Mount Vernon-based pot shop are known for being as welcoming as they are knowledgeable about the product they’re selling—whether it’s a gram of Washington Glue, a cannabis cookie, a pre-roll of Middle Fork, Northern Lights concentrate, or Orange Blossom wax. And as the only locally owned marijuana store in the city, it’s a cinch to support.
Where: 2615 Old Hwy 99 S., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.lovingfarmsmarijuanastore.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 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 Nursery:

Garden Spot Nursery

Garden Spot Nursery
Since 2014, our readers have bestowed Alabama Street’s Garden Spot Nursery with this award, and with good reason. In addition to providing green thumbs and novice gardeners alike with a plethora of perennials, annuals and everything needed to beautify both outdoor and indoor living spaces, the longtime nursery helmed by founder Marcy Plattner and her crew of Master Gardeners is also known for reaching out to the public via advice, workshops and community events. In fact, on Sat., Oct. 21, they’ll be hosting a Sunnyland Scarecrow Stuffing soiree throughout the day. You provide your scarecrow’s costume, and they’ll provide the straw and stakes.
Where: 900 Alabama St.
Info: http://www.garden-spot.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 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 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 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 Ski Store:

Backcountry Essentials

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


Best Brewery:

Kulshan Brewing Company

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What a fierce competition this has become! And just when you think Bellingham cannot support another brewery, another comes along and astonishes you. There’s a fine maturity to Kulshan’s craft, however, and each of their brews has a satisfying crispness and the confident finish of a master product. And as dramatic as each is, I admit to a real fondness for their Good Ol’ Boy Pale Ale, which is just a quiet and modest, well-balanced sipping beer. It’s an old friend.
Where: 2238 James St., 1538 Kentucky St.
Info: http://www.kulshanbrewery.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 Music Festival:

Subdued 
Stringband Jamboree

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


Best Nursery:

Garden Spot Nursery

What in the heck is a “lasagna bulb” pot? If you were one of the attendees at a recent class on the topic at the Garden Spot Nursery, you would’ve gotten your hands dirty finding out (spoiler alert: it’s a layered pot containing bulbs designed to provide steady blooms through winter and into the spring). Sure, the longtime plant purveyors at the Garden Spot—led by owner Marcy Plattner—will be happy to sell you perennials, annuals, seeds and everything else necessary to cultivate your own piece of paradise, but the hands-on guidance they provide is one of the many reasons the Alabama Street mainstay has been voted “Best Nursery” four years in a row.
Where: 900 Alabama St.
Info: http://www.garden-spot.com


Best Lunch, Best Vegetarian:

Leaf and Ladle

Because the food at Leaf and Ladle is made with such love, eating there is like being fed by your mom, if your mom was the type who offered you a selection of imaginative sandwiches, wraps, salads and quesadillas for meat-eaters, vegetarians and vegans alike every single day. Also, in this scenario your mom makes some of the best soups you’ve ever tasted on the daily, as well as grab-and-go meals for when you get hungry later. I’m not saying that Leaf and Ladle is better than your mom, but they definitely give her a run for her money.
Where: 1113 N. State St.
Info: (360) 319-9718


Best Dessert:

Just Peachy Frozen Yogurt

Let’s face it: We all eat frozen yogurt because it feels more virtuous than ice cream and because, for whatever reason, frozen yogurt establishments are far more likely than ice cream parlors to let you run the soft-serve machines and scoop your own toppings. Burlington’s only such self-serve froyo shop is Just Peachy, and it’s your go-to when your taste buds are salivating for something sweet. You love them for their friendly service and community-minded ethos—but you especially love them for the revolving menu of creamy frozen yogurt flavors and the nearly mind-numbing array of fresh toppings available for your mixing and matching. They even have a daily happy hour for frugal froyo fans.
Where: 1767 S. Burlington Blvd., Burlington
Info: http://www.facebook.com/JustPeachyYogurt


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


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 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 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 Tulip Farm:

