Though I can’t improve on the most recent edition of The Pilot’s much-awaited annual Best of the Pines section, please allow me to add an admittedly arbitrary list of some of my own favorite things.

In no particular order …

Coolest on-tap beer selection: Southern Pines Growler.

Most-missed local theater group: Moore OnStage.

Libraries: The one in Southern Pines has the best book selection by far, but the one in Pinehurst has the best atmosphere and the most comfortable furniture. (And attached to the latter is the place with the most fascinating collection of local research materials: Tufts Archives.)

Best and most healthful sandwich: Subway’s turkey-and-ham wrap with spinach, cucumber and tomato, topped with pepper (no salt) and vinegar (no oil).

Best chiles rellenos (which I thank Glenn M. Sides for introducing me to so long ago): La Poblanita, Aberdeen.

(While we’re on the subject of Mexican restaurants, the most missed one is the now-long-closed El Vaquero, Southern Pines. When is someone else going to open up in that handy location, anyway?)

Best car wash: Par 3, Aberdeen.

Most helpful, courteous and well-informed local elected official: Southern Pines’ soft-spoken mayor, David McNeill.

Best breakfast place for your small group to meet: that neat corner room at the Pine Crest Inn, Pinehurst.

Best and most sensible breakfast pastries for those dining at home: cranberry scones from the Harris Teeter bakery department.

Best hot dogs: The Ice Cream Parlor, downtown Southern Pines.

Best and most courteous fast-food service: Chick-fil-A, out on 15-501. Just don’t try to go there on Sunday. It’s closed.

Best bookstore: The Country Bookshop, Southern Pines — unless you’re looking for volumes that somebody else has already read, in which case I recommend Tucker Jo’s Used Books on South Bennett Street.

Best plumbers: John Cole’s.

Most relaxing way to while away a carefree afternoon: Pottery Country.

Best hardware store: Burney’s, Aberdeen.

Best place to work out (though I don’t show my face there nearly often enough): FirstHealth Fitness, Pinehurst.

Best nursery store: Gulley’s, Southern Pines.

Best clubhouse food: Longleaf.

Best pizza: thin and crispy mushroom from Domino’s, U.S. 1, Aberdeen.

Best slaw: Smithfield’s Barbecue, Southern Pines.

Best place for a good, quick, reasonably priced haircut: Great Clips, Aberdeen. (I recommend Brooke.)

Best places to take a walk: Weymouth Center and Penick Village grounds and Reservoir Park.

Best Italian food: Vito’s Ristorante & Pizzeria, Southern Pines.

Best nuts: pistachios from Fresh Market. (You also need to try the sushi there.)

Tied for best brunch: Carolina Hotel, Pinehurst Resort, and Betsy’s Crepes, Southern Pines.

Best place to buy a neat, well-made backyard shed: Cardinal Buildings, Sanford. (They even have guys who’ll come and assemble your shed on-site if there are too many obstructions to trucking in a ready-made one.)

Neatest bar: Ashten’s, Southern Pines.

Coolest little hidden-away pub: the tiny one in back of the Magnolia Inn, Pinehurst.

Best and friendliest bike shop: Rainbow Cycles, North East Broad, Southern Pines.

And last but by no means least: the most gracious lady, and the one that I most miss having in our Weymouth Heights neighborhood: Jean Webster.

Steve Bouser is the retired editor and Opinion editor of The Pilot. Contact him at bouser@email.unc.edu.

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