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BEST NEW RESTAURANT

SCRATCH

Usually a restaurant has to be around for several months before it makes a big impact on the local scene, but just three months after opening, SCRATCH garnered enough votes to win the coveted Best New Restaurant category. The restaurant hit the big time from the opening weekend in mid-November, thanks to its location directly across from the newly reopened Fox.

"We were prepared for a busy restaurant, because of our backgrounds, but honestly I was surprised at just how busy we've been," says co-owner Connie Naccarato (formerly of Mamma Mia's). "When there's an event at the Fox, we're at full capacity a week ahead of time. And now our late-night business has been building."

Co-owner Chef Jason Rex (formerly of Fugazzi) was adamant about wanting to locate the restaurant in the Montvale, but Naccarato had to be convinced. Now, she's glad she listened.

"We are in a great spot — thanks to Jason," she says.

"We looked at a lot of spots, but I always wanted here," says Rex. "I just kept pushing ... I knew the Fox would be there and would be the house of the Symphony.... And when I walked in, with the tall ceilings, and the long narrow space, I could envision the kitchen. And then the hardwood [floors] — it's got character."

Customers have told the pair they like the restaurant's atmosphere and vibe, Rex says. "We get a lot of comments about our feel and our atmosphere," he says. "It's a big-city feel — people say it's tight, but they like it, because once they step through the doors, they don't feel like they're in Spokane."

And then, of course, there's the food. Everything is made from scratch — breads baked in-house, ice cream done up home-style, seafood that's never been frozen. There are the unusual items, like frog's legs and beef tongue, that add an element of shock value. And there's the plate presentation, something Rex takes great pride in. It all adds up to an enthusiastic welcome from the community.

"I'm so grateful," says Naccarato. (ANN M. COLFORD)

2ND PLACE: Churchill's; 3RD PLACE: Twigs South; BEST NORTH IDAHO NEW RESTAURANT: The Oval Office


BEST STEAKS

WOLF LODGE STEAKHOUSE

For the first time in Inlander history, WOLF LODGE STEAKHOUSE bested all comers as the place to go for steaks. Whether Inlander readers take the drive past Coeur d'Alene or stay in the Spokane city limits, they love Wolf Lodge's two beef palaces.

Start your meal with an appetizer not widely available around these parts: Try the Rocky Mountain Oysters before you dig into a thick, juicy, steak. (As the menu says, "These don't come in a shell.") While I can't admit to loving them, I'll say that the breading was all that I'd hoped it would be.

The good folks at Wolf Lodge don't spend a lot of time spicing up their steaks; they use a simple rub to season the meat perfectly, then cook it over a cherrywood and tamarack fire. It would be a 'misteak' to add a single drop of sauce. In fact, those who ask are often scolded by the cute cowgirl servers who swarm the place giving excellent and, yes, friendly service.

The steaks are paired perfectly with potatoes, whether baked or red garlic mashed, plus Idaho Buckaroo beans and krebel (fried yeast bread). Everything here is consistently good: the food, the service, the Old West ambience. If you leave room for a piece of chocolate cake, which I didn't, rumor has it it's worth splurging on. (Mary Stover)

2ND PLACE: Spencer's; 3RD PLACE: Outback Steakhouse


BEST SUSHI

RAW

A lot of thought went into the creation of RAW'S eclectic menu. Especially when it came to naming the food.

"Most of the things were created sober but named when we were drunk," laughs owner Noel Macapagal. "Like the chicken curry. We thought, 'How can we make chicken curry sound funny?' So we named it after one of our girlfriends."

Other items were labeled in tribute to male fantasies — i.e. the "Victoria Secret" (tuna, albacore, capelin roe, salmon and avocado) or the "Jessica Alba-Core" (ahi, cream cheese and cucumber topped with slices of albacore, scallions and ponzu).

A freshman at Gonzaga in 1990, Macapagal returned to Spokane in 2003 aiming toward a career in sports marketing.

"I was trying to date the cousin of the owner of Okane, which is how I got started in this business," Macapagal says.

