Best Of Humboldt 2009 -- Readers' Picks

Cover Story,


Lonely Planet ranks Folie Douce "Arcata's best dining option," and our readers expand that to "best in Humboldt County." Lonely P. praises F.D.'s "short but inventive menu of seasonally inspired bistro cooking." Seasonal is one of three key words the restaurant highlights on its web site, the others -- organic and local -- help explain why the locals love it.

Some go for the innovative wood-fired pizzas; others enjoy the ever-changing vegetarian entrées, often based on what the chefs found that day at the Farmers' Market. Wild salmon and duck breast are regular options. My choice is usually the filet mignon, one of three ways: topped with a brandy-spiked Roquefort cream sauce, wrapped in bacon and served with red wine garlic jus or wasabi steak -- marinated, grilled and served with a sauce based on that sinus-clearing Japanese green stuff. But I'm often tempted by the special du jour, because you can tell the cooks love cooking.

The service is excellent; the wine list is accessible, with local vintners featured; the ambiance, artfully elegant and intimate. Part of that intimacy is the fact there are not a lot of tables. Reservations are highly recommended, especially weekends. (1551 G St., Arcata)

-- Bob Doran


Did Rita's win our readers' poll simply because they have more restaurants between Arcata and Eureka than McDonald's? Or do they have so many locations and fans because the food is so damn good? Methinks it's the latter.

Swear to God, Humboldt County must have more Mexican joints per capita than anywhere north of Tijuana, so the odds of success were stacked against Rita and her family when they started the business in what looks like a crack house on Wabash Avenue in Eureka. But the food more than justifies their success, with traditional favorites like chili colorado enchiladas and albondigas soup, human-baby-sized burritos (Jr. Ranchero con tinga, por favor) and an extensive selection of eclectic specials, like the Torta de Tamale, served on Brio bread.

With a large selection of premium tequilas in Arcata and on Harris Street in Eureka, their margaritas rule. ¡Muy delicioso!

-- Ryan Burns


We intentionally kept this category broad, pitting indie record shops (they still have those?) against behemoths like Target, which got a number of votes, believe it or not. In the end, the grocery store at the top of the hill came out at the top of the heap.

Wildberries Marketplace is so totally Arcata. They've got your organic, local produce; a nice beer and wine selection; the WildNectar juice bar, with its power shakes, smoothies and wheat grass; the WildPlatter Cafe, where they'll make you a mean deli sandwich or a dinner of meatloaf and mashed potatoes; flowers, bulk food, vegetarian fare; there's a Ramone's Bakery inside. You can even pay your power and cable bills there!

For you karma believers, owner Phil Ricord has a long record of giving back to the community. Namaste, Phil. Celebrating its 15th year, Wildberries calls itself "your supermarket of choice" -- now here's proof.

-- Ryan Burns


Apparently Humboldtians are not going to let a non-earthquake safe building get between them and their cup of joe. All you courageous coffee chuggers out there have spoken, and Old Town Coffee & Chocolates is your Best Coffeehouse for 2009.

The premier I've-got-nothing-to-do spot in Old Town Eureka, OTC&C has secured its place in the hearts of those pursuing fine specialty drinks and teas and as a location for moochers to suck up free WiFi bandwidth.

Was it the rustic, crumbling brick motif that won you over? Or perhaps it's the colorful cast of characters that daily congregate out front that set the mood? Whatever it is, the blend is satisfying to North Coast residents. But you might want to consider wearing a helmet in case "the big one" hits. Even if you die, you'll die well-caffeinated and happy. (211 F Street, Eureka.)

-- Andrew Goff


You can get a Cosmo or a Long Island Iced Tea anywhere; where but the Alibi, I ask you, can you also get deep-fried pickles? Or for that matter, fresh fish, a portobello omelet, Spam-burgers and eight varieties of Bloody Mary?

In short, as these poll results testify, there's something for just about everyone. Smack-dab in the middle of the Arcata Plaza's "bar row," the Alibi distinguishes itself not only with its multifarious nosh but with plenty of hard-rockin' out-of-town band bookings, LGBT-friendly peeps and a dark-but-not-skeezy ambiance (gotta love those charmingly crappy dog murals).

The drinks ain't cheap, and on the weekends the place positively crawls with schwilly, puke-happy Humboldt students downing Jell-O Shots. But after a few pints of loudmouth soup, it's all part of the fun. Anyway, hic, here's to the Alibi. (744 Ninth St., Arcata)

-- Ryan Burns


Readers were so dumbstruck by this place's beauty -- both vigorous and languorous -- that all they could do was write "Moonstone Beach." No flowery comments about pelicans and gulls and orange crab shells and mossy cliffs. No enthusiastic rants about surfing The Camel or wading the Little River or skittering along the shore on a little skim board or tossing the stick for Chuck and Delroy. No sentimental mention of the ferny little cave. No boasting about conquering the climbing rock. Really, it doesn't need to be said. Just go, and you will know.

-- Heidi Walters


Here there be pterodactyls. And huge Roosevelt elk. Water trickles and rushes through lush Fern Canyon, in Prairie Creek Redwood State Park, and the multiple species of ferns seem to want to grab you and pull you into their prehistoric embrace. Readers said: "Beautiful drive to get there, may see elk on the beach, nice hiking trails, otherworld scenery in the canyon, think Jurassic Park. Very cool." And, "what more can I say." And, take note, "(at the right time of year)." And, finally, "Unique place. And you always have to show'm the big trees." Yes, there are redwoods before you get into the canyon. And then there is sand and ocean and golden bluffs.