RoozenGaarde

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If you were to wend your way to RoozenGaarde, you would find field after field ablaze with the tulips for which the area is so famous. It is a carefully cultivated, wholly natural wonder of the world, and it draws thousands every year who make the pilgrimage to the Skagit Valley to take in the riot of color that has made the region famous. But the tulip fields, while certainly a sight unto themselves, are merely the gateway to a county that boasts a rich history of agriculture and art, and is inhabited by folks who proudly hew to a fiercely local lifestyle. With its distinct and disparate cities and towns, natural beauty from field to sea and the miles of scenic routes and backroads that link it all, there is much treasure to found in Skagit, if only you know where to look. What follows is that which you’ve deemed the region’s best, the places that have earned your votes and your love, the ones that exist right in your own bountiful backyard. Best of Skagit compiled by Carey Ross, Amy Kepferle, Tim Johnson, Scott Pelton, and Trail Rat. Photos by Jessamyn Tuttle
Where: 15867 Beaver Marsh Road, Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.tulips.com


Best Bakery:

Mount Bakery

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


Best Indian:

Naan and Brew

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


Best Winery:

Tulip Valley Winery

Wine, delicious wine. Free-flowing between glasses, feeling fine. A toast to my beloved, dear, sweet wine. We’ve lost count on how many years Tulip Valley Winery has won in this category, but every year they continue to be victorious with the sweet nectars of the valley. Make this an absolute must-see while stopping to enjoy the tulips (or any other time, for that matter). Make sure to include their popular Burro Loco Tulip Festival Cider in your tasting!
Where: 16163 WA-536, Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.tulipvalley.net


Best Place to Get a Tattoo:

Old School Tattoo

Best Tattoo in Bellingham: Old School Tattoo
If he’s inked your epidermis, you already know Old School Tattoo and Piercing’s owner, Paul Foertsch, is on another level—both literally and figuratively. “Tall Paul” has been tattooing the citizens of Bellingham for nearly 20 years, and fills his Holly Street studio with professional tattoo artists hand-selected for their unique style and commitment to the craft. They take their art seriously, and it shows.
Where: 209 E. Holly St.
Info: http://www.oldschooltattooandpiercing.net


Best Bed and Breakfast:

Guemes Island Resort

Just a short (and cheap!) ferry ride away lies the unsung hero of of the San Juans, Guemes Island. While the Skagit Valley has no shortage of (incredible) bed and breakfasts, this little gem allows for spectacular views that won’t hurt your pocketbook and can accommodate just about everyone, including Fido. If you’re looking for a relaxing spot away from the crowds but with all the modern amenities of home, this is your place. Sauna? Check. Massage therapy? Check. Foosball?! Check.
Where: 4268 Guemes Island Road, Anacortes
Info: http://www.guemesislandresort.com


Best Bar/Best Cocktail:

Train Wreck Bar & Grill

The secret is out on this place as the crossroads of Skagit, and it is busy at all hours. Which is exactly what you want from a pub—lively and full of action, with a menu loaded with gourmet grub served with some joy and style. Mondays, they feature tart margaritas with housemade tacos and tamales. Wednesdays, they feature a uniquely Northwest-y hand-rolled sushi.
Where: 427 E. Fairhaven Ave., Burlington
Info: http://www.trainwreckbar.com


Best Salon:

Honey Salon

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


Best Brewery:

Bastion Brewing Company

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There are now 10 breweries across Skagit County, and another is on its way. But you have voted Bastion Brewing as the best of the bunch. With its casual restaurant and kid-friendly setting this brewery is the place to be for all occasions. They offer an IPA, Porter, Session Ale and many other styles that will make both locals and visitors happy.
Where: 12529 Christianson Rd., Anacortes
Info: http://www.bastionbrewingcompany.com


Best Pizza:

La Fiamma

By the time this issue goes to press, the results of the nail-biting presidential election will be decided. Luckily, La Fiamma’s win for Best Pizza—our most-answered category on this year’s Best of Bellingham ballot—isn’t likely to be contested. In a city of many pizza palaces, voters ensured the wood-fired wonders at the longtime Railroad Avenue hotspot came out on top. Whether you prefer your pie topped with pepperoni, sausage, roasted potatoes, steak, shrimp, arugula or seven kinds of cheese, there’s something on the menu for everyone—regardless of what political party you affiliate yourself with.
Where: 200 E. Chestnut St.
Info: http://www.lafiamma.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 Bookstore:

Village Books

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


Best Fast Food:

Boomer’s Drive-In

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On a recent Sunday, my better half and I spent the afternoon putting the garden to bed and, come sunset, couldn’t find the gumption to make dinner. Without missing a beat, he offered to make the short journey to Boomer’s Drive-In for a couple of Big Booms, two orders of waffle fries and a blackberry shake (to split). After ordering from the carhop service, he was home not long afterward with fast food fit for royalty—double-stacked burgers made with fresh ingredients, hefty fries cooked just right, and a dangerously delicious handmade milkshake featuring ice cream locally sourced from Edaleen Dairy. Since the visit, I’ve since learned diners can now order in advance online—meaning Boomer’s is still old-school, but your Smartphone can help you secure a meal.
Where: 310 N. Samish Way
Info: http://www.boomersdrivein.com


Best Place to Get a Tattoo:

Old Gold Tattoo Parlor

Old Gold Tattoo
There’s no shortage of tattoo shops in Bellingham, as well as incredible artists employed within those venues. But within a couple of narrow walls on State Street—nestled appropriately next to a pinball and rock and roll bar—lives this year's winner, Old Gold Tattoo. As someone who bears a piece of art from the fine folks at Old Gold, it’s fair to say I’m a forever fan. The spotless shop boasts bright and colorful artwork lining every inch of the walls, a safe and sterile environment, and artists who are incredibly knowledgeable and pretty darn friendly. Regardless of the kind of permanent ink you are looking for, Old Gold has an artist for you, seven days a week.
Where: 1222 N. State Street
Info: http://www.facebook.com/OldGoldTattoo


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 Movie Theater:

Pickford Film Center

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


Best 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: http://www.lukofflegal.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 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 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 Tulip Farm:

RoozenGaarde

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


Best Asian/Best Take-Out:

Rachawadee Thai Cafe

So good, and so tiny! I’m of the opinion that Rachawadee Thai is the best you’ll find in five counties and beyond. And I am not alone. The classic kitchen lunch counter seats fewer than a dozen, so it’s not surprising we all favor their takeout. Check out the daily specials, and try an early or late lunch to beat the crowd and enjoy the many tastes of Thailand.
Where: 410 W Gates St., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.rachawadeethaicafe.com


Best 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 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 Winery:

Ded Reckoning at Compass Wines

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It's possible the red stuff coursing through Doug Charles' veins is wine. Since first becoming involved in the industry in 1978, Charles has been a cheerleader for Washington state wines—first at regional restaurants, and now at Compass Wines, the Anacortes-based wine shop he co-founded with Will Parks in 2001. Ded Reckoning Wines kicked in in 2004, featuring high-quality wines still in the barrel, making a stop at Compass Wines a must for grape-lovers everywhere.
Where: 1405 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: http://www.dedreckonging.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 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 Hunting and Fishing Gear:

Cabela’s

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


Best 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 Bike Store:

Kulshan Cycles

Bellingham has one of the most bike-centered populations in the United States. We love our rides. At the center of our fair city is Kulshan Cycles. If it wasn’t for them, we’d probably all be riding around on Flintstone-style stone wheels and dinosaur-drawn carriages. Kulshan Cycles, where superior customer service, an awesome bike selection and a stellar maintenance crew keep Bellingham upright and peddling—even through the rain.
Where: 100 E .Chestnut St.
Info: http://www.kulshancycles.com


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: http://www.calicocupboardcafe.com


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: http://www.smithandvallee.com


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 Music Store:

Everyday Music

Everyday Music
Even though the whole world seems to be in a torrid love affair with streaming services, Bellingham remains a place where people still purchase their music--or at least enough of it to keep a couple of music stores in business. As they always do, Everyday Music and Avalon Records slugged it out in this category, but this year Everyday emerged the victor. Convenient hours (they’re open from 10am-10pm, seven days a week) and a wide-ranging selection make for a perfect place to peruse and purchase your latest earworm.
Where: 115 E. Magnolia St.
Info: (360) 676-1404