In addition to offering authentic dishes like home-style Japanese curry or "Old School Rolls" like the Spider and California, Raw has a relaxed attitude and contemporary atmosphere that makes it one of the locals' first picks for after-dark activity. Open until 2 am Thursday through Saturday, Raw has a full bar, live music and the ever-popular Saki-tinis.

"I stayed in Spokane because I'm stuck in leases," says Macapagal, "but I'm enjoying it now because I've re-engineered Spokane night life."

Raw's house theme is "Ohana" (Hawaiian for family). In Hawaiian culture, Macapagal says, eating, drinking and having fun are intertwined — and he wants his guests to have the same kind of experience.

Macapagal's favorite recommendation is the curry. "It's great comfort food," he says. "Curry is huge in Hawaii. You know how in the South they have chicken and waffles, and in Spokane they have Shari's? Back home, curry is what mom would make for every meal." (Blair Tellers)

2ND PLACE: Sushi.com; 3RD PLACE: Bluefish; BEST NORTH IDAHO SUSHI: Takara


EDITORS' CHOICE

BEST ARTISAN BAKERY IN A TOWN OF LESS THAN 1,500

Wilbur is a pretty typical Eastern Washington wheat-farming town, complete with a grain elevator and railroad siding and acres of rolling fields straddling Highway 2 about 65 miles west of Spokane. People eat at the caf & eacute; and the burger place, and a lot of the traffic passing through town doesn't stop at all. But that's starting to change: Wilbur may soon turn into a destination, thanks to the presence of Whitestone Winery's tasting room and the SUN ROCK BAKERY right on Main Street in the center of town.

The artisan bakery is owned by Ron and Diane LeMay, who used to own the Columbia River Inn in Coulee City. "When we sold that, I went to the SCC culinary program and studied bread baking," Diane LeMay says. "Now I do all the baking, and he runs the front of the house."

The bakery, which occupies the 112-year-old Reeves Building in the center of town, celebrated its one-year anniversary on March 12. LeMay bakes artisan breads like French, jalapeno-cheddar, pesto, English muffin bread and Kalamata olive — two or three varieties daily, with 10 to 12 choices in rotation — and then serves both cold deli sandwiches and hot panini-style creations on the breads of the day. Soup is available daily as well, with selections like clam chowder, broccoli cheddar, pasta fagioli, chicken noodle, beef pot roast and chili. The bakery also offers take-and-bake pizzas.

"We hope to start offering personal-sized baked pizza for lunch," says LeMay. "And we're looking at creating some outdoor seating for the summer."

In addition to the breads and savories, there's Cravens Coffee and plenty to satisfy the sweet tooth. "We do scones and muffins — all the usual suspects," she says.

During the winter months, the bakery is open Tuesday through Friday (7:30 am-5 pm), but LeMay says they hope to expand the hours into the weekend when summer returns. (ANN M. COLFORD)


BEST THAI

THAI BAMBOO

Boasting a menu of delectable items that you can only get at one of its four locations, THAI BAMBOO is a consistent winner in this category. It has a large selection of meals, ranging from the classic curries to more exotic dishes like the Angel Garden, Crying Tiger and the Thai Super Bowl. For a real taste treat, just saying "Phad Bai Kaplau" can get your tastebuds going — think fresh Thai basil saut & eacute;ed with chili, garlic, green beans, onions, pepper and your choice of meat. You could visit Thai Bamboo daily for weeks at a time and still have something new to try on the menu.

Thai Bamboo serves up noodle soups and dishes, rice bowls, vegetarian and seafood dishes, house specialties and curry classics alongside a few delectable desserts that are worth planning for. The black sticky rice pudding with coconut milk is more than memorable, and anything worth eating should be washed down with a Thai iced tea. As an appetizer, we tried the Mieng Kahm, and it was a flavor explosion: Bai Cha Plu leaves are filled with fresh cut lime, toasted coconut, peanuts, grated ginger, chopped red onion and Thai chilis, drizzled with honey and then rolled. Each bite boasted a new hint of sweet, sour, salt, and crunch. It's soon to be a tradition every time we go back.

