Best of Skagit 2016

Best Grocery/Vegetarian:


Skagit Valley Food Co-op

“The highest function of love,” wrote Tom Robbins, “is that it makes the loved one a unique and irreplaceable being.” This encapsulates how I feel about the fresh-made, organically inclined food served at the Skagit Valley Food Co-op’s deli. Specifically, my love functions highest for their tuna salad sandwich on sourdough, which has become the most treasured and indispensable part of my lunchtime reveries through the years. With this super-sandwich in my life, I am fortified against the rigors that beset me as I strive to be a better man. Without it, I become sallow and listless. Same goes for their hot soups, salads, locally made cheeses, handmade ice cream, fresh-pressed juices and fair trade espresso. Inspiration is served in many forms—including plenty of vegetarian and vegan options—at the Skagit Co-op. And I’m always ready to eat.
Where: 202 S. First St., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.skagitfoodcoop.com


Best Indian:

Naan & Brew

Naan and Brew
O.K., I admit it. They had me at the “Brew.” But you just cannot beat this restaurant’s lunch buffet, where you can taste the commanding flavors of Subcontinent on a single plate; and if by chance you did not get enough, you can go back for another plate. It’s a great taster to try, but I do recommend going back in the evening for the entrees that pair quite nicely with—you guessed it—the brews on tap.
Where: 200 East Maple St.
Info: http://www.naanandbrew.com


Best Bed & Breakfast:

Katy’s Inn

In 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
Info: http://www.bedandbreakfastlaconner.com


Best Tulip Farm:

RoozenGaarde

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It’s tulip time, and the fields are alive with the light and color of spring. The word’s out, and this spectacular time in the Skagit Valley is no longer a secret. But Skagit still holds a lot of secrets—mist-shrouded valleys, swollen and mighty rivers, and frosty high country thick with dark pines and devil’s club. And there are the hidey holes—the hamlets sprinkled along old forgotten highways, the winding sloughs and channels of the fertile delta, and the coast beyond—dotted with islands pungent from salt and rain. There are the bars and diners and coffeehouses, the playgrounds and trails. And there are the people who fill them, hearty and happy. And though our readers revealed some of these secrets, Skagit remains a treasure undiscovered. Entries by Tim Johnson, Amy Kepferle, Carey Ross, Stephanie Young, and Trail Rat Photos by Jessamyn Tuttle and Andy Porter
Where: 15867 Beaver Marsh Road, Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.tulips.com


Best Sandwich:

Avenue Bread

Time was short. Lunch was calling. The plump-looking hoagies at the grocery store looked tempting. But then I had a better vision. Once again, as it has for several trips round the sun, my abiding fealty to the sandwich board at Avenue Bread pulled me through to a more savory situation. Within a half-hour, all I had to do was decide between an Avenue Club on rustic wheat or a Grilled Eggplant on artisanal focaccia.
Where: 1313 Railroad Ave., 2301 James St., 1135 11th St.
Info: http://www.avenuebread.com


Best Gallery:

Smith & Vallee Gallery

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


Best Live Music:

Wild Buffalo

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


Best Bakery:

Farm to Market Bakery

Few 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
Info: http://www.rhodycafe.com/farmtomarketbakery


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: http://www.harmonymotorworks.com


Best Pizza:

La Fiamma Wood Fire Pizza

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’Hamsters love their pizza. Year after year, this query always receives the most votes and is the most fiercely contested category in Best of Bellingham. Always beloved, this year La Fiamma received nearly one vote in five. One of the reasons? This unique and creative pizzeria expanded the hours of Pye Hole. La Fiamma now includes lunch hours for their convenient late-night window where you can walk up and get a hot slice of wood-fired crispy-cheesy goodness. Because Bellingham must have its great pizza at all hours!
Where: 200 E. Chestnut St.
Info: http://www.lafiamma.com


Best Salon:

Susan Lehman Salon

Susan Lehman is proof you don’t need a fancy salon with a billion chairs and a crew of shampoo girls to earn a devoted following. Lehman operates her salon right out of her Bow Hill home. Make no mistake: Lehman is not going to seat you in a folding chair in the middle of her kitchen to redo your hairdo. She’s built herself a proper full-service salon, complete with natural and organic products and spa services. It’s like having a spa day with one of your girlfriends, only better.
Where: 5799 Jennifer Lane, Bow Hill
Info: (360) 708-9223


Best Hardware Store:

Ace 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: http://www.aceanacortes.com


Best Place to See Live Music:

Conway Muse

It’s impossible to overstate how special of a place the Conway Muse is. Off the beaten path, in the tiniest of towns, the Muse is the definition of a destination worth seeking out. Live music happens every Friday and Saturday, with multiple artists and bands performing in two different rooms, and often spills into the rest of the week as well. Owner Elfa Gisla is the Muse’s guiding light, and its her distinctive touch that makes this unique venue feel like home.
Where: 18444 Spruce St., Conway
Info: http://www.conwaymuse.com


Best Breakfast/BBQ:

Dad’s Diner

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


Best Stop on the North Cascades Highway:

Birdsview Brewery

It’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
Info: http://www.birdsviewbrewingcompany.com


Best Italian:

Ciao Bella

It's not on Ciao Bella's regular menu, but if diners ever see gnocchi make an appearance in a daily special, they should order it—no questions asked. Owners Michele and Francesca hail from southern Italy, and in addition to serving pasta, sauces and bread made from scratch, the duo also brings authenticity to the table—whether it's in the flavors of the Pollo Valtelina or having dinner served with a smile by the Anacortes restaurant's owners.
Where: 1560 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: http://www.facebook.com/Ciao-Bella


Best 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: http://www.whatcomymca.org


Best Hardware Store:

ACE Hardware Ancaortes

Designed as one stop for all your springtime needs—from lawn and garden equipment to paint, electrical and plumbing supplies for seasonal home repair. When you’re done with all the hard and heavy work, there’s even a section for recreational outdoors and sporting goods—and, yes, lawn furniture if you’re truly exhausted.
Where: 1720 Q Avenue, Anacortes
Info: http://www.aceanacortes.com


Best Deli:

Old World Deli

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


Best Grocery Store:

Community Food Co-op

Community Food Co-op
As a longtime member of the Community Food Co-op, my typical visits are pretty predictable—wine, cheese, produce, quick lunches, and my favorite hot sauce when we run out (which is often). However, one of my favorite things about the Community Food Co-op is the amount of community outreach and events they offer on a regular basis. Don’t know how to cook? They’ve got a class for that. Starting a health and wellness journey? You're covered there, as well. Beer and wine pairings? Bingo. Their commitment to community is nothing less than superb, from farmer to consumer. It's an easy win all around.
Where: 1220 N. Forest St., 315 Westerly Rd.
Info: http://www.communityfood.coop


Best Bed and Breakfast:

Guemes Island Resort

Just a short (and cheap!) ferry ride away lies the unsung hero of of the San Juans, Guemes Island. While the Skagit Valley has no shortage of (incredible) bed and breakfasts, this little gem allows for spectacular views that won’t hurt your pocketbook and can accommodate just about everyone, including Fido. If you’re looking for a relaxing spot away from the crowds but with all the modern amenities of home, this is your place. Sauna? Check. Massage therapy? Check. Foosball?! Check.
Where: 4268 Guemes Island Road, Anacortes
Info: http://www.guemesislandresort.com


Best Gallery:

Dakota Gallery

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When Dakota Art Store made the decision to move from their longtime digs on Cornwall Avenue to a significantly larger venue a little more than a block away in the summer of 2014, it wasn’t long before they knew they’d made the right decision to stay in the urban core. The “neighborhood art store"—which has been providing creative supplies to the legions of artists in Bellingham since 1994—saw a significant uptick in walk-in traffic, both from people interested in sourcing supplies and also from those strolling through the exhibits showing in the adjacent gallery space. Judging by the crowds who gather at every Art Walk to view edgy new works—like this month’s “Familiar Hindsight,” which sees artists Hannah L. Rivers and Bonnie Smerdon using paintings to reconstruct inherent memories—the gallery has become an entity of its own.
Where: 1324 Cornwall Ave.
Info: http://www.dakotaartgallery.com


Best Head Shop :

Avalon

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


Best Neighborhood:

Sunnyland

Sunnyland
It’s because of the zoning, I tell people as they roll their eyes and return to their burgers and brews. Sunnyland’s special zoning allows commerce to snuggle up near residences, and for businesses to operate inside—and out of—homes. That means artists can run their studios out of their shops, tinkerers can run their shops out of their studios. It means stores and restaurants are within easy walking distance of neighborhoods, and the whole has a vibrant feel. On a broader scale, it is this connectedness that makes Bellingham work. But Sunnyland is a nucleus for this year’s best places, best nooks and hidey-holes, and best experiences as chosen by our readers. This week we focus on the places and businesses that keep Bellingham vibrant. Next Wednesday, tune in for the best in food and drink, and the people who make living here worthwhile. Compiled by Tim Johnson, Amy Kepferle, Carey Ross, Stephanie Young, and Trail Rat Photos by Jessamyn Tuttle


Best Asian/Best Take-Out:

Rachawadee Thai Cafe

So good, and so tiny! I’m of the opinion that Rachawadee Thai is the best you’ll find in five counties and beyond. And I am not alone. The classic kitchen lunch counter seats fewer than a dozen, so it’s not surprising we all favor their takeout. Check out the daily specials, and try an early or late lunch to beat the crowd and enjoy the many tastes of Thailand.
Where: 410 W Gates St., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.rachawadeethaicafe.com


Best Dessert:

Just Peachy Frozen Yogurt

Let’s face it: We all eat frozen yogurt because it feels more virtuous than ice cream and because, for whatever reason, frozen yogurt establishments are far more likely than ice cream parlors to let you run the soft-serve machines and scoop your own toppings. Burlington’s only such self-serve froyo shop is Just Peachy, and it’s your go-to when your taste buds are salivating for something sweet. You love them for their friendly service and community-minded ethos—but you especially love them for the revolving menu of creamy frozen yogurt flavors and the nearly mind-numbing array of fresh toppings available for your mixing and matching. They even have a daily happy hour for frugal froyo fans.
Where: 1767 S. Burlington Blvd., Burlington
Info: http://www.facebook.com/JustPeachyYogurt


Best Winery:

Ded Reckoning at Compass Wines

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


Best Realtor:

Sandra McKee

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The real estate market in Bellingham is fierce. With rising home prices and escalating interest rates, it’s difficult to know who to turn to make sure your investment, or future investment, is in the right hands. That’s where Sandra McKee of John L. Scott Real Estate comes in. In real estate for just over a year and a half, McKee is already making a name for herself in this incredibly competitive field. If you’re thinking about purchasing or selling real estate, consider making her your point person.
Where: 2930 Newmarket St., 111
Info: (360) 220-1782


Best Book Store:

Village Books

Chuck and Dee Robinson love books, and they set out to build a bookstore for lovers of books. They succeeded spectacularly. Through the years, changes in the book vending business have been mighty, and competitive forces have been fierce, but Village Books remains the illuminated center of Bellingham’s literary life—a place for readers, for writers, for the curious who want to more about the crafting and business of books. For decades a mainstay of Fairhaven’s main street, Chuck and Dee recently opened a second store in Lynden. Because books are a love that must be everywhere shared.
Where: 1200 11th St.; 430 Front St., Lynden
Info: http://www.villagebooks.com


Best Pot Grower:

SubX

I was a mildly high when I read the “about” section on SubX’s website, but I’m pretty sure I still would’ve giggled at their cleverly concocted descriptions even if I hadn’t been Sunday-morning stoned. In addition to explaining that Subdued Excitement grows and sells exclusively in Washington state (“near Canada”), and that their buds are 100 percent “gluten- and pesticide-free” and “hand-trimmed by hippies with decades of experience and, for the first time ever, legal jobs,” I discovered the local growers also share a love of snowboarding and Mt. Baker, and are striving for consistency, quality and sustainability in everything they do. “We are Subdued Excitement,” they surmise, “and that is exactly what we provide.”
Info: http://www.subdued-excitement.com


Best Place to Buy Pot:

2020 Solutions

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


Best Hunting and Fishing Gear:

Cabela’s

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


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 Burger:

Fiamma Burger

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


Best Toy Store:

Fairhaven Toy Garden

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


Best Sushi:

Blue Fin

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


Best Waitperson:

Caitlin Beebe, Aslan Brewing Co.

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


Best Bakery:

Mount Bakery

On a recent rainy weekend morning, the line of people waiting for a table at the downtown Bellingham location of the Mount Bakery stretched beyond the covered patio and onto the sidewalk. Those braving the elements appeared resolute—most likely dreaming of menu items such as the "Best Benny" (served atop savory Belgian waffles), crepes both savory and sweet, cinnamon rolls, scones, fruit galletes, cream puffs, lemon tarts and beyond. It was cold outside, but thanks to the promise of the locally and lovingly sourced menu items awaiting the folks in line, they were already warm on the inside.
Where: 308 W. Champion St., 1217 Harris Ave.
Info: http://www.mountbakery.com


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: http://www.facebook.com/WhiskeyFeverBand


Best Women’s Clothing Store:

Labels

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


Best 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: http://www.streatfood.com


Best Bookstore:

Village Books

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that possibly no local institution is as beloved as Village Books. Like every one of you, I have whiled away countless hours at the expansive and community-minded Fairhaven bookseller, perusing its three floors of tomes, picking up items on my reading list, and stopping to sip coffee at the Book Fare Cafe before buying a piece of fudge from Paper Dreams. And seriously, if there is any local delight sweeter than earning a free book through their Reader Rewards program, I have yet to discover it. Never change, Village Books.
Where: 1200 11th St.
Info: http://www.villagebooks.com


Best Cocktail:

Third Street Cafe

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It’s a bold claim, but I’m certain the act of imbibing a specialty cocktail at Mount Vernon’s Third Street Cafe can help save the world. In addition to the fresh fare found in both its seasonal cuisine and craft cocktails, the restaurant offshoot of the Skagit Valley Food Co-op’s C-Square is also solar-powered and is passionately committed to the local food movement—including what makes it onto your plate or into your glass. Try the cafe’s Limoncello Drop—a concoction with Valley Shine Ascension Vodka making a star turn—and find the strength to be an eco-warrior.
Where: 309 S. Third St., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.csquare.coop/third-street-cafe


Best Yoga:

Yoga Northwest

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


Best Grocery:

Community 
Food Co-op

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


Best Taphouse:

Elizabeth Station

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


Best Grocery/Best Deli/Best Vegetarian:

Skagit Valley Food Co-op

During 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
Info: http://www.skagitfoodcoop.com


Best Place to Buy Pot:

High Society

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


Best Place to Meet Women:

Temple Bar

Like 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.
Info: http://www.templebarbellingham.com


Best Casino:

The Skagit Casino Resort

Not long ago, I spent a weekend sampling the delights of the Skagit Valley Casino. From their expansive buffet that truly tested my ability to consume shameful quantities of delicious food to their robust amount of gaming tables and rotating slot machines to the top-notch entertainment that can be regularly found in its Pacific Showroom and Winners Lounge, one need not take a gamble on Vegas to have a high-rolling good time. Round out your visit with a stay in one of their rooms that range from highly affordable to all-out luxury and you might just be tempted to let it ride and never leave. I know I was.
Where: 5984 Darrk Lane, Bow
Info: http://www.theskagit.com


Best Farm:

Gordon Skagit Farms

The abundance and mystery of fall harvest season takes center stage during the Gordon Brothers’ annual autumn market. Every October on this third-generation, 250-acre spread you can score a bushel of Jonagolds from a U-pick orchard, navigate a corn maze, explore a haunted barn and immerse yourself in a gourd-friendly atmosphere that lends itself to pumpkin picking and a deeper appreciation for the down-to-earth atmosphere that permeates the flats.
Where: 15598 Mclean Rd., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.gordonskagitfarms.com


Best Farm Store/Nursery:

Country Store

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


Best 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 http://www.facebook.com/HonestTAuto


Best Yoga Studio:

Quantum Yoga

Looking to center yourself? Maybe work off a little of that winter rust? Many people seek out yoga to do both, but Skagit favors Quantum Yoga in Burlington. Not only do they have yoga, they have a juice bar. They also have classes and discounts for first-time yoga students, so if you're looking to create a little balance in your life, drop them a line.
Where: 121 S Spruce St., Burlington
Info: http://www.qhyogalounge.com


Best BBQ:

Kelley’s 
BBQ & Catering

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


Best Auto Repair:

Rising Sun Motors

For all their reliability, Japanese cars can be complicated to repair. And when your ride goes on the fritz and you need a shop dedicated to and knowledgeable about the ins and outs of your Japanese engine, transmission, brakes, mufflers and other attendant parts, you trust Rising Sun Motors. In business for almost 40 years, and willing and able to work on all cars, regardless of country of origin, they’ll keep you running strong and true.
Where: 2126 Pacific St,
Info: (360) 733-9032


Best Bike Shop:

Skagit Cycle Center

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


Best Pot Store:

Loving Farms

Rest assured you won’t get blown off at Loving Farms, where the budtenders at the Mount Vernon-based pot shop are known for being as welcoming as they are knowledgeable about the product they’re selling—whether it’s a gram of Washington Glue, a cannabis cookie, a pre-roll of Middle Fork, Northern Lights concentrate, or Orange Blossom wax. And as the only locally owned marijuana store in the city, it’s a cinch to support.
Where: 2615 Old Hwy 99 S., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.lovingfarmsmarijuanastore.com


Best Pizza:

La Fiamma

By the time this issue goes to press, the results of the nail-biting presidential election will be decided. Luckily, La Fiamma’s win for Best Pizza—our most-answered category on this year’s Best of Bellingham ballot—isn’t likely to be contested. In a city of many pizza palaces, voters ensured the wood-fired wonders at the longtime Railroad Avenue hotspot came out on top. Whether you prefer your pie topped with pepperoni, sausage, roasted potatoes, steak, shrimp, arugula or seven kinds of cheese, there’s something on the menu for everyone—regardless of what political party you affiliate yourself with.
Where: 200 E. Chestnut St.
Info: http://www.lafiamma.com


Best Brewery:


Farmstrong Brewery

The craft beer boom has hit Skagit County, and Farmstrong Brewery is bringing its best beers to the table. Their IPAs offer up an intoxicating flora and fruit profile. Mike Armstrong and Todd Owsley opened Farmstrong late last summer, and their delicious ales have quickly found their way into regional storefronts and tap handles, innovating with everything from local coffee roasters and delectable saisons. Located right off of I-5 on Stuart Road, you’re just a hop, skip and a jump away from trying an amazing pint.
Where: 110 Stewart Rd., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.facebook.com/farmstrongbrewing


Best Steak:

Max Dale’s Steak & Chop House

Max and Pauline Dale met Paul Pickering, and a legend was born along Old Highway 99. This place is like stepping back to a time when a good meal wasn’t complete unless it included a juicy steak or chop alongside a hearty vegetable, potato and green salad. Surf and turf? You got it! I take my meal in the lounge seated in a comfy high-backed booth with an expertly mixed martini. Times have never been better.
Where: 2030 Riverside Dr., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.maxdales.com


Best Italian:

D’Anna’s Cafe Italiano

I’ve been a regular at D’Anna’s since the restaurant was just big enough for a few tables and the menu consisted of three or four different kinds of homemade ravioli and a couple of choices of sauce. As it was for so many of you, it was love at first bite, and the romance only deepens with time. Everything at D’Anna’s, from the pasta to the sauces to the sausage to the focaccia bread served with every order, is homemade from D’Anna family recipes and served up by a friendly and experienced wait staff. Watching D’Anna’s cooks sauté and flambé in the restaurant’s open kitchen is the best dinner theater in town.
Where: 1317 N. State St.
Info: http://www.dannascafeitaliano.com


Best Brewery:

Wander Brewing

Colleen and Chad Kuehl pour some tasty beers from their taps, but it’s the welcoming “come as you are” atmosphere and abiding sense of old-school subdued excitement inside their converted creekside warehouse that imbues the Wander experience with an extra-savory blend of community-infused flavor. I’m quite smitten with their Shoe Toss Rye IPA and Global Mutt Baltic Porter, but I frequently leave enough room at my table to accommodate a Belgian Blond.
Where: 1807 Dean Ave.
Info: http://www.wanderbrewing.com


Best Attorney:

Aaron M. Lukoff

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Running afoul of the law to the extent that you need to seek legal counsel is never really a good time, but hiring Aaron Lukoff can almost make lawyering up fun. But don’t mistake his personable manner for a lighthearted approach to his job—he’s a fierce advocate for his clients with loads of legal experience. His counsel is wise, his rates are reasonable and he’ll even let you play the arcade games in his office’s lobby.
Where: 215 Flora St.
Info: http://www.lukofflegal.com


Best Place to Dance/Place for a First Date/Place to See Live Music/Meet-Up:

Conway Muse

Oh, Conway Muse, how do we love thee? Well, we don’t need to count the ways, we can simply count the awards this tiny-town entertainment powerhouse has racked up. This multidisciplinary artistic hub is your Skagit go-to when you seek live music, are picking a perfect spot for a first date or meet-up or you just need to dance the night away. The only thing that can possibly make a visit to the Muse even better is a cocktail (or three—we don’t judge) expertly mixed by your favorite bartender Kelly Hayton, who is always ready with a surplus of drink knowledge and her trademark warm smile. No wonder the Muse is your end-all, be-all destination for fun, year in and year out. Best Bartender: Kelly Hayton at the Conway Muse
Where: 18444 Spruce St., Conway
Info: http://www.conwaymuse.com


Best Gallery:

Dakota Art Gallery

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According to Dakota Art Gallery Director Hannah Cwiek, big changes are in the works for the two-year-old creative space abutting Cornwall Avenue's Dakota Art Supplies. Although the focus for the award-winning venue will still be on contemporary art and curated exhibits, Cwiek is hoping to make the space a nonprofit—meaning it'll be easier to host Draw-A-Thon's and other fundraisers for organizations like Northwest Youth Services, Earthjustice, Community to Community Development, and more. In November, the public can get directly involved with the gallery by coming into the store and picking up a small canvas (for free), painting on it, then turning it back in for an upcoming exhibit.
Where: 1324 Cornwall Ave.
Info: http://www.dakotaartgallery.com


Best Park:

Whatcom Falls Park

Whether 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.
Info: http://www.cob.org


Best Place for a First Date, Best Happy Hour:

Temple Bar

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


Best Grocery:

Community Food Co-op

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


Best Margarita:

Black Sheep

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


Best Gear Store:

REI

Our readers love co-ops, where memberships create a more intimate relationship with the retailer. The grandfather of these member organizations is REI, which began in Seattle in 1935 when two climbers decided they needed a better way to purchase gear. That mission still holds true, with this quality outfitter providing equipment and clothing for all seasons and elevations and adventures in Cascadia. You’re welcome!
Where: 400 36th St.
Info: http://www.rei.com/stores/bellingham


Best Italian:

La Traviata Ristorante Italiano

La 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
Info: http://www.latraviataitaliano.com


Best Performance Theatre:

DiOM Theater

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


Best Bike Shop:

Kulshan Cycles

Anyone who’s ever thrilled at the way it feels to ride a bicycle down a steep hill can likely also attest to the not-so-great feeling that occurs when you discover the brakes on your two-wheeled conveyance need some assistance. That’s where Eric and Kae Moe of Kulshan Cycles come in. When the duo took over the bike business from previous owner Jack Kimmes in 2005, Eric had already put in a decade at the Chestnut Street locale, making him an ideal successor to the now-35-year-old shop—which is known not only for its enviable selection of bike-related products, but also for the crew’s ability to fix pesky brakes (and so much more), host clinics and weekly bike rides, and sharing their love of riding with the public. (Honorable mention: Earl’s Bike Shop.)
Where: 100 E. Chestnut St.
Info: http://www.kulshancycles.com


Best News Story:

Protests

Skagit knows the importance of farming to the economy, and the importance of migrant labor to farming. Too harsh a national policy on labor, too much fear and uncertainty in a vital, irreplaceable work force and suddenly crops are threatened in the fields. Climate change, too, is a concern for the future of farms. People have taken to the streets in labor marches, they’ve assembled in protest of fossil fuel expansions, they’ve let their voices be heard in support of human dignity and personal liberty. Because Skagit is a place worth fighting for.


Best Realtor:

Sean Hackney, 
Muljat Group

It’s the most important decision and purchase you’ll make in your life—your abode, the place you express your dreams, the home you create for your family. You need someone who understands all this to walk you through—no high pressure, no feeling of being jammed—but, you know, sometimes you also need that gentle poke right at the end, affirming this is the right purchase for you and those you love. Sean grew up in Whatcom County, is invested in his community, and knows about neighborhoods and families. Because that’s what the job is really about. This was a hot category, with fierce competition among charismatic agents and their loyal, happy customers. Sean topped the list.
Info: http://www.facebook.com/SeanHackneyRealtor


Best Pet Hospital:

Maplewood Animal Hospital

Whether 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.
Info: http://www.maplewood-vet.com


Best Music Store:

Everyday Music

It is only fitting that Everyday Music and Avalon are kitty-corner from one another downtown, as they tend to trade off this category from year to year. Per usual, the battle was a close one, but when the votes were counted, Everyday Music came out ahead. Their inventory is expansive—mainstream releases and strange gems alike can be found there—their hours are conducive to lunchtime and late-night browsing, and the staff is willing to guide you on your musical journey or leave you be to browse.
Where: 115 E. Magnolia St.
Info: http://www.facebook.com/everydaymusicbellingham


Best Happy Hour:

Chuckanut Manor Seafood & Grill

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


Best Waitperson:

Wait Staff at Old Town Cafe

This is the only time the entire staff of a restaurant has won a Best of Bellingham award, and it is only fitting that the Old Town Cafe servers are the first. After all, we patiently wait in long lines every single weekend to be served scrambles, sandwiches, pancakes and plate after plate of the much-beloved Number Nine by this crackerjack and eternally sunny crew who handle the crowds—and Bellingham’s long-term love affair with the Old Town—with great skill and good humor.
Where: 316 W. Holly St.
Info: http://www.theoldtowncafe.com


Best Place to Dance, Best Place to See Live Music:

Wild Buffalo

One need look no further than the Wild Buffalo’s string of wins in the category to see that Bellingham truly does consider the venue their favorite place to see live music. The Buff's almost magical ability to entice national talent to town has made inroads into the EDM scene, snaring big house, trance, dubstep and other artists in their tractor beam, and earning them a new accolade: Best Place to Dance. Well done, Wild Buffalo.
Where: 208 W. Holly St.
Info: http://www.wildbuffalo.net


Best Coffee Shop / Barista:

Black Drop Coffee House/
Ryan Siu

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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: http://www.blackdropcoffeehouse.com


Best Asian Food/Takeout:

Rachawadee Cafe

It makes perfect sense that Rachawadee Thai Cafe would win in both of these categories. This tiny, off-the-beaten-path Mount Vernon stalwart cranks out not just the best Thai food in the Skagit Valley, but the best Thai food its many devotees have ever had—by a very long shot. Whether you show up for lunch or dinner, be prepared to wait in line, and with a very limited amount of counter seating, ordering your soups, curry and noodle dishes for takeout is often the only option. But don’t let any of that deter you—the only thing as good as the food is watching the floor show as Rachawadee’s experienced cooks work their exotic magic with seemingly pedestrian ingredients. The restaurant wins every year because it is, simply, the best.
Where: 410 W. Gates St., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.rachawadeethaicafe.com


Best Tulip Farm:

Roozengaarde

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


Best Music Festival:

Subdued 
Stringband Jamboree

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Although the pickin’ party known as the Subdued Stringband Jamboree has won in this category before, one need not gaze upon their awards to know how much Bellinghamsters love this annual event—all you have to do is make your way to the Deming Log Show Fairgrounds every August to watch festival-goers flock to the weekend-long affair, where they will dance, catch up and take in the finest old-timey and Americana bands festival founder Robert Sarazin Blake can muster. It’s a community gathering like none other, every single year.
Where: Deming Log Show Fairgrounds
Info: http://www.stringbandjamboree.com


Best Happy Hour:

Train Wreck Bar & Grill

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If you’re happy and you know it, raise your glass. The Train Wreck’s Bloody Mary always brings a laugh—it is a big freaking food pyramid pinned to the bursting of a frosty salted glass! Mine’s even loaded with a biscuit sandwich with ham and cheese. Everything else on the menu is served with equal generosity and joy. So many things to choose from and keep coming back to try. I have the hang town fry—fried oysters wrapped in an omelet. Bite in, and the hot oysters burst with a smoky applewood bacon flavor. My friend orders the chicken fried steak—the gold standard by which all dining experiences should be judged, he says.
Where: 427 E. Fairhaven Ave., Burlington
Info: http://www.trainwreckbar.com


Best Mexican:

Jalapeños

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


Best CSA:

Rabbit Fields Farm

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Every October, Rabbit Fields Farm founder Rosyln McNicholl tries to talk me out of buying her discounted garlic for fall planting purposes. “It’s not the cream of the crop,” the organic farmer says, pointing to the larger, cleaner bulbs placed atop the colorful rows of fall bounty—everything from winter squash to carrots, cabbage, potatoes, radishes, celery, herbs and beyond—she sells Saturdays at the Bellingham Farmers Market. But every July—around the time McNicholl and her team are amping up their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, which provides 20 weekly boxes of seasonal produce to lucky customers—I harvest a successful crop of summer garlic, thanks to Rabbit Fields Farm.
Info: http://www.rabbitfieldsfarm.com


Best Home Furnishings:

The Greenhouse

A denoument to the beloved and venerable store for home gear and furnishings, Chris Foss and Foster Rose have been searching for a new owner to bring the skills and customer service required for another generation of homemakers preparing for their next adventure. Chris and Foster transformed their business from a household plant and card store into a destination shopping place in the mid-1980s, helping anchor the downtown district in a time of great ferment. In the decades since, they’ve cemented the Greenhouse’s reputation for high-quality goods and services—something any new owner would be lucky to buy into.
Where: 235 Cornwall Ave.
Info: http://www.greenhouse.com


Best Brunch, Best Barista:

Camber and Gloria Baldwin

Like many of you, I wasn’t sure what to make of Camber when it first appeared on our already fairly caffeinated coffee scene. Like many of you, I have been thoroughly won over by its abundant charms. In a town where brunch is serious business, Camber’s thoughtful, creative and beautifully plated dishes stand out, and when you’re wanting coffee to wash down that delicious chicken and waffle, barista Gloria Baldwin is who you prefer to have expertly craft your life-giving elixir from one of Camber’s specialty roasts.
Where: 221 W. Holly St.
Info: http://www.cambercoffee.com


Best Coffeehouse:

Ristretto Coffee Lounge and Wine Bar

Washington is in zero shortage of coffee houses; you can typically find one on every corner. So, while the locals all know that this is the best place to get an incredible cup o’ joe, this sweet little shop is garnering a second (and third, and fourth) stop for all those traveling near (and far) coming for the Tulip Festival and every other thing the beloved Skagit Valley has to offer. The best part? You can come in for a cup of coffee in the morning, and join them again for a glass of wine in the evening.
Where: 416 S. 1st St., Mount Vernon
Info: (360) 336-0951


Best Music Store:

Hugo Helmer 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: http://www.hugohelmermusic.com


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: http://www.bellinghamautomotive.com


Best Deli:

Gere-a-Deli

Serving Anacortes cured meats, aromatic cheeses and savory soups for 35 years, Gere-a-Deli serves a magnificent sandwich, piled high with lots of options. I gravitate toward the classic styles—the meatloaf sandy, the chicken salad, the Italian sub—but there’s modern and vegetarian gourmet selections, too. On this chilly rainy day I ordered the housemade tomato soup and a toasted mozzarella cheese sandwich. It was like stepping back into the best days childhood.
Where: 502 Commercial Ave. Anacortes
Info: http://www.gereadeli.com


Best Band:

Whiskey Fever

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Jack Mattingly first realized he wanted to be a musician when he was in the fourth grade. Presumably, he spent the time between then and now honing his craft and luring other likeminded music-makers to help him realize that dream. The result is Whiskey Fever, a four-piece band that describes itself as “rocky-tonk acousta-billy,” with definite indie rock leanings. In other words, their catchy songs of love and life fall right in line with the impressive regional musical tradition they’re part of, which probably has a little something to do with why so many of you voted for them in this hotly contested category.
Info: http://www.facebook.com/WhiskeyFeverBand


Best Bike Shop:

The HUB

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Oh, the bike lovers’ lament—a major student housing project has displaced the Alley Arts District on State Street, and along with it the HUB Community Bike Shop. The HUB is an innovative project and community space that rescues and refurbishes donated bike parts and makes them available for custom builds. They offer full-service repairs and tune-ups, in addition to a self-repair station with tools so you can be an expert in fixing your own bike. They’ve lost their home—they closed up shop in September—but not their fire. Never fear, they’re moving into a new location with a new lease near Wander Brewing. Details to come.
Info: Info: http://www.thebikehub.org


Best Park:

Boulevard Park

I’ve now spent more than a year living with a bird’s-eye view of the city’s most popular park, and I can say, I’m impressed with you, Bellingham. No matter the weather—rain, wind, freezing cold, a combo of all three—you can be found running its trails, frolicking on its lawn and taking time out on its benches. You skinny dip in Bellingham Bay during the summer, and stand at the water’s edge and let the spray drench you during the winter. You love Boulevard Park, and it is lucky to have you.
Where: South State Street and Bayview Drive
Info: http://www.cob.org


Best Food Truck:

StrEAT Food

I’ve been known to cajole my boyfriend into spending Saturday mornings ferrying me to garage sales by promising to buy him a post-bartering lunch at StrEAT Food. It’s an easy sell. Since James and Poem Pitzer’s multiple-award-winning mobile food truck is typically parked at one of the two Kulshan Brewing Company locales or at the nearby Wander Brewing, I order our favorite items from the short-but-amazing menu—a mouthwatering chicken artichoke sandwich for me, a savory lamb gyro pita for him, large fries, plus an order of vanilla crème brulee when we need a treat—while he grabs us each a cold beer and a place to sit. All in all, we both get a great deal.
Where: Kulshan Brewing Co., Wander Brewing
Info: http://www.streatfood.me


Best Bed & Breakfast:

The Nantucket Inn

Coastal confusion can be found in the Nantucket Inn's moniker, but when visitors wake up in the 1920s-era colonial mansion and behold views of Fidalgo Bay and Mt. Baker, they'll know without a doubt they're in Anacortes, not New England. And, once they're sitting at the breakfast table, proprietors Jessica and Mike Ferguson will share with their guests how to further enjoy a visit to the valley they've called home for more than 20 years.
Where: 3402 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: http://www.nantucketinnanacortes.com


Best Theater:

Lincoln Theatre

In April alone, Mount Vernon’s Lincoln Theatre will host performances by Six Gun Sal, Jet City Improv, high school jazz bands from around Skagit County, the SVA Rainbow Alliance Drag Show, and a return engagement by perennially popular comedian Paula Poundstone. Additionally, a big-screen viewing of The Kid will help celebrate the venue’s 92nd anniversary. To find out how to get involved with the storied space—which has won this coveted award umpteen times—the month will also include open houses April 20-22 during the Tulip Festival Street Fair. Take a tour, browse the selection of film posters for sale, listen to tunes being played on the Mighty Wurlitzer, and learn about how you can help make the magic happen.
Where: 712 S. First St., Mount Vernon
Info: http://www.lincolntheatre.org


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Village Books

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