Best of Skagit 2016

Best Neighborhood:

Sunnyland

The center of the universe has coasted north over the years of our annual Best of Bellingham reader survey—Columbia and Sunnyland neighborhoods feature a vital mix of charming long-established Craftsman homesteads, innovative businesses and artist studios. They’ve taken their share of infill, proving urban densities can make a city come alive. The city’s bike and pedestrian plans have matured in these neighborhoods. They feel centered. And it is not at all a coincidence that so many winners in our Best of Bellingham survey are located here.


Best Toy Store:

Fairhaven Toy Garden

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

Herbal Legends Cannabis

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


Best Trail:

Little Mountain

During my most recent session in this amply forested, vertically well-endowed Mount Vernon city park, I peddled my junker up the 1.5-mile paved entrance road to the 934-foot summit and rubbernecked the tulip fields, the San Juan Islands, Olympic Mountains, and Mt. Baker. Then—to savor as much single-track goodness as my played-out shocks and antiquated gear shifter allowed—I wheeled my way down Sidewinder to the service road that spit me out onto Huff N Puff. Upon finally reaching the High Road, I decided to go Over the Top so I could cruise the contours of Upper Surfer’s Way and Lower Surfer’s Way before departing via La-Z-Boy with a smile that stayed glued on my face for days.
Info: http://www.mountvernonwa.gov


Calm Water Massage:

Calm Water Massage

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


Best Bike Shop:

Skagit Cycle

From trail rides to tulip trots, casual rides to extreme competitions, anyone from the novice to expert rider can rest assured Skagit Cycle will be there there every pedal of the way. The full-service pros have bikes for every type of rider, and will take care of you at every crossroad. Just in the area for a few days? Then check out their rental options.
Where: 1704 S. Burlington Blvd. Burlington; 1620 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: http://www.skagitcyclecenter.com


Best Music Festival:

Downtown Sounds

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


Best 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 Movie Theater:

Pickford Film Center

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


Best 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 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 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 Island Destination:

Friday Harbor

The Sealth shudders as she eases out of a drippy morning mist. There’s a wrong way out to the islands and a right way, and the right way takes longer, needs no car, and catches all the islands—Lopez, Shaw, and at last thrumming and churning into San Juan. We walk right into town from the ferry landing and the shops and eateries unfold for us like a map. It’s cold, and raining—a perfect Pacific Northwest day—and the coffee is aromatic and warm. The live music starts just before the last ferry out and if we linger we’ll be stranded. I reckon we’ll stay awhile.
Where: San Juan Island

Info: http://www.wsdot.com/ferries/


Best Neighborhood:

Sunnyland

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


Best Grocery:

Community Food Co-op

Secrets revealed: At least once a week, I go to the Food Co-op for an early-morning breakfast. Grits or oatmeal, scrambled eggs, potatoes—with chorizo gravy, if you’d like. Comes to about $12 with dark roast coffee, which is about the cheapest, most filling meal around on a tight schedule. I look over the bulletin board, filled with community events and information about the food co-operative I, in part, own. The Community Food Co-op Board is in intricately involved in nutrition and the local food web, working to increase the supply of local, sustainable and organic food by supporting and establishing projects that strengthen the local farming community. So much more than a grocery store—yet they’re really good at that part, too.
Where: 1220 N. Forest St., 315 Westerly Rd.
Info: http://www.communityfood.coop


Best Casino:

Silver Reef Hotel Casino Spa

Silver Reef Casino
Lummi are a wise and resourceful people, and they plan for generations to come. Some years back tribal leaders understood demographics were changing and casino crowds were seeking a new experience. They expanded their casino operations to include a top-flight destination resort and convention center, and a community center for their nation. If you haven’t toured their casino recently, you’re missing a spectacular treat.
Where: 14876 Haxton Way, Ferndale
Info: http://www.silverreefcasino.com


Best Tattoo:

Good Vibes Body Art

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


Best 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 Deli:

Old World Deli

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


Best Fine Dining:

Saltine

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


Best 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 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 Nursery:

Garden Spot Nursery

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

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


Best 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 Taphouse:

Elizabeth Station

Whenever Frodo and I get a hankering to imbibe a draught or three of craft beer or hard cider, we crawl out of our hobbit-holes and quest-journey over to the Columbia hood for a quality sesh at the Station. Offering a bountiful array of rotating taps, delicious food-truck fare to forage and copious cozy seating areas to accommodate our assembly, it’s tailor-made for lunch, casual dinner, vigorous snacking or even the occasional elevenses.
Where: 1400 W. Holly St.
Info: http://www.elizabethstation.es


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 Hardware Store:

Ace Hardware Anacortes

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


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 Gym:

Whatcom Family YMCA

I admit, sometimes on a chilly morning I go just for a stretch and then the steam or sauna—just to sit in the company of people I know and have come to know. Locker room talk? Oh, yeah. Usually about the Seahawks. Heck, who am I kidding? Honestly? Always about the Seahawks. But also lots of tales of gardening and weekend-warrioring. The weights await. But let them wait a bit longer. Friends are here, and they’re talking.
Where: 1256 N State St.
Info: http://www.whatcomymca.org


Best Bookstore:

Village Books

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

Gloria Baldwin @ Camber

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That Camber won in multiple categories is hardly a surprise, given that the coffeehouse does just about everything incredibly well. Its coffee is thoughtfully sourced and expertly roasted and brewed by its knowledgeable and friendly staff, including multiple Best of Bellingham winner and lead barista Gloria Baldwin. Its brunch menu, which changes with the seasons, is a creative and delicious way to start the day, whether you’re ordering their vegan cashew cream toast or the perfectly balanced rosemary lamb burger.
Where: 221 W. Holly St.
Info: http://www.cambercoffee.com


Best 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 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 Music Store:

Hugo Helmer Music

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As can be expected, Anacortes’ the Business made a strong showing in this category. But even a store steeped in history in a town with a deep music tradition can compete with a business that’s been around just this side of forever. A one-stop shop for music equipment and accessories of all kinds, an in-store repair department as well as lessons, instrument rental and more make this the place to go when you need to make a joyful noise.
Where: 1025 S. Goldenrod Road, Burlington
Info: http://www.hugohelmermusic.com


Best Place to Get a Massage:

Calm Water Massage

If you’ve been pondering where to find a place to relax, unwind and take care of yourself, this is it. The winner in this category every year, Calm Water Massage will leave you (and your pocketbook) feeling pretty darn amazing. Treat yourself, or those you love.
Where: 308 Pine St., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.calmwatermassage.com


Best Music Festival:

WinterStock

Even though the seasons around here are pretty mild, winter can be decidedly dreary in these parts. As an antidote, the fine folks at the Lincoln Theatre organized WinterStock to get us all out of the house and away from the dark pull of the seasonal downswing in our moods. They filled the night with foot-stompin’ Americana bands and pints from Skagit’s so-called “Beermuda Triangle,” Farmstrong, Northsound, and Skagit River breweries, and when it was all said and danced and done, we could almost see spring on the horizon. Judging by your votes, it seems you can use all the WinterStock you can get.
Where: Lincoln Theatre, 712 S. First St., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.lincolntheatre.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 Place for 
a First Date:

13moons

13 Moons cafe best place for a date in Skagit Valley
There’s something about an old-school steakhouse fine-dining experience, and that’s what 13moons in the Swinomish Casino & Lodge so capably provides. Decorated in Swinomish Native tribal art and with a menu separated into sections such as “From the Salish Sea” and “From the Salish Land,” the tribe’s pride of place is on display in every detail. While you can certainly partake of one of their skillfully prepared steaks or other mouthwatering dishes, the most popular order at 13moons is the signature hand-cut Alder-wood grilled salmon. Given how important salmon are to every facet of Swinomish tribal history, culture and life, it makes perfect sense that 13moons would treat it with the reverence it deserves.
Where: Swinomish Casino & Lodge, 12885 Casino Dr.
Info: http://www.swinomishcasinoandlodge.com


Best Asian/Take-out:

Rachawadee Thai Cafe

Rachawadee wins best Thai in Skagit Valley
How can so much wonderful flavor be packed into so tiny a lunch counter? Little bigger than a food truck, Rachawadee features a rich selection of dishes from Thailand’s coast to the interior with an authentic heat that really opens your taste buds (and pores!). On this visit, I ordered their Noodle Boat, a beef stew in a savory broth with thick, chewy noodles. Delicious.
Where: 410 W. Gates St., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.rachawadeethai.com


Best Music Festival:

Riverwalk Summer Concert Series

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


Best Artist:

Lloyd Houston

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


Best 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 Auto Dealer :

Dewey Griffin Subaru

You can tell a lot about people by how they treat animals. Just ask the staff at Dewey Griffin Subaru, who in addition to providing the many Subaru devotees of Bellingham with a stellar selection of new and used vehicles for nearly 50 years, also offer a dog-friendly loaner car and have an onsite dog park with direct trail access to Whatcom Falls Park. Through October, the Iowa Street headquarters also acted as a drop-off point for donations of toys, food and other pet supplies for the Whatcom Humane Society. Additionally, they step up to the plate where helping their fellow humans is concerned, having recently donated a significant amount to the Bellingham Food Bank’s annual “Feed the Need” Community Food Drive.
Where: 1800 Iowa St.
Info: http://www.deweygriffensubaru.com


Best 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 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 Trail:

Oyster Dome

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


Best Mexican:

Taco Lobo

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


Best Bakery:

Farm to Market Bakery

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


Best Italian:

D’Anna’s Cafe Italiano

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


Best 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 Fast Food:

Boomer’s Drive-In

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


Best Greek:

Cafe Akroteri

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


Best Theater Company:

Sylvia Center for the Arts

When iDiOM Theater was founded by Glenn Hergenhahn-Zhao in fall of 2001, it was with an aim to present high-quality, innovative, original works to its patrons. For 14 years, it did just that--plus a whole lot more--in a small space on Cornwall Avenue. Since morphing into the Sylvia Center for the Arts and making the move to a much larger locale on Prospect Street, its mission has expanded to include gathering a number of other arts organizations under its creative umbrella, thus turning a former laundry building into a thriving, multi-venue performance space. Oct. 11-12 will feature the 53rd iteration of the 48 Hour Theater Festival--a feat that will see approximately 12 new short plays created in the course of a single weekend--and is a great way to celebrate Sylvia's much-deserved win in this category.
Where: 205 Prospect St.
Info: http://www.sylviacenterforthearts.org


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 Home Store:

The Greenhouse

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


Best Artist:

Ben Mann

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


Best Casino:

Silver Reef Hotel Casino Spa

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


Best Attorney:

Brock Stiles

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

Eric J. Larson, Coldwell Banker Bain

Buying or selling a home—especially in a market as permanently red-hot as Bellingham’s—comes with a lot of pressure, both financial and emotional. As such, who you trust with your home sweet home is of paramount importance. In a hotly contested category, Coldwell Banker Bain’s Eric J. Larson garnered the most votes. With deep roots in the community and almost two decades of experience, Larson brings knowledge, skill and pride of place to each client and every home bought or sold. Home is where the heart is, after all.
Where: 3610 Meridian St.
Info: http://www.ericlarson.coldwellbankerbain.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 Breakfast/BBQ:

Dad’s Diner

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The daily menu is etched on a blackboard, and it changes often. The talented cooks are always experimenting, and so should you. I order the buttermilk biscuits and gravy. My partner chooses the brisket hash, smoked in-house. The walls are crowded with years of photos of celebrities both local and distant who smile down on us.
Where: 906 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: (360) 899-5269


Best Deli:

Old World Deli

I can no longer remember a time before Old World Deli existed in my life and I no longer want to. The State Street mainstay could probably get by on its carefully curated wine selection and selection of house made, cured and smoked meats alone, but that’s just the tip of a very tasty iceberg. Because they have all the fixins—pasta, sauces, cheeses, and exotic relishes, condiments and spices—for you to make your own meal. Or, if you’re lazy like me, they’ll make you a perfect sandwich, salad or bowl of soup from their premium ingredients. I generally go for the sandwiches on the specials board, but sometimes only a #12 will do.
Where: 1228 N. State St.
Info: http://www.oldworlddeli1.com


Best 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 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 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 Bank/Credit Union:

WECU

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As a credit union, Whatcom Educational Credit Union is crystal clear that they value people over profits. From personal loans to mortgage loans, educational seminars to Education First grants, WECU is focused on putting community first—something their 128,000 members can really get behind. Prime example: During the months of October and November, every time you use your WECU debit card, you’ll earn a penny, and they’ll also donate a penny to local causes throughout Whatcom County.
Where: Multiple locales in Bellingham
Info: http://www.wecu.com


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 Burger:

Fiamma Burger

“Oh Burger! My Burger!—these are the words I’m sure Walt Whitman would be uttering had circumstances been a bit different and he found himself walking through the doors of Fiamma Burger. Exceptionally delicious from start to finish, the friendliest burger folks behind the bun, and all at a price point that you can take the whole family in? Clearly winning. On top of it all, their extensive burger menu also features breakfast, happy hour, desserts, and more. I feel kind of bad ol’ Walt never got the chance to indulge.
Where: 1309 Railroad Ave.
Info: http://www.fiammaburger.com


Best Farm:

Schuh Farms

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


Best Performance Theatre:

DiOM Theater

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


Best 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 Craft Cocktail:

Swim Club

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I imagine Havana as I walk in—sunshine slanting through the window slats, the air filled with the snap of bitters. I order an Old Fashioned, thinking that is about as basic a cocktail as there is. Fool that I am, was I wrong! The drink is expertly made, layered with top-shelf liquors electrified by citrus rind—a zingy mix on an old recipe. As I sip, flavors opening, I watch my bartender with ease carve from a humble cucumber a beautiful flower for another drink. That one I also must try.
Where: 1147 11th St.
Info: http://www.swimclubbar.com


Best Watering Hole:

Brown Lantern Ale House

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The Weekly staff always argues over who gets to review the Brown Lantern. This year, I drew the lucky straw. Damn, I love this place! It’s barely noon and the place is jammed, as it always is, with locals who know their stuff. The bar is honky-tonk dark, yet lighted by a large picture window of the sunny street outside, and hewn of thick, heavy slabs of varnished wood from pines that just don’t grow this big anymore. And the burgers are from another glorious bygone time, too—thick and juicy off the grill, served with no nonsense, unless you consider cheese and special sauce fixins nonsense. There’s plenty of brews to choose from, but most of the nodding, wise fellows at the bar have in front of them a cracked can of icy Hamm’s old style. Who can argue?
Where: 412 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: http://www.brownlantern.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 Indian:

Naan and Brew

Bellingham is home to a growing number of Indian restaurants, each of them with its own particular merits. But as in years past, Naan and Brew has earned the majority of your votes. The downtown restaurant’s great attention to detail results in dishes that are deeply flavorful, rich and complex, whether they’re cooked on the stovetop or in the traditional tandoor oven. To try a bit of everything, visit during lunch, where you can load up your plate at their lunch buffet with butter chicken, veggie pakoras and fresh-made naan. Order a cocktail from their full bar and take the rest of the day off
Where: 200 E. Maple St. #101
Info: http://www.naanandbrew.com


Best Place to Get a Massage:

Prime Sports Institute

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A little more than a year ago, a multidisciplinary sports medicine clinic opened on North State Street with a goal of helping people maintain healthy, active lifestyles through a comprehensive approach to wellness—including athletic training, physical therapy, coaching, sports nutrition and acupuncture. Luckily, part of their fitness formula also includes massage. Kerry Gustafson, one of the four massage therapists on staff, is also the owner. As an expert at sports therapy, she says her obsession is “connecting the dots to dysfunction in your body and returning you to the sports and activities you love.”
Where: 1704 N. State St.
Info: http://www.primebellingham.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 Deli, Best Lunch:

Old World Deli

We know you love Old World Deli because we see you there during our frequent visits to partake of a porchetta, East Coast sub or Cuban sandwich lunch special. You’re talking to Christos and Anna about wine, ordering platters of meat and cheeses from Zach or shopping for dinner from their expansive shelves of pastas, sauces, condiments, spice blends and cocktail supplies before meandering over to the cold cases for house-cured meats and homemade sausages. They’re hosting one of their monthly prime rib nights on Thurs., Oct. 17. We’ll see you there.
Where: 1228 N. State St.
Info: http://www.oldworldbellingham.com


Best Destination on Highway 20:

Birdsview Brewery

The pass was just cleared, but we weren’t going much past Diablo and the Ruby Arm, still frosty from winter. On the way back, we hit the place everyone chooses—coming or going. The Birdsview brewpub was packed, tables filled with folks spinning yarns and unraveling the hokum. I ordered the malty SasScotch; my partner called for the Ditsy Blonde and clowned as she drank it. We weren’t ready to say goodbye, so we parked on a quiet street in Hamilton and walked down to marvel at the Skagit, pregnant with the spring thaw.
Where: 38302 WA-20, Concrete
Info: http://www.birdsviewbrewingcompany.com


Best Place to Buy Pot:

2020 Solutions

With two locations in Bellingham staffed with knowledgeable budtenders, 2020 Solutions is your go-to when you’re looking to go green. Want the new “sticky-icky?” 2020 has all of your weed needs, from flowers to edibles to everything in between. This was a tight category, with Trove just a spliff-width from taking the title. But 2020 Solutions pulled away in the end. What do you expect from a weed store that looks as good as they do and has two locations in our weed-friendly burg?
Where: 2018 Iron St. and 5755 Guide Meridian
Info: http://www.2020-solutions.com


Best Auto Repair:

JP Automotive

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


Best Breakfast:

The Rhododendron Cafe

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


Best 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 Gallery:


Smith & Vallee Gallery

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“North Fork Skagit River near Barge Island” is the title of the cast artist Allen Moe made on sandbars less than a mile from his shack on the Skagit River Delta. The otherworldly artwork greets visitors outside the door of Smith & Vallee Gallery in Edison, and is a harbinger of what to expect when you walk through the doors of the historic schoolhouse—namely, that each month’s artists often pay homage to the natural world. The exhibit by painter Hart James and sculptor Jan Hoy showing through April 28 is no exception. James’ artful abstractions such as “Sky Meets Earth, Skagit Valley” will look familiar, and Hoy’s sculptures have a contemporary bent, but are rooted in reverence for nature. They’re a wonder to behold.
Where: 5742 Gilkey Ave., Edison
Info: http://www.smithandvalleegallery.com


Best Happy Hour:

Rock and Rye

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


Best 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 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 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 Trail:

Oyster Dome

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


Best Massage:

PRIME Massage & Sports Medicine

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


Best 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 Breakfast:

Old Town Cafe

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


Best Women’s Clothing Store:

Labels

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


Best Theater:

Lincoln Theatre

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


Best 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


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