At each location, the d & eacute;cor is inviting, with lush greenery, bamboo furniture, elaborate fountains and golden statues surrounding the dining areas. The dependable service and mouth-watering meals keep all of the Inland Northwest coming back for more. (Mary Stover)

2ND PLACE: Linnie's; 3RD PLACE: Riverview Thai


BEST COFFEE ROASTER

THOMAS HAMMER COFFEE CO.

After last year's readers poll, when THOMAS HAMMER COFFEE CO. placed second, the company ran an ad showing two fingers raised in a V, proclaiming, "We're No. 2!" That's the kind of cheeky, self-deprecating humor that has marked the company vibe from Day One, says president and founder Thomas Hammer.

"I think maybe there's two people who voted for us this year because they remember the No. 2 ad and they think, I'm gonna vote for that company because they're clever, they made me smile," he says.

Hammer got his start slinging espresso drinks for Nordstrom back in the late 1980s, when the premium coffee scene was just getting started. At that time, he says, Spokane only had about four commercial espresso machines in the entire city, meaning that just about anyone who wanted espresso showed up at the Nordstrom cart out on the sidewalk eventually.

"It was a relatively new industry," he says. "Starbucks at the time had 82 stores — they now have 15,000 — and Nordstrom was at the time the second-largest specialty coffee company, with 39 coffee bars across the country."

From Nordstrom, he moved over to Four Seasons for a time before taking his newly acquired Gonzaga MBA and branching out into his first eponymous coffee shop in NorthTown Mall. People remember him dragging 100-pound sacks of coffee beans across the mall to roast on-site, and they remember his wacky humor and off-color jokes. But behind the jokes were long days and a lot of hard work.

The actual coffee roaster these days is Dave Rier, who's quick to credit the company's teamwork for its success. Like Hammer, he's passionate about his work, from developing relationships with Guatemalan farmers to roasting the beans perfectly. And that passion for coffee lies at the core of the company.

"To this day, you can come in here and you can hear our comedy," says Hammer, "but when it comes to business, and especially coffee, we're the real deal." (Ann M. Colford)

2ND PLACE: Cravens Coffee; 3RD PLACE: Cafe Doma


BEST ASIAN FOOD

MUSTARD SEED

The menu at MUSTARD SEED draws on traditions from across the Pacific Rim, including the American West Coast. Chicken Osaka — chunks of chicken breast saut & eacute;ed and served in a piquant ginger-lemon sauce — has become a classic, and the California Chinese Chicken Salad successfully blends fresh greens with mandarin oranges and a clean Asian-inspired dressing. The Mustard Seed entered our Hall of Fame last year as a 10-time winner, and the Missoula-based restaurant group continues to be a favorite among our readers. Even though the Spokane Valley location closed this week, the owners are seeking more spacious digs and plan to return. (AC)

2ND PLACE: Gordy's Sichuan Cafe; 3RD PLACE: P.F. Chang's China Bistro; BEST NORTH IDAHO ASIAN FOOD: Bonsai Bistro


BEST BURGERS | BEST KID-FRIENDLY DINING

RED ROBIN

Restaurants that please pint-sized customers often don't fare as well among grown-ups, but RED ROBIN has nailed the family-friendly model and made everybody smile in the process. Vibrant primary colors dominate the interiors, attracting the kids. Burgers that take two hands to hold dominate the menu, making for satisfied adults, too. The standard Red Robin Gourmet Cheeseburger — an oversized patty stacked high with lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, mayo, relish and cheese — is probably the best seller, but you'll find some unusual ingredients like guacamole, fried onion straws, bleu cheese and even pot roast.