Best Clothing Store:

Oliver Hammer

Skagit takes their rugged outdoorsin’ serious, right down to their long johns and underpants. Heavy-duty Bogs mud boots, Filson shirts stiff as sailcloth, Carhartt jackets, and Dickies rain gear. There’s nothing the river country can throw at you you can’t weather. You’re good to go.
Where: 821 Metcalf St., Sedro-Woolley
Info: http://www.oliverhammer.com


Best Brewery:


Farmstrong Brewery

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


Best 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 Bike Shop:

The HUB

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


Best 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 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 Head Shop :

Avalon

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Remember the good old, bad old days when you had to slink furtively into the patchouli-scented bong shop, cough and complain about how rough tobacco treats your throat? Yeah, right: Tobacco. Now you can just walk in and buy the water pipes and stemware you want, the vape gear, the grinders and scales and all the rest of the paraphernalia, the whole lovely lot of it. And talk to the staff instead about their latest music picks and the happenings on Railroad Avenue. Freedom is awesome.
Where: 1330 Railroad Ave.
Info: http://www.avalonrecordshop.com


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: http://www.aceanacortes.com


Best Fine Dining:

Hundred North

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


Best News Story:

Protests

Skagit knows the importance of farming to the economy, and the importance of migrant labor to farming. Too harsh a national policy on labor, too much fear and uncertainty in a vital, irreplaceable work force and suddenly crops are threatened in the fields. Climate change, too, is a concern for the future of farms. People have taken to the streets in labor marches, they’ve assembled in protest of fossil fuel expansions, they’ve let their voices be heard in support of human dignity and personal liberty. Because Skagit is a place worth fighting for.


Best Pot Store:

2020 Solutions

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


Best Grocery:

Community Food Co-op

Community Food Coop wins 2018 Best of Bellingham
You are what you eat, and that is a mission central to the Community Food Co-op. In recent years the volunteer board has reached out through a Farm Fund to increase the supply of local, sustainable and organic food by supporting and establishing projects that strengthen the local farming community. The Fund also works to educate consumers, increase access to local food, and to encourage ecological and socially responsible stewardship of farmland. To date, the fund has provided nearly $400,000 to more than 55 local food and farming projects through grants, loans and scholarships. It’s a way your membership is being put to work to invest in what you digest.
Where: 1220 North Forest Street; 315 Westerly Road at Cordata Parkway
Info: http://www.communityfood.coop


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 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 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 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 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 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 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 Place to Get a Massage:

The Chrysalis Inn & Spa

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


Best 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 Celebrity/Best Theater Company:

Ryan Stiles and the Upfront Theatre

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


Best 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: http://www.onricethai.com


Best Auto Repair:

Honest T Auto Repair

Travis puts the T in Honest T, although I’m also convinced it stands for the personal Touch, with more than 20 years of experience under the hood, servicing motors and the gizmos that connect to them. I don’t understand it myself, when cars go shuddering and knocking. That’s why I head straight to a straight-talking mechanic. I was pleased to hear his business is expanding, with a new location. Honest T is the best policy, and it is always a pleasure when the good guys win.
Where: 809 4th St. Sedro-Woolley
Info: (360) 395-8075


Best CSA:

Rabbit Fields Farm

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Every October, Rabbit Fields Farm founder Rosyln McNicholl tries to talk me out of buying her discounted garlic for fall planting purposes. “It’s not the cream of the crop,” the organic farmer says, pointing to the larger, cleaner bulbs placed atop the colorful rows of fall bounty—everything from winter squash to carrots, cabbage, potatoes, radishes, celery, herbs and beyond—she sells Saturdays at the Bellingham Farmers Market. But every July—around the time McNicholl and her team are amping up their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, which provides 20 weekly boxes of seasonal produce to lucky customers—I harvest a successful crop of summer garlic, thanks to Rabbit Fields Farm.
Info: http://www.rabbitfieldsfarm.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 Movie Theatre:

Pickford Film Center

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


Best 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


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