Best of Skagit 2016

Best Artist:

Joe Treat

Joe Treat wins best artist in Skagit Valley
On a recent drive through Skagit Valley, our vehicle came to a screeching halt in front of Bow-based artist Joe Treat’s home on Worline Road. A giant T-Rex stopped us in our tracks, and when a life-sized elephant came into focus, I realized we had arrived at a roadside gallery, and that the sinewy sculptures Treat crafts from driftwood are nothing short of miraculous. “I started this artwork three years ago,” the mostly retired insurance salesman explains, noting he was inspired by teak horses he happened upon in Thailand. “I made a triceratops and put it in my yard. It got so much attention, and people started calling me an artist. Since then, I have made 30 sculptures. Anacortes Depot Arts Center bought my giraffes, and I have a couple of pieces at the sculpture park in Roche Harbor. I am currently working on a horse.”
Where: 6751 Worline Rd., Bow


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: [url=http://www.countrystore.net]http://www.countrystore.net[/url]


Best Tattoo:

Good Vibes Body Art

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


Best Music Store:

Hugo Helmer Music

Hugo Helmer Music wins best music store in Skagit Valley
It’s tough to miss the venerable Hugo Helmer—after all, it’s a fairly large bright yellow building that acts as a musician-drawing beacon. Once inside the expansive store that has been in business for more than 80 years, you’ll find a paradise of instruments, gear, accessories and all of the bits required to realize any rock star dream. A robust rental program and a full-service repair shop for when you windmill off the stage and smash your guitar’s headstock makes Hugo Helmer a worthy collaborator for any musical project. Where: 
Info:
Where: 1025 S. Goldenrod Rd., Burlington
Info: [url=http://www.hugohelmermusic.com]http://www.hugohelmermusic.com[/url]


Best Auto Repair:

Harmony Motorworks

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


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: [url=http://www.asian1.us]http://www.asian1.us[/url]


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: [url=http://www.busarabellingham.com]http://www.busarabellingham.com[/url]


Best Stop on the Mt. Baker Highway:

North Fork Brewery

Oh, the places you’ll go! Nooksack Falls. Twin Lakes. Hannegan Pass. Yellow Aster Butte. Everybody’s Store. Wake and Bakery. Graham’s. Oh, and Mt. Baker! But one place tops the list, whether going or coming—the beer shrine and their tasty pizzas. It’s a rite of passage for me. Church Mountain is my church. And the North Fork’s Son of Frog is my baptismal.
Where: 6186 Mt. Baker Hwy.
Info: [url=http://www.northforkbrewery.com]http://www.northforkbrewery.com[/url]


Best Nursery:

Garden Spot Nursery

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


Best Deli:

Old World Deli

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


Best Bartender/Best Place for a Date/To Meet Men and Women/To See Live Music:

Kelly Hayton @ Conway Muse

Conway_Muse_bartender_Kelly_Hayton_by_Jessamyn_Tuttle_(4)-o.jpg
Probably, when most of us dream of our ideal, most idyllic, life-in-a-small-town scenario, it includes a place like the Conway Muse. Much more than a music venue/restaurant/bar, it is a community hub worth making the trip for—and by the number of votes they got and the amount of categories the Muse swept, it’s a journey you’re only too happy to make. Not just a place to see music of many genres, it’s also a likely locale for those looking for love, and if it’s a bright smile behind the bar and an expertly mixed cocktail you’re after, Kelly Hayton is the bartender for you.
Where: 18444 Spruce St., Conway
Info: [url=http://www.conwaymuse.com]http://www.conwaymuse.com[/url]


Best Place to Purchase Women’s Clothing:

Labels

When my best friend makes her annual journey from Boise to Bellingham, a stop at Labels is always on her must-do list of activities. Over the years, the perennially popular consignment store has netted her like-new Dansko clogs, multiple brand-name jeans, jackets, skirts, hats, earrings, and far beyond. As her hostess—and a longtime Labels lover—I’m happy to oblige when she feels the need for retail therapy. And since the prices at both Labels stores are well below market value, we both come out on top.
Where: 2332 James St., 3927 Northwest Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.labelsconsignment.com]http://www.labelsconsignment.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.lovingfarmsmarijuanastore.com]http://www.lovingfarmsmarijuanastore.com[/url]


