Best of Skagit 2016
Where: 521 Kentucky St.
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
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
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.
BECUAs its name suggests, Boeing Employees Credit Union originally existed to serve employees of the massive aerospace company. When they opened their membership to the general public, they also changed their name, and now they’re BECU to one and all. With a reputation for excellent customer service and sound financial advice, along with the particular perks that come with your membership, they’re doing their best to make managing your money a pleasure rather than a chore.
Where: 1753 S. Burlington Blvd., Burlington
Best Clothing Stores:
Bargains Galore Thrift Store, House of Style Boutique and Salon
Where: 224 Chenoweth St., 510 S. First St., Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.bargainsgalorethrift.org]http://www.bargainsgalorethrift.org[/url], www.houseofstylemv.com
Best Thrift Store:
Value VillageWhenever I’m stricken by the need for a little quality retail therapy, Value Village is my first stop. Last week I fished an almost-new Black Diamond collapsible avalanche shovel out of the bins for a screaming deal ($5!). And the week before that I scored a mint-condition 1964 Smith-Corona Corsair Deluxe manual typewriter for $27. Three weeks ago, I gifted myself a pinstripe suit for $30 and had just enough funds left over to raid the book section. For less than a 10-spot I added a quality paperback edition of Life with Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse and a 1983 Buyer’s Club edition of Stephen King’s Christine to my shelves. My girlfriend thinks I’m an addict. She’s probably right. But at least I own the first pinstripe blazer in my life to show for it.
Where: 150 E. Bellis Fair Pkwy.
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.
Mount BakeryIt’s a rainy and brisk fall morning, but stalwart customers can still be found sitting at the outdoor tables under the awning at the Mount Bakery’s Champion Street locale. Perhaps they don’t feel the cold because they’re warmed to the core by what they’re eating—scones fresh out of the oven, made-by-scratch croissants, maple-glazed cookies, lemon meringue tarts, pieces of pie or one of the other myriad baked goods the longtime bakery stocks at both its downtown and Fairhaven locales. A commitment to using locally sourced ingredients, a passion for the craft and the ability to keep Bellinghamsters coming back for more makes this award-winning business a no-brainer in this category.
Where: 308 W. Champion St., 1217 Harris Ave.
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 Movie Theater:
The Pickford Film Center
Where: 1318 Bay Street, 1416 Cornwall Ave.
The Rhododendron Cafe
Where: 5521 Chuckanut Drive, Bow
Where: 470 Bayview Dr.
Double Barrel BBQA secret of the Skagit, you’ve got to—I don’t know—get invited to a wedding or something to sample Double Barrel’s rich, savory meats that just fall from the bone. That’s because their southern style pit BBQ business is focused on catering. They take their time with their orders, slow smoking their meats over oak and fruit woods. They’ve made a wedding crasher out of me.
Where: 108 W. Moore St., Sedro-Woolley
Where: 425 Commercial St., Mount Vernon
Best Ski Shop:
Where: 214 W. Holly St.
Black Drop CoffeehouseWith 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.
Best Fine Dining:
Where: 114 Prospect St.
Silver Reef Hotel Casino Spa
Where: 14876 Haxton Way, Ferndale
Old Town CafeDawn’s breaking a little later these days, and there’s a feeling of frost in the air. Old Town’s up early, and the mugs of aromatic coffee are steaming. There’s a little gathering this morning at the community table, the first laughs of the day from people who’ve been up and at ’em before the birds started chirping. What am I having? I think it’s definitely, definitely going to be something different today, but—the Number Nine, of course. Smiling, Adrienne turns her ticket book around so I can see it. She’d already written down #9, because for me it’s always the same. You can depend on it. The table erupts in another laugh.
Where: 316 W Holly St.
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
Best Real Estate Agent:
Eric J. Larson, Coldwell Banker BainBuying 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.
Best Place to Get a Massage:
Calm Water MassageIf you’ve been pondering where to find a place to relax, unwind and take care of yourself, this is it. The winner in this category every year, Calm Water Massage will leave you (and your pocketbook) feeling pretty darn amazing. Treat yourself, or those you love.
Where: 308 Pine St., Mount Vernon
Best Clothing Store:
Oliver HammerSkagit takes their rugged outdoorsin’ serious, right down to their long johns and underpants. Heavy-duty Bogs mud boots, Filson shirts stiff as sailcloth, Carhartt jackets, and Dickies rain gear. There’s nothing the river country can throw at you you can’t weather. You’re good to go.
Where: 821 Metcalf St., Sedro-Woolley
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.
Best Bloody Mary Best Patio Seating:
Bayou On Bay
Where: 1300 Bay St.
Whatcom Family YMCAI admit, sometimes on a chilly morning I go just for a stretch and then the steam or sauna—just to sit in the company of people I know and have come to know. Locker room talk? Oh, yeah. Usually about the Seahawks. Heck, who am I kidding? Honestly? Always about the Seahawks. But also lots of tales of gardening and weekend-warrioring. The weights await. But let them wait a bit longer. Friends are here, and they’re talking.
Where: 1256 N State St.
Best Music Store:
Everyday MusicIn previous years, this category has been a knockdown, drag-out competition between downtown Bellingham’s two music-store mainstays, Everyday Music and Avalon Records. After the tragic fire that gutted Avalon, Everyday Music got the majority of your votes, although nearly all of you mentioned Avalon when you cast your ballots. To Everyday Music, we say, keep up the good work. We need you more than ever now. To Avalon, we miss you, and are grateful for all of your years spent making Bellingham a more musical place.
Where: 115 E. Magnolia 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 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 Place for a First Date:
Where: Swinomish Casino & Lodge, 12885 Casino Dr.
Naan and BrewBellingham 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
Locust BeachAny 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
Village Pizza and Wheelhouse BarPizza is our most fiercely divided and voted-upon category. We get it, Cascadians. You like your ‘za. And this year you deemed Village Pizza as the ruler of all. From fresh dough baked each morning and standard favorites to unique toppings such as mandarin oranges, oysters or shrimp, their menu is sure to please every palate.
Where: 807 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
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
Where: Pacific NW Trail, Bow
Where: Locust Road at Marine Drive
Skagit Farmers Supply’s Country StoresA mission to "support agriculture" may sound simple, but if you take into account that Skagit Farmers Supply has been following that credo since 1934, it takes on a whole new meaning. Whether your acreage is of the sprawling ranch variety or you're looking to spruce up your yard, the cooperative's Country Stores located throughout the Skagit Valley will help get the jobs done.
Where: Sedro-Woolley, Burlington, Mount Vernon
Best Place for Hunting & Fishing Supplies:
Holiday SportsWhether you’re angling for pinks and cohos from the banks of the Skagit River, gunning for mulies on the backside of Cultus Mountain, or taking a family camping trip, the Steen family has you covered. Need a chrome and glow dodger with pink squid and glow insert for your early morning sockeye session on Baker Lake? No problemo. Looking for varmint cartridges, new/used firearms, rangefinders or a skilled expert to mount your rifle scope and sight your bore? Then make tracks to Burlington for an outfitting experience that is guaranteed to bolster your game bag—and your creel.
Where: 895 Nevitt Road, Burlington
Little MountainDuring my most recent session in this amply forested, vertically well-endowed Mount Vernon city park, I peddled my junker up the 1.5-mile paved entrance road to the 934-foot summit and rubbernecked the tulip fields, the San Juan Islands, Olympic Mountains, and Mt. Baker. Then—to savor as much single-track goodness as my played-out shocks and antiquated gear shifter allowed—I wheeled my way down Sidewinder to the service road that spit me out onto Huff N Puff. Upon finally reaching the High Road, I decided to go Over the Top so I could cruise the contours of Upper Surfer’s Way and Lower Surfer’s Way before departing via La-Z-Boy with a smile that stayed glued on my face for days.
Best Place to Play Cards/Slots:
Swinomish Casino & LodgeI 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
Best Bar/Best Cocktail:
Train Wreck Bar & GrillThe 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
Best Place to See Live Music:
Where: 208 W. Holly St.
Best Theater Company:
Sylvia Center for the ArtsWhen iDiOM Theater was founded by Glenn Hergenhahn-Zhao in fall of 2001, it was with an aim to present high-quality, innovative, original works to its patrons. For 14 years, it did just that--plus a whole lot more--in a small space on Cornwall Avenue. Since morphing into the Sylvia Center for the Arts and making the move to a much larger locale on Prospect Street, its mission has expanded to include gathering a number of other arts organizations under its creative umbrella, thus turning a former laundry building into a thriving, multi-venue performance space. Oct. 11-12 will feature the 53rd iteration of the 48 Hour Theater Festival--a feat that will see approximately 12 new short plays created in the course of a single weekend--and is a great way to celebrate Sylvia's much-deserved win in this category.
Where: 205 Prospect St.
Garden Spot NurseryWhat 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.
Naan and BrewHarbhajan 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
Best Clothing Store:
Oliver-HammerDad’s old fly rod was balanced heavy to lift back and come forward flat and straight to throw a weightless lure. I stripped off line from the reel and watched the fly dance on the sparkling surface of the current. In one pocket of my heavy flannel shirt was the leather book full of flies tied for any river, big and small. The pocket of my weather jacket held a big lunch. The sun crawled lazily from behind a rain cloud, hot on my neck. Whatever nature brought, I was dressed for it. I saw the fly dip, a cautious nibble, the reel sang.
Where: 817 Metcalf St., Sedro-Woolley
Best Stop on Highway 542:
North Fork Beer ShrineBest stop on the way to Mt. Baker? It’s a trick question. Actually, everyone knows the mountains are just an excuse to get out of town for the real destination: a frosty pint and a hearty slice of wood-fired pizza near a place called Welcome. Church Mountain is my cathedral, but the North Fork is my shrine.
Where: 6186 Mt. Baker Hwy, Deming
Bayou on Bay
Where: 1300 By St.
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
Best Home Store:
Where: 1235 Cornwall Ave.
Shearer’s Hair DesignDid Deborah Shearer decide she wanted to cut hair for a living because of her name, or did she change her name to better reflect her chosen profession? That’s one of the many things you can ask the owner of Shearer’s Hair Design when you schedule a haircut, coloring, perm or eyebrow or lash tint with her or one of the other experienced beauticians at the popular Yew Street locale, which is taking home its first win in the “Best Salon” category—proving they’re a cut above the rest.
Where: 2420 Yew Street Rd.
D’Anna’s Cafe Italiano
Where: 1317 N. State St.
Old Town CafeThey open at 6:30am, and that’s plenty early for all but the most sleepless of ’hamsters. We crowd in at the big community table—socialists all!—and are joined for a moment by glum police lamenting the loss of their morning Rocket Donut. It’s too early to laugh, but we do anyway, and the strong coffee helps. I order my usual, the Number Nine. For so many years now—going on 50—Old Town has generously opened its doors at Thanksgiving, and our table talks again about volunteering to help serve. This is community. This is Bellingham. This is truly the most important meal of the day.
Where: 316 W. Holly St.
Best Pot Store/Head Shop/Place to Meet Men and Women:
Where: 2018 Iron St., 5655 Guide Meridian, 4770 Pacific Hwy.
Best Day Trip on the 542:
North Fork BreweryWhether we’re hiking, climbing, paddling, cycling, skiing, snowboarding or mostly just sightseeing, the massive angular slopes of the North Cascades are our oyster once we head eastbound from anywhere along this 57-mile stretch of mountain-hugging blacktop. And to help ease the transition upon our inevitable return to the flatlands, we are blessed to have a roadside pub as savory and solar-powered as the North Fork Brewery, where we can fuel up on a cornucopia of scratch-made fare—everything from cold pints of barrel-aged Belgian-style sours to warm bowls of Stout French Onion Soup and pans of smoked salmon-sprinkled Pineapple Express pizza.
Where: 6186 Mt. Baker Hwy.
Best Place to Dance/Place to See Live Music/Best Bartender:
Where: 18444 Spruce St., Conway
Brock StilesOriginally founded by Bill Stiles in 1951, Brock followed his father’s footsteps into the family business, Stiles Law. He has been practicing in Skagit County for more than 30 years, covering a vast array of legal services including personal injury, workers comp, probate, estate and real estate planning, and landlord/tenant disputes—meaning you can leave your legal issues in his capable hands.
Where: 925 Metcalf St., Sedro-Woolley
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
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
On RiceShe 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
Best Fast Food:
Where: 310 N. Samish Way
Best Fine Dining:
Where: 100 North Commercial St.
Where: 302 S. 1st St., Mount Vernon
Best Bike Store:
Fanatik Bike Co.
Where: 1812 N. State St.
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.
Best Shoe Store:
Mi ShoesWhen we say Michelle Bouma is consistently putting her best foot forward, it’s not just a clever play on words. Since starting the mini-but-mighty Mi Shoes on Bellingham’s Railroad Avenue 11 years ago, the energetic entrepreneur has expanded her fashionable realm. These days, you’ll also find the products of her keen eye for what women want to wear at Commercial Street’s Heroine, and at Mi Shoes Lynden, which is expected to open sometime this week. Look for a grand opening celebration there Nov. 12, and rest assured that, in the meantime, the award-winning downtown Bellingham store is going strong.
Where: 1315 Railroad Ave., 511 Front St., Lynden
La Fiamma Wood Fire Pizza
Where: 200 E. Chestnut St.
Best Nursery/Best Place to Buy Chicken Feed:
The Country StoreLike many indelible institutions in the Skagit Valley, the Country Store has a fascinating backstory. And when customers attend in-store garden parties taking place Sat., April 23 at locales in Burlington, Sedro-Woolley, and Mount Vernon, they can find out more about how a 46-member cooperative that was founded in 1934 with a commitment to source high-quality products for area farmers grew into a 13-store business serving both small- and large-scale farmers throughout the region. At the hands-on event—which will feature free soil and help with planting garden goods you purchase at the Country Store in pots you bring from home—you can also inquire how it is possible that, in more than 80 years, the company has had only three general managers. Pick up some chicken feed sourced by Skagit Farmers Supply while you’re at it.
Where: 1276 S. Burlington Blvd., Burlington; 900 Riverside Dr., Mount Vernon
Best Hardware Store:
Ace Hardware AnacortesWill 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
On RiceThere’s something so cozy about Thai food and fall. On Rice has been crowned as the winner once again for Best Asian, and with three Bellingham-based locations, you’re just a few minutes away at any given time. Got a hunger pang for Panang? A passion for potstickers? Feelin' nice with fried rice? No need to slow your egg roll, because today—and every day—is the perfect day for yum.
Where: 209 N. Samish Way, 1224 Harris Ave., 2200 Rimland Dr. #100
Christianson’s Nursery & GreenhouseOn 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
Avenue BreadWhen it comes to stacking signature ingredients between two (or more) slices of bread, Avenue has set the gold standard. And since they also happen to make the bread upon which all these goodies are stacked, their sandwiches exhibit extra levels of freshness, fragrance and flavor. Not only is their Rueben famously scrumptious, but they also offer a well-regarded plethora of delicious soups and salads. And, as any lunch lover knows, once you throw those into the mix, it gives them bragging rights to a special kind of midday goodness.
Where: 1313 Railroad Ave., 2301 James St., 1135 11th 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 Place to Meet People, Best Pot Store:
2020 SolutionsYour 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.
Best Day Trip:
Best Clothing Store:
Stowe’s Shoes & Clothing
Where: 420 E. Fairhaven Ave.
Best Tulip Farm:
Where: 15867 Beaver Marsh Road, Mount Vernon
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 Place for a First Date:
Temple BarThe Temple Bar is no stranger to winning this category. Its cozy atmosphere, perfectly priced happy hour, expertly crafted cocktails and scrumptious bites make this the ideal place for a first date—or any date. They’ve recently launched their fall menu, which is full of items to elicit the savory sensations of the season. Impress your first date now, celebrate your anniversaries there later. Just don’t forget to invite us to the wedding.
Where: 306 W. Champion St.
Where: 1440 10th St.
Best Food Truck:
StrEAT FoodYears ago, when the Weekly began adding the food truck category to our annual compendium of the people and places that make Bellingham great, StrEAT Food was the clear winner. And thanks to James Pitzer’s commitment to providing locally procured, high-quality menu items—my choice typically turns out to be the chicken artichoke sandwich, but the lamb gyro pita and shrimp tacos are other family favorites—that’s pretty much been the case ever since. And although StrEAT Food has since opened a cafe in the Bellingham Cruise Terminal, their mobile eatery continues to garner forever fans wherever they go.
Where: Kulshan Brewing Co., K2, Carne, Wander Brewing, and beyond
Best Bakery :
Mount BakeryJudging by the number of excellent places to partake of baked goods in town, Bellingham has itself a bit of a sweet tooth. And while the Mount Bakery does everything well (cough, eggs Benedict, cough), it particularly excels at those sweet treats we love to eat, but do not necessarily love to bake for ourselves. Its buttery, infinitely layered croissants are my go-to—chocolate first, ham and cheese next and whatever is left in the case if they’re out of the first two. My coworkers are devoted to the chocolate chip cookies. And then there are the cinnamon rolls. And the Belgian chocolate truffle cake. And…
Where: 308 W. Champion St./1217 Harris Ave.
Leaf & LadleThis 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 Yoga Studio/Best Yoga Instructor:
Studio 1010When she’s not busy helping her community as an Anacortes City Council member, raising her family and tending an urban farm, Liz Lovelett can be found teaching Hatha Yoga classes at Studio 1010. With a catchphrase of “Exhilarate Your Body. Stimulate Your Mind. Ignite Your Creativity,” the space is much more than a yoga studio—it’s also a gathering place where people come to feel united in body, mind and spirit.
Where: 1010 Sixth St., Anacortes
Studio GalacticaTwo days after my latest haircut by Studio Galactica’s Kimberly Ross, I wasn’t yet tired of the accolades coming my way. Like all of the mane-tamers at the Cornwall Avenue locale, Ross knows exactly what she’s doing, but still listens to her clients when they tell her what they want (yep, even if it’s a perm or a mullet). The no-tipping salon is also jam-packed with local art and interesting things to look at, so there’s no chance of getting bored while you’re getting beautified.
Where: 1519 Cornwall Ave.
Blue Fin Sushi
Where: 102 S. Samish Way
Best Place to Buy Pot:
Where: 8630 S. March Point Road, Anacortes
Silver Reef Hotel Casino Spa
Where: 4876 Haxton Way, Ferndale
Old Gold TattooI have one tattoo. It's pretty special to me. Old Gold Tattoo has inked more than one tattoo in its years of service on State Street (right next to the Shakedown). This walk-in tattoo shop is open seven days a week and allows customers to either choose from any of its custom designs or bring in their own. I have many friends that have raved about their experience at Old Gold. If I ever get a second tattoo, I'll be sure to take a seat under their steady hands.
Where: 1222 North State 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 Head Shop :
Where: 1330 Railroad Ave.
Community Food Co-op
Where: 1220 North Forest Street; 315 Westerly Road at Cordata Parkway
Skagit Burger ExpressO.K., this place takes a little finding, east along Highway 20 heading into Sedro-Woolley. A modest old red caboose serving up the biggest, thickest, juiciest gourmet burgers you’ll ever bite into. On the advice of my friend, I ordered the Atomic Mushroom burger—a startling, electrifying blast of flavor, ground zero for ground beef.
Where: 1172 State Rt 20, Sedro-Woolley
Info: (360) 707-8778
Best Movie Theater:
Pickford Film CenterThis year, as part of the Pickford Film Center’s annual Doctober festival, the theater was able to extend an invitation to more than 5,000 students in Whatcom County to come and see a free documentary under the umbrella of its Doc Ed program. It’s just one of the many ways in which the nonprofit art-house movie theater takes its motto of “more than movies” seriously. Programs like Doc Ed, along with the PFC and Limelight’s carefully chosen lineup of independent and foreign films, endlessly delightful volunteer staff and state-of-the-art movie houses are just some of the things that have earned them an unbroken string of wins in this category—that, and the real butter on the popcorn, of course.
Where: 1318 Bay St./1416 Cornwall Ave.
Smith & Vallee GalleryIt's no surprise Best Artist winner Pieter VanZanden's mind-bending sculptures have spent time in the gallery at the end of Edison's Gilkey Avenue. Since woodworkers Andrew Vallee and Wesley Smith turned a century-old schoolhouse into a creative hub that houses both established and emerging talents from around the region, the artists who exhibit at Smith & Vallee Gallery are consistently worth meandering down Chuckanut Drive to see. "The thing I love most is getting to see people connecting and falling in love with art," gallery manager Lucy Martin says. "It's truly the best."
Where: 5742 Gilkey Ave., Edison
Best Pot Store:
Where: 2018 Iron St., 5655 Guide Meridian, 4770 Pacific Hwy.
Garden Spot NurseryI was heading into Garden Spot Nursery to pick up some fall foliage when my boyfriend informed me he’d heard owner Marcy Plattner was selling the beloved Alabama Street plant store. I told him I’d dig up the dirt. After perusing some swanky Halloween displays, flats of pansies, perennials and shrubs, I settled on dreamy peachy-pink Belgian mums to adorn our front porch, and made my query at the register. A friendly employee informed me that yes, Garden Spot’s for sale, but it’s not shutting down. Plattner’s retiring, and is hoping to sell to someone who wants it to carry on. If you’re that person, rest assured that Garden Spot’s roots are strong, and the seeds of success have already been planted.
Where: 900 Alabama St.
Best Happy Hour:
Chuckanut Manor Seafood & Grill
Where: 3056 Chuckanut Dr., Bow