-- Heidi Walters


Is first-term Eureka City Councilmember Larry Glass the Obama of the North Coast? Some scoffed when the longtime Old Town business owner announced his intention to run three years ago. He had moved to town specifically to run for office. He was coming off a stint as head of a citizens' group (Citizens for Real Economic Growth) that stood in opposition to the proposed Home Depot-centered Marina Center project on the Eureka waterfront -- a risky proposition, at the time.

But Glass won while the other two candidates on the "progressive slate" that year did not, and from the moment he took office he's been winning over the non-believers. The central focus of his work in the ensuing years has been crime. He's been a strong champion of the reform-minded Eureka Police Department Chief Garr Nielsen, and he's been the department's strongest champion in budget negotiations. He's probably the hardest-working council member, besides -- any neighborhood group with a problem will tell you that he's the go-to guy when you need a city official at your meeting.

Like the President, Glass has lately been accused of overreaching. His initiative to crack down on problem rental homes ran into a wall -- see last week's cover story, "Broken Glass Houses" -- but our poll numbers suggest that he's doing just fine.

-- Hank Sims


Shockingly, this item garnered the least interest of any in our readers' poll, but a clear favorite did emerge -- particularly among fans of Saint John and the Sinners (see below). The multifaceted Kim Starr, aka Verbena -- anarchist, Copwatch coordinator, advocate for the houseless -- is the best activist in Humboldt County. You can't argue with results!

Perhaps one should measure the effectiveness of an activist by the number of times he or she is arrested -- per month, say. By this metric, Verbena is untouchable. In fact, just as we were going to press news came that she had just been arrested again -- this time while protesting the city of Eureka's code enforcement action against a problematic downtown home. The cops took her down for allegedly "violating a court order" and "resisting arrest."

The struggle continues.

-- Hank Sims


Winners by a mile -- drum roll -- fiery blues rock combo Saint John and the Sinners! It must be noted, though, that the bulk of the band's votes were hand-delivered to the Journal office last Tuesday, when an unidentified male turned in a manila envelope stuffed with ballots including 38 where "Best Band" was the only category marked. Earlier an online voter tried rigging the contest by entering scads of votes from the same computer. Conspiracy? Perhaps, but we're confident the victory was earned fair and square.

Are The Sinners the best band in the county? Well, it says right on their web site that they are "The North Coast's Finest Blues and Rock and Roll Band." They were one of just two local bands to land a coveted slot at Blues by the Bay. And no less an authority than Rolling Stone magazine described bandleader Saint John Hunt as "an accomplished and soulful guitar player, leaning heavily toward Eric Clapton." The quote comes from a story on the death of St. John's dad, E. Howard Hunt, a CIA covert operative best remembered as one of the Watergate plumbers.

When he's not playing the blues, Saint is busy marketing a book, Bond of Secrecy, and accompanying DVD, in which he lays out the secret conspiracy that led to the JFK assassination. Incidentally, the Rolling Stone piece also notes another name Saint considered for his band: The Konspirators.

-- Bob Doran


Eureka multimedia artist Duane Edward Flatmo was the runaway winner in the Visual Artist category, and Flatmo (as he is universally known) is an obvious choice.

His often whimsical and sometimes gargantuan murals are all over the county, particularly in Eureka, where he spent years as mentor for the youth project Rural Burl Mural Bureau. He's been one of the most prominent racers/designers for the Kinetic Sculpture Race for more than a quarter century. His graphic work is everywhere, from posters for Humboldt events to product labels (most notably Lost Coast Brewing and FoxFarm Soil and Fertilizer Co.). He crafts heavy metal furniture from recycled metal parts.

He's also a musician, and has drawn national attention through his performance art, parlaying one trick (playing "Malagueña" with an eggbeater) into multiple big time TV appearances. He was declared "The Most Interesting Person in California" by comedian Tom Green and The Tonight Show.

As one of our readers put it: "Art shows made of junk, appearances on national television, outstanding Kinetic sculptures, diverse murals, beer bottles ... need I say more?"

-- Bob Doran


Why is Arcata best? Our readers explained.

Some were succinct: "Good people, brave entrepreneurs, progressive politics." "Community Forest, Arcata Marsh, HSU, cool stores."

Others waxed poetic: "Its beauty reigns because of the karmic circle that the residents create by supporting local products and keeping the $$$ in the community. It just keeps getting better and better here."

Or talked sociology: "A lot is to be said about a town with a central square. Every day we see the social networking and gathering allowed within this space. Students and community members all find themselves drawn to this local meeting space and a sense of unity follows ... Eurekans who have no such meeting space..."

And there was a little gloating: "Cliché, but sorry, it's true. People who live elsewhere come here to hang out. If you live here, you're already here."

-- Bob Doran


Well, we'll be goddamned. The one thing that everyone bitches about most turns out to be the thing that is also closest to their heart. That's right -- the best reason to live in Humboldt County isn't the redwoods, or the weed, or small-town living, or even something so vague and cuddly as "the people." It's the weather.

How to explain? Partly, it must be due to the fact that polling was open during two of the most glorious weeks on the calendar. More likely, though, we're coming to recognize the advantages of living the fog-bound life. We're perched at the south end of a tiny, thin strip of Pacific Northwest coastline that stretches north to Washington; move outside this safe zone anytime between June and September and you're entering the scorched wasteland of America in the age of global warming. When it's 110 degrees out, we cling to the memory of the Humboldt fog like a life preserver. And when we get back we count our blessings.

-- Hank Sims

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