Best of Skagit 2016

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 Bike Shop:

Skagit Cycle Center

At Skagit Cycle, you’re not going to be stereotyped as a sissy if you inform employees you’re looking for sturdiness, not speed. “Cycling intensity levels range from gleeful joyrides to foaming-at-the-mouth, all-out efforts and anything in between,” the spokespeople at the Skagit Valley hub say when talking about why bicycling is the best exercise around. “This ability to choose your perfect pace is what makes cycling so much fun and so accessible to just about everyone,” they add. And with 1,000-plus conveyances to choose from, it seems as if Skagit Cycle Center is apt to have a perfect ride for just about everybody.
Where: 1704 Burlington Blvd., Burlington and 1620 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: http://www.skagitcylecenter.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 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 Dessert:

Pure Bliss Desserts

Confession: I visit Pure Bliss at least once a week, I have tried nearly everything they bake and I am only too happy to vouch for all of it. Judging by how many of you I see there purchasing a slice of cake, a six-pack of assorted cupcakes, cookies, bars and more, you’re regular visitors as well. At the moment, nothing in the dessert cases at Pure Bliss is nearly as exciting as the sweet sounds of construction—a soon-to-be-finished renovation project will see the Cornwall Avenue shop double its footprint, and I have been assured that the already plentiful and varied selection of treats will only become more so. Challenge accepted, Pure Bliss.
Where: 1424 Cornwall Ave.
Info: http://www.pureblissdesserts.com


Best Happy Hour / Bartender:

Rock and Rye/ 
Dennis Schafer

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


Best 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 Vegetarian:

Leaf & Ladle

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


Best 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 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 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 Grocery:

Community 
Food Co-op

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It’s been nearly a year since the downtown Community Food Co-op celebrated the completion of its newly remodeled flagship store, which included a new mezzanine seating area, remodeled bathrooms, the addition of a salad bar and innovative hot bar and—across the street—a new Healthy Connections building and bakery. While the changes were welcome, we’re guessing the longtime natural grocer got your votes the old-fashioned way—by consistently offering quality service and products, and providing a place not just to shop, but also to connect with your fellow Bellinghamsters.
Where: 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Rd.
Info: http://www.communityfood.coop


Best Italian :

D’Anna’s Cafe Italiano

D’Anna’s wins in this category every single year, which gives me the opportunity to write a love letter to my favorite Bellingham eatery every single year. An inviting locale and waitstaff who have been there just this side of forever are the sides to a main course of the best Italian food you’ll find anywhere—all scratch-made on the premises. From parmagianas and lasagna to several kinds of ravioli to pasta augmented by more sauces, proteins and other add-ins than you can shake a noodle at, right on down to the manicotti that is, for my money, the best meal in town, D’Anna’s does a belly good.
Where: 1317 N. State St.
Info: http://www.dannascafeitaliano.com


Best Greek:

Cafe Akroteri

Recently, when I was feeling peckish and craving the flavors of the Mediterranean, I made my way to Cafe Akroteri, Bellingham’s longtime Greek food stalwart. Normally, I’m a sampler platter kind of girl, which allows me to satiate my longing for Akroteri’s tasty spanakopita, dolmathes, Greek salad and more on one snackable and shareable plate. But this time, I scored their gyro and draft beer special, a budget-friendly deal that gets savvy diners a gyro meal and beer for a little more than a sawbuck—which is a whole lot cheaper than a plane ticket to Greece.
Where: 1219 Cornwall Ave.
Info: http://www.cafeakroteri.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 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 Deli:

Gere-A-Deli

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In an old brick bank building from another era is a vault stuffed with treasures—a deli counter filled with aromatic cheeses, meats, salads and pickles. Simmering behind the counter are savory soups to pair with hand-built sandwiches on crusty bread with all the fixins. I grab Grandma Mcphee’s thick meatloaf sandy—oh, man!—and am just lucky enough to find a table. It’s lunchtime, and this Anacortes tradition is busy!
Where: 502 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: http://www.gere-a-deli.com


Best Steakhouse:

Max Dale’s Steak & Chop House

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


Best 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 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 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 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 Coffeehouse:

Black Drop Coffeehouse

With so many coffee shops from which to choose—each with its own fierce loyalists—the Black Drop’s string of wins in this category is telling. Simply put, they are flat-out exemplary at what they do. Whether they’re pulling perfect shots from locally roasted beans, explaining their many specialty drinks or slinging double shots of espresso on Free Doppio Friday, they execute with a minimum of fuss and an abundance of excellence. Add to that an inclusive atmosphere that tolerates everything except hate, and it’s easy to see what makes the Black Drop your favorite.
Where: 300 W. Champion St.
Info: http://www.blackdropcoffeehouse.com


Best Grocery:

Community Food Co-op

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


Best 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 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 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 Movie Theater:

The Pickford Film Center

Pickford Film Center
The Pickford Film Center’s motto is “More than movies” and it’s a promise they make good on, offering such events as the Rooftop Cinema, annual Oscar party, Children's and Human Rights film festivals and so much more. Currently, the not-so-tiny-but-certainly-mighty independent movie theater is in the middle of Doctober, its annual, month-plus celebration of nonfiction filmmaking, which has become the largest documentary film festival on the west coast and helps anchor the PFC’s Doc-Ed and Media Literacy programs. Of course, they still show plenty of those art-house movies you love, which is how they win this category—and your hearts—year after year. That, and the real butter they put on their popcorn.
Where: 1318 Bay Street, 1416 Cornwall Ave.
Info: http://www.pickfordfilmcenter.org


Best Asian:

Busara Thai Cuisine

As much as I relish being able to savor the delectable Thai cuisine that emerges from the kitchen at Busara for lunch and dinner, I’m even more appreciative of its winter-proof southeast Asian decor. Although I’m apt to patronize their pagoda-esque parlor on a regular basis throughout the year, it’s during the cold, darker heart of our more inclement seasons that I appreciate the resident ambience to its most soothing degree. Whether I’m sitting down for transformative portions of crispy duck in ginger sauce or just stopping by to pick up extra spicy green curry takeout, it feels like I’ve gone 7,000 miles away—to a much warmer part of the Pacific.
Where: 404 36th St.
Info: http://www.busarabellingham.com


Best Yoga:

Yoga Northwest

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


Best Mexican:

Jalapeños

There are several Jalapeños scattered around Bellingham (including a sizzlin’ taco bus), but my favorite is downtown—outdoor seating with a sunny view to the west of an evolving post-industrial waterfront. Diners order the Big Mama margarita and laugh at the aquarium-sized creation. They order Bellingham’s biggest burrito, thinking it cannot possibly be true, and are astonished when it arrives. Happy hour is basically just about any hour they’re open—and that’s exactly how it should be.
Where: 501 W. Holly St., 1007 Harris Ave, 2945 Newmarket Pl.
Info: http://www.jalapenos-wa.com


Best Place to Buy Pot:

High Society

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


Best Breakfast:

Home Skillet

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


Best Vegetarian:

Shambala Bakery & Bistro

Shambala Bakery & Bistro wins best vegetarian food in Skagit Valley
Using only non-GMO products, Shambala Bakery & Bistro in downtown Mount Vernon offers a plethora of gluten-free breads, carefully crafted sandwiches, wraps, salads, soups, sauces and even pizza with attention paid to every menu item, and with allergy sensitivities in mind. The food lovingly prepared here is a vegetarian and vegan’s dream. Even if you’re not following that particular food path, the fare is undeniably delicious. Be kind to yourself. Eat at Shambala.
Where: 614 S. First St., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.shambalabakery.com


Best Food Truck:

StrEAT Food

Years ago, when the Weekly began adding the food truck category to our annual compendium of the people and places that make Bellingham great, StrEAT Food was the clear winner. And thanks to James Pitzer’s commitment to providing locally procured, high-quality menu items—my choice typically turns out to be the chicken artichoke sandwich, but the lamb gyro pita and shrimp tacos are other family favorites—that’s pretty much been the case ever since. And although StrEAT Food has since opened a cafe in the Bellingham Cruise Terminal, their mobile eatery continues to garner forever fans wherever they go.
Where: Kulshan Brewing Co., K2, Carne, Wander Brewing, and beyond
Info: http://www.streatfood.me


