Best of Skagit 2016
Best Music Festival:
Riverwalk Summer Concert SeriesOne thing we do exceedingly well in this corner of the Pacific Northwest is marry our love of music to our love of our lovely outdoor spaces. Nowhere is that more evident than at Mount Vernon’s Riverwalk Plaza every Thursday night from the beginning of July until September. That’s where the Riverwalk Summer Concert Series takes place, which is free, family-friendly and open to all. This year’s series features the likes of the Chris Eger Band, Rabbit Wilde, the Geoffrey Castle Trio, Polecat, Rivertalk, and more. The events are designed not only to entertain, but also to draw people to Mount Vernon’s Riverwalk, a beautifully scenic spot that was almost a decade in the making.
Where: Riverwalk Plaza, Mount Vernon
Best Women’s Clothing Store:
LabelsI’ve lived in Bellingham for 10 years. I’ve been frequenting Labels for approximately nine years, nine months, and a few days, give or take. Sage Bishop and her savvy staff have clearly been doing something very right, as they’ve won this award for the last several years—and 2017 is no exception. From new to lightly used shoes, purses, dresses, jewelry, clothing, home goods and more, Labels has everything in style needed for your wardrobe and home. I, for one, can’t wait for the next 10 years of being a loyal Labels lover.
Where: 2332 James Street, 3927 Northwest Ave.
Fiamma BurgerBellingham’s burger scene is ripe with mouthwatering offerings, but Fiamma Burger—the offspring of the award-winning La Fiamma—stands apart from the crowd. Similar to Fiamma’s pizza, their burgers feature top-notch flavors, all the sides you could wish for and a dizzying array of innovative combos. Head on down to their Railroad Avenue location and take a seat overlooking the street. On your first bite, you’ll know precisely why they were voted Bellingham’s Best Burger. P.S. Don’t forget about the milkshakes.
Where: 1309 Railroad Ave.
Taste of IndiaThe Hindu gods have many hands and many mouths, as though in mirrors facing one another, reflecting infinity. I often think of this while poring over the menu in the brightly lit, many-mirrored dining area of Taste of India, longing for so many more hands, more mouths to enjoy all of their savory vindaloo and biryani and tandoori dishes served with buttery naan—the flavors of eternal summer. Their vegetarian menu alone is the most generous in the city. On Fridays, they have dancers—their hands, their mouths awash with light.
Where: 3930 Meridian St.
Where: Swinomish Casino & Lodge, 12885 Casino Dr., Anacortes
Where: 521 Kentucky St.
Calm Water Massage:
Calm Water MassageMount Vernon-based massage therapist Traci Fralic has been known to make house calls, but that's far from the only reason Calm Water Massage has won this award seven years in a row. "Complete body relaxation" is touted at the Pine Square locale, and if being free of assorted aches and pains isn't enough of a reason to book an appointment, consider the wonder that is the "Raindrop Technique."
Where: 312 Pine St., Mount Vernon
Best Margarita, Best Bartender:
Brendan O’Neill @ Black Sheep
Where: 211 W. Holly St.
Best Credit Union:
WECUBuying a home is daunting. It’s the most significant financial decision you’ll make in your whole life (there’s a reason it’s called a mortgage), and very few people are both experts on the topic and friends you can trust. WECU practically holds master classes on home equity and home finance, and has a dedicated staff to help guide you in your financial decisions. WECU is Whatcom County’s largest financial institution, with more than 98,000 members. Banks are for-profit; credit unions are not-for-profit. This means that credit unions do not have to put profit first. And that means they can put their members first with higher savings rates and lower interest rates.
Where: 600 E. Holly St., and numerous other community branches
Best Fast Food:
Where: 310 N. Samish Way
Where: 1200 11th St., Bellingham, and 403 Front St., Lynden
Best Place to See Live Music:
Where: 208 W. Holly St.
Best Performance Theatre:
Where: 205 Prospect St.
