Best of Skagit 2016

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


Best Asian:

On Rice

There’s something so cozy about Thai food and fall. On Rice has been crowned as the winner once again for Best Asian, and with three Bellingham-based locations, you’re just a few minutes away at any given time. Got a hunger pang for Panang? A passion for potstickers? Feelin' nice with fried rice? No need to slow your egg roll, because today—and every day—is the perfect day for yum.
Where: 209 N. Samish Way, 1224 Harris Ave., 2200 Rimland Dr. #100
Info: [url=http://www.onricethai.com]http://www.onricethai.com[/url]


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


Best Toy Store:

Fairhaven Toy Garden

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


Best Bike Store:

Skagit Cycle

Lucky 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
Info: [url=http://www.skagitcyclecenter.com]http://www.skagitcyclecenter.com[/url]


Best Trail:

Oyster Dome

Now that the 1,600-acre core of Blanchard Mountain has finally achieved long-overdue status as a protected “Natural Area,” we can run/hike/crawl up to Oyster Dome without suffering under the threat of losing one of our most mature and deeply cherished coastal forest ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest to ever-encroaching clear-cuts. It took a sizable land swap, plus a $10 million allocation from Washington State Legislature, to ensure that Washington Department of Natural Resources will henceforth manage this landscape for conservation and recreational uses instead of turning its timber into cash. But everybody comes out a winner in this decisive hard-fought victory of the Blanchard Mountain Strategy Group.
Info: [url=http://www.wta.org]http://www.wta.org[/url]


Best Shoe Store:

Mi Shoes

When we say Michelle Bouma is consistently putting her best foot forward, it’s not just a clever play on words. Since starting the mini-but-mighty Mi Shoes on Bellingham’s Railroad Avenue 11 years ago, the energetic entrepreneur has expanded her fashionable realm. These days, you’ll also find the products of her keen eye for what women want to wear at Commercial Street’s Heroine, and at Mi Shoes Lynden, which is expected to open sometime this week. Look for a grand opening celebration there Nov. 12, and rest assured that, in the meantime, the award-winning downtown Bellingham store is going strong.
Where: 1315 Railroad Ave., 511 Front St., Lynden
Info: [url=http://www.mishoes.com]http://www.mishoes.com[/url]


Best Pizza:

La Fiamma

fiamma.jpg
It takes me approximately 100 steps from the lobby of the Herald Building to one of my favorite lunch spots, La Fiamma, where I eat approximately twice a week. While there’s surely no shortage of pizza joints in Bellingham, Fiamma continually steps out of the just-your-average-pie constraints. Fiamma now does brunch on the weekends, and has breakfast pizza—including Eggs Benedict Pizza. This menu item combines two of my favorite things and solidifies that, in combination with its fantastic pizza (and everything else off the menu), one-stop-shop Pye Hole (not just for late night anymore!) and brunch, I’ll never need to go anywhere else for all things ‘za.
Where: 200 E. Chestnut St.
Info: [url=http://www.lafiamma.com]http://www.lafiamma.com[/url]


Best Cocktail :

Redlight

At 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.
Info: [url=http://www.redlightbellingham.com]http://www.redlightbellingham.com[/url]


Best Music Store:

Everyday Music

In 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.
Info: [url=http://www.everydaymusic.com]http://www.everydaymusic.com[/url]


Best Salon:

Honey Salon

Walking through the doors of Honey Salon, you feel like you’ve traveled outside our little corner of the PNW and into a swanky salon in New York City; warm, exposed brick walls, wood floors, beautiful lighting, comfy window seats—you feel stylish upon entering. But the design aesthetic is nothing compared to the beauty within the hands of the people that make up Honey. The artists behind the shears are committed to giving you their best, while making you look yours. Traditional services apply (cuts, color), but Honey also offers sugaring, makeup, straight shaves and more. Turns out the sweetest Honey is found in our own backyard.
Where: 310 W. Holly Street
Info: [url=http://www.honeybellingham.com]http://www.honeybellingham.com[/url]


Best Neighborhood:

Sunnyland

What 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]


Best Auto Repair:

Bellingham Automotive

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


Best Place to Dance/Best Place to Meet Men & Women/Best Bartender:

The Old Edison Inn/Audra Robson

At least one Weekly staffer had a first date at the Old Edison Inn that turned into a long-term relationship, and so can vouch for the seductive powers of its oysters and burgers, its shuffleboard tables, its dance floor and its welcoming small-town vibe. That same staffer knows that after making the drive to Bow, there’s nothing better than walking in the door to the Edison and seeing bartender Audra Robson grinning from behind the bar, ready with an enthusiastic greeting and refreshing cocktail.
Where: 5829 Cains Court, Bow
Info: [url=http://www.theoldedison.com]http://www.theoldedison.com[/url]


Best Nursery:

Garden Spot Nursery

Garden Spot Nursery
Since 2014, our readers have bestowed Alabama Street’s Garden Spot Nursery with this award, and with good reason. In addition to providing green thumbs and novice gardeners alike with a plethora of perennials, annuals and everything needed to beautify both outdoor and indoor living spaces, the longtime nursery helmed by founder Marcy Plattner and her crew of Master Gardeners is also known for reaching out to the public via advice, workshops and community events. In fact, on Sat., Oct. 21, they’ll be hosting a Sunnyland Scarecrow Stuffing soiree throughout the day. You provide your scarecrow’s costume, and they’ll provide the straw and stakes.
Where: 900 Alabama St.
Info: [url=http://www.garden-spot.com]http://www.garden-spot.com[/url]


