An April 2005 trip
to Bellingham by snuffelupagus
Quote: Money Magazine and AARP have consistently listed Bellingham as one of the best places to live. Well, please don’t think about living here. However, if you are just planning to visit, Bellingham is one of the best places to while away a few hours or a few days.
Actually, I am glad to be living in Bellingham. However, with all the top-ten placements Bellingham receives, I feel the need to emphasize that it is a great place to visit. Luckily, you can enjoy most of the things I love about this place if you are staying for just a few days or hours.
It’s April, which means the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is in full swing. Is the highlight the tulips? Alas, no. It is the lunch or dinner you have at the La Conner Brewing Company after a hard day of tip-toeing through the tulips.
If you just want to be outdoors, that can be arranged as well. The parks along Bellingham Bay, Marine, Boulevard, and Zuanich, are great places for picnics and lazy afternoons. Bellingham Parks & Recreation also maintains several wonderful trails. But please consult the trail guide! My boyfriend tried to show off his Fragrance Lake shortcut and ended up taking me on the path with a 12% incline.
If where you eat is a priority, my favorites are Pepper Sisters, Chuckanut Manor, Rhododendren Cafe, and Anthoyn's. But there are other restaurants that have been recommended to me that I’ve not yet tried.
If it was summer, this overview would have been about being on the water. If it was fall or winter, I'd have mentioned Mt. Baker, even though I don’t ski. But it is a perfectly beautiful spring day, the time when I most love living in Bellingham. You should visit.
Hotel | "Hampton Inn"
The Hampton Inn is a great option if you are looking for reliable accommodations.
First, as with the entire chain, it offers a 100% satisfacation guarantee - if you don't like you stay, you don't have to pay. Having said that, I have friends that work there, and the one thing that annoys them is when people ask for the guarantee but never talked to an employee about improving their stay. So, yes, you can abuse this program, but for most people it is a reminder that you should always ask an employee for help.
Second, it has a shuttle that goes anywhere in Bellingham plus the Silver Beach Casino in Ferndale. It doesn't run 24 hours but pretty much from early in the morning to late in the evening. Since very few things in Bellingham are walking distance, if you don't want to risk getting lost in the great metropolis, I think it's pretty darn handy.
Third, it has the standard amenities we've come to expect - swimming pool, fitness room, and continental breakfast. Their rates can be high in summer (whose isn't) but during the rest of the year it is a pretty good deal.
On a personal note, when my grandmother came to visit a couple of years ago, she fell during the night and broke her hip. It was not the hotel's fault, and we didn't plan on suing. But the general manager and the staff in general could not have been more accommodating. The van driver took my grandmother and my other relatives to the hospital and waited in case my aunt or uncle had to go back to the hotel. Later that day when I went back with my family to the hotel, everyone inquired about my grandmother's health. As a result of the accident, my family had to extend their stay by three days. Later, I learned that the hotel was already sold out for two of those days, but the general manager made other arrangements and didn't bother my family about how we inconvenienced the hotel. Since then, we have put up friends and family there and have never heard a single complaint.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on April 15, 2005
Hampton Inn Bellingham
3985 BENNETT DRIVE
Bellingham, Washington 98226
And then I tasted the food, which is a totally different experience. The Southwestern menu is diverse, with several vegetarian and vegan options. My boyfriend loves all things spicy, and every time he eats there, he ends up with a very red face and an unbuttoned collar, so be careful when you say you want your dish hot. Since I live here, I always feel compelled to try the daily special, but the chicken quesadilla is still my favorite.
Unfortunately, they are closed on Mondays.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on April 8, 2005
1055 N. State Street
Bellingham, Washington 98225
Restaurant | "Chuckanut Manor"
Chuckanut Manor has a little bit of everything that makes Bellingham such a great place to visit – great location, good food, and a homey atmosphere. It sits at the bottom of scenic Chuckanut Drive, which dumps back onto I-5, so it is easily accessible on your way to or from Seattle.