Best Happy Hour:

Train Wreck

The official times are 3-6pm Mondays through Fridays, but I’m guessing any span of time spent at the Train Wreck Bar & Grill qualifies as “happy hour.” At a recent brunch-turned-into-lunch outing with close friends at the Burlington hotspot, we made our way past a grinning 21-and-over crowd to a “secret” room in the back, where we spent the next couple of hours enjoying each other’s company while eating locally sourced burgers and seafood and drinking perfectly concocted Bloody Marys and area ciders and ales. And when a train rolled by, not only did we have a primo view from our hideout near the tracks, but we also scored $1 tequila shots thanks to a longstanding special the establishment offers when its namesake makes an appearance. It was a happy hour, indeed.
Where: 427 E. Fairhaven Ave., Burlington
Info: [url=http://www.trainwreckbar.com]http://www.trainwreckbar.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.fairhaventoygarden.com]http://www.fairhaventoygarden.com[/url]


Best Indian:

Naan and Brew

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


Best Credit Union:

WECU

Buying a home is daunting. It’s the most significant financial decision you’ll make in your whole life (there’s a reason it’s called a mortgage), and very few people are both experts on the topic and friends you can trust. WECU practically holds master classes on home equity and home finance, and has a dedicated staff to help guide you in your financial decisions. WECU is Whatcom County’s largest financial institution, with more than 98,000 members. Banks are for-profit; credit unions are not-for-profit. This means that credit unions do not have to put profit first. And that means they can put their members first with higher savings rates and lower interest rates.
Where: 600 E. Holly St., and numerous other community branches
Info: [url=http://www.wecu.com/contact-us/]http://www.wecu.com/contact-us/[/url]


Best Mexican:

Taco Lobo

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


Best Hardware Store:

Ace Anacortes

Was 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
Info: [url=http://www.aceanacortes.com]http://www.aceanacortes.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.rhodycafe.com]http://www.rhodycafe.com[/url]


Best Brunch/Bloody Mary:

Trainwreck Bar & Grill

Train Wreck Bar and Grill wins Best of Skagit
The Bloody Mary that’s also a brunch, Trainwreck’s signature beverage is a meal in a mason jar. When it arrives, everyone within sight of it marvels. But there’s so much more packed into the menu—including a sinfully good bacon waffle, breakfast tacos, and French toast that tastes like its been dipped in a creamsicle. Brunch starts in the morning and carries through the afternoon, and I can’t think of a better place to spend that time than at this Burlington icon.
Where: 427 E. Fairhaven Ave., Burlington
Info: [url=http://www.trainwreckbar.com]http://www.trainwreckbar.com[/url]


Best Mechanic:

Travis Wysong at Honest T Auto

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


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: [url=http://www.theupfront.com]http://www.theupfront.com[/url]


Best Mexican:


COA Mexican Eatery

It doesn’t say so on their online menu, but if you visit Mount Vernon’s COA Mexican Eatery at lunchtime—which takes place from 11am-4pm, extending the daytime repast nearly to dinnertime—the prices on many of their award-winning menu items are significantly reduced. On a recent visit, my date was agog at the deal we got on $5 Friday margaritas (made with agave tequila and syrup), three “indescribably good” pork tacos with rice and beans and, hands-down, the best taco salad I’ve ever eaten in my life. The ingredients in our meals were simple, but the flavors were complex, lively and addiction-forming. We’ll be back, COA, and soon. In fact, I’ve got your chile relleno in my sights.
Where: 102 S. 10th St., Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.coaeatery.com]http://www.coaeatery.com[/url]


Best Winery:

Ded Reckoning at Compass Wines

Ded_Reckoning_wines_at_Compass_by_Jessamyn_Tuttle_(3).jpg
It's possible the red stuff coursing through Doug Charles' veins is wine. Since first becoming involved in the industry in 1978, Charles has been a cheerleader for Washington state wines—first at regional restaurants, and now at Compass Wines, the Anacortes-based wine shop he co-founded with Will Parks in 2001. Ded Reckoning Wines kicked in in 2004, featuring high-quality wines still in the barrel, making a stop at Compass Wines a must for grape-lovers everywhere.
Where: 1405 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: [url=http://www.dedreckonging.com]http://www.dedreckonging.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.facebook.com/Ciao-Bella]http://www.facebook.com/Ciao-Bella[/url]


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: [url=http://www.anacorteswa.gov]http://www.anacorteswa.gov[/url]


Best Italian:

D’Anna’s Cafe Italiano

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


Best Gym:

Riverside Health Club

At Riverside Health Club, the goal is simple: setting you up for success no matter where you are on your health journey. Beautiful, state-of-the-art facilities and knowledgeable and passionate trainers provide the opportunity to find the best workout for you, whether it’s in the pool, on the racquetball court, or in the weight room. Nutritional services and personal training are also available among the astounding 100 classes offered at its two locations.
Where: Mount Vernon, Sedro-Woolley
Info: [url=http://www.riversidehealthclub.com]http://www.riversidehealthclub.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.communityfood.coop]http://www.communityfood.coop[/url]


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: [url=http://www.blacksheepbellingham.com]http://www.blacksheepbellingham.com[/url]


Best Place to 
Play Cards/Slots:

Swinomish Casino & Lodge

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


Best Salon:

Honey Salon

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


Best Ski Store:

Backcountry Essentials

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


Best Salon:

Adara Salon & Spa

Since 1988, Adara Salon & Spa has been putting the “care” in phrases such as “hair care,” “skin care” and “nail care.” Whether you’re seeking a new look for your locks, a feel-good facial, bridal services, deep-tissue massage or nearly anything involving trimming, waxing, polishing and tinting, the team members at the Aveda salon in Mount Vernon are there to make you feel and look your best. Are you worth it? You know you are.
Where: 1019 Cleveland Ave., Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.adarasalonandspa.com]http://www.adarasalonandspa.com[/url]


Best Music Store:

Hugo Helmer Music

In recent years, music stores—especially large ones that offer a wide selection of instruments and accoutrements—have gotten a bit of a bad reputation. But Skagit mainstay Hugo Helmer is different. Their staff is knowledgeable, but not forceful or intrusive. Their service department takes great pride in standing behind their work. But the big draw is the incredible array of music instruments and equipment the expansive one-stop shop offers, as well as a customer-service ethos that encourages patrons to try before they buy. That’s how you stay in business for 80-plus years.
Where: 1025 S. Goldenrod Rd., Burlington
Info: [url=http://www.hugohelmermusic.com]http://www.hugohelmermusic.com[/url]


Best Food Truck:

StrEAT Food

During 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
Info: [url=http://www.streatfood.com]http://www.streatfood.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.rabbitfieldsfarm.com]http://www.rabbitfieldsfarm.com[/url]


Top News Story:

#MeToo and Bellingham’s (Alleged) Bad Men

From the restaurant sector to professional and political spheres, from up on the hill at WWU to down at the brewery, men in Bellingham have really outdone themselves, being accused of the full bingo card of sexual misconduct—groping, sexually assaulting and harassing, and exposing themselves to women who, frankly, are fed up and not having it. To the women who have come forward: Thank you. We see you. We admire your courage and we support you. To any confused men trying to navigate these rapidly changing times and wondering under what circumstances it is appropriate to show someone your penis: Keep it in your pants. If you have not gotten permission, you do not have consent. When we want to see it, we’ll ask.


Best Trail:

Oyster Dome

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


Best Band:

Whiskey Fever

This 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.
Info: [url=http://www.facebook.com/WhiskeyFeverBand]http://www.facebook.com/WhiskeyFeverBand[/url]


Best Artist:

Ben Mann

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“It feels amazing to be acknowledged!” painter Ben Mann says of his approximately one-millionth win in this category. “Perhaps my tiara should really be for the art of adaptation—in any given week, my paintbrush and I shuttle from classroom to commercial projects to pairing my fine art with the walls of local businesses. Born and raised here, I love that Bellingham supports art and artists! That’s something to write home about.” See his work at Mambo Italiano Fri., Oct. 27 during the Fairhaven First Friday Art Walk, and check out what he’s up to Fridays and Saturdays in November and December during “Hot Cider & Cool Art” sessions at his Morgan Block studio.
Where: 1000 Harris Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.ben-mann.com]http://www.ben-mann.com[/url]


Best Real Estate Agent:

Eric J. Larson, Coldwell Banker Bain

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


Best Indian:

Naan and Brew

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


Best Winery:

Tulip Valley Winery

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


Best Craft Cocktail:

Swim Club

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


Best Trail:

Oyster Dome

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


Best Nonprofit:

Lydia Place

October is memorable for Lydia Place. It was during that month in 1989 that the first family moved into the nonprofit’s nascent transitional housing facility. Thirty years later, the organization has never wavered on their stance that “every family deserves a home.” Started by a task force of can-do women who saw a need for safe housing for women and children experiencing homelessness, Lydia Place has grown from an eight-bedroom, single-family home to a full-service organization that serves more than 150 families at a time. It’s community service in action, and it’s beautiful to behold.
Info: [url=http://www.lydiaplace.org]http://www.lydiaplace.org[/url]


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: [url=http://www.aceanacortes.com]http://www.aceanacortes.com[/url]


Best Mexican:

Jalapeños Family Mexican Restaurants

You’ve just got to love a place that features Bellingham’s biggest burrito—a monster tortilla packed with spicy goodness the size of a bread loaf—as well as the town’s biggest margarita, too—a frosty fishbowl of lime-sour tequila. But they also have lunch specials and happy hour menus that extend much further into the day than many restaurants, making Jalapeños an extraordinary place to hold a business lunch. They have several locations. My favorite is the central waterfront, with sunny outdoor seating that looks down our industrial-strength waterway with intense longing at the shimmering green islands in the distance.
Where: 501 W. Holly St., 1007 Harris Ave., 2945 Newmarket St.
Info: [url=http://www.jalapenos-wa.com]http://www.jalapenos-wa.com[/url]


Best Beach:

Locust Beach

Any time of year is the right time of year to visit the coastline of Birchwood for an intertidal immersion therapy session at Locust Beach. With 200 acres of forested shoreline to absorb and inspire you, this breezy hideaway is the perfect place to hunker in the driftwood and/or launch the flotation device of your choosing. For a salty old beach bum like me it only takes a few seconds down there before my boots come off, I start shedding some layers and suddenly I’m chest-deep in the shallows grunting for joy and flapping my flippers around like a teenage walrus.
Where: Locust Road at Marine Drive
Info: [url=http://www.cob.org]http://www.cob.org[/url]


Best Hardware Store:

Ace Hardware Anacortes

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


Best Burger:

Fiamma Burger

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


Best BBQ:

Bayou on Bay

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It is a quintessential downtown Bellingham experience to walk by Bayou on Bay early in the day and be bathed in the warm, welcoming scent of smoked meat. Like many of you, I have eaten my way through the popular restaurant’s menu and can vouch that its Cajun/Creole offerings are delicious, its brunch is as legit as the Bloody Marys they serve alongside it and everything is cranked out, mostly from scratch, in its tiny kitchen. Also coming out of that impossibly small space is really good barbecue, and it makes its way into all parts of the menu: brisket hash (my favorite) in the morning, pork po boys at lunch, smoked chicken wings at happy hour and barbecue ribs at dinner. Show up on Wednesdays for rib night and your slab of meet comes with a side of beer. They’ll supply the napkins.
Where: 1300 By St.
Info: [url=http://www.bayouonbay.com]http://www.bayouonbay.com[/url]


Best Burger:

Skagit Valley Burger Express

Skagit-Valley-Burger-Express-by-Jessamyn-Tuttle-(1).jpg
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 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: [url=http://www.cafeakroteri.com]http://www.cafeakroteri.com[/url]


Best Place to 
Get a Massage:

Calm Water Massage

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

Info: [url=http://www.calmwatermassage.com]http://www.calmwatermassage.com[/url]


Best Ski Shop:

Backcountry Essentials

Backcountry_Essentials_2a.jpg
What’s the Essentials? Their knowledge that you’ll need to save some of your budget for the slopes, because skiing is no longer an inexpensive sport. And that means good gear at good prices. But the backcountry is about more than slopes, and this shop caters to the whole outdoor community, from climbers to campers. Owners Chris and Erica Gerston say, “Our business philosophy recognizes that, while we have to sell a certain amount of gear to remain open, we ideally want to be a resource and meeting place where people can find out the latest information on trails, routes and conditions, swap stories about where they have been, or learn about the pros and cons of the ‘latest and greatest’ in gear. Since we love to test gear, we can give you the real dirt on everything we sell—how functional it is, how well it holds up, and how it compares to other products in its category.” In this category, Backcountry Essentials is one of a kind.
Where: 214 W. Holly St.
Info: [url=http://www.backcountryessentials.net]http://www.backcountryessentials.net[/url]


Best Mexican:

Taco Lobo

Hands down, the best chile relleno in a town that is fiercely competitive in that category. I had a chance recently to try their Costillas de Puerco con Nopalitos as their day’s special— pork back ribs with cactus in a flavorful sauce. How do you balance creative with authentic? Taco Lobo knows.
Where: 117 W Magnolia St.
Info: [url=http://www.tacolobo.net]http://www.tacolobo.net[/url]


Best Place to Dance:

Rumors Cabaret

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


Best Auto Repair:

Bellingham Automotive

A 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
Info: [url=http://www.bellinghamautomotive.com]http://www.bellinghamautomotive.com[/url]


Best Coffeehouse:

Ristretto Coffee Lounge and Wine Bar

Ristretto wins best coffee shop in Skagit Valley
Ristretto is exactly what you want a neighborhood coffeehouse to be: warm and inviting and full of regulars busy working, socializing or just stopping in for a cuppa. By day, they sling a variety of bagels, wraps and baked goods to go with their array of coffees, teas and smoothies (I’m a big fan of the Abuelita Mocha). By night, it becomes a cozy wine bar, offering a thoughtful selection of Washington wines and locally brewed beers, augmented by artfully crafted paninis, salads, and meat and cheese plates. If you show up for breakfast and stay all day, no one would blame you.
Where: 416 S. 1st St., Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.ristrettocoffeelounge.com]http://www.ristrettocoffeelounge.com[/url]


Best Yoga Studio:

Quantum Health and Yoga Lounge

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

Info: [url=http://www.ghyogalounge.com]http://www.ghyogalounge.com[/url]


Best Bakery:

Mount Bakery

It’s a drizzly Sunday morning, and the downtown brunch crowd at the Mount Bakery is on the verge of reaching full capacity. While I’d love to settle in with a Tomato Benny, I’ve just dropped by to secure a sweet treat. Among the baked-from-scratch delights, the marionberry orange scones look divine. But so too do the orange vanilla morning rolls, the ginger molasses and triple chocolate cookies, the seasonal fruit galette, and the platter of cinnamon rolls—which resemble miniature mountains topped with gooey layers of snow. After much deliberation, I settle on a raspberry cream cheese scone, secure I’ve made the right choice. But let’s face it, when it comes to Mount Bakery’s to-die-for baked goods, there in no wrong decision.
Where: 308 W. Champion St., 1217 Harris Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.mountbakery.com]http://www.mountbakery.com[/url]


Best Performance Theatre:

DiOM Theater

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


Best Place to Meet Men:

Sin and Gin Tour

sinandgin3.jpg
When it comes to Bellingham’s dating scene, this is a fascinating win. Every summer, the “Sin and Gin” tours in downtown Bellingham and Fairhaven are led by costumed historians from the Bureau of Historical Investigation, Bellingham’s unique gift and tour company. Sign up for one of their excursions and get to know Bellingham’s deep-seated sin—or, as they call it, “a guided walking tour exploring the history of vice in Bellingham.” You’ll be sussing out Bellingham’s brothels of old and, while you’re at it, you’ll most likely run into the man of your dreams—even if he is a ghost haunting a building.
Where: 217 W Holly St.
Info: [url=http://www.thebureaubellingham.com]http://www.thebureaubellingham.com[/url]


Best Coffee Shop / Barista:

Black Drop Coffee House/
Ryan Siu

Ryan_Siu_@_The_Blackdrop_2.jpg
Every spring, the Black Drop Coffee House pits zombies against survivors when they host a “Save Our City!” game of natural selection in downtown Bellingham. It’s an apt metaphor for what they do very other day of the year, when they turn the undead—people who haven’t yet dosed themselves with their favorite Black Drop mocha, latte, doppio or straight-up cup of java sourced from freshly roasted beans provided by Maniac Roasting—into fully cognizant (and caffeinated) humans. And, thanks to the care the staff takes to make every beverage exceptional, year after year staff members such as the talented Ryan Siu take home the Best Barista award.
Where: 300 W. Champion St.
Info: [url=http://www.blackdropcoffeehouse.com]http://www.blackdropcoffeehouse.com[/url]


Best Gym:

Whatcom Family YMCA

There was a time in my life when I reserved a couple nights of the week for kickboxing aerobics classes at the Whatcom Family YMCA. The sessions were full of women of every shape and fitness level, and were also social in nature. Years later, the vibe hasn’t changed much (even if my ability to karate-kick has). Whether you’re lifting free weights, soaking up the stellar view of Bellingham Bay from the comfort of a stationary bicycle, swimming, taking a class—or signing your kids up for one—acceptance is the name of the game, and all are welcome.
Where: 1256 N. State St.
Info: [url=http://www.whatcomymca.org]http://www.whatcomymca.org[/url]


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 Music Festival:

Downtown Sounds

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


Best Clothing Store:

Stowe’s Shoes & Clothing

Stowes_Clothing_by_Jessamyn_Tuttle_(2).jpg
I don't want to be the belle of the ball. I want to be able to find footwear that will keep me dry whether I'm gardening or hiking and clothing that doesn't require dry cleaning. Since 1940, Stowe's Shoes & Clothing in downtown Burlington has made sure those living and working in the Pacific Northwest find both comfort and confidence in what they're wearing—and that's my kind of style.
Where: 420 E. Fairhaven Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.stowesshoesandclothing.com]http://www.stowesshoesandclothing.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.cob.org]http://www.cob.org[/url]


Best Winery:


Eagle Haven Winery

The artisan libations Eagle Haven Winery crafts from the fruits of its lush orchards near Sedro-Woolley are worth pulling off the freeway to procure, but visitors shouldn’t just grab their purchases and go. Whether you’re sipping a glass of raspberry wine by the fire in the tasting room, touring the vineyard, listening to live music as part of an outdoor summer concert series, or dropping by the inaugural farmers market—which opens in late May—there’s always something to experience at Eagle Haven.
Where: 8243 Sims Rd., Sedro-Woolley
Info: [url=http://www.eaglehavenwinery.com]http://www.eaglehavenwinery.com[/url]


Best Grocery:

Community Food Co-op

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


Best Artist:

Ben Mann

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


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: [url=http://www.gordonskagitfarms.com]http://www.gordonskagitfarms.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.blackdropcoffeehouse.com]http://www.blackdropcoffeehouse.com[/url]


Best Asian:

On Rice

She gets off the plane from a year in Europe, and I see immediately what she’s craved and what she’s missed about Bellingham—a heaping bowl of Pud Thai with seafood and another of Panang Curry with rice. Gone! Something else? How about the Monk’s Party stir fry or a bowl of searing good Tom Yum? It’s a homecoming, the flavors of the East served way out West.
Where: 2200 Rimland Drive; 206 North Samish Way; 1224 Harris Ave
Info: [url=http://www.onricethai.com]http://www.onricethai.com[/url]


Best Dessert:

Mad Hatter’s Ice Cream

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


Best Vegetarian:

Leaf & Ladle

This little lunch counter opens early and stays open late, serving generous portions of heathy and wholesome mixed greens salads, wraps, paninis and scratch-made soups—for dining in, or packaged to go for a hungry lunch crowd. Their menu changes with the season’s freshest vegetables, with the ripening flavors of autumn currently in demand. Owner Linda Melim has acquired the space next door and plans to open LL Libations later this month, serving mixed cocktails to the late-night leaf-eaters.
Where: 1113 N. State St.
Info: (360) 319-9718


Best Mexican/Best Margarita:

COA Mexican Eatery

COA Mexican wins best Mexican food in Skagit Valley
This might be a controversial opinion, but at COA it is wise to bypass the tacos in favor of any dish that comes doused in one or more of their signature house-made sauces: mole, poblano and pimenton crema. If you really want to get a sense of what sets COA apart from the rest of Skagit County’s excellent Mexican options, try the award-winning chile relleno (ask for extra pimenton crema—trust me). Wash it all down with the freshest made-to-order margarita you’ve ever had and your only regret will be that it’s probably not feasible to eat at COA every single day of your life.
Where: Mount Vernon, La Conner
Info: [url=http://www.coaeatery.com]http://www.coaeatery.com[/url]


Best Bar/Best Cocktail:

Train Wreck Bar & Grill

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


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: [url=http://www.fiammaburger.com]http://www.fiammaburger.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.skagitfoodcoop.com]http://www.skagitfoodcoop.com[/url]


Best Celebrity:

Ryan Stiles and Misha Collins

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This year’s battle between Bellingham-based celebrities—also known as “Bellebrities”—came down to two famous fellas who have achieved worldwide acclaim for their admirable action on the small screen (Ryan Stiles for Whose Line is It Anyway? and Misha Collins for Supernatural), but haven’t let it go to their heads. Instead, the actors have made Bellingham and Whatcom County their home base, and make it a point to do good things for the community they call home (Stiles by providing a home for improvisational comedy at the Upfront Theatre, and Collins through his nonprofit, Random Acts of Kindness). Sure, they could live anywhere, but instead they’ve chosen to make this lovely city by the bay an important part of their lives.
Info: [url=http://www.theupfront.com]http://www.theupfront.com[/url] or www.randomacts.org


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: [url=http://www.skagitfoodcoop.com]http://www.skagitfoodcoop.com[/url]


Best Gallery:

Make.Shift Art Space

When it comes to the art on display at Make.Shift Art Space’s main gallery, thinking outside of the box is the norm. To wit: October’s featured exhibit, “Die-O-Rama: A Tiny Haunted House Extravaganza,” sees local artists re-creating their biggest fears on a teeny-tiny scale. But that’s not all. In addition to the award-winning gallery, the all-ages, 8,000-square-foot DIY art and music venue also features more than 20 studios, a live music performance space, and KZAX 94.9, a low-power radio station. In short, if you need an affordable place to “make a mess and show it off,” they’ve got you covered.
Where: 306 Flora St.
Info: [url=http://www.makeshiftproject.com]http://www.makeshiftproject.com[/url]


Best Gear Store:

REI

A crispness enters the air and the rains have returned. Autumn has already unfolded in the high country. Folks call it “off season,” but I’ve never really understood why—it is the best season. You need gear, though. A T-shirt and shorts won’t cut it. You need a hood for the rain, and a jacket for the chill; footwear, not flip-flops. REI has been outfitting for the outdoors in Bellingham for more than 20 years. Seasons change. Their quality and service never does.
Where: 400 36th St.
Info: [url=http://www.rei.com/stores/bellingham]http://www.rei.com/stores/bellingham[/url]


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: [url=http://www.deweygriffensubaru.com]http://www.deweygriffensubaru.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.labelsconsignment.com]http://www.labelsconsignment.com[/url]


Best Farm:

Wallace Farms

I love potatoes. Perhaps it’s my Irish heritage, but if given the opportunity, I’d eat them at every meal. So when readers voted the potato-centered Wallace Farms as Best Farm, my excitement level for writing about the beloved spud was much higher than it probably should have been. The Skagit Valley has incredible growing conditions for taters—red, white, yellow, purple and russet—but it’s the Wallace family that has stayed tried and true to what they grow for more than 100 years. And to you, dear Wallaces, I tip my hat. Thank you.
Where: 10412 Chuckanut Dr., Burlington
Info: [url=http://www.wallacespuds.com]http://www.wallacespuds.com[/url]


Best Margarita, Best Bartender:

Brendan O’Neill @ Black Sheep

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It’s been a big year for Black Sheep. Moving from their former tiny location to their much larger neighboring spot leaves more room for margaritas (and tacos, of course). Whether you’re more traditional and opt for the Dude-A-Rita or are feeling a bit more daring and go for the Pina Furnado, there’s a margarita available to please even the pickiest of palates. And if you’re lucky, this year’s Best Bartender, Brendan O’Neill, will be pouring the tequila and crafting your cocktail.
Where: 211 W. Holly St.
Info: [url=http://www.blacksheepbellingham.com]http://www.blacksheepbellingham.com[/url]


Best Place to Meet People, Best Pot Store:

2020 Solutions

Your favorite place—or places, given 2020 Solutions’ three locations—to procure pot is also your favorite place to score a date, a little bit of synergy that makes perfect sense. While you’re perusing 2020’s selection of flower, edibles, concentrates, topicals and more, you can also chat up the marijuana-minded person beside you and potentially emerge with some Kush and a crush. Now that’s one unforgettable high.
Where: 2018 Iron St., 5655 Guide Meridian, 4770 Pacific Hwy.
Info: [url=http://www.2020-solutions.com]http://www.2020-solutions.com[/url]


Best Place to Get a Massage:

The Chrysalis Inn & Spa

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


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: [url=http://www.rockrye.com]http://www.rockrye.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.boomersdrivein.com]http://www.boomersdrivein.com[/url]


Best Bookstore:

Village Books

Village Books in Fairhaven
When we opine that Village Books is a local bookstore with a global focus, it’s not hyperbole. In addition to decades of providing nearly a block full of carefully selected reading material for its patrons, the powers that be at the Fairhaven-based locale—current co-owners include Paul Hanson, Kelly Evert, and Sarah Hutton—bring authors from near and far to the staunchly independent bookstore’s doorstep, week after week, year after year. Since 1980, Village Books’ official motto has been “building community one book at a time,” but we think it should also extend to “broadening horizons in ways both small and large, and making sure reading stays as relevant as breathing.”
Where: 1200 11th St.
Info: [url=http://www.villagebooks.com]http://www.villagebooks.com[/url]


Best Pet Store:

Bellingham Pet Supply

We are a community of pet owners and we put a lot of consideration into how we feed and care for our pets, if the number of truly great pet stores around here is any indication. Recently joining their ranks is Bellingham Pet Supply, which is owned by lifelong local Julian Friedman. A carefully chosen array of products to keep your creatures happy and healthy, free delivery and homegrown ownership by a guy who is the proud owner of three adorably weird-looking dogs are just a few of the reasons you’ve deemed this newcomer to be the best.
Where: 1701 N. State St.
Info: [url=http://www.bellinghampetsupply.com]http://www.bellinghampetsupply.com[/url]


Best Pizza:

La Fiamma Wood Fire Pizza

According to the number crunchers at La Fiamma, each of their large wood-fired pizzas features 132 square inches of toppings. That’s likely one of the reasons the food hub at the intersection of Chestnut Street and Railroad Avenue has long been a destination for those who know a great pizza when they taste one. Quality ingredients and choices for meat-lovers, vegetarians, vegans, omnivores, gluten-intolerants, pescatarians and those who prefer “just cheese, please” are also reasons you return. My favorite is the shrimp-and-pesto enhanced Finn, but I’m also fond of classics such as the meaty Brooklyn Bridge. If you don’t want to commit to a full meal deal, drop by the window of the Pye Hole—located on the Chestnut Street side of the eatery—for a slice or two from lunchtime until late-night.
Where: 200 E. Chestnut St.
Info: [url=http://www.lafiamma.com]http://www.lafiamma.com[/url]


Best Nursery:

Christianson’s 
Nursery & Greenhouse

On the way to Edison for a late lunch after a dizzying tour through downtown Mount Vernon, I bellowed “pull over!” when we passed by Christianson’s Nursery. I handed my date a Power Bar to snack on, and we set off to explore the expansive grounds and greenhouses that house the largest selection of roses and perennials in Northwest Washington. After a quick peek at the annual “Art in the Schoolhouse” exhibit in the 1880s-era restored schoolhouse, we were back on the road.
Where: 15806 Best Rd., Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.christiansonsnursery.com]http://www.christiansonsnursery.com[/url]