Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Tracy Writers know their mechanics. Driving around this city in search of hot stories puts a lot of strain on our old jalopies. And most of us certainly aren't getting rich, so we need a mechanic who's honest and affordable. According to statistics, there are only about ten such folks left in the world. And, luckily, one of them lives in