Best Deli:

Gere-a-Deli

Gere-a-deli wins best deli in Skagit Valley
With a list of deli sandwich options a mile long, it’s arguable that the hardest part about eating at Gere-a-Deli is finding your favorite. But the list doesn’t stop there. The eatery that has been feeding Anacortes residents since 1981 also features a fantastic salad and soup menu, as well as baked in-house desserts. Need to feed a group? Yep, they’ve got you covered there, too.
Where: 502 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: [url=http://www.geradeli.com]http://www.geradeli.com[/url]


Best Celebrity:

Ryan Stiles and Misha Collins

celebrity04-o.jpg
This year’s battle between Bellingham-based celebrities—also known as “Bellebrities”—came down to two famous fellas who have achieved worldwide acclaim for their admirable action on the small screen (Ryan Stiles for Whose Line is It Anyway? and Misha Collins for Supernatural), but haven’t let it go to their heads. Instead, the actors have made Bellingham and Whatcom County their home base, and make it a point to do good things for the community they call home (Stiles by providing a home for improvisational comedy at the Upfront Theatre, and Collins through his nonprofit, Random Acts of Kindness). Sure, they could live anywhere, but instead they’ve chosen to make this lovely city by the bay an important part of their lives.
Info: [url=http://www.theupfront.com]http://www.theupfront.com[/url] or www.randomacts.org


Best Place to Meet People, Best Pot Store:

2020 Solutions

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


Best Casino:

Skagit Valley Casino Resort

There’s more than one way to get lucky, and the Skagit Valley Casino Resort has all of them covered. Roll the dice at their plentiful gaming tables. Take in a show of high-caliber entertainment (Vanessa Williams and John Michael Montgomery are both coming soon). Eat a delicious meal in one of their restaurants. Book a room and stay the night to do it up just right. Everything at the Skagit may be a gamble, but a good time is guaranteed.
Where: 5984 Darrk Lane, Bow
Info: [url=http://www.theskagit.com]http://www.theskagit.com[/url]


Best Indian:

Taste of India

The 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.
Info: 647-1589


Best Yoga:

Yoga Northwest

yoganorthwest8.jpg
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: [url=http://www.yoganorthwest.com]http://www.yoganorthwest.com[/url]


Best Day Trip on Hwy 20:

Cascadian Farm

There’s a satellite feature on Cascadian Farm’s website that makes it possible to tour the lush acreage off Highway 20 in the upper Skagit Valley without ever having to leave your house. Sure, it’s cool to zoom in on the shot of greenhouse with the Cascade Mountains as a scenic backdrop or peruse the 28-acre organic farm’s corn and fruit fields, pollinator flower garden, and nearby log jam and salmon habitat on the Skagit River—but our readers prefer the real thing. And with good reason; by the time you’ve arrived to check out the pioneering farm behind the organic food brand that’s been around for four decades—and is open to the public from May through October—you’ve already soaked up a day trip’s worth of stellar scenery.
Where: 55931 State Route 20, Rockport
Info: [url=http://www.cascadianfarm.com]http://www.cascadianfarm.com[/url]


Best Pot Grower:

Trail Blazin’ Productions

Trail Blazin’ Productions
When it comes to the Cannabis Alliance, a “bud oath” is more important than a “blood oath.” As founding members of the nonprofit advocating for a sustainable and ethical cannabis industry, Juddy and Danielle Rosellison of Bellingham’s Trail Blazin’ Productions take their commitment to pesticide-free, sustainably-grown, hand-trimmed cannabis seriously. From their Division Street nursery, they send their potent products throughout the state, sharing their marijuana mission with the masses. In Bellingham proper, find their superior strains at Trove (218 N. Samish Way), Herbal Legends (2118 James St.) and all three 2020 Solutions locales.
Info: [url=http://www.trailblazinproductions.com]http://www.trailblazinproductions.com[/url]


Best Vegetarian:

Leaf & Ladle

leafandladle.jpg
If I were vegetarian or vegan, I would eat all of my meals at Leaf & Ladle. To be clear, everything—meaty or not—that comes out of the minuscule kitchen of the homey State Street spot is so delicious it’s difficult to comprehend how it could be produced in a space that appears to be about two square feet, but the meat-free dishes are where Leaf & Ladle truly shines. The menu is small, simple and updated regularly, and you’ll always find at least one vegetarian salad, sandwich, wrap and quesadilla on it, as well as a range of vegetarian soups (try the Caribbean black bean pumpkin or Thai-spiced wild mushroom). Eat every meal at Leaf & Ladle, never crave meat again.
Where: 1113 N. State St.
Info: (360) 319-9718


Best Artist:

Joe Treat

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


Best Waitperson:

Caitlin Beebe, Aslan Brewing Co.