Last month, local Red Robins contributed of a portion of their receipts to the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery. That kind of community work can make you feel good about downing a hefty Whiskey River BBQ Burger with bottomless steak fries. (AC)

BEST BURGERS 2ND PLACE: The Onion; 3RD PLACE: D. Lish's; North Idaho Winner: Hudson's Hamburgers

BEST KID-FRIENDLY DINING 2ND PLACE: Chuck E. Cheese; 3RD PLACE: McDonald's


BEST VEGETARIAN

MIZUNA

So, a vegetarian, a vegan and a steak lover walk into a restaurant... That scene could turn into disaster at a lot of restaurants, but not at MIZUNA, nine-time winner in our poll. Mizuna began back in 1996 as a strictly vegetarian restaurant but has branched out to embrace sustainably raised meats as well. Despite the change, vegetarian and vegan dishes remain at the heart of the menu, not just an afterthought. The soup of the day is always vegan, as is at least one dessert item, and special dietary requests are happily accommodated. (AC)

2ND PLACE: Huckleberry's 9th Street Bistro; 3RD PLACE: Pita Pit


BEST SEAFOOD

ANTHONY'S

We don't ask any questions about Best View, but if we did ANTHONY'S would be a strong contender in that category as well, given its location overlooking the upper Spokane Falls in the heart of downtown. This Northwest seafood landmark is so committed to acquiring the freshest fish off the dock that it established its own seafood company — Anthony's Seafood at Pier 91 in Seattle — in 1985. The Dungeness crab cakes and alder-planked salmon are specialties here, but you can get just about anything that swims, from ahi to mahi mahi. The four-course sunset dinner is a favorite for early-bird diners. (AC)

2ND PLACE: Milford's; 3RD PLACE: Red Lobster


BEST ESPRESSO | BEST DRIVE-THRU ESPRESSO

STARBUCKS

Back when The Inlander was young, we asked readers who made the best espresso in town. Starting in 1994, the answer was STARBUCKS. The green-labeled chain had fewer than 300 stores then. (There are more than 15,000 Starbucks locations worldwide today.) Every time we've asked the question since, you've given us the same answer. This year, Starbucks also snagged the crown for drive-thru.

But it's not all corporate sameness. For instance, at the Grand and 13th store, barista Aaron Vane makes a special drink for a special customer: 18-month-old Garrett, aka "Peanut," who comes in weekly with his grandmas. "Peanut likes coffee," Vane explains, "so I mix a half-shot of decaf espresso with milk and some mocha for him." The 8-ounce cup gets labeled "Peanut." And brand loyalty begins. (AC)

BEST ESPRESSO 2ND PLACE: Brews Brothers; 3RD PLACE: The Rocket

BEST DRIVE-THRU ESPRESSO 2ND PLACE: Dutch Bros.; 3RD PLACE: Jacob's Java


BEST DESSERTS

JUST AMERICAN DESSERTS

Owner Eva Roberts is passionate about food, and it shows in the butter-rich, decadent cakes, cookies and bars that fill the cases at JUST AMERICAN DESSERTS. "For me, it has to be from scratch," she says. "Make everything from scratch with real, quality ingredients." Ingredients like butter, brown sugar, sour cream and semi-sweet chocolate go into the desserts, whether it's a wedding cake or something for an everyday celebration, making for a sublime taste treat. (AC)

2ND PLACE: Cyrus O'Leary's; 3RD PLACE: Clinkerdagger; BEST NORTH IDAHO DESSERTS: Dockside


BEST WINE LIST

NIKO'S

The secret behind the extensive wine list at NIKO'S — it runs 28 pages, covers 1,200 bottles and has an index — is Wine Specialist Pauline Riley, who's been there 10 years and also functions as general manager. "I work on my list every day to keep the vintages current," she says. Want a domestic white that's not chardonnay? You've got 33 choices, including five viogniers. A great bottle for less than $40? She'll give you 40 to choose from. Not sure what you want? Try one of the wine tours — three 2-ounce pours — that change weekly. Or just let Riley decide for you: She's the pro, and she won't let you down. (AC)

2ND PLACE: (TIE) Luna, Spencer's; 3RD PLACE: Downriver Grill; BEST NORTH IDAHO WINE LIST: (TIE) Beverly's, The Wine Cellar


