Best of Skagit 2016
Skagit Valley Food Co-op“The highest function of love,” wrote Tom Robbins, “is that it makes the loved one a unique and irreplaceable being.” This encapsulates how I feel about the fresh-made, organically inclined food served at the Skagit Valley Food Co-op’s deli. Specifically, my love functions highest for their tuna salad sandwich on sourdough, which has become the most treasured and indispensable part of my lunchtime reveries through the years. With this super-sandwich in my life, I am fortified against the rigors that beset me as I strive to be a better man. Without it, I become sallow and listless. Same goes for their hot soups, salads, locally made cheeses, handmade ice cream, fresh-pressed juices and fair trade espresso. Inspiration is served in many forms—including plenty of vegetarian and vegan options—at the Skagit Co-op. And I’m always ready to eat.
Where: 202 S. First St., Mount Vernon
Naan & Brew
Where: 200 East Maple St.
Best Bed & Breakfast:
Katy’s InnIn 1882, Captain John Peck built a lovely Victorian residence on a hill in the Skagit Valley. It’s the oldest house in La Conner, and anyone can spend the night there—provided you clear it first with Kimberly Good Rubenstein, the new owner of Katy’s Inn. Like the former proprietors, the fifth-generation Skagitonian has already done plenty to preserve the integrity of the 133-year-old landmark. Lucky guests will also discover Rubenstein is convinced the farm-to-table breakfast spread she offers her visitors every morning is a perfect way to introduce them to Skagit County.
Where: 503 S. 3rd Ave., La Conner
Best Tulip Farm:
Where: 15867 Beaver Marsh Road, Mount Vernon
Avenue BreadTime was short. Lunch was calling. The plump-looking hoagies at the grocery store looked tempting. But then I had a better vision. Once again, as it has for several trips round the sun, my abiding fealty to the sandwich board at Avenue Bread pulled me through to a more savory situation. Within a half-hour, all I had to do was decide between an Avenue Club on rustic wheat or a Grilled Eggplant on artisanal focaccia.
Where: 1313 Railroad Ave., 2301 James St., 1135 11th St.
Smith & Vallee Gallery
Where: 5742 Gilkey Ave., Edison
Best Live Music:
Where: 208 W. Holly St.
Farm to Market BakeryFew things in life are better than waking up on a sunny Saturday and cruising down breathtakingly scenic Chuckanut Drive into the Skagit Valley and stopping at the Farm to Market Bakery for a sweet thing, cup of coffee and a little community commingling. Owned by Jim and Lisa Kowalski and next door to the Rhododendron Cafe, which they also own, Farm to Market has a menu full of all of our favorites, made with local ingredients and done right. On the sweet side, the Triple Chocolate Pecan Brownies and their signature Lime-Soaked Polenta Cake will never do you wrong, but if you happen to be there early enough on a Saturday or Sunday morning, you could have the great good fortune of scoring a coveted and rare Pecan Sticky Bun, and then you’ll know you’re really living right.
Where: 5507 Chuckanut Drive, Bow
Best Auto Repair:
Harmony MotorworksIt says something subtle and marvelous about Bellingham that our favorite mechanics specialize in mending fuel-efficient and innovative European and Japanese model autos. Sometimes, they do break! Harmony has been working on European-built vehicles since 1979—just about the time gas-guzzlers were going the way of the dino—and they know them quite well by now. Smart cars for smart drivers, repaired by smart mechanics—all cylinders firing.
Where: 1922 Grant St.
La Fiamma Wood Fire Pizza
Where: 200 E. Chestnut St.
Susan Lehman SalonSusan Lehman is proof you don’t need a fancy salon with a billion chairs and a crew of shampoo girls to earn a devoted following. Lehman operates her salon right out of her Bow Hill home. Make no mistake: Lehman is not going to seat you in a folding chair in the middle of her kitchen to redo your hairdo. She’s built herself a proper full-service salon, complete with natural and organic products and spa services. It’s like having a spa day with one of your girlfriends, only better.