Kaitlen-bebe-o.jpg
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: [url=http://www.aslanbrewing.com]http://www.aslanbrewing.com[/url]


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


Best Yoga Studio:

Riverwalk

Riverwalk1.jpg
Whether a dabbler, a fitness enthusiast or a daily devotee, finding a studio that feels like home is often the key to success when it comes to building a personal yoga practice. Since 2014, you’ve been taking your tense muscles and weary bones to the soothing atmosphere and skilled instructors of Riverwalk Yoga Studio. They cater to yogis at all stages and abilities with classes that range from “Easy Like Sunday Morning” to more intermediate-level offerings. All that, and they’ll teach you to belly dance too. Namaste all the way.
Where: 117 N. 1st St. #5, Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.riverwalkstudio.net]http://www.riverwalkstudio.net[/url]


Best Nursery:

Garden Spot Nursery

I was heading into Garden Spot Nursery to pick up some fall foliage when my boyfriend informed me he’d heard owner Marcy Plattner was selling the beloved Alabama Street plant store. I told him I’d dig up the dirt. After perusing some swanky Halloween displays, flats of pansies, perennials and shrubs, I settled on dreamy peachy-pink Belgian mums to adorn our front porch, and made my query at the register. A friendly employee informed me that yes, Garden Spot’s for sale, but it’s not shutting down. Plattner’s retiring, and is hoping to sell to someone who wants it to carry on. If you’re that person, rest assured that Garden Spot’s roots are strong, and the seeds of success have already been planted.
Where: 900 Alabama St.
Info: [url=http://www.garden-spot.com]http://www.garden-spot.com[/url]


Best Neighborhood:

Columbia

elizabethparkstreet_-_best_neighborhood-o.jpg
What makes a great neighborhood? In the years we’ve been polling readers for their favorite places, this category has moved steadily north—as has the emphasis on great parks, trails, schools, places to hang out, and homes that are stylish, established yet affordable have come into focus. The Elizabeth Park Summer Concert Series is just one example of a neighborhood laying out all of its finest for the enjoyment of others. Roll on, Columbia! Best of Bellingham write-ups by Tim Johnson, Carey Ross, Amy Kepferle, Scott Pelton, and Trail Rat Photos by Patrick Beggan (versaphotography.com)
Info: [url=http://www.columbianeighbors.com]http://www.columbianeighbors.com[/url]


Best News Story:

Protesting Kids

As 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 Bookstore:

Village Books

Village_Books_by_Jessamyn_Tuttle_(4)-o.jpg
What does it mean when an internationally renowned author on a limited eight-city tour across North America proclaims that the only place he wants to stop in your state is the beloved bookstore in your hometown? In the case of Markus Zusak—the author of The Book Thief, a tome that sold 16 million copies worldwide and spent more than 500 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list—it means your local bookstore’s reputation far exceeds the zip code where you reside. On Tues., Oct. 15, when Zusak shares his new masterpiece Bridge of Clay at Village Books, be sure to shower accolades on the staff who makes collaborations like this possible—not to mention helping secure umpteen Best of Bellingham wins.
Where: 1200 11th St., Bellingham,
and 403 Front St., Lynden
Info: [url=http://www.villagebooks.com]http://www.villagebooks.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.oldworlddeli1.com]http://www.oldworlddeli1.com[/url]


Best Gallery:

Dakota Art Gallery

gallery01.JPG
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: [url=http://www.dakotaartgallery.com]http://www.dakotaartgallery.com[/url]


Best Massage:

PRIME Massage & Sports Medicine

If 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.
Info: [url=http://www.primebellingham.com]http://www.primebellingham.com[/url]


Best Gear Store:

REI

“You walk in there and you get to have a lot of dreams,” Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, noted in an interview about her legendary 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail journey with no backpacking experience, too-small boots, and a massive pack. REI helped her with all these things, and made her journey lighter. “That’s where it began for me,” she said. “We can remake ourselves in the wild, and REI teaches you how to do it.”
Where: 400 36th St.
Info: [url=http://www.rei.com]http://www.rei.com[/url]


Best Clothing Store:

Stowe’s Shoes & Clothing

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


Best Pizza:

Village Pizza and Wheelhouse Bar

Pizza is our most fiercely divided and voted-upon category. We get it, Cascadians. You like your ‘za. And this year you deemed Village Pizza as the ruler of all. From fresh dough baked each morning and standard favorites to unique toppings such as mandarin oranges, oysters or shrimp, their menu is sure to please every palate.
Where: 807 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: [url=http://www.villagepizza.org]http://www.villagepizza.org[/url]


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


Best Place to Get a Tattoo:

Old School Tattoo

Best Tattoo in Bellingham: Old School Tattoo
If he’s inked your epidermis, you already know Old School Tattoo and Piercing’s owner, Paul Foertsch, is on another level—both literally and figuratively. “Tall Paul” has been tattooing the citizens of Bellingham for nearly 20 years, and fills his Holly Street studio with professional tattoo artists hand-selected for their unique style and commitment to the craft. They take their art seriously, and it shows.
Where: 209 E. Holly St.
Info: [url=http://www.oldschooltattooandpiercing.net]http://www.oldschooltattooandpiercing.net[/url]


Best Celebrity:

The Laughs You Leave

Yes, yes—Ryan Stiles always tops the list of Best Bellebrity. But the editors want to give a special shout-out this year to Peter Gunn, who was also in the fond thoughts of many readers. In his unofficial capacity, Peter was a sort of People’s Mayor of Bellingham, and certainly its biggest booster and ambassador. He cared for the streets and for the people on them, always ready with a joke or barb or keen observation. He was a Brooklyn standup comedian in every setting and sense, with steady delivery and the precision timing of a cuckoo clock. He was a friend and a wise counselor, always. Our streets are darker without his gleam.