Info: [url=http://www.idiomtheater.com]http://www.idiomtheater.com[/url] or www.sylviacenterforthearts.org
D’Anna’s Cafe ItalianoI’ve been a regular at D’Anna’s since the restaurant was just big enough for a few tables and the menu consisted of three or four different kinds of homemade ravioli and a couple of choices of sauce. As it was for so many of you, it was love at first bite, and the romance only deepens with time. Everything at D’Anna’s, from the pasta to the sauces to the sausage to the focaccia bread served with every order, is homemade from D’Anna family recipes and served up by a friendly and experienced wait staff. Watching D’Anna’s cooks sauté and flambé in the restaurant’s open kitchen is the best dinner theater in town.
Where: 1317 N. State St.
Calico CupboardDespite April showers dampening the world outside, it’s all smiles and friendly faces when you walk through the door of Calico Cupboard. There’s a warm buzz in the air, servers expertly weaving in between full tables of happy customers and the smell of heavenly baked goods summoned from every corner. A trio of amazing locations to visit in Skagit Valley mean you can try all of their winning categories. Three cheers all around.
Where: 720 1st St., La Conner; 901 Commercial Ave., Anacortes; 121-B Freeway Dr., Mount Vernon
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 Gear Store:
REIThe mountain is cold this morning. An early mist lifts from the river, above its rush is a promise of blue. I shiver a bit from a light sweat from the bike ride down here, and zip up my fleece. From here it is an hour’s climb to the meadow, wildflowers gone but not yet touched by frost. Off-season is the best season. Get out there.
Where: 400 36th St.
Best News Story:
Protesting KidsAs they did across the country, hundreds of students throughout Skagit County walked out of their classrooms last month as part of a national demonstration to honor the victims of shootings, to call attention to gun violence and demand change. They’ve taken up signs and have marched for indigenous rights, for farm labor rights, for environmental justice, for the rights of immigrants and displaced and oppressed people. They’re only just getting started, and now they’re registering to vote. Children are our future; and these kids make us proud.
Best Theater Company:
iDiOM Theater at the Sylvia Center
Where: 205 Prospect Street
Info: [url=http://www.idiomtheater.com]http://www.idiomtheater.com[/url] or www.sylviacenterforthearts.org
Best Bike Shop:
Kulshan CyclesAnyone who’s ever thrilled at the way it feels to ride a bicycle down a steep hill can likely also attest to the not-so-great feeling that occurs when you discover the brakes on your two-wheeled conveyance need some assistance. That’s where Eric and Kae Moe of Kulshan Cycles come in. When the duo took over the bike business from previous owner Jack Kimmes in 2005, Eric had already put in a decade at the Chestnut Street locale, making him an ideal successor to the now-35-year-old shop—which is known not only for its enviable selection of bike-related products, but also for the crew’s ability to fix pesky brakes (and so much more), host clinics and weekly bike rides, and sharing their love of riding with the public. (Honorable mention: Earl’s Bike Shop.)
Where: 100 E. Chestnut St.
Best Food Truck:
StrEAT FoodI’ve been known to cajole my boyfriend into spending Saturday mornings ferrying me to garage sales by promising to buy him a post-bartering lunch at StrEAT Food. It’s an easy sell. Since James and Poem Pitzer’s multiple-award-winning mobile food truck is typically parked at one of the two Kulshan Brewing Company locales or at the nearby Wander Brewing, I order our favorite items from the short-but-amazing menu—a mouthwatering chicken artichoke sandwich for me, a savory lamb gyro pita for him, large fries, plus an order of vanilla crème brulee when we need a treat—while he grabs us each a cold beer and a place to sit. All in all, we both get a great deal.
Where: Kulshan Brewing Co., Wander Brewing
Pieter VanZandenIn Edison-based artist Pieter VanZanden's hands, plastic bottles become barnacles and mollusks, wood is magicked into beaks and tentacles, and plastic army men woven together turn into a life-sized sculpture of a soldier. A construction worker with a creative bent, VanZanden's works can be viewed April 30 at the Edison Studio Tour and during the month of May at Smith & Vallee Gallery's 10th anniversary exhibit. "Edison is where dreams come true," the emerging artist says of his hometown. Indeed.
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
Ryan Stiles and Misha Collins
Info: [url=http://www.theupfront.com]http://www.theupfront.com[/url] or www.randomacts.org
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.