Where: 5799 Jennifer Lane, Bow Hill
Info: (360) 708-9223
Best Hardware Store:
Ace AnacortesWas it just me, or did this winter seem like a hard one? A few hours of sunshine after days of hard rain, and the grass has come back thick and lush. Old lawnmower’s cranky. Needs some degreasing and sharpening, probably new plugs. Paint bubbled up along a low section on side of the house, needs scraping and patching. I’ve got some spring bulbs planted if I can figure out a way to keep the deer away. Ace is indeed the place; I can get it all there, and a new ice chest besides.
Where: 1720 Q Ave., Anacortes
Best Place to See Live Music:
Conway MuseIt’s impossible to overstate how special of a place the Conway Muse is. Off the beaten path, in the tiniest of towns, the Muse is the definition of a destination worth seeking out. Live music happens every Friday and Saturday, with multiple artists and bands performing in two different rooms, and often spills into the rest of the week as well. Owner Elfa Gisla is the Muse’s guiding light, and its her distinctive touch that makes this unique venue feel like home.
Where: 18444 Spruce St., Conway
Where: 906 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: (360) 899-5269
Best Stop on the North Cascades Highway:
Birdsview BreweryIt’s cold and wet. My mates and I have been high up on the highway, milepost 134, where the snows have closed the road until late spring. Coming down, we pull into the Birdsview. The place is jammed, duffers old and young in their Carhartts are hiding out from the rain, the high hewn-hardwood rafters buzzing with their tall tales and laughter. Our crew orders the whole spectrum of craft brews, from a pale Pils to a hearty malty Scotch ale. Brats are sizzling on the grill. Looks like the skies are lifting, or maybe that’s just our spirits.
Where: 38302 State Route 20, Concrete
Ciao BellaIt'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
Whatcom Family YMCAThere was a time in my life when I reserved a couple nights of the week for kickboxing aerobics classes at the Whatcom Family YMCA. The sessions were full of women of every shape and fitness level, and were also social in nature. Years later, the vibe hasn’t changed much (even if my ability to karate-kick has). Whether you’re lifting free weights, soaking up the stellar view of Bellingham Bay from the comfort of a stationary bicycle, swimming, taking a class—or signing your kids up for one—acceptance is the name of the game, and all are welcome.
Where: 1256 N. State St.
Best Hardware Store:
ACE Hardware AncaortesDesigned 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
Old World DeliI 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.
Best Grocery Store:
Community Food Co-op
Where: 1220 N. Forest St., 315 Westerly Rd.
Best Bed and Breakfast:
Guemes Island ResortJust a short (and cheap!) ferry ride away lies the unsung hero of of the San Juans, Guemes Island. While the Skagit Valley has no shortage of (incredible) bed and breakfasts, this little gem allows for spectacular views that won’t hurt your pocketbook and can accommodate just about everyone, including Fido. If you’re looking for a relaxing spot away from the crowds but with all the modern amenities of home, this is your place. Sauna? Check. Massage therapy? Check. Foosball?! Check.
Where: 4268 Guemes Island Road, Anacortes
Where: 1324 Cornwall Ave.
Best Head Shop :
Where: 1330 Railroad Ave.
Best Asian/Best Take-Out:
Rachawadee Thai CafeSo 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
Just Peachy Frozen YogurtLet’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
Ded Reckoning at Compass Wines
Where: 1405 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Where: 2930 Newmarket St., 111
Info: (360) 220-1782
Best Book Store:
Village BooksChuck 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
Best Pot Grower:
SubXI 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.”
Best Place to Buy Pot:
2020 SolutionsWith 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
Best Hunting and Fishing Gear:
Cabela’sWell, 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
Top News Story:
#MeToo and Bellingham’s (Alleged) Bad MenFrom the restaurant sector to professional and political spheres, from up on the hill at WWU to down at the brewery, men in Bellingham have really outdone themselves, being accused of the full bingo card of sexual misconduct—groping, sexually assaulting and harassing, and exposing themselves to women who, frankly, are fed up and not having it. To the women who have come forward: Thank you. We see you. We admire your courage and we support you. To any confused men trying to navigate these rapidly changing times and wondering under what circumstances it is appropriate to show someone your penis: Keep it in your pants. If you have not gotten permission, you do not have consent. When we want to see it, we’ll ask.
Fiamma BurgerI’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.
Best Toy Store:
Fairhaven Toy Garden
Where: 909 Harris Ave.
Blue FinI 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
Caitlin Beebe, Aslan Brewing Co.
