Best of Skagit 2016

Best Indian:

Taste of India

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


Best Happy Hour:

Train Wreck Bar & Grill

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If you’re happy and you know it, raise your glass. The Train Wreck’s Bloody Mary always brings a laugh—it is a big freaking food pyramid pinned to the bursting of a frosty salted glass! Mine’s even loaded with a biscuit sandwich with ham and cheese. Everything else on the menu is served with equal generosity and joy. So many things to choose from and keep coming back to try. I have the hang town fry—fried oysters wrapped in an omelet. Bite in, and the hot oysters burst with a smoky applewood bacon flavor. My friend orders the chicken fried steak—the gold standard by which all dining experiences should be judged, he says.
Where: 427 E. Fairhaven Ave., Burlington
Info: http://www.trainwreckbar.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 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 Mechanic:

Travis Wysong at Honest T Auto

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


Best Bank:

BECU

As its name suggests, Boeing Employees Credit Union originally existed to serve employees of the massive aerospace company. When they opened their membership to the general public, they also changed their name, and now they’re BECU to one and all. With a reputation for excellent customer service and sound financial advice, along with the particular perks that come with your membership, they’re doing their best to make managing your money a pleasure rather than a chore.
Where: 1753 S. Burlington Blvd., Burlington
Info: http://www.becu.org


Best Place to 
Get a Massage:

Calm Water Massage

Calm water massage wins best massage in Skagit Valley
Spotted on Calm Water Massage’s website is a quote from fashion designer Donna Karan: ”It’s all about finding the calm in the chaos.” Owner Traci Fralic takes that motto to heart, offering daytime getaways from aches and pains via Swedish, deep tissue, pregnancy, and hot stone massages at her serene Pine Square studio in downtown Mount Vernon. Aromatherapy is complimentary with each treatment, further removing you from the stresses of everyday life.
Where: 312 Pine St., Mount Vernon

Info: http://www.calmwatermassage.com


Best Yoga Studio:

Yoga Northwest

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Twelve years. No, it’s not a new pose—although perhaps it could be. It’s the amount of times Yoga Northwest has won this coveted award. The expert staff at the Fairhaven mainstay has instructors for every level in your yoga journey, and whether you’re looking to repair your body or achieve complete zen, you’re in the right space. No more namast’ay-in-bed, it’s time to reach for the sun salutations and to do something wonderful for both your body and mind.
Where: 1440 10th St.
Info: http://www.yoganorthwest.com


Best Salon:

Honey Salon

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


Best 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 Happy Hour:


The Porterhouse Pub

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With its location just off Mount Vernon’s Riverwalk and its 22 beers on tap and 13 wines from which to choose, the Porterhouse Pub is an easy place to wander into anytime of the day, but from 3pm-6pm daily and all day on Monday, the hours are a bit happier and the prices help the beer to flow. Pair a brew or glass of wine with nachos, carne asada fries, calamari or other small bites, or go for the “bottle of wine and snack plate” special. After you’re done, take a stroll along the river and bask in the afterglow of a happy hour that lives up to its name.
Where: 416 W. Gates St., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.porterhouse.pub


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 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 Yoga Studio:

Quantum Health and Yoga Lounge

Quantum Health and Yoga Lounge wins best yoga studio in Skagit Valley
“Exercise daily” is one of six steps the powers that be at Quantum Health and Yoga Lounge are bending over backward to help their customers achieve on their personal pathways to optimal health. And regardless of fitness level, age or ability to master the downward dog pose, all are welcome to find out more about what it will take to feel good on a regular basis at this Burlington-based oasis.
Where: 121 Spruce St., Burlington

Info: http://www.ghyogalounge.com


Best Shoe Store:

Mi Shoes

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


Best News Story:

Protesting Kids

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


Best Casino:

Silver Reef Casino Resort and Spa

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The Lummi have a saying, “When the tide is out, the table is set.” The saying speaks to the generosity of the Lummi people in matters of feast and festival. There’s a deep, trans-generational understanding within the tribe that the Silver Reef must grow and update to serve a changing demographic. To that end, a beautiful new wing was recently dedicated for the resort, providing ample convention center facilities and additional spa capacity. They’re gambling on a tide, and that’s always a good bet.
Where: 4876 Haxton Way, Ferndale
Info: http://www.silverreefcasino.com