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 Pot Grower:
Trail Blazin’ Productions
Best Clothing Store:
LabelsThanks to an $18 store credit a bestie gifted me with when she left town, a recent visit to Labels’ James Street locale resulted in the price of my purchase—a cute-but-casual dress from Ambrielle, a form-fitting Miracle City sweater, and two fancy throw pillow covers from the store’s housewares section—being a measly two cents. Although I felt like a criminal, it was a legit deal. My friend had consigned clothes, which had since been sold, or donated to We Care or Ragfinery. That $18 credit was hers (now mine) to spend on other low-priced, high-quality items at the bustling business. All in all, was a win-win situation.
Where: 2332 James St.; 3927 Northwest Ave.
Best Yoga Studio:
Quantum Health and Yoga Lounge
Where: 121 Spruce St., Burlington
Best Bike Store:
Skagit CycleLucky for all of us fair-weather bikers, we're entering prime biking season. It's time to pull those two-wheelers out of their sheds and send them in for a little TLC at Skagit Cycle. Or maybe you just need a new one. They have more than 1,000 bikes in stock and have three locations, so start looking.
Where: Anacortes, Burlington, Oak Harbor
Top News Story:
#MeToo and Bellingham’s (Alleged) Bad MenFrom the restaurant sector to professional and political spheres, from up on the hill at WWU to down at the brewery, men in Bellingham have really outdone themselves, being accused of the full bingo card of sexual misconduct—groping, sexually assaulting and harassing, and exposing themselves to women who, frankly, are fed up and not having it. To the women who have come forward: Thank you. We see you. We admire your courage and we support you. To any confused men trying to navigate these rapidly changing times and wondering under what circumstances it is appropriate to show someone your penis: Keep it in your pants. If you have not gotten permission, you do not have consent. When we want to see it, we’ll ask.
Best Day Trip:
Birdsview BreweryBeer is a big deal in Cascadia. This is reinforced when the Best Day Trip category is won by a brewery. I've often stopped by Birdsview on my way past and snagged a growler before heading to epic adventures in the Cascades. Make sure to roll through on your next Skagit adventure.
Where: 38302 Washington 20, Concrete
Shambala Bakery & Bistro
Where: 614 S. First St., Mount Vernon
Best Pot Store:
Herbal Legends CannabisBefore recreational marijuana was legalized, the Healthy Living Center in Bellingham earned a reputation for stocking high-quality and effective medical cannabis for those able to purchase it under doctor’s orders. When Washington legalized the plant unilaterally, the family-owned business continued to offer superior products and service, but changed its name to Herbal Legends and opened another store in Mount Vernon. So whether you’re searching for flowers, wax, vape cartridges or edibles, rest assured the cannabis consultants at Herbal Legends still put the needs of their customers first.
Where: 2714 Henson Rd., Mount Vernon
Home SkilletDon’t be daunted by the line that forms outside Home Skillet on weekend mornings—well, most mornings. If you’ve visited the Sunnyland staple before, you know the food prepared by co-owner Kirby White is well worth the wait. Once you’ve made it inside the small-but-mighty eatery, don’t dither. Place your order with Tina White or one of the other no-nonsense waitstaff—whether it’s for giant platters of biscuits and sausage or chorizo gravy, a poutine “skillet,” cinnamon roll French toast, a meat-and-egg-filled “Barnyard,” corned beef so tasty it’ll make you eat more than you wanted to, or a breakfast burrito big enough to feed the entire table—eat what you can (trust us, you’ll have leftovers), then scram. Someone else is waiting to eat breakfast, and they’re hungry.
Where: 521 Kentucky St.
The Skagit Casino ResortNot long ago, I spent a weekend sampling the delights of the Skagit Valley Casino. From their expansive buffet that truly tested my ability to consume shameful quantities of delicious food to their robust amount of gaming tables and rotating slot machines to the top-notch entertainment that can be regularly found in its Pacific Showroom and Winners Lounge, one need not take a gamble on Vegas to have a high-rolling good time. Round out your visit with a stay in one of their rooms that range from highly affordable to all-out luxury and you might just be tempted to let it ride and never leave. I know I was.
Where: 5984 Darrk Lane, Bow
Cafe AkroteriI’ve been spending time at Cafe Akroteri on and off for nearly 20 years, and recently realized I love it as much for its dolmathes, spanikopita and souvlaki as I do for its welcoming atmosphere. Here, I’ve gathered with friends, coworkers and strangers—typically in the roomy bar, where the tables can easily be moved together as the party expands—for Christmas parties, political discussions, pre-concert dinners and romantic interludes. It’s here you can also take advantage of the smokin’ bar special—a gyro and a beer for $10.50.