My favorite meal is the Friday-night Seafood Smorgasbord. It is $25 per person, which may sound pricey, but considering that the also recommended Sunday-night All-You-Can-Eat-Dungeness-Crab at Anthony’s is $26, it is definitely a good deal, since you have a selection to choose from. Even though they warn that items may change, you can usually rely on the following to be available in some form or another: crab, shrimp, scallops, steak, oysters, and clam chowder. Dessert is not included, but be sure to save room, or just sit and look at the view while you digest.
If you plan to go on a Friday that falls on April 8 or May 13, please disregard the following, or else my parents will kill me. This is one of those rare occasions when the number of good tables outnumbers the number of bad tables. However, the very best table, in my opinion, is at the end of the restaurant, past the Sunset Lounge and right next to the fireplace. It is a corner table that provides the most amazing view of the sunset over Bellingham Bay. Two of the four seats have excellent views, but on the two dates above, my parents get the primo seat on their respective birthdays.
If you plan to go for Friday Smorgasbord or Sunday Brunch, reservations are a must. At other times, I would say better safe than sorry.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on April 15, 2005
Chuckanut Manor Seafood & Grill
3056 Chuckanut Drive
Bellingham, Washington 98232
Restaurant | "Anthony's"
Anthony’s is a local seafood place I always feel confident recommending. Granted, it is part of a chain, but that chain consists of 16 restaurants – 13 of which are within 4 hours of each other in western Washington – and I’ve had the same positive experiences at four other locations.
For lunch, I’ve always felt it’s a bit pricey, and usually reserve going there for dinner. There are monthly specials based on what is in season. I highly recommend the Yukon River salmon. I spent my college summers in Alaska, and the Yukon River salmon is second only to salmon you catch yourself in dining experience. There are also nightly specials and the All-You-Can-Eat-Dungeness Crab feed on Sunday evenings for $26. The best deal is the Sunset Dinner, served from 4:30 to 6pm Monday to Thursday. For $17, you get an appetizer, chowder/salad, entrée, and dessert. My favorite meal is the Dungeness Crab Cakes. When they put these two crab cakes in front of you, you may think that the $25-ish price tag is way too pricey, but these cakes are all crabmeat – delicious and filling – and cooked to perfection. The sauce that accompanies them is a bit sweet for some, but very tasty with every other bite or so.
Reservations are not required, but I recommend them, because I have been surprised to find it packed on what I’d expect to be an off night. If you have more than four people in your party, reservations are definitely recommended.
The restaurant is located on Bellwether Way, right in Squalicum Harbor. There is a great trail around Zuanich Park if you are waiting for your table or need to work off a few calories after your meal. You’ll also pass The Marina restaurant, but be rest assured that you made the right choice.
25 Bellwether Way
Bellingham, Washington 98225
The Marina is a local restaurant that many see as the local seafood restaurant in Bellingham. Although I have had good experiences here, I have also had poor experiences that make me appreciate the consistency of Anthony’s right next door. But if you prefer local to chains, this place has the potential to offer a good dining experience.
One thing the Marina can’t get wrong is the view. With tiered-dining floors and a panoramic window, there are almost no bad seats. The view is part Bellingham Bay, part Squalicum Harbor, and 100% amazing on a clear day at sunset. So if you are from someplace landlocked, this is a great spot to spend an hour admiring the view and enjoying the seafood. They have nightly specials that take advantage of what is in season, but the standard menu is filled with several seafood options (and a couple of steak and pasta items) that will work no matter what you’re in the mood for. They have an appetizer selection that is broader than most and can easily provide a light meal.
Unfortunately, the preparation of the food has been hit-or-miss for the last couple of years. The dining room can look quite worn, particularly during the lunch hour, but mood lighting at night can mask a great deal of those sins. I have never made a reservation there and have also never had to wait more than 10 minutes. For parties of five or more, it is a safe bet to make a reservation.