BEST BREAKFAST

FRANK'S DINER

The good folks at FRANK'S DINER estimate they crack 15,000 eggs and grill 5,000 pounds of hashbrowns each month. That's a lot of breakfast. Inlander readers apparently eat their share: For the 11th time they've chosen Frank's two Spokane diners as their favorite places for their first meal of the day. Next time you're there, order what the boss -- Frank's co-owner Larry Brown — orders: the combo with eggs, hashbrowns, sausage, bacon and French toast. That's good eatin'. (DN)

2ND PLACE: Old European; 3RD PLACE: Chaps


BEST PIZZA

DAVID'S PIZZA

We think we've figured out Gonzaga men's basketball coach Mark Few's secret weapon when it comes to recruiting great young ballplayers to campus. First he takes them to The Kennel to show them where they'll play and, to close the deal, he takes them to lunch at DAVID'S PIZZA. After all, Inlander readers can't be wrong. For the 12th year they've chosen the GU District pizza joint as their favorite. We don't know the coach's favorite, but we're partial to the Maple Street Bridge — pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, olives, peppers, red onions and cheese. (DN)

2ND PLACE: Bennidito's; 3RD PLACE: Papa Murphy's


BEST TAKE-OUT

NOODLE EXPRESS

If there's anything better than quality comfort food, it's quality comfort food made fast. As the Mustard Seed's kid brother, NOODLE EXPRESS offers expeditious versions of favorites like teriyaki rice bowls and Japanese grilled noodles. And with six locations, two grand openings pending, drive-thrus and pick-up windows, Noodle Express is a hearty alternative to the fat-laden Big Mac. Or if you're a cross-country runner, it can also provide some solid carbohydrates. If only this place were open when the bars close. (Blair Tellers)

2ND PLACE: Papa Murphy's; 3RD PLACE (TIE): Applebee's, Gordy's Sichuan Cafe


BEST BURRITOS

IONIC BURRITO

IONIC BURRITO'S MySpace greeting proclaims, "We'll roll ya a phatty!" (Calm down, Dave Chappelle, we're talking about burritos here.) Their telescope-sized creations fulfill Ionic's promise. With a great beer list, prices that meet the budgets of college students, portions generous enough to satisfy the hungry construction worker (or Bigfoot), live music and vegetarian burritos suitable for rabbits, Ionic Burritos is a great place to get your wrap on. (BT)

2ND PLACE: Qdoba; 3RD PLACE: Slick Rock


BEST WINERY

ARBOR CREST

A trip up winding Fruit Hill Road to the Cliff House of ARBOR CREST WINERY is a standard part of the itinerary for out-of-town guests, but it's still fun no matter how many times you've made the trip. The airy and expansive new tasting room offers plenty of room to sample favorites like the Cabernet Franc and the Sangiovese, which is incredible with a pasta dish. And now, you can sample vintages downtown, at the tasting room in River Park Square. (AC)

2ND PLACE: Latah Creek; 3RD PLACE: Caterina; BEST NORTH IDAHO winery: Coeur d'Alene Cellars


BEST DONUTS

KRISPY KREME

KRISPY KREME has kept its donut recipe a secret since 1937, which is probably why it keeps getting voted "Best Donuts." It's also a secret where the word "Krispy" came from — a deep-fried texture and love for alliteration, presumably. The franchise should be called "Fluffy Kremes." Soft, hot and straight off the conveyor belt, these little treasures put the "O" in "Joy." (BT)

2ND PLACE: Donut Parade; 3RD PLACE: Mike's Donuts; BEST NORTH IDAHO DONUTS: Davis Donuts


BEST CHEAP EATS

DICK'S HAMBURGERS

When my wife and I were much younger and poorer, our big nights on the town revolved around DICK'S. We'd buckle our two little kids into the back seat of the car, pick up my mother-in-law, get two bags of Dick's Whammies and fries, shake our heads in amazement when the bill came in at less than $15 and head to Manito Park. The price tag has gone up a bit in the days since then, but Inlander readers still think Dick's is a pretty good deal. It continues its unblemished run at the top of this category. (DN)