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 Burger:

Skagit Valley Burger Express

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This little red caboose chugs out a delicious burger—the Atomic Mushroom is hefty, juicy and grill-seared, with the eponymous explosion of sauteed mushrooms and bacon on a perfectly toasted bun. Since the last time I visited they’ve added thick, creamy milkshakes done right, and a small hut for outdoor dining during April showers. The latter obscures the caboose and its signage just a little from the road, however, so look hard or you might miss this “don’t miss” burger spot on the North Cascades Highway.
Where: 1172 WA-20, Sedro-Woolley
Info: (360) 707-8778


Best 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 Margarita:

Black Sheep

When it comes to margaritas, Black Sheep is unapologetic about its lack of a blender. “Sorry not sorry” reads a note above the long menu of tequila-inspired cocktails offered on the regular—and on the rocks—at the self-described “bar with tacos.” Whether you’re in the mood for a simple yet delicious Dude-a-rita (made with Lunazul reposado, triple sec, limes and lemons) or want to get fancy with a Siddha (Classico reposado, Kuma turmeric liqueur and limes), the award-winning Holly Street hideout will slake your thirst with the best margarita in town.
Where: 215 W. Holly St.
Info: http://www.blacksheepbellingham.com


Best Place for a First Date, Best Happy Hour:

Temple Bar

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


Best Celebrity/Best Theater Company:

Ryan Stiles and the Upfront Theatre

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


Best Asian/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 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 Music Festival:

Subdued Stringband Jamboree

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No, it doesn’t happen in Bellingham, but little things like geography do not tend to get in the way when it comes to claiming the Subdued Stringband Jamboree as Bellingham's best. After all, founder Robert Sarazin Blake lives in Bellingham, as do most of the musicians and volunteers who make the Jamboree possible. A summertime staple, Stringband is a perfect mix of old-timey, Americana and bluegrass music and other performances in a scenic laid-back locale. Add to that the strong sense of community that infuses every bit of the festival and it truly embodies what is the best of Bellingham.
Where: The Deming Log Show Fairgrounds, Hwy 542
Info: http://www.stringbandjamboree.com


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 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 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 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 Italian food/Pizza:

Pacioni’s Italian Restaurant

A word of warning: Do not peruse Pacioni’s menu of mouthwatering Italian favorites and Neapolitan-style pizzas unless you are actually in the restaurant and able to order their delectable fare. Because if you’re reading online from a distance, the list of ingredients for their Chef’s Choice pizza (Pacioni’s Italian sausage, pepperoni, Black Forest ham and mushrooms), South First calzone (portobello mushrooms, basil pesto, fresh chopped garlic, roasted red peppers, ricotta and mozzarella) or any of their traditional Italian fare (penne gorgonzola, traditional lasagna, spaghetti with meatballs, etc.) will make your mouth water unmercifully. Trust me, I know. And I haven’t even mentioned their heavenly desserts.
Where: 606 S. 1st St., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.pacionis.com


Best Burger:

Fiamma Burger

I’m not likely to add peanut butter to a burger, but it’s nice to have the option if I’m ever brave enough to broaden my culinary horizons. Of course, choices are what Fiamma Burger is all about. I can attest that their hormone-free, Northwest-sourced beef is top-notch—as are the daily-baked brioche buns—but so too are their salmon, bison, lamb and vegetarian burgers. And when it comes to add-ons, don’t be embarrassed to triple the order. Grilled onions, sauteed mushrooms and a fried egg? Why not! Just hold the peanut butter, OK?
Where: 1309 Railroad Ave.
Info: http://www.fiammaburger.com


Best Brewery:


Bastion Brewing Company

When the folks at Bastion Brewing Company urge visitors to “bring the whole crew” to their popular Anacortes beer hall, it’s not hyperbole. In addition to its family-friendly ethos—the brewery hosts all-ages events and provides a kids’ corner complete with games—leashed dogs (and even cats) can visit both the taproom and the outdoor beer garden. So while you’re slaking your thirst with a handcrafted Skagit Valley Blonde or Cascadian Twilight Dark Lager and noshing on fish and chips or a giant burger, rest assured there will be be plenty of two- and four-legged action to be observed.
Where: 12529 Christianson Rd., Anacortes
Info: http://www.bastionbrewery.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 Hunting and Fishing Gear:

Cabela’s

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


Best Place to See Live Music:

Wild Buffalo

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


Best Seafood:

Chuckanut Manor

Chuckanut Manor wins best seafood in Skagit Valley
Nestled at the foot of the Chuckanuts, where the Skagit flats give way to the scenic climb along the sparkling coast, you’ll find this iconic roadhouse. Operated as a family business since the early ’60s, in 2019 the Manor brought in a new ownership and still operates under the capable stewardship of Executive Chef Victor Marquez and General Manager Eric Bemis. We start with Samish Bay kumamotos paired with a suggested dry white and, because I have hungered for it so much, I also order the whiskey crab soup. The sun sets, and we are suspended in air and golden light. We are transfixed.
Where: 3056 Chuckanut Dr., Bow
Info: http://www.chuckanutmanor.com


Best Burger:

Skagit Valley Burger Express

Skagit Valley Burger express wins best burger in Skagit Valley
The open road of the North Cascades Highway beckoned. On the way out, I pulled in at the little red caboose just this side of Sedro-Woolley. Ordered my favorite, the appropriately named Atomic Mushroom burger—a toasted bun loaded like a catchers’ mitt full of beef and bacon, grilled onions, molten Swiss cheese and, yeah, sautéed mushrooms. Thick chocolate shake, and I was good to go. The sun broke through the overcast, and I was on my way.
Where: 172 WA-20, Sedro-Woolley
Info: http://www.skagitvalleyburgers.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 First Date, Best Happy Hour:

Rock and Rye

Confession: I went to Rock and Rye three times in one week recently. Although none of my outings at the restaurant on the ground floor of the Herald Building were for first dates, two out of those three visits were for its stellar early and late-night happy hours. A dozen of its freshly shucked happy-hour oysters, a bowl of flavorful and spicy mussels, and a pork taco or two make me the happiest person at happy hour. A roasted beet salad if I’m feeling virtuous. Duck and pork belly poutine if I need to eat my feelings. And when Dennis Schafer—a many-time winner in the Best Bartender category—is behind the bar, I know my drinks will be creative in vision and expert in execution.
Where: Where: 1145 N. State St.
Info: http://www.rockrye.com


Best Farm Store/Nursery:

Country Store

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


Best Asian:

Busara Thai Cuisine

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


Best Gallery:

Smith & Vallee Gallery

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


Best Live Music:

Wild Buffalo

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Live music is the lifeblood of Bellingham’s ample entertainment scene, and judging by how many times the Wild Buffalo has carried this category, it is the spot you seek out when you’re looking to have a musical good time. And why not? With an upcoming schedule that includes Shovels & Rope, Built to Spill, Justin Townes Earle, Too Short, and whatever else owners Craig Jewell, Joey Crahan, and Lee Huffman can come up with, the Buff offers something for everyone. Even Macklemore thinks so.
Where: 208 W. Holly St.
Info: http://www.wildbuffalo.net


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 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 Dessert:

The Rhody Cafe

It should come as no surprise that the same folks who took home this year’s Best Bakery honors would clean up in this category as well. Right next door to the Farm to Market Bakery is a Chuckanut Drive mainstay, the Rhody Cafe, which has had a longstanding commitment to hyperlocal ingredients, seasonal menu planning, and small-town charm. The desserts rotate along with the menu, and when you want to end your meal with the best sweet treats of the season, this is where you go.
Where: 5521 Chuckanut Drive, Bow
Info: http://www.rhodycafe.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 Sushi:

Blue Fin

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


Best 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 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 Music Store:

Everyday Music

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


Best 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 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 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 Get a Tattoo:

Good Vibes Body Art

Good Vibes Tattoo Studio wins best tattoo studio in Skagit Valley
Few decisions in life are as permanent as getting a tattoo. Which is why you trust your expanses of blank skin to the artists at Mount Vernon’s Good Vibes. The talented crew of artists is well-versed in all styles of ink, from small line drawings and simple lettering to elaborate back pieces and full sleeves. Even better, Good Vibes breaks the male monopoly found at many tattoo shops, with an all-female staff and an inclusive ethos, no matter how weird or wonderful your tattoo idea or inspiration might be. Looking to get pierced in a sanitary, professional environment? Good Vibes has you covered.
Where: 503 S. 1st St., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.goodvibesbodyart.com


Best Head Shop :

Avalon

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


Best Beach:

Washington Park

Although there’s hardly a shortage of panoramic vantage points to catch a soul-stirring sunset on Fidalgo Island, none of them succeeds to help capture the rapture quite as stunningly as the cliffy swath of forested, flower-meadow-endowed shoreline that fronts this mountain rimmed island-jeweled Anacortes city park.
Where: 6300 Sunset Dr., Anacortes
Info: http://www.cityofanacortes.org


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 News Story:

Save the Whales

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Skagit is a land of wild rivers, soaring glacier peaks, fertile valleys and forested dots of islands sprinkling an inland sea. Powerful predatory whales live in these waters and feed on the tastiest wild fish on earth, the Chinook. Ours is as exotic as any landscape on the planet, and perhaps it is more threatened than many. Those whales—the southern resident orcas—aren’t especially shy and can be viewed almost daily, although their numbers are in precipitous decline. Deaths in their pods have exceeded live births, threatening a spiral to extinction. They’re sick, and they’re starving. The cause? Increased human activity around the Puget Sound, as a region that is loved too much and too recklessly. Alarmed by the decline of these iconic creatures, the Washington Legislature this session passed sweeping protections for the Salish Sea’s ailing orca population. Championed by lawmakers who represent Skagit and the San Juans, a quartet of bills cover a variety of measures, including whale watching, pollution and more. Yet budgets passed by the House and Senate so far contain no funding to continue the governor’s task force on orca recovery. There’s no agreement on plans to increase Chinook runs. And revenue measures to help pay for everything, from increasing hatchery production to enforcement of habitat protections, have yet to be decided. As we dedicate this issue to celebrate all the best our region has to offer in scenic beauty, in recreation, in menus and samplings that are unique to who we are, let us acknowledge how fragile it is and how fierce we must be in its protection.
Info: http://www.whaleresearch.com


Best Outdoor Seating, Best Bloody Mary:

Bayou on Bay

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

Calico Cupboard

Despite April showers dampening the world outside, it’s all smiles and friendly faces when you walk through the door of Calico Cupboard. There’s a warm buzz in the air, servers expertly weaving in between full tables of happy customers and the smell of heavenly baked goods summoned from every corner. A trio of amazing locations to visit in Skagit Valley mean you can try all of their winning categories. Three cheers all around.
Where: 720 1st St., La Conner; 901 Commercial Ave., Anacortes; 121-B Freeway Dr., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.calicocupboardcafe.com


Best Burger:

Fiamma Burger

Bellingham’s burger scene is ripe with mouthwatering offerings, but Fiamma Burger—the offspring of the award-winning La Fiamma—stands apart from the crowd. Similar to Fiamma’s pizza, their burgers feature top-notch flavors, all the sides you could wish for and a dizzying array of innovative combos. Head on down to their Railroad Avenue location and take a seat overlooking the street. On your first bite, you’ll know precisely why they were voted Bellingham’s Best Burger. P.S. Don’t forget about the milkshakes.
Where: 1309 Railroad Ave.
Info: http://www.fiammaburger.com


Best 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 Pot Store/Head Shop/Place to Meet Men and Women:

2020 Solutions

2020 Solutions
When 2020 Solutions opened its first cannabis-related business at 4:20pm on July 10, 2014, it became Bellingham’s second retail pot store—and one of the first in the state to offer recreational marijuana to the masses. In the years since, high demand for the product has resulted in a proliferation of neighborhood joints offering everything from buds to concentrates, edibles and accessories (pipes, papers, grinders, vaporizers, etc.). Keeping up with the competition, 2020 Solutions has added two venues to their original Iron Street locale, made their mantra “responsible, knowledgeable, discreet” a reality, built warm and welcoming spaces that resemble high-end bars—perfect for locking eyes with the cutie checking out the Blackberry Kush—and made one-stop-pot-shopping a cinch.
Where: 2018 Iron St., 5655 Guide Meridian, 4770 Pacific Hwy.
Info: http://www.2020-solutions.com


Best 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 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 BBQ:

Kelley’s 
BBQ & Catering

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


Best 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 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 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 Happy Hour:

Chuckanut Manor Seafood & Grill

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If your idea of happy hour is discount pitchers and fried bar food, hie thyself to Chuckanut Manor, stat. There, you’ll be treated to oysters (Blau, of course, freshly shucked, breaded, broiled or Rockefeller), tacos (pulled pork, smoked chicken or halibut), tapas (crispy polenta, truffled green beans, etc.), drink specials and more, all in quite possibly the most scenic locale on Chuckanut Drive.
Where: 3056 Chuckanut Dr., Bow
Info: http://www.chuckanutmanor.com


Best Waitperson:

Caitlin Beebe, Aslan Brewing Co.

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Bellingham native. Outdoor enthusiast. Belly dancer. Currently double-majoring in both Anthropology and Wildlife Research and Conservation, Caitlin Beebe is as brilliant as she is charismatic. Caitlin has worked at Aslan from the very beginning, and if you ask any customer or coworker about her, expect exactly zero surprise that she won in this competitive category. Her bubbly, vivacious nature ensures laughter abounds and leaves all who the enter the doors to Aslan with a memorable experience. Cheers all around.
Where: 1330 N. Forest St.
Info: http://www.aslanbrewing.com


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 Nursery:

Skagit Farmers Supply’s Country Stores

A mission to "support agriculture" may sound simple, but if you take into account that Skagit Farmers Supply has been following that credo since 1934, it takes on a whole new meaning. Whether your acreage is of the sprawling ranch variety or you're looking to spruce up your yard, the cooperative's Country Stores located throughout the Skagit Valley will help get the jobs done.
Where: Sedro-Woolley, Burlington, Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.skagitfarmers.com


Best Grocery Store:


Skagit Valley Food Co-op


Skagit Valley Food Co-op wins best grocery store in Skagit Valley
Walking the aisles of the Co-op is like a brief tour through the Skagit—fresh local produce from partner farms, a focus on the nutritious and the sustainable, and the locals who are passionate members and supporters of this thriving market. A recent expansion has brought in C-Square, the deli and bistro complex. Third Street Cafe is the only community-owned restaurant in Skagit Valley, and well beyond. Life is so good here.
Where: 202 South First Street, Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.skagitfoodcoop.com


Best Lunch:

Carver’s Cafe

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


Best Tulip Farm:

Roozengaarde

When you visit the Skagit Valley during the annual Tulip Festival, it is likely Roozengaarde is the place you stop for the quintessential festival experience. Every fall since 1985, the Roozengaarde staff has expertly and lovingly planted three acres worth of show gardens with more than 300,000 spring-flowing bulbs. But that’s just a small part of what this Skagit staple does. With more than 1,000 acres of blooms and 16 acres of greenhouses, the Roozen family’s tulip, daffodil and iris farm is the largest in the world. Take in the sweeping fields of tulips, buy some bunches to take home (the fifth bunch is free), snack on some fudge and marvel at the wonder that is Roozengaarde.
Where: 15867 Beaver Marsh Road, Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.tulips.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 Place to Get a Tattoo:

Old Gold Tattoo Parlor

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


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