If Anthony’s was not right next door, I would probably eat here more than once or twice a year. But I’ve traveled enough to know that Bellingham has enough restaurant options that I don’t have to settle.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on April 15, 2005
7 Bellwether Way
Last night, we finally tried Speak E-Z’s Memphis-style BBQ, and were pleasantly rewarded with some of the best barbecue we’ve ever had.
The restaurant, located in the Fountain District, has been open for a couple of years. I’ve driven by it almost every week and wondered whether it was any good or totally sketchy; we are in the Pacific Northwest after all. However, my boyfriend also drove by it frequently and was astute enough to notice that it was almost always full. So, the food snob from Texas (Mike) decided it was time for us to try that barbecue place and see if it was any good.
When we arrived around 5:30 in the evening, there were no other occupied tables. Could we have been mistaken about this place? No, on weekdays, they tend to be busier at lunch. Whew. The interior was nice and cozily painted in shades of amber, with musical accoutrement decorating the walls. Blues music played in the background. Service was friendly and efficient. So far so good, but what about the food?
Even at my hungriest, I am still a lightweight, so I ordered the 4-ounce barbeque pulled pork. Of the 10 sides to choose from, I selected the hush puppies and baked beans. The pulled pork was tender and savory, and had to be more than four ounces. When it comes to spice, I am, again, a lightweight, so it was a bit too spicy for me. But the flavor was excellent, with just the right amounts of sweet and savory, so I was impressed. The hush puppies were a little overcooked but yummy and greaseless. The baked beans were actually spicier than the barbeque, but still well done and deelish.
Mike decided on the sampler platter with St. Louis-style ribs, barbeque pulled pork, beef brisket, one-quarter chicken (choice of white or dark meat), and Texas toast. When our server presented it to Mike, he said, "Good luck." Mike thought it was unnecessary, because the food didn’t fill the platter. Well, with the brisket and pulled pork done, he started to slow down. He agreed with my assessment of the barbeque sauce, except that he loves spice, so it was perfect to him. He managed to finish his plate, but just barely; it was a lot of food. He was surprised to find that the chicken tied with the ribs was his favorite part of the sampler, although he enjoyed all of it.
I am already thinking about when we will come here again and what we will try then.
Parking is on the street, so keep your eyes peeled. If you are traveling west on Meridian and haven’t spotted a parking space by the time you pass the restaurant, get in the left-turn lane. You’ll swing around the little fountain that gives the area its name, and can either go back up Meridian or look for a space on Broadway.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on May 19, 2005
2400 Meridian St.
Bellingham, Washington 98225
For 5 years, Dirty Dan’s was the only place we went for birthdays and anniversaries. We always requested the same table up in the bar (B1, I think) because it overlooked the main dining area and didn’t have other tables around it, so it was as private as you could get. When people asked for suggestions of a good restaurant, it was the first thing that sprang from my lips. I always ordered the garlic tenderloin and always had a goofy smile on my face as soon as I took my first bite.
Although I am by no means a beef expert, I could tell that something had changed in the preparation. The garlic was just a heap on top of my filet and the filet didn’t seem to have any flavor of its own. Dave gave that smile you give to someone when you’re trying to be polite but inside you’re shaking your head and sighing at what a goofball they are. However, he did finish his entire meal and said that he enjoyed it.
So I left a bit deflated about my once favorite restaurant. However, I would still recommend it over chains like Black Angus and The Keg. They have a lot of beef, but they also have seafood specials based on what is in season. I know people who have been coming up to Bellingham on business for years, and they still schedule time to stop into Dirty Dan’s, so it could have been an off night.
Dirty Dan’s is located in the historic Fairhaven district, which is a great place to stroll around. Parking can be difficult, so be prepared to drive around in a square a couple of times. But there is lots to see, do, and buy between wherever you park and the restaurant. The annual http://www.bellingham.com/skitosea/Ski to Sea race is coming up, so maybe I’ll give it another try in a couple of weeks.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on May 20, 2005
Dirty Dan Harris'
1211 11th Street
Bellingham, Washington 98225
While I can’t recommend a single Chinese restaurant in Bellingham, I think we have several excellent Thai and Japanese options. The top option for Japanese is Osaka.