2ND PLACE: Zip's; 3RD PLACE: Taco Bell


BEST ITALIAN

LUIGI'S

Don't ask me why I ordered the baked ziti the last time my wife and I ate at LUIGI'S. I'd never heard of ziti; I must have been thinking of Barry Zito, the San Francisco Giants pitcher. Anyway, ziti, according to Luigi's menu, is a type of pasta "tossed with Ricotta cheese and Marinara sauce, and baked with Mozzarella, Provolone and Cheddar cheese." It's not my new favorite, but I'm glad Luigi's introduced me to it. By the way, Luigi's is now an eight-time Inlander Best Of winner. (DN)

2ND PLACE: Italian Kitchen; 3RD PLACE: Olive Garden


BEST MEXICAN

AZTECA

There are those who like to debate whether the food served by "Mexican" restaurants is authentic Mexican. I'm not one of them. I just know that when I order my usual enchilada and tamale at AZTECA I always walk out stuffed and happy. Inlander readers agree with me; for the 11th time they've voted the Ramos' brothers three Spokane establishments as the best Mexican restaurants in the Inland Northwest. (DN)

2ND PLACE: Casa de Oro; 3RD PLACE: Rancho Chico; BEST NORTH IDAHO MEXICAN: Rancho Viejo


BEST DELI

BROOKLYN DELI

With so many delis in Spokane to choose from, the BROOKLYN DELI stands out for a few obvious reasons. The smell of the fresh bread is enough to lure anyone in the front door, and once inside, the soup and sandwich options are more than enough to keep you coming back to try them all out. The location is key — separated enough from the bustle of Riverside, but close enough to get to whenever you need a comfort-food fix. The Brooklyn Deli has something to satisfy any tastebud in Spokane. (MS)

2ND PLACE: Huckleberry's 9th Street Bistro; 3RD PLACE: Domini's; BEST NORTH IDAHO DELI: Daanen's


BEST BREWERY

NORTHERN LIGHTS BREWERY

Usually, for the best of anything, you go straight to the source. In Spokane, for the best brew, you also go straight to the source — the NORTHERN LIGHTS BREWERY. This brewpub serves up seasonal favorites, as well as local traditions. Their fish and chips are popular citywide, and if you don't want to sit in the brewery, their award-winning beer is available at most local grocers. (MS)

2ND PLACE: Coeur d'Alene Brewing Co.; 3RD PLACE: Big Horn Brewery at C.I. Shenanigan's


BEST SANDWICHES

DOMINI'S

When walking downtown, you see an orange and white striped paper bag, and you know someone is about to enjoy the heck out of that lunch. Those DOMINI'S bags mean one thing: an amazing sandwich. The Brothers Domini make sure their sandwiches are jam-packed with mounds of meat and cheese. They don't mess around with vegetables or options galore. Rather, you're promised a carnivore's feast on your choice of bread with a side of popcorn. It's been a Spokane tradition since 1974. Big appetite or small, you'll be satisfied at Domini's — just be prepared to share the popcorn if someone sees the bag. (MS)

2ND PLACE: Subway; 3RD PLACE: High Nooner


BEST OUTDOOR DINING

ELK PUBLIC HOUSE

On a sunny day in Browne's Addition, everyone gets the same idea — to the ELK PUBLIC HOUSE we go. On the way there, we all start hoping there'll be a table available on the patio... and sometimes there is. People line up to eat their turkey sandwiches and barbecue quesadillas out there, from open to close. Even those of us who prefer to eat indoors can be lured to the patio at the Elk on any given sunny day. And on the days the Elk has taken over the block for Elkfest or Elktoberfest, the idea of sitting on said patio is merely a dream. (MS)

2ND PLACE: Anthony's; 3RD PLACE: C.I. Shenanigan's


BEST BAKERY

THE ROCKET

One early morning several years ago while trying to wake up enough to ask Spokane Public Radio listeners for money, I ate my first ROCKET BAKERY scone. Dee-licious! I understand why Inlander readers have again -- for the 11th consecutive year -- chosen the Rocket as the best bakery. From scones to cinnamon rolls, bagels to cookies, the Rocket's sweet goodies put a smile on your face and a few extra millimeters on your rear end. (DN)

2ND PLACE: Rockwood Bakery; 3RD PLACE: Great Harvest


Good Answer! - Wisdom from the ballots of our Best Of Voters

Can you think of a nicer place to fill out your Inlander Best Of ballot than "the deck of our time share in the Ka'anapali Ocean resort" on Maui?