Best Burger:

Skagit Valley Burger Express

Skagit Valley Burger express wins best burger in Skagit Valley
The open road of the North Cascades Highway beckoned. On the way out, I pulled in at the little red caboose just this side of Sedro-Woolley. Ordered my favorite, the appropriately named Atomic Mushroom burger—a toasted bun loaded like a catchers’ mitt full of beef and bacon, grilled onions, molten Swiss cheese and, yeah, sautéed mushrooms. Thick chocolate shake, and I was good to go. The sun broke through the overcast, and I was on my way.
Where: 172 WA-20, Sedro-Woolley
Info: [url=http://www.skagitvalleyburgers.com]http://www.skagitvalleyburgers.com[/url]


Best Trail:

Oyster Dome

Snagging a sunset on the rocky bald above the bat caves is a vertical payoff that makes the hard march up the trail doubly worth the effort. But when it comes to attaining a medicinal dose of Skagitonian solitude, I prefer a predawn tromp through the dog hair every time. Reclined regally in the silent embrace of my root-gnarled breakfast nook, I watch familiar vistas emerge into expressive horizons—and that’s when part of me emerges, too.
Where: Pacific Northwest Trail, Bow
Info: [url=http://www.wta.org]http://www.wta.org[/url]


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


Best New Story:

Water Woes

This jail tax sure has everyone talking. But maybe it gets resolved by voters in November? What doesn’t get resolved? All the water issues that surround an oversubscribed water supply. Sure, it rains a lot here; but not all the time and not at certain times of the year. Stream flows diminish and salmon runs suffer. And now we’ve got rural well owners who’ve lost their exemption and who now want to crowd into the line ahead of others with a demonstrated water right. Home construction collides with other imperatives. It’s a big mess and it won’t be sorted out anytime soon.


Best Women’s Clothing Store:

Labels

On a recent Saturday afternoon, Labels’ James Street locale was full of women of all ages and sizes combing through the racks of the consignment store in search of deals. Judging by the loaded bags shoppers who were walking out the doors were carrying, pretty much everybody was successful in their mission. It’s not difficult to find what you need at Labels—whether it’s an Eileen Fisher dress, a cardigan from the Gap, a long-sleeve Eddie Bauer shirt or almost-new Danskos—as the racks are constantly replenished with “cute, current and clean” consignments that are sold at a fraction of what you’d pay at a big-box retailer.
Where: 2332 James St. and 3927 Northwest Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.labelsconsignment.com]http://www.labelsconsignment.com[/url]


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: [url=http://www.facebook.com/JustPeachyYogurt]http://www.facebook.com/JustPeachyYogurt[/url]


Best Asian:

Busara Thai Cuisine

As much as I relish being able to savor the delectable Thai cuisine that emerges from the kitchen at Busara for lunch and dinner, I’m even more appreciative of its winter-proof southeast Asian decor. Although I’m apt to patronize their pagoda-esque parlor on a regular basis throughout the year, it’s during the cold, darker heart of our more inclement seasons that I appreciate the resident ambience to its most soothing degree. Whether I’m sitting down for transformative portions of crispy duck in ginger sauce or just stopping by to pick up extra spicy green curry takeout, it feels like I’ve gone 7,000 miles away—to a much warmer part of the Pacific.
Where: 404 36th St.
Info: [url=http://www.busarabellingham.com]http://www.busarabellingham.com[/url]


Best Park:

Boulevard Park

boulevardparkcolor.jpg
Although I can definitely do without having to spend another summer watching the grounds of Boulevard Park be trenched apart by a clamorous array of hydraulic tools and machinery, that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the utility improvements. Installing all those new water/sewer/power/telecommunications pipes reduces many hazards and since most of the wounds are starting to heal I feel extra-grateful to be able to roam the expanded beach-nourishment footprint seeking solace among the drift stills and rock revetments that help stabilize and protect this singular stretch of urban shoreline from wind shear and wave energy.
Where: 470 Bayview Dr.
Info: [url=http://www.cob.org]http://www.cob.org[/url]


Best Winery:

In Vino Veritas

Oh, 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]


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


Best Gear Store:


Dick’s Sporting Goods

A jungle teeming with sports and game supplies almost conceals a small forest of rods and reels at Dick’s. If you’re like me, you’re more into forests than fields, and creeks more than courts, and gaiters more than sneakers, and rainbows more than rinks. Doesn’t matter. Dick’s services it all with many brands, and a splendor of vendors.
Where: 2000 S. Burlington Blvd
Info: [url=http://www.dickssportinggoods.com]http://www.dickssportinggoods.com[/url]


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


Best Lunch, Best Vegetarian:

Leaf and Ladle

Because the food at Leaf and Ladle is made with such love, eating there is like being fed by your mom, if your mom was the type who offered you a selection of imaginative sandwiches, wraps, salads and quesadillas for meat-eaters, vegetarians and vegans alike every single day. Also, in this scenario your mom makes some of the best soups you’ve ever tasted on the daily, as well as grab-and-go meals for when you get hungry later. I’m not saying that Leaf and Ladle is better than your mom, but they definitely give her a run for her money.
Where: 1113 N. State St.
Info: (360) 319-9718