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 Clothing Store:

Labels

Thanks to an $18 store credit a bestie gifted me with when she left town, a recent visit to Labels’ James Street locale resulted in the price of my purchase—a cute-but-casual dress from Ambrielle, a form-fitting Miracle City sweater, and two fancy throw pillow covers from the store’s housewares section—being a measly two cents. Although I felt like a criminal, it was a legit deal. My friend had consigned clothes, which had since been sold, or donated to We Care or Ragfinery. That $18 credit was hers (now mine) to spend on other low-priced, high-quality items at the bustling business. All in all, was a win-win situation.
Where: 2332 James St.; 3927 Northwest Ave.
Info: http://www.labelsconsignment.com


Best 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 Brewery:

Boundary 
Bay Brewery

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


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 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


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 Neighborhood:

Columbia

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What makes a great neighborhood? In the years we’ve been polling readers for their favorite places, this category has moved steadily north—as has the emphasis on great parks, trails, schools, places to hang out, and homes that are stylish, established yet affordable have come into focus. The Elizabeth Park Summer Concert Series is just one example of a neighborhood laying out all of its finest for the enjoyment of others. Roll on, Columbia! Best of Bellingham write-ups by Tim Johnson, Carey Ross, Amy Kepferle, Scott Pelton, and Trail Rat Photos by Patrick Beggan (versaphotography.com)
Info: http://www.columbianeighbors.com


Best Place to Dance/Place to See Live Music/Best Bartender:

Conway Muse

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

Whiskey Fever

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


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 Gear Store:

REI

Our readers love co-ops, where memberships create a more intimate relationship with the retailer. The grandfather of these member organizations is REI, which began in Seattle in 1935 when two climbers decided they needed a better way to purchase gear. That mission still holds true, with this quality outfitter providing equipment and clothing for all seasons and elevations and adventures in Cascadia. You’re welcome!
Where: 400 36th St.
Info: http://www.rei.com/stores/bellingham


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 Place to 
Play Cards/Slots:

Swinomish Casino & Lodge

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


Best Breakfast:

Old Town Cafe

Dawn’s breaking a little later these days, and there’s a feeling of frost in the air. Old Town’s up early, and the mugs of aromatic coffee are steaming. There’s a little gathering this morning at the community table, the first laughs of the day from people who’ve been up and at ’em before the birds started chirping. What am I having? I think it’s definitely, definitely going to be something different today, but—the Number Nine, of course. Smiling, Adrienne turns her ticket book around so I can see it. She’d already written down #9, because for me it’s always the same. You can depend on it. The table erupts in another laugh.
Where: 316 W Holly St.
Info: http://www.theoldtowncafe.com


Best 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 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 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 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 Cocktail :

Redlight

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

Old World Deli

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I’m not sure it is possible for me to express the depth of my love for Old World Deli, and judging by the number of votes they get in this category every year, I’m far from the only one who feels that way. I’m in it for the sandwiches—their specials board is what decides my day’s eating habits—and while I’m watching them be carefully crafted from premium ingredients by the most entertaining staff in town, I also watch all of you browse the constantly rotating wine selection, order party plates of cheeses and cured meats, and procure all the pasta, sauce, spices and condiments necessary to living the life of the righteously well-fed.
Where: 1228 N. State St.
Info: http://www.oldworlddeli1.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 Auto Dealer:

Foothills Toyota

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


Best Place to Dance/Place for a First Date/Place to See Live Music/Meet-Up:

Conway Muse

Oh, Conway Muse, how do we love thee? Well, we don’t need to count the ways, we can simply count the awards this tiny-town entertainment powerhouse has racked up. This multidisciplinary artistic hub is your Skagit go-to when you seek live music, are picking a perfect spot for a first date or meet-up or you just need to dance the night away. The only thing that can possibly make a visit to the Muse even better is a cocktail (or three—we don’t judge) expertly mixed by your favorite bartender Kelly Hayton, who is always ready with a surplus of drink knowledge and her trademark warm smile. No wonder the Muse is your end-all, be-all destination for fun, year in and year out. Best Bartender: Kelly Hayton at the Conway Muse
Where: 18444 Spruce St., Conway
Info: http://www.conwaymuse.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 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 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 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 Beach:

Clayton Beach

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Thanks to a small army of dedicated volunteers who donated time and plenty of elbow grease during a graffiti-removal work party earlier this summer, the sandstone cliff faces along our most beloved stretch of shoreline are free of puerile ornamentation and vile vulgarisms. Although it’s heartening to see how quickly our go-to splash zone was rendered family-friendly again, you have to wonder just what the hell is going wrong in our society that so many doofuses feel entitled to turn our publicly owned natural treasures into a medium for their own insipid close-mindedness.
Where: Chuckanut Drive
Info: http://www.wta.org


Best Italian:

Ciao Bella

It's not on Ciao Bella's regular menu, but if diners ever see gnocchi make an appearance in a daily special, they should order it—no questions asked. Owners Michele and Francesca hail from southern Italy, and in addition to serving pasta, sauces and bread made from scratch, the duo also brings authenticity to the table—whether it's in the flavors of the Pollo Valtelina or having dinner served with a smile by the Anacortes restaurant's owners.
Where: 1560 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: http://www.facebook.com/Ciao-Bella


Best Pizza:

La Fiamma

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It takes me approximately 100 steps from the lobby of the Herald Building to one of my favorite lunch spots, La Fiamma, where I eat approximately twice a week. While there’s surely no shortage of pizza joints in Bellingham, Fiamma continually steps out of the just-your-average-pie constraints. Fiamma now does brunch on the weekends, and has breakfast pizza—including Eggs Benedict Pizza. This menu item combines two of my favorite things and solidifies that, in combination with its fantastic pizza (and everything else off the menu), one-stop-shop Pye Hole (not just for late night anymore!) and brunch, I’ll never need to go anywhere else for all things ‘za.
Where: 200 E. Chestnut St.
Info: http://www.lafiamma.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 Bakery:

Mount Bakery

It’s a rainy and brisk fall morning, but stalwart customers can still be found sitting at the outdoor tables under the awning at the Mount Bakery’s Champion Street locale. Perhaps they don’t feel the cold because they’re warmed to the core by what they’re eating—scones fresh out of the oven, made-by-scratch croissants, maple-glazed cookies, lemon meringue tarts, pieces of pie or one of the other myriad baked goods the longtime bakery stocks at both its downtown and Fairhaven locales. A commitment to using locally sourced ingredients, a passion for the craft and the ability to keep Bellinghamsters coming back for more makes this award-winning business a no-brainer in this category.
Where: 308 W. Champion St., 1217 Harris Ave.
Info: http://www.mountbakery.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 Gear Store:


Dick’s Sporting Goods

A jungle teeming with sports and game supplies almost conceals a small forest of rods and reels at Dick’s. If you’re like me, you’re more into forests than fields, and creeks more than courts, and gaiters more than sneakers, and rainbows more than rinks. Doesn’t matter. Dick’s services it all with many brands, and a splendor of vendors.
Where: 2000 S. Burlington Blvd
Info: http://www.dickssportinggoods.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 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 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 Auto Repair:

JP Automotive

Is there anything more stressful than a searing red engine light? Fortunately, JP was there to take away some of my stress. After a short wait, JP mechanics ran a diagnostic. They quoted me a low price for the scan—nope, all good, light’s out—then waived it for my promise I’d return soon for a full maintenance fluid replacement. Sometimes a light is just a light, but better tuned than marooned.
Where: 1304 Memorial Hwy., Mount Vernon
Info: (360) 336-3496


Best Auto Repair:

Harmony Motorworks

It says something subtle and marvelous about Bellingham that our favorite mechanics specialize in mending fuel-efficient and innovative European and Japanese model autos. Sometimes, they do break! Harmony has been working on European-built vehicles since 1979—just about the time gas-guzzlers were going the way of the dino—and they know them quite well by now. Smart cars for smart drivers, repaired by smart mechanics—all cylinders firing.
Where: 1922 Grant St.
Info: http://www.harmonymotorworks.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 Deli:

Gere-a-Deli

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

Mad Hatter’s Ice Cream

Mad Hatter Ice Cream wins best dessert in Skagit Valley
What do Pokemon Go and Mad Hatter’s Ice Cream have in common? A few summers ago, the award-winning dessert destination in Anacortes made national news after finding itself in close proximity to a number of the popular app’s real-world stops—something owner and Navy veteran Gary Dear said led to a boom in sales and new friendships forged over servings of hard and soft ice cream made with milk from local dairies, house-made waffle cones and sundaes. While the news stories related to Mad Hatter’s have mostly subsided, people’s seasonal cravings for Dear’s flavorful concoctions crafted at the small blue building on Sixth Street have not. No matter what, you’re still in for a scoop.
Where: 801 6th St., Anacortes
Info: http://www.madhattersicecream.com