Where: 1330 N. Forest St.
Mount BakeryOn a recent rainy weekend morning, the line of people waiting for a table at the downtown Bellingham location of the Mount Bakery stretched beyond the covered patio and onto the sidewalk. Those braving the elements appeared resolute—most likely dreaming of menu items such as the "Best Benny" (served atop savory Belgian waffles), crepes both savory and sweet, cinnamon rolls, scones, fruit galletes, cream puffs, lemon tarts and beyond. It was cold outside, but thanks to the promise of the locally and lovingly sourced menu items awaiting the folks in line, they were already warm on the inside.
Where: 308 W. Champion St., 1217 Harris Ave.
Whiskey FeverThis is not Whiskey Fever’s first win in this category, and if frontman Jack Mattingly has his way, it won’t be their last. Mattingly decided while still in grade school that he wanted to be a musician, and he’s been making that childhood dream come true ever since. He played solo for a minute, and then found a crew of likeminded music-makers that became Whiskey Fever. The rest is history in the making.
Best Women’s Clothing Store:
LabelsI’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.
Best Food Truck:
StrEAT FoodDuring a recent sojourn to Kulshan Brewery—after consuming my weight in StrEAT burgers and reuben dogs over the past few years—I finally mustered up the gumption to give the gyro pita a try. “Well?” queried my lunch date as she witnessed me annihilate the entire tzatziki-drizzled roasted lamb and beef concoction before she even got started on her chicken artichoke sandwich. “How is it?” “Mmm,” I said, wiping my beard with my shirt cuff as I scooped up another mouthful of golden crisp fries. “It was unequivocally the right thing to do.” Then—after suitably cleansing my palate with a prodigious measure of Bastard Kat IPA—I zipped back outside to order another.
Where: Find the trailer at Kulshan Brewery, K2, and Samuel’s Furniture
Village BooksI’m going to go out on a limb and say that possibly no local institution is as beloved as Village Books. Like every one of you, I have whiled away countless hours at the expansive and community-minded Fairhaven bookseller, perusing its three floors of tomes, picking up items on my reading list, and stopping to sip coffee at the Book Fare Cafe before buying a piece of fudge from Paper Dreams. And seriously, if there is any local delight sweeter than earning a free book through their Reader Rewards program, I have yet to discover it. Never change, Village Books.
Where: 1200 11th St.
Third Street Cafe
Where: 309 S. Third St., Mount Vernon
Where: 1440 10th St.
Community Food Co-op
Where: 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Rd.
Elizabeth StationWhenever 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.
Best Grocery/Best Deli/Best Vegetarian:
Skagit Valley Food Co-opDuring its 45 years of existence, Skagit Valley Food Co-op has built itself into a go-to nexus for wholesome, locally produced food, high-quality cuisine and a sundry selection of meatless victuals. Rooted deep into the social and economic fiber of the most robust agricultural corridor in Washington state, the grocers' unyielding commitment to sustainable growing practices and local suppliers isn’t just a boon to mindful gormandizers, it’s also a victory for dietary health, mindful community building and practicable stewardship of our natural environment. Perhaps this is why every time I order a tuna salad sandwich from the deli or go hunting for exotic strains of kale in the produce section—which features 98 percent certified organic products—I feel patriotic about partaking in the bountiful fruits of their labor.
Where: 202 S. First St., Mount Vernon
Best Place to Buy Pot:
Where: 8630 S. March Point Road, Anacortes
Best Place to Meet Women:
Temple BarLike many of the couples you can find populating Temple Bar on a regular basis, this is a perfectly matched pairing. Need to impress on that first date? Take your love to the Temple. Date doesn’t go well? Well, you can end it right there because you’ll probably find your lifelong partner at the table next to you. Temple Bar is really a revolving door of love, good food and drinks. We love their dessert menu—if your date makes it that far.
Where: 306 West Champion St.
The Skagit Casino ResortNot long ago, I spent a weekend sampling the delights of the Skagit Valley Casino. From their expansive buffet that truly tested my ability to consume shameful quantities of delicious food to their robust amount of gaming tables and rotating slot machines to the top-notch entertainment that can be regularly found in its Pacific Showroom and Winners Lounge, one need not take a gamble on Vegas to have a high-rolling good time. Round out your visit with a stay in one of their rooms that range from highly affordable to all-out luxury and you might just be tempted to let it ride and never leave. I know I was.
Where: 5984 Darrk Lane, Bow
Gordon Skagit FarmsThe 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
Best Farm Store/Nursery:
Country StoreIn 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
Travis Wysong at Honest T Auto
Where: Collins Road, Sedro-Woolley
Info: (360) 399-1976 or http://www.facebook.com/HonestTAuto
Best Yoga Studio:
Quantum YogaLooking 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
Kelley’s BBQ & CateringHeavens 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
Best Auto Repair:
Rising Sun MotorsFor all their reliability, Japanese cars can be complicated to repair. And when your ride goes on the fritz and you need a shop dedicated to and knowledgeable about the ins and outs of your Japanese engine, transmission, brakes, mufflers and other attendant parts, you trust Rising Sun Motors. In business for almost 40 years, and willing and able to work on all cars, regardless of country of origin, they’ll keep you running strong and true.
Where: 2126 Pacific St,
Info: (360) 733-9032
Best Bike Shop:
Skagit Cycle CenterAt 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
Best Pot Store:
Loving FarmsRest 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
La FiammaBy 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.
Farmstrong BreweryThe 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
Max Dale’s Steak & Chop HouseMax and Pauline Dale met Paul Pickering, and a legend was born along Old Highway 99. This place is like stepping back to a time when a good meal wasn’t complete unless it included a juicy steak or chop alongside a hearty vegetable, potato and green salad. Surf and turf? You got it! I take my meal in the lounge seated in a comfy high-backed booth with an expertly mixed martini. Times have never been better.
Where: 2030 Riverside Dr., Mount Vernon
D’Anna’s Cafe ItalianoI’ve been a regular at D’Anna’s since the restaurant was just big enough for a few tables and the menu consisted of three or four different kinds of homemade ravioli and a couple of choices of sauce. As it was for so many of you, it was love at first bite, and the romance only deepens with time. Everything at D’Anna’s, from the pasta to the sauces to the sausage to the focaccia bread served with every order, is homemade from D’Anna family recipes and served up by a friendly and experienced wait staff. Watching D’Anna’s cooks sauté and flambé in the restaurant’s open kitchen is the best dinner theater in town.
Where: 1317 N. State St.
Wander BrewingColleen and Chad Kuehl pour some tasty beers from their taps, but it’s the welcoming “come as you are” atmosphere and abiding sense of old-school subdued excitement inside their converted creekside warehouse that imbues the Wander experience with an extra-savory blend of community-infused flavor. I’m quite smitten with their Shoe Toss Rye IPA and Global Mutt Baltic Porter, but I frequently leave enough room at my table to accommodate a Belgian Blond.
Where: 1807 Dean Ave.
Aaron M. Lukoff
Where: 215 Flora St.
Best Place to Dance/Place for a First Date/Place to See Live Music/Meet-Up:
Conway MuseOh, Conway Muse, how do we love thee? Well, we don’t need to count the ways, we can simply count the awards this tiny-town entertainment powerhouse has racked up. This multidisciplinary artistic hub is your Skagit go-to when you seek live music, are picking a perfect spot for a first date or meet-up or you just need to dance the night away. The only thing that can possibly make a visit to the Muse even better is a cocktail (or three—we don’t judge) expertly mixed by your favorite bartender Kelly Hayton, who is always ready with a surplus of drink knowledge and her trademark warm smile. No wonder the Muse is your end-all, be-all destination for fun, year in and year out. Best Bartender: Kelly Hayton at the Conway Muse
Where: 18444 Spruce St., Conway
Dakota Art Gallery
Where: 1324 Cornwall Ave.
Whatcom Falls ParkWhether I’m sailing through via cross-country skis on the rare snow day, seeking to dazzle my latest round of out-of-town guests or simply on the hunt for a bracing dose of vertically enhanced riparian topography, Whatcom Falls Park’s chasm-friendly trail system never fails to deliver the mossy green goods. Come rain or shine, I’m pretty notorious for dawdling across the stone bridge as slow as my feet will carry me. Noisy water is good for my soul and the primordial atmosphere around it deserves to be savored.
Where: 1401 Electric Ave.
Best Place for a First Date, Best Happy Hour:
Temple BarNot 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.
Community Food Co-op
Where: 1220 North Forest Street; 315 Westerly Road at Cordata Parkway
Black SheepWhen 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.
Best Gear Store:
REIOur 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.
La Traviata Ristorante ItalianoLa Conner, small-town wonder that it is, hardly lacks for places to score an excellent meal, so it makes sense the Italian food you deemed Skagit’s best would be found there. Family owned and operated, La Traviata sources its dishes straight from Florence, Colombia, Sicily, Sardinia, and Capri, and the menu, which skews heavily on the traditional side, is huge and varied. If you have a tough time deciding, know that you can’t go wrong with the lasagna, vitello picata (that’s veal piccata to you and me), lobster ravioli, gnocchi de patate, or any of the 10-inch pizzas on the menu. Trust that no matter what you order, all will be homemade, perfectly cooked and preceded by house-made rolls, soft and still warm from the oven.
Where: 201 Morris St., La Conner
Best Performance Theatre:
Where: 205 Prospect St.
Info: http://www.idiomtheater.com or www.sylviacenterforthearts.org
Best Bike Shop:
Kulshan CyclesAnyone 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.
Best News Story:
ProtestsSkagit knows the importance of farming to the economy, and the importance of migrant labor to farming. Too harsh a national policy on labor, too much fear and uncertainty in a vital, irreplaceable work force and suddenly crops are threatened in the fields. Climate change, too, is a concern for the future of farms. People have taken to the streets in labor marches, they’ve assembled in protest of fossil fuel expansions, they’ve let their voices be heard in support of human dignity and personal liberty. Because Skagit is a place worth fighting for.
Sean Hackney, Muljat GroupIt’s the most important decision and purchase you’ll make in your life—your abode, the place you express your dreams, the home you create for your family. You need someone who understands all this to walk you through—no high pressure, no feeling of being jammed—but, you know, sometimes you also need that gentle poke right at the end, affirming this is the right purchase for you and those you love. Sean grew up in Whatcom County, is invested in his community, and knows about neighborhoods and families. Because that’s what the job is really about. This was a hot category, with fierce competition among charismatic agents and their loyal, happy customers. Sean topped the list.
Best Pet Hospital:
Maplewood Animal HospitalWhether you’re there for a simple vaccination or an emergency, a visit to the vet is always nerve-wracking for your precious pets—and you. In a town where high-quality animal care is plentiful, it’s that much more meaningful that you’ve singled out Maplewood Animal Hospital as your favorite. They combine advanced technology, dedication to preventative care, commitment to customer service and a staff of veterinarians and assistants that are as compassionate as they are knowledgeable. They’re the cats meow.
Where: 2869 W. Maplewood Ave.
Best Music Store:
Everyday MusicIt is only fitting that Everyday Music and Avalon are kitty-corner from one another downtown, as they tend to trade off this category from year to year. Per usual, the battle was a close one, but when the votes were counted, Everyday Music came out ahead. Their inventory is expansive—mainstream releases and strange gems alike can be found there—their hours are conducive to lunchtime and late-night browsing, and the staff is willing to guide you on your musical journey or leave you be to browse.
Where: 115 E. Magnolia St.
Best Happy Hour:
Chuckanut Manor Seafood & Grill
Where: 3056 Chuckanut Dr., Bow
Wait Staff at Old Town CafeThis is the only time the entire staff of a restaurant has won a Best of Bellingham award, and it is only fitting that the Old Town Cafe servers are the first. After all, we patiently wait in long lines every single weekend to be served scrambles, sandwiches, pancakes and plate after plate of the much-beloved Number Nine by this crackerjack and eternally sunny crew who handle the crowds—and Bellingham’s long-term love affair with the Old Town—with great skill and good humor.
Where: 316 W. Holly St.
Best Place to Dance, Best Place to See Live Music:
Wild BuffaloOne need look no further than the Wild Buffalo’s string of wins in the category to see that Bellingham truly does consider the venue their favorite place to see live music. The Buff's almost magical ability to entice national talent to town has made inroads into the EDM scene, snaring big house, trance, dubstep and other artists in their tractor beam, and earning them a new accolade: Best Place to Dance. Well done, Wild Buffalo.
Where: 208 W. Holly St.
Best Coffee Shop / Barista:
Black Drop Coffee House/ Ryan Siu
Where: 300 W. Champion St.
Best Asian Food/Takeout:
Rachawadee CafeIt 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
Best Tulip Farm:
RoozengaardeWhen 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
Best Music Festival:
Subdued Stringband Jamboree
Where: Deming Log Show Fairgrounds
Best Happy Hour:
Train Wreck Bar & Grill
Where: 427 E. Fairhaven Ave., Burlington
JalapeñosThere 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.
Rabbit Fields Farm
Best Home Furnishings:
The GreenhouseA denoument to the beloved and venerable store for home gear and furnishings, Chris Foss and Foster Rose have been searching for a new owner to bring the skills and customer service required for another generation of homemakers preparing for their next adventure. Chris and Foster transformed their business from a household plant and card store into a destination shopping place in the mid-1980s, helping anchor the downtown district in a time of great ferment. In the decades since, they’ve cemented the Greenhouse’s reputation for high-quality goods and services—something any new owner would be lucky to buy into.
Where: 235 Cornwall Ave.
Best Brunch, Best Barista:
Camber and Gloria BaldwinLike 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.
Ristretto Coffee Lounge and Wine BarWashington is in zero shortage of coffee houses; you can typically find one on every corner. So, while the locals all know that this is the best place to get an incredible cup o’ joe, this sweet little shop is garnering a second (and third, and fourth) stop for all those traveling near (and far) coming for the Tulip Festival and every other thing the beloved Skagit Valley has to offer. The best part? You can come in for a cup of coffee in the morning, and join them again for a glass of wine in the evening.
Where: 416 S. 1st St., Mount Vernon
Info: (360) 336-0951
Best Music Store:
Hugo Helmer MusicIn recent years, music stores—especially large ones that offer a wide selection of instruments and accoutrements—have gotten a bit of a bad reputation. But Skagit mainstay Hugo Helmer is different. Their staff is knowledgeable, but not forceful or intrusive. Their service department takes great pride in standing behind their work. But the big draw is the incredible array of music instruments and equipment the expansive one-stop shop offers, as well as a customer-service ethos that encourages patrons to try before they buy. That’s how you stay in business for 80-plus years.
Where: 1025 S. Goldenrod Rd., Burlington
Best Auto Repair:
Bellingham AutomotiveA few years ago, I took a rock to the radiator of my aging-but-still-ticking Nissan Maxima. I polled my Facebook friends to see who to entrust my beloved Maxxie to, and when tallied, the winner of that vote was the same as this one: Bellingham Automotive. Sure enough, the customer service was great and very professional and the repair work was done right--and righteously fast. They even hauled me to and from their Hannegan Road shop via their tricked-out courtesy car. Getting back on the road again has never been so simple.
Where: 4116 Hannegan Road
Gere-a-DeliServing Anacortes cured meats, aromatic cheeses and savory soups for 35 years, Gere-a-Deli serves a magnificent sandwich, piled high with lots of options. I gravitate toward the classic styles—the meatloaf sandy, the chicken salad, the Italian sub—but there’s modern and vegetarian gourmet selections, too. On this chilly rainy day I ordered the housemade tomato soup and a toasted mozzarella cheese sandwich. It was like stepping back into the best days childhood.
Where: 502 Commercial Ave. Anacortes
Best Bike Shop:
Info: Info: http://www.thebikehub.org
Boulevard ParkI’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
Best Food Truck:
StrEAT FoodI’ve been known to cajole my boyfriend into spending Saturday mornings ferrying me to garage sales by promising to buy him a post-bartering lunch at StrEAT Food. It’s an easy sell. Since James and Poem Pitzer’s multiple-award-winning mobile food truck is typically parked at one of the two Kulshan Brewing Company locales or at the nearby Wander Brewing, I order our favorite items from the short-but-amazing menu—a mouthwatering chicken artichoke sandwich for me, a savory lamb gyro pita for him, large fries, plus an order of vanilla crème brulee when we need a treat—while he grabs us each a cold beer and a place to sit. All in all, we both get a great deal.
Where: Kulshan Brewing Co., Wander Brewing
Best Bed & Breakfast:
The Nantucket InnCoastal 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
Lincoln TheatreIn 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