The service is friendly and efficient; the portions are enormous; both the regular and sushi menus are extensive; and the food is well-prepared. But the main reason Osaka is my favorite is that, in addition to all the other things you expect from a good restaurant, it has the most serene and relaxing atmosphere allowing me to really enjoy the meal.
Ninety percent of the time, I order one of two dishes, spicy tofu stir-fry or the tempura/teriyaki combo, and have never been disappointed. The magical powers of the spicy tofu stir-fry can be seen in the fact that my boyfriend, the meat-eater from Texas, has been known to order it on occasion – four stars, of course. I am a yam fan, and their sweet potato tempura is my second favorite food, after Tulio’s sweet potato gnocchi, naturally. Their tempura is always light and never greasy, while the veggies are always firm. The beef teriyaki is substantial and tender, but the sauce might be too heavy for some.
Mike’s order is either wholly or in part made up of sushi. There are about 50 items to choose from. Although he always orders the maguro, he has tried 10 other items and found them all to be fresh and tasty. More often than not, he orders the spicy tuna roll as a side with the spicy tofu stir-fry and has enough left over for a doggie bag.
The restaurant is small - only about 14 tables and 2 tatami rooms. The parking is smaller, only about 12 spaces. They probably could have added more spaces, but they chose instead to build a lovely Japanese garden in the back. It’s nice for a quick stroll after dinner or if you have to wait for a table.
Osaka is restaurant-style comfort food. It may not be destination dining, but if you’re here and craving Japanese food, it is definitely a safe bet.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on June 9, 2005
3207 Northwest Avenue
Bellingham, Washington 98225
Restaurant | "Du Jour Bistro (The Vines)"
After my first visit on my birthday, I proceeded to go to Du Jour Bistro for lunch and dinner five times in 2 weeks. I've toned it down to once a week, but it certainly fits my "destination dining" criteria. I happily recommend this place. There are about 10 tables, and it remains cozy despite several tables next to the wine racks. I recommend reservations, but they are not usually necessary. The main reason I make reservations is to reserve Table #1 in the back corner. It is the coziest spot, but any of the three tables by the wall are your best bets.
The menu is posted on a blackboard at the front entrance. There are no printed menus, so you do need to use this to make your decision. But I usually perform an initial review, get settled at the table, order a beverage, and then go back if I can't decide the first time. The menu usually consists of two soups, two salads, three or four starters, and four or five entrees. The menu is tailored toward local and seasonal products. I do not have a favorite meal, because every one to date has been wonderful. However, I will make a recommendation as to the best value--the calzone with soup and salad, $8.95 for lunch and $10.95 for dinner. If you are not a wine drinker, ask about their seasonal ales, which are yummy. Save room for dessert, which is made from scratch and quite tasty. Because the menu changes daily, I feel hard-pressed to make specific recommendations, but they do have a sample menu on their website to give you an idea of the culinary bliss that awaits you.
Everyone I know refers to this place as "The Vines" because the restaurant is part of the wine store. I know next to nothing about wines, but it appears that they have a solid selection of foreign and domestic wines, including sections from the Northwest and under $12. You can enjoy a bottle of wine at retail price, plus a $5 corking fee, except on Tuesday, when the corking fee is waived. They also have about six wines available by the glass. I have decided to learn a bit more about wines, so I'm looking forward to their mini tasting sessions on the first and third Thursdays of the month - four wines and snacks for $5. They also have larger events throughout the year, so check the website for information.
The restaurant is located in downtown Bellingham, so street parking is your best bet. Despite driving a Mini, I have not gotten the hang of parallel parking, so I park in the Parkade on Commercial Street and get to the restaurant through the alley (this is Bellingham, so it's not as creepy as it sounds) between Cornwall and Commercial. The restaurant is 100% nonsmoking.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on November 11, 2005
Du Jour Bistro
1319 Cornwall Ave.