Best Music Store:

Avalon Records

Avalon Records in Bellingham
For this year’s Best of Bellingham balloting period, Avalon Records owner Chris Lamb did something unprecedented in the history of the low-key Railroad Avenue record store: He asked people to vote for his shop in this category. And so you did, knowing a rare request when you see one. As a reward, Lamb promised to offer half off of all used vinyl in the event of an Avalon win. You showed your love, now go avail yourselves of discount music. Buy a bong, some incense or a tapestry while you’re there and you’ll be all set.
Where: 1330 Railroad Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.avalonrecordshop.com]http://www.avalonrecordshop.com[/url]


Best Artist:

Pieter VanZanden

In 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.
Info: [url=http://www.smithandvallee.com]http://www.smithandvallee.com[/url]


Best Celebrity:

Ryan Stiles

celebrity3.jpg
If you want to know the real reason world-famous improviser Ryan Stiles so often snags the Best Celebrity crown when it comes time for these awards, you need look no further than the generosity he extends to his fellow actors at the Upfront Theatre—something the taller-than-average thespian has been doing since he founded the Bay Street space in 2004. And unlike a certain Academy Award-winning actress who’s been rumored to own a home nearby, Stiles is an approachable, affable entity—both onstage and off. So sure, Stiles and his Whose Line is it Anyway? pals may regularly sell out shows on nationwide tours, but that doesn’t mean you won’t run into him on a Thursday night in downtown Bellingham.
Where: Upfront Theatre, 1208 Bay St.
Info: [url=http://www.theupfront.com]http://www.theupfront.com[/url]


Best BBQ:

JT’s Smokin’ BBQ

Jt's Smokin BBQ
You gotta chase this fire truck! Juicy brisket on a biscuit—with that sweet, searing mustard tang grabbing taste buds—served with baked beans and potato salad. With a side, of course, of Kulshan when this truck pulls up at their brewery.
Where: Kulshan Brewery, Tues. and Thurs.
Info: [url=http://www.jtsmokinbbq.com]http://www.jtsmokinbbq.com[/url]


Best Salon:

Honey Salon

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


Best Fast Food:

Boomer’s Drive-In

There’s regular fast and there’s Boomer’s fast. Boomer’s fast isn’t quite as fast as regular fast, but when it comes to ordering exceptional burgers, hard ice cream shakes and waffle fries, we’ll gladly take the fast at Boomer’s every single time. And now that Boomer’s smartphone apps are available for downloading, Boomer’s fast is getting even faster.
Where: 310 N. Samish Way
Info: [url=http://www.boomersdrivein.com]http://www.boomersdrivein.com[/url]


Best Theater:


Lincoln Theatre

Lincoln Theatre wins best theater in Skagit Valley
If there’s any doubt Mount Vernon’s Lincoln Theatre is a valuable asset, look to the “Drinkin’ for the Lincoln” fundraiser taking place through April at the Skagit Food Co-op and its Third Street Cafe—who will donate $1 from every Ninkasi six-pack or pint sold to the Lincoln’s historic preservation and arts programs. And the Lincoln gives back to its community in spades, whether it’s screening films that show a different worldview or point to local issues, hosting top-notch productions from Skagit Valley-based theater companies, bringing both Grammy Award-winning musicians and high school jazz programs alike to its historic stage, or focusing on important community conversations.
Where: 712 S. First St., Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.lincolntheatre.org]http://www.lincolntheatre.org[/url]


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


Best Grocery:

Community 
Food Co-op

Avalon-Best_Head_shop1.jpg
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: [url=http://www.communityfood.coop]http://www.communityfood.coop[/url]


Best Fine Dining:

Saltine

Saltine_by_Jessamyn_Tuttle_(4)-o.jpg
It’s quite possible that Saltine won in this category on the strength of its fried green olive appetizer and the prosciutto-wrapped chicken they can’t take off the rotating menu lest all of Bellingham revolt. At the forefront of the city’s recent dining revolution, Saltine offers a thoughtfully edited selection of seasonal fare in an elegant-but-comfortable atmosphere that has been popular with Bellinghamsters since their very first dinner service. Fine dining has had a tough time getting a toehold in Bellingham. And then came Saltine.
Where: 114 Prospect St.
Info: [url=http://www.saltinebellingham.com]http://www.saltinebellingham.com[/url]


Best Burger:

Fiamma Burger

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


Best Credit Union:

WECU

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


Best Place to Dance:

Rumors Cabaret

Rumors
It’s 10pm, and it is like magic—suddenly a line down the block of people waiting to get in and groove on a crowded floor to vinyl expertly spun. The bewitching hour arrives, drinks stylishly and expertly served. Boy spots boy; girl nods knowingly to girl. It is tribal. It is gris-gris. It is fun.
Where: 1119 Railroad Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.rumorscabaret.com]http://www.rumorscabaret.com[/url]


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


Best Realtor:

Sandra McKee

sandra-o.jpg
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 Destination on Highway 20:

Birdsview Brewery

The pass was just cleared, but we weren’t going much past Diablo and the Ruby Arm, still frosty from winter. On the way back, we hit the place everyone chooses—coming or going. The Birdsview brewpub was packed, tables filled with folks spinning yarns and unraveling the hokum. I ordered the malty SasScotch; my partner called for the Ditsy Blonde and clowned as she drank it. We weren’t ready to say goodbye, so we parked on a quiet street in Hamilton and walked down to marvel at the Skagit, pregnant with the spring thaw.
Where: 38302 WA-20, Concrete
Info: [url=http://www.birdsviewbrewingcompany.com]http://www.birdsviewbrewingcompany.com[/url]


Best Italian:

D’Anna’s Cafe Italiano

dannas2-o.jpg
One day, a dish will come along that will dethrone D’Anna’s manicotti from the top of my personal pantheon of Bellingham’s Perfect Meals—just kidding, that day will never come. It’s no secret what makes D’Anna’s so good: Everything that comes out of the restaurant’s kitchen is homemade, from the perfect pasta to the sausage inside my manicotti to the sauces and right on down to the focaccia bread served with every meal. But you need not take my word for it when you can watch the best staff of tattooed line cooks in town craft your meal right before your very eyes.
Where: 1317 N. State St.
Info: [url=http://www.dannascafeitaliano.com]http://www.dannascafeitaliano.com[/url]


Best 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: [url=http://www.rachawadeethaicafe.com]http://www.rachawadeethaicafe.com[/url]


Best Fast Food:

Boomer’s Drive-In

Boomers_1-o.jpg
On a recent Sunday, my better half and I spent the afternoon putting the garden to bed and, come sunset, couldn’t find the gumption to make dinner. Without missing a beat, he offered to make the short journey to Boomer’s Drive-In for a couple of Big Booms, two orders of waffle fries and a blackberry shake (to split). After ordering from the carhop service, he was home not long afterward with fast food fit for royalty—double-stacked burgers made with fresh ingredients, hefty fries cooked just right, and a dangerously delicious handmade milkshake featuring ice cream locally sourced from Edaleen Dairy. Since the visit, I’ve since learned diners can now order in advance online—meaning Boomer’s is still old-school, but your Smartphone can help you secure a meal.
Where: 310 N. Samish Way
Info: [url=http://www.boomersdrivein.com]http://www.boomersdrivein.com[/url]


Best Pot Store/Head Shop/Place to Meet Men and Women:

2020 Solutions

2020 Solutions
When 2020 Solutions opened its first cannabis-related business at 4:20pm on July 10, 2014, it became Bellingham’s second retail pot store—and one of the first in the state to offer recreational marijuana to the masses. In the years since, high demand for the product has resulted in a proliferation of neighborhood joints offering everything from buds to concentrates, edibles and accessories (pipes, papers, grinders, vaporizers, etc.). Keeping up with the competition, 2020 Solutions has added two venues to their original Iron Street locale, made their mantra “responsible, knowledgeable, discreet” a reality, built warm and welcoming spaces that resemble high-end bars—perfect for locking eyes with the cutie checking out the Blackberry Kush—and made one-stop-pot-shopping a cinch.
Where: 2018 Iron St., 5655 Guide Meridian, 4770 Pacific Hwy.
Info: [url=http://www.2020-solutions.com]http://www.2020-solutions.com[/url]


Best Music Store:

Hugo Helmer Music

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


Best Asian/Take-out:

Rachawadee Thai Cafe

Rachawadee wins best Thai in Skagit Valley
How can so much wonderful flavor be packed into so tiny a lunch counter? Little bigger than a food truck, Rachawadee features a rich selection of dishes from Thailand’s coast to the interior with an authentic heat that really opens your taste buds (and pores!). On this visit, I ordered their Noodle Boat, a beef stew in a savory broth with thick, chewy noodles. Delicious.
Where: 410 W. Gates St., Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.rachawadeethai.com]http://www.rachawadeethai.com[/url]


Best Mexican:

COA Mexican Eatery

An early morning spent tramping Padilla Bay's trails and negotiating a backlog of tulip field traffic had us famished. After locating the Mount Vernon faction of COA, our day trip turned into a culinary adventure. The flavors of Mexico came alive in the complexly simple pork tacos and taco salad we ordered, but we could also taste the ingredients grown closer to home. And, just our luck, it was $5 Friday—meaning the discounted margaritas went down all the smoother.
Where: 102 S. 10th St., Mount Vernon; 214 Maple Ave., La Conner
Info: [url=http://www.coaeatery.com]http://www.coaeatery.com[/url]


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


Best Place to Get a Tattoo:

Old Gold Tattoo Parlor

Old Gold Tattoo
There’s no shortage of tattoo shops in Bellingham, as well as incredible artists employed within those venues. But within a couple of narrow walls on State Street—nestled appropriately next to a pinball and rock and roll bar—lives this year's winner, Old Gold Tattoo. As someone who bears a piece of art from the fine folks at Old Gold, it’s fair to say I’m a forever fan. The spotless shop boasts bright and colorful artwork lining every inch of the walls, a safe and sterile environment, and artists who are incredibly knowledgeable and pretty darn friendly. Regardless of the kind of permanent ink you are looking for, Old Gold has an artist for you, seven days a week.
Where: 1222 N. State Street
Info: [url=http://www.facebook.com/OldGoldTattoo]http://www.facebook.com/OldGoldTattoo[/url]


Best Band:

Whiskey Fever

Whiskey Fever wins best band in Skagit Valley
When it comes to winning in this category, this is not Whiskey Fever’s first rodeo. The band is led by Jack Mattingly, who got his start singing Elvis songs for his elementary school classmates and hasn’t stopped performing since. The band has made its reputation by waking up sometimes-sleepy Skagit County with high-octane performances, hallmarked by Mattingly’s songwriting skills and the group’s unbridled energy and desire to engage their audiences from the front row clear to the back door.
Info: [url=http://www.facebook.com/WhiskeyFeverBand]http://www.facebook.com/WhiskeyFeverBand[/url]


Best Indian:

Naan and Brew

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


Best Greek:

Cafe Akroteri

Recently, when I was feeling peckish and craving the flavors of the Mediterranean, I made my way to Cafe Akroteri, Bellingham’s longtime Greek food stalwart. Normally, I’m a sampler platter kind of girl, which allows me to satiate my longing for Akroteri’s tasty spanakopita, dolmathes, Greek salad and more on one snackable and shareable plate. But this time, I scored their gyro and draft beer special, a budget-friendly deal that gets savvy diners a gyro meal and beer for a little more than a sawbuck—which is a whole lot cheaper than a plane ticket to Greece.
Where: 1219 Cornwall Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.cafeakroteri.com]http://www.cafeakroteri.com[/url]


Best Bike Shop:

Skagit Cycle

From trail rides to tulip trots, casual rides to extreme competitions, anyone from the novice to expert rider can rest assured Skagit Cycle will be there there every pedal of the way. The full-service pros have bikes for every type of rider, and will take care of you at every crossroad. Just in the area for a few days? Then check out their rental options.
Where: 1704 S. Burlington Blvd. Burlington; 1620 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: [url=http://www.skagitcyclecenter.com]http://www.skagitcyclecenter.com[/url]


Best Theater Company:

Sylvia Center for the Arts

When iDiOM Theater was founded by Glenn Hergenhahn-Zhao in fall of 2001, it was with an aim to present high-quality, innovative, original works to its patrons. For 14 years, it did just that--plus a whole lot more--in a small space on Cornwall Avenue. Since morphing into the Sylvia Center for the Arts and making the move to a much larger locale on Prospect Street, its mission has expanded to include gathering a number of other arts organizations under its creative umbrella, thus turning a former laundry building into a thriving, multi-venue performance space. Oct. 11-12 will feature the 53rd iteration of the 48 Hour Theater Festival--a feat that will see approximately 12 new short plays created in the course of a single weekend--and is a great way to celebrate Sylvia's much-deserved win in this category.
Where: 205 Prospect St.
Info: [url=http://www.sylviacenterforthearts.org]http://www.sylviacenterforthearts.org[/url]


Best Head Shop :

Avalon

Avalon-Best_Head_shop.jpg
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: [url=http://www.avalonrecordshop.com]http://www.avalonrecordshop.com[/url]


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 Clothing Store:

Oliver Hammer

Skagit takes their rugged outdoorsin’ serious, right down to their long johns and underpants. Heavy-duty Bogs mud boots, Filson shirts stiff as sailcloth, Carhartt jackets, and Dickies rain gear. There’s nothing the river country can throw at you you can’t weather. You’re good to go.
Where: 821 Metcalf St., Sedro-Woolley
Info: [url=http://www.oliverhammer.com]http://www.oliverhammer.com[/url]


Best Greek:

Cafe Akroteri

One of the great unsung food deals in Bellingham is Cafe Akroteri’s $10.50 gyro and beer or wine special. One of the great unsung bars in Bellingham is the one at the downtown Greek mainstay. But you’ll need some food to soak up that ouzo and retsina, and Akroteri is here to help with all your Greek favorites like moussaka, spanakopita, falafel, souvlaki and lamb of many varieties. Treat yourself to a sampler platter and try a little bit of everything.
Where: 1219 Cornwall Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.cafeakroteri.com]http://www.cafeakroteri.com[/url]


Best Deli:

Old World Deli

oldworld2-o.jpg
I’m not sure it is possible for me to express the depth of my love for Old World Deli, and judging by the number of votes they get in this category every year, I’m far from the only one who feels that way. I’m in it for the sandwiches—their specials board is what decides my day’s eating habits—and while I’m watching them be carefully crafted from premium ingredients by the most entertaining staff in town, I also watch all of you browse the constantly rotating wine selection, order party plates of cheeses and cured meats, and procure all the pasta, sauce, spices and condiments necessary to living the life of the righteously well-fed.
Where: 1228 N. State St.
Info: [url=http://www.oldworlddeli1.com]http://www.oldworlddeli1.com[/url]


Best Fine Dining:

Nell Thorn

Nell Thorn wins best fine dining in Skagit Valley
Nell Thorn is snug and cozy and intimate as a private home. Dark hardwood tables are decked in cheerful white linen. I must try the fabulous braised lamb. My love chooses the toscano clams in a creamy sauce fragrant with fennel. We’re feeling decadent, so we share a slice of Nell’s signature French chocolate cake drizzled with a chocolate and berry sauce over warm steaming mugs of café au lait. It’s getting late and time to go home. No, not just yet.
Where: 116 S. 1st St. La Conner
Info: [url=http://www.nellthorn.com]http://www.nellthorn.com[/url]


Best Place for 
a First Date:

13moons

13 Moons cafe best place for a date in Skagit Valley
There’s something about an old-school steakhouse fine-dining experience, and that’s what 13moons in the Swinomish Casino & Lodge so capably provides. Decorated in Swinomish Native tribal art and with a menu separated into sections such as “From the Salish Sea” and “From the Salish Land,” the tribe’s pride of place is on display in every detail. While you can certainly partake of one of their skillfully prepared steaks or other mouthwatering dishes, the most popular order at 13moons is the signature hand-cut Alder-wood grilled salmon. Given how important salmon are to every facet of Swinomish tribal history, culture and life, it makes perfect sense that 13moons would treat it with the reverence it deserves.
Where: Swinomish Casino & Lodge, 12885 Casino Dr.
Info: [url=http://www.swinomishcasinoandlodge.com]http://www.swinomishcasinoandlodge.com[/url]


Best Craft Cocktail, Best Waitperson:

Swim Club and Dennis Schafer

swim_club-o.jpg
Step past the billowing gauze curtains into a time machine to a bright and airy other place—Havana, or Cairo. In this stylish setting, bartender extraordinaire Dennis Schafer mixes drinks expertly—fresh cucumber is unwoven into a beautiful spiral, fresh mint clipped and placed just so, with a thoroughness and meticulous detail. Time is taken in a drink’s preparation, and that in turn invites you to take time in its enjoyment. Chin-chin, mon amis. Life is wonderful.
Where: 1147 11th St.
Info: [url=http://www.swimclubbar.com]http://www.swimclubbar.com[/url]


Best Asian:

Busara Thai Cuisine

I recently spent a desperate swath of time trying to phone in my usual takeout order. At first, I just assumed the restaurant was too busy, so they weren’t able to field my call. I considered giving up, but my Pavlovian lust for green chicken curry and prawn pad thai superseded all rational thought. When my lady friend returned home an hour later looking for dinner, she was aghast to find me still on the phone. “Sweet lord, not this again,” she sighed. “Don’t you remember? Busara is closed on Tuesdays!”
Where: 404 36th St.
Info: [url=http://www.busarabellingham.com]http://www.busarabellingham.com[/url]


Best Casino:

Silver Reef Hotel Casino Spa

silver-reef-o.jpg
I’m getting a lift out to the Silver Reef on the back roads by a Lummi elder. There are two cars ahead of us on the road. “Indian Country traffic jam,” my droll driver comments. He tells me how Silver Reef was first dreamed of as a community gathering space, with generous meeting areas and conference facilities. The tribe, which tries to look ahead seven generations, understood casino operations and gaming, important as they are, are only one facet of the experience they imagined for Silver Reef, a launch point for an authentic travel adventure unique to the Salish Sea. The luxury hotel, spa and specialty suites have grown in size and beauty in recent years. The entertainment and events programming continue to deepen and improve. Now I see that we’re on the right road, he and I, and in the distance ahead is the destination.
Where: 4876 Haxton Way, Ferndale
Info: [url=http://www.silverreefcasino.com]http://www.silverreefcasino.com[/url]


Best Place to Get a Massage:

The Chrysalis Inn & Spa

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


Best Trail:

Little Mountain

During my most recent session in this amply forested, vertically well-endowed Mount Vernon city park, I peddled my junker up the 1.5-mile paved entrance road to the 934-foot summit and rubbernecked the tulip fields, the San Juan Islands, Olympic Mountains, and Mt. Baker. Then—to savor as much single-track goodness as my played-out shocks and antiquated gear shifter allowed—I wheeled my way down Sidewinder to the service road that spit me out onto Huff N Puff. Upon finally reaching the High Road, I decided to go Over the Top so I could cruise the contours of Upper Surfer’s Way and Lower Surfer’s Way before departing via La-Z-Boy with a smile that stayed glued on my face for days.
Info: [url=http://www.mountvernonwa.gov]http://www.mountvernonwa.gov[/url]


Best Grocery:

Community Food Co-op

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


Best 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: [url=http://www.greenhouse.com]http://www.greenhouse.com[/url]


Best Gym:

Whatcom Family YMCA

I 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.
Info: [url=http://www.whatcomymca.org]http://www.whatcomymca.org[/url]


Best Barbecue:

Back East BBQ

backeastbbq02-o.jpg
“All you’ll need is a fork,” read a sign heralding the house-smoked wonders to be found within Back East BBQ’s mobile unit, which was parked in front of Fairhaven’s Stones Throw Brewery on a recent sunny Saturday. My date was skeptical about the plastic cutlery’s carving abilities when I returned to our table on the brewery’s upstairs patio with generous servings of Texas-smoked beef brisket and Carolina smoked pork—both of which had been dry rubbed and slowly cooked over wood-fed fires for as many as 10 to 20 hours—but before long we both realized the savory, succulent meat was fall-apart tender, and the claim was true. “This really is the best barbecue in Bellingham” my dining partner said in between bites of brisket, hush puppies and potato salad. “Next time, let’s try the beer-fried chicken."
Where: Stones Throw Brewing Co., Wander Brewing, and beyond.
Info: [url=http://www.backeastbbq.com]http://www.backeastbbq.com[/url]