Larry and Jan Brown, co-owners of Spokane's Onion Bar and Grill and Frank's Diner, win this year's award for "Ballot that made the longest trip to Spokane." The postmark? Lahaina, Hawaii.

While they're away in January and February, "the person who cares for our house sends us The Inlander, because they know we enjoy reading it," says Jan (pictured above with granddaughter Corinee Frances Webster). When the Browns got their package in the mail, they saw they had only a few days to fill out the ballot and send it back in the already-addressed stamped envelope their caretaker had provided. (Who says you can't find good help anymore?)

So carrying their ballots and "a Mai Tai or two" — "They help you to think better," jokes Jan — the Browns made the long trek to the lanai and sat down to their task. "Sometimes you get island fever and it's hard to remember those technical things like Best TV Anchor," she says.

But they persevered and filled out most categories. Larry, who refers to himself as "semi-retired," clearly remembered his marketing skills in tabbing the Onion for Best Burgers, Best Service, Best Kid-Friendly Dining, Best Beer Selection, Best Happy Hour, Best Place for a Blind Date and Best Bar Food and Frank's Diner for Best Breakfast. (Not to pick on Larry. Jan had several Onions on her ballot too. Sometimes you gotta toot your own horn!)

"We've always enjoyed filling out the survey," says Larry. And the survey has been good to the Browns over the years: Frank's Diner was one of our inaugural Hall of Fame winners last year, and the Onion has won five times for Best Burger. That kind of popularity has allowed the Browns to hand off day-to-day operations of their restaurants and to get away when it's cold and enjoy the good life. (DOUG NADVORNICK)


BEST OF HALL OF FAMER

ARBOR CREST

This year marks the 10th time in 15 years that we've asked readers to name their favorite winery, and it's the 10th time ARBOR CREST has walked away with the prize. But there's a big difference between 1994 and today. Back then, Arbor Crest was one of four or five local wineries. Today, there are 12 in Spokane alone, so there's a lot more competition for the title. And yet Arbor Crest still tops the list.

The winery got its start in 1982, when Washington's wine industry was still in its infancy, says winemaker Kristina Mielke-van Loben Sels. (In fact, Arbor Crest was Washington's 29th winery.) Her parents and her uncle founded the winery; her uncle lived here, but she and her parents were in California.

"We'd come up every summer, so I'd work at the winery in the summers," she says of her teen years. That summertime exposure to the wine business led her to study fermentation science at the University of California, Davis. "I worked in the [wine] industry down there for seven years. Then my uncle said, 'It's time for you to come up here.'"

Kristina and her husband Jim assumed operations at the winery in 1999, and the winery has seen some exciting changes since then, including a brand-new tasting room at the Arbor Crest Cliff House overlooking the Spokane Valley. "We built that in 2003, and it was a stretch at the time, but it helped accommodate so many more people," she says. Before, the tasting room was in a tiny subterranean room in the Cliff House basement, and lines for wine tastings often stretched out the door.

They both visit the vineyards frequently, she says. "My husband has a strong background in viticulture, so he's in the vineyard all the time ... and then I go down when fruit is getting ripe and ready to be picked."

Arbor Crest currently produces about 20,000 cases of wine a year, and Kristina says they're comfortable at that level. "What we're seeing now is the results of all the work we've put into the vineyards," she says. "Being able to see it and taste it in the wine is exciting."

Kristina says she enjoys working with all the variables of winemaking — grapes, sugar levels, yeast, barrels, aging, blending. "Two different winemakers with the exact same grapes are going to produce different wines," she says. "It's not a recipe. It's both an art and a science, and that's what I love about it. It's a lot of hard work, but I really do love what I do." (ANN M. COLFORD)

Previous Winners

(Sorry, no information is currently available for other years in this same award category.)

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