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 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 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 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 Pizza:

Village Pizza and Wheelhouse Bar

Pizza is our most fiercely divided and voted-upon category. We get it, Cascadians. You like your ‘za. And this year you deemed Village Pizza as the ruler of all. From fresh dough baked each morning and standard favorites to unique toppings such as mandarin oranges, oysters or shrimp, their menu is sure to please every palate.
Where: 807 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: http://www.villagepizza.org


Best Realtor:

Dominic Pettruzzelli

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


Best Gallery:

Dakota Art Gallery

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


Best 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 Brewery:

Farmstrong Brewing Company

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


Best Bed & Breakfast:

The Nantucket Inn

Coastal confusion can be found in the Nantucket Inn's moniker, but when visitors wake up in the 1920s-era colonial mansion and behold views of Fidalgo Bay and Mt. Baker, they'll know without a doubt they're in Anacortes, not New England. And, once they're sitting at the breakfast table, proprietors Jessica and Mike Ferguson will share with their guests how to further enjoy a visit to the valley they've called home for more than 20 years.
Where: 3402 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: http://www.nantucketinnanacortes.com


Best Grocery/Best Deli/Best Vegetarian:

Skagit Valley Food Co-op

During its 45 years of existence, Skagit Valley Food Co-op has built itself into a go-to nexus for wholesome, locally produced food, high-quality cuisine and a sundry selection of meatless victuals. Rooted deep into the social and economic fiber of the most robust agricultural corridor in Washington state, the grocers' unyielding commitment to sustainable growing practices and local suppliers isn’t just a boon to mindful gormandizers, it’s also a victory for dietary health, mindful community building and practicable stewardship of our natural environment. Perhaps this is why every time I order a tuna salad sandwich from the deli or go hunting for exotic strains of kale in the produce section—which features 98 percent certified organic products—I feel patriotic about partaking in the bountiful fruits of their labor.
Where: 202 S. First St., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.skagitfoodcoop.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 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 Neighborhood:

Sunnyland

Sunnyland
It’s because of the zoning, I tell people as they roll their eyes and return to their burgers and brews. Sunnyland’s special zoning allows commerce to snuggle up near residences, and for businesses to operate inside—and out of—homes. That means artists can run their studios out of their shops, tinkerers can run their shops out of their studios. It means stores and restaurants are within easy walking distance of neighborhoods, and the whole has a vibrant feel. On a broader scale, it is this connectedness that makes Bellingham work. But Sunnyland is a nucleus for this year’s best places, best nooks and hidey-holes, and best experiences as chosen by our readers. This week we focus on the places and businesses that keep Bellingham vibrant. Next Wednesday, tune in for the best in food and drink, and the people who make living here worthwhile. Compiled by Tim Johnson, Amy Kepferle, Carey Ross, Stephanie Young, and Trail Rat Photos by Jessamyn Tuttle


Best Band:

Whiskey Fever

Whiskey Fever wins best band in Skagit Valley
When it comes to winning in this category, this is not Whiskey Fever’s first rodeo. The band is led by Jack Mattingly, who got his start singing Elvis songs for his elementary school classmates and hasn’t stopped performing since. The band has made its reputation by waking up sometimes-sleepy Skagit County with high-octane performances, hallmarked by Mattingly’s songwriting skills and the group’s unbridled energy and desire to engage their audiences from the front row clear to the back door.
Info: http://www.facebook.com/WhiskeyFeverBand


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 Place for Hunting & Fishing Supplies:


Holiday Sports

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


Best Bloody Mary:

Bayou On Bay

Brunch is serious business in Bellingham—and so are Bloody Marys. Like you, I am always on the hunt for the best one in town, and more often than not, my search ends at Bayou On Bay. Homemade Bloody Mary mix is the base, which ever-willing Bayou bartenders can customize with varying levels of spice, a plethora of flavored vodkas infused in-house and more. Poured tall and strong, a Bayou Bloody Mary is the perfect accompaniment to an order of shrimp and grits or eggs Benedict. Hands-on types can even craft their own cocktail at Bayou’s Bloody Mary bar. Spice it how you like, just don’t Bogart all the bacon.
Where: 1300 Bay St.
Info: http://www.bayouonbay.com


Best Winery:

Tulip Valley Winery

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


Best 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 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 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 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 Gallery:

Smith & Vallee Gallery

On a recent slow roll through Edison, a friend who’d never encountered the small-but-mighty Skagit hamlet was agog at the astounding array of restaurants, bakeries, bars, shops and galleries populating the tiny town. “What’s that?” she queried, pointing to Smith & Vallee Gallery as it receded in the rearview mirror. “It used to be a schoolhouse,” I answered, “but a couple of sustainable woodworkers converted it into a kick-ass gallery a while back, and now it houses some of the best art in the region.” We didn’t have time to stop, but I promised her we’d return soon to check out “Bloom”—a group show running through April that celebrates the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival with intriguing interpretations of the many blossoming beauties to be found in the Pacific Northwest.
Where: 5742 Gilkey Ave., Edison
Info: http://www.smithandvallee.com


Best Auto Repair:

Rising Sun Motors

For all their reliability, Japanese cars can be complicated to repair. And when your ride goes on the fritz and you need a shop dedicated to and knowledgeable about the ins and outs of your Japanese engine, transmission, brakes, mufflers and other attendant parts, you trust Rising Sun Motors. In business for almost 40 years, and willing and able to work on all cars, regardless of country of origin, they’ll keep you running strong and true.
Where: 2126 Pacific St,
Info: (360) 733-9032


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 Celebrity:

Ryan Stiles

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If you want to know the real reason world-famous improviser Ryan Stiles so often snags the Best Celebrity crown when it comes time for these awards, you need look no further than the generosity he extends to his fellow actors at the Upfront Theatre—something the taller-than-average thespian has been doing since he founded the Bay Street space in 2004. And unlike a certain Academy Award-winning actress who’s been rumored to own a home nearby, Stiles is an approachable, affable entity—both onstage and off. So sure, Stiles and his Whose Line is it Anyway? pals may regularly sell out shows on nationwide tours, but that doesn’t mean you won’t run into him on a Thursday night in downtown Bellingham.
Where: Upfront Theatre, 1208 Bay St.
Info: http://www.theupfront.com


Best Pizza:

Railroad Pub & Pizza

Burlington is making a habit of this—refitting a classic old brick and mortar building and filling it with fresh food and friendly spirits. The Railroad Pub offers wood-fired pizzas—comfortable old favorites like pepperoni line up alongside startling exotics like Brussels & Bacon—paired with an ample selection of draft beers from local breweries. And, wine, if you’re so inclined.
Where: 122 S Spruce St., Burlington
Info: http://www.railroadpizza.com


Best Brewery:

Wander Brewing

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


Best Place to Dance:

Rumors Cabaret

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


Best Music Store:


The Business

The Business had a big, real weird, occasionally scary year. After losing their longtime spot at 402 Commercial Avenue, they found a new one a couple of blocks down, at 216 Commercial Avenue—only to see that space sustain heavy damage in a fire. But due to some landlord largesse and a whole lot of hard work, on March 1 owner Nick Rennis proudly welcomed the public to the restored and renovated—and totally beautiful—Business. Although their digs may be sexier now, the Business remains as it ever was: fiercely independent, proudly local and an indelible (and resilient) piece of Anacortes’ proud musical landscape. Take your business to the Business.
Where: 216 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: http://www.thebusinessanacortes.com


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 Grocery/Best Vegetarian:

Skagit Valley Food Co-op

In my lifelong dedication to their tuna salad sandwich I’ve convinced myself that if the world could learn to become more like the deli/bakery department at Skagit Valley Co-op, it would be a better place. Throw in the organic garden center, fresh vegetable section and the bulk area and you essentially have paradise on Earth. Whether I’m wolfing a non-GMO double-scoop cone or slurping a sustainable fresh-roasted cuppa, my love for this farm-to-table Mecca continues to grow. And now—thanks to its recent C-Square expansion—there is even more of it to love.
Where: 202 S. First St., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.skagitfoodcoop.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 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 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 Gear Store:

REI

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


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