Where: 1219 Cornwall Ave.
Best Movie Theater:
Pickford Film CenterThe Pickford Film Center’s string of wins in this category remains unbroken, and few arts organizations in Bellingham are more beloved than the no-longer-tiny-but-definitely mighty movie theater that brings the best in independent, foreign and genre films you won’t find anywhere else. Right now, the PFC is in the middle of its annual Doctober event, and by the time it concludes, 60 documentaries will show on its three screens. With programs like Doc-ED, its volunteer staff and support of and involvement with other nonprofits and community-minded organizations, the PFC lives up to its “more than movies” motto 365 days a year.
Where: 1318 Bay St., 1416 Cornwall Ave.
Where: Pacific NW Trail, Bow
Best Auto Dealer:
Foothills ToyotaOver the rivers and through the hills, you can tell a lot about a Skagitonian by the rigs they drive. These are sensible cars, with an eye toward rugged off-road capacity. They’re imports mostly, which means good fuel-efficiency and full features. Where Skagitonians buy their rigs says just as much—high value at a good low price from a family dealership that’s been selling cars for just about as long as there have been cars.
Where: 1881 Bouslog Rd., Burlington
Info: (360) 757-7575
Wander BrewingColleen and Chad Kuehl pour some tasty beers from their taps, but it’s the welcoming “come as you are” atmosphere and abiding sense of old-school subdued excitement inside their converted creekside warehouse that imbues the Wander experience with an extra-savory blend of community-infused flavor. I’m quite smitten with their Shoe Toss Rye IPA and Global Mutt Baltic Porter, but I frequently leave enough room at my table to accommodate a Belgian Blond.
Where: 1807 Dean Ave.
Best Ski Shop:
Where: 214 W. Holly St.
Silver Reef Hotel Casino Spa
Where: 4876 Haxton Way, Ferndale
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.
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
Whiskey FeverThis is not Whiskey Fever’s first win in this category, and if frontman Jack Mattingly has his way, it won’t be their last. Mattingly decided while still in grade school that he wanted to be a musician, and he’s been making that childhood dream come true ever since. He played solo for a minute, and then found a crew of likeminded music-makers that became Whiskey Fever. The rest is history in the making.
Best 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
Best Craft Cocktail, Best Waitperson:
Swim Club and Dennis Schafer
Where: 1147 11th St.
Max Dale’s Steak & Chop HouseSkagit is not the most “politically correct” place on earth—and when it comes to surf and turf, that’s a good thing! Max Dale’s serves steaks and chops thick and juicy for the appetite of a lion. The atmosphere is classic, like an airy lodge, but the menu is modern, and the trimmings include fresh vegetables and roasted potatoes alongside a mixed green salad. Old school, I order a Beefeater martini, and it is expertly mixed—stirred, not shaken—and immaculately presented. My date orders a side car. The happy hour specials go on and on. Life is good.
Where: 2030 Riverside Dr., Mount Vernon
Garden Spot Nursery
Where: 900 Alabama St.
Best Cannabis Product:
Best Cocktail :
RedlightAt the Redlight, many of the cocktails come with musical connotations, but no matter how fierce their titles might be—treat yourself to a Reign in Blood, Le Butcherette or Warm Gun—they are mixed by an excellent crew of bartenders from ingredients that are made in-house wherever and whenever possible. That means the strawberry/peppercorn vodka for my Blonde Redhead is infused on the premises, and the hot apple cider for my seasonally available Autumn Sweater is probably mulled by the person taking my drink order. The same thoughtfulness permeates the small spot tucked away on State Street, which is how it has come to occupy such a big spot in our hearts.
Where: 1017 N. State St.
Best Hunting and Fishing Gear:
Cabela’sWell, it ain’t strictly in Skagit, but who’s fussing? Cabela’s is like REI for people who hunt things. And who eat the things they hunt around a camp stove. I love wandering this outfitter’s jungle, the thickets of rods and reels, the racks of boats and canoes, critter dioramas at every turn, and the gun library where every stock and caliber has a story and a staffer who can tell it. When you’re ready to hit the rivers and woods of the high country, make Cabela’s your first stop.
Where: 9810 Quil Ceda Blvd., Marysville
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.
Where: 1200 11th St.
Best Toy Store:
Fairhaven Toy Garden
Where: 909 Harris Ave.
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
Whatcom Family YMCAThe Whatcom Family YMCA is exploring a partnership with the City of Bellingham to expand the Arne Hanna Aquatic Center near Civic Field into a new community health and wellness center and headquarters for the YMCA. It’s a move that is sure to leverage and increase the many wonderful recreation fitness and family activities the YMCA provides—but as someone who has enjoyed the downtown facility for two decades, I can’t help but feel a little gut-punched by the news. It’s like losing an old friend who’s moving to a new neighborhood. The board of directors will evaluate the plan by April 2019. Until then, I’ll work on getting into better shape for a longer jog over to Lakeway.
Where: 1256 N. State St.
Best Grocery Store:
Skagit Valley Food Co-op
Where: 202 South First Street, Mount Vernon
SunnylandWhat makes a great neighborhood? Well, one that is walkable, with tree-lined streets and ample parks, nearby services and entertainment. One that allows people to work from or near their homes. Many artists have moved to Sunnyland for exactly that reason, so they can run a studio out of their home—and that has produced a flourishing local arts community. Sunnyland is a nucleus for many of the favorite haunts and hangouts cited in this year’s reader survey. That dynamism has a downside, too, and Sunnyland is experiencing some growing pains from its tangy mix of industrial and commercial uses in proximity to family homes. Friends, an outdoor beer garden is a heartbreaking thing to quarrel about! I predict they’ll soon solve those problems, and continue to claim their crown as Bellingham’s favorite neighborhood. Info: [url=http://www.sunnylandneighborhood.com]http://www.sunnylandneighborhood.com[/url]
Adara Salon & SpaSince 1988, Adara Salon & Spa has been putting the “care” in phrases such as “hair care,” “skin care” and “nail care.” Whether you’re seeking a new look for your locks, a feel-good facial, bridal services, deep-tissue massage or nearly anything involving trimming, waxing, polishing and tinting, the team members at the Aveda salon in Mount Vernon are there to make you feel and look your best. Are you worth it? You know you are.
Where: 1019 Cleveland Ave., Mount Vernon
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 Auto Repair:
JP AutomotiveThe Ford Ranger had a worrisome shudder, and the guys at JP Automotive took me right in. Gave me a loaner so I could tool around town while they worked. The repair didn’t hit my wallet too hard, but the guys told me it could have been avoided with some regular maintenance. Well, I’ve been back ever since.
Where: 1304 Memorial Hwy., Mount Vernon
Info: (360) 336-3496
Wallace FarmsI love potatoes. Perhaps it’s my Irish heritage, but if given the opportunity, I’d eat them at every meal. So when readers voted the potato-centered Wallace Farms as Best Farm, my excitement level for writing about the beloved spud was much higher than it probably should have been. The Skagit Valley has incredible growing conditions for taters—red, white, yellow, purple and russet—but it’s the Wallace family that has stayed tried and true to what they grow for more than 100 years. And to you, dear Wallaces, I tip my hat. Thank you.
Where: 10412 Chuckanut Dr., Burlington
Pure Bliss DessertsMuch to the delight of our collective sweet tooth, there’s more competition than ever in Bellingham for this category. But with its newly expanded space that allows the expert bakers of Pure Bliss more square footage to craft the cakes, cupcakes and other confections that are their stock in trade, and more display cases to show them off, Pure Bliss earned the lion’s share of the votes once again. Maybe it’s the rotating monthly cheesecake that did it. Or the gluten-free carrot cake. Or the chocolate bliss cupcakes. Or the lemon wedge. Or the Belgian chocolate torte. Or the sea salt chocolate chip cookies…
Where: 1424 Cornwall Ave.
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 Place to Meet Men:
Sin and Gin Tour
Where: 217 W Holly St.
Best Slots/Best Card Tables:
Skagit Valley Casino ResortWay before the I-5 exit for the Skagit Valley Casino appears, travelers can see bright, well-lit signs beckoning them to pull over and test their luck. And judging by the number of votes we tallied for the Best Slots and Best Card Tables categories, it’s something our readers do on a regular basis. While some may come to hear big-name acts such as Melissa Manchester—who will be performing at the Pacific Showroom in late April—or enjoy a night away the casino’s hotel, others are there to test their skills at the card table or hoping to encounter lady luck at the slot machine. Whatever your reason for stopping by, it’s not a gamble to say you’ll have a good time.
Where: 5984 Darrk Lane, Bow
In Vino VeritasOh, Bellingham! it appears our readers aren’t exactly sure what a winery is, you named so many choices. Some readers named vintners. A favorite was Vinostrology, a cozy wine nook with a unique wine station dispensary and cheese plates perfect to share with friends. Others named vendors and wine merchants like Seifert & Jones, with their outstanding regional and international selections—many excellent choices priced under $20 per bottle. As far as actual wineries, you chose Moon Alchemy Wine, an exciting adventure of flavors old and new from winemakers Geneviève and Matthew Stirling. We’ll note that cider is also a fermented fruit product, and there are several of these new businesses in Bellingham. We’ll add it as a new category next year. Where: Vinostrology Wine Lounge and Merchant, 120 W. Holly St. Info: [url=http://www.vinostrology.com]http://www.vinostrology.com[/url] Where: Seifert & Jones, 19 Prospect St. Info: [url=http://www.sjwinemerchants.com]http://www.sjwinemerchants.com[/url] Where: Moon Alchemy Wine, 301 W. Holly St. Info: [url=http://www.moonalchemywine.com]http://www.moonalchemywine.com[/url]
PRIME Massage & Sports MedicineIf there’s anything aging has taught me, it’s that bodies don’t bounce back when they’re in their 40s as easily as they do when they’re in their 20s. Luckily, people like PRIME Massage & Sports Medicine’s Kerry Gustafson are there to help. In addition to getting out the kinks associated with the regular wear-and-tear of human musculature, Kerry also prescribes exercises and wellness hints as a way to stop the pain before it starts. She must be doing something right, as this is her fourth consecutive win in this category.
Where: 1433 N. State St.
Pure Bliss DessertsConfession: I visit Pure Bliss at least once a week, I have tried nearly everything they bake and I am only too happy to vouch for all of it. Judging by how many of you I see there purchasing a slice of cake, a six-pack of assorted cupcakes, cookies, bars and more, you’re regular visitors as well. At the moment, nothing in the dessert cases at Pure Bliss is nearly as exciting as the sweet sounds of construction—a soon-to-be-finished renovation project will see the Cornwall Avenue shop double its footprint, and I have been assured that the already plentiful and varied selection of treats will only become more so. Challenge accepted, Pure Bliss.
Where: 1424 Cornwall Ave.
Best Bloody Mary Best Patio Seating:
Bayou On Bay
Where: 1300 Bay St.
Where: 712 S. First St., Mount Vernon
Best Place to Dance/Place to See Live Music/Best Bartender:
Where: 18444 Spruce St., Conway
La Fiamma Wood Fire Pizza
Where: 200 E. Chestnut St.
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 Brunch/Bloody Mary:
Trainwreck Bar & Grill
Where: 427 E. Fairhaven Ave., Burlington
Best Auto Repair:
Bellingham AutomotiveWhen it comes to your vehicle, the team at Bellingham Automotive knowns exactly how important service is to keep your major purchase running. And regardless if your ride is brand-new or has seen better days, their commitment to excellence in providing you with support and service ensures your safety on the road—not only for now, but for years to come. Their impressive expertise in both foreign and domestic vehicles will also leave you with peace of mind. During October, they’ll even check your battery for free.
Where: 4416 Hannegan Rd.
Best Band/Musician :
Best Place to Get a Massage:
Prime Sports Institute
Where: 1704 N. State St.
Aaron M. Lukoff
Where: 215 Flora St.
Best Outdoor Seating, Best Bloody Mary:
Bayou on Bay
Where: 1300 Bay St.
Best Happy Hour:
Rock and Rye
Where: 1145 N. State St.
COA Mexican EateryIt doesn’t say so on their online menu, but if you visit Mount Vernon’s COA Mexican Eatery at lunchtime—which takes place from 11am-4pm, extending the daytime repast nearly to dinnertime—the prices on many of their award-winning menu items are significantly reduced. On a recent visit, my date was agog at the deal we got on $5 Friday margaritas (made with agave tequila and syrup), three “indescribably good” pork tacos with rice and beans and, hands-down, the best taco salad I’ve ever eaten in my life. The ingredients in our meals were simple, but the flavors were complex, lively and addiction-forming. We’ll be back, COA, and soon. In fact, I’ve got your chile relleno in my sights.
Where: 102 S. 10th St., Mount Vernon
Best Bike Store:
Fanatik Bike Co.
Where: 1812 N. State St.
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 Mexican Food:
COA Mexican Eatery La ConnerLa Conner, place of many delights, is not the first destination that comes to mind when we crave Mexican food. But COA Mexican Eatery aims to change that with every taco, enchilada and appropriately named Burrito Loco they sell. This is not your standard Mexican fare. Everything, from its 30-plus-ingredient mole sauce to its slow-roasted meats and right on down to its addictive guacamole, is made from scratch. Tuesdays get you one-dollar tacos, while five-dollar margaritas (their tequila selection is enviable, to say the least) can be had on Fridays. Take your Mexican cravings to La Conner and COA.
Where: 214 Maple Ave., La Conner
Best Pet Store:
Bellingham Pet SupplyWe are a community of pet owners and we put a lot of consideration into how we feed and care for our pets, if the number of truly great pet stores around here is any indication. Recently joining their ranks is Bellingham Pet Supply, which is owned by lifelong local Julian Friedman. A carefully chosen array of products to keep your creatures happy and healthy, free delivery and homegrown ownership by a guy who is the proud owner of three adorably weird-looking dogs are just a few of the reasons you’ve deemed this newcomer to be the best.
Where: 1701 N. State St.
Ristretto Coffee Lounge and Wine Bar
Where: 416 S. 1st St., Mount Vernon
Eagle Haven WineryThe artisan libations Eagle Haven Winery crafts from the fruits of its lush orchards near Sedro-Woolley are worth pulling off the freeway to procure, but visitors shouldn’t just grab their purchases and go. Whether you’re sipping a glass of raspberry wine by the fire in the tasting room, touring the vineyard, listening to live music as part of an outdoor summer concert series, or dropping by the inaugural farmers market—which opens in late May—there’s always something to experience at Eagle Haven.
Where: 8243 Sims Rd., Sedro-Woolley
Ristretto Coffee Lounge and Wine BarWashington is in zero shortage of coffee houses; you can typically find one on every corner. So, while the locals all know that this is the best place to get an incredible cup o’ joe, this sweet little shop is garnering a second (and third, and fourth) stop for all those traveling near (and far) coming for the Tulip Festival and every other thing the beloved Skagit Valley has to offer. The best part? You can come in for a cup of coffee in the morning, and join them again for a glass of wine in the evening.
Where: 416 S. 1st St., Mount Vernon
Info: (360) 336-0951
Best Hardware Store:
ACE Hardware AncaortesDesigned as one stop for all your springtime needs—from lawn and garden equipment to paint, electrical and plumbing supplies for seasonal home repair. When you’re done with all the hard and heavy work, there’s even a section for recreational outdoors and sporting goods—and, yes, lawn furniture if you’re truly exhausted.
Where: 1720 Q Avenue, Anacortes
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.
Old World DeliI can no longer remember a time before Old World Deli existed in my life and I no longer want to. The State Street mainstay could probably get by on its carefully curated wine selection and selection of house made, cured and smoked meats alone, but that’s just the tip of a very tasty iceberg. Because they have all the fixins—pasta, sauces, cheeses, and exotic relishes, condiments and spices—for you to make your own meal. Or, if you’re lazy like me, they’ll make you a perfect sandwich, salad or bowl of soup from their premium ingredients. I generally go for the sandwiches on the specials board, but sometimes only a #12 will do.
Where: 1228 N. State St.
Best Pot Store:
Where: 2018 Iron St., 5655 Guide Meridian, 4770 Pacific Hwy.
Farm to Market Bakery
Where: 5507 Chuckanut Drive, Bow
Where: 1000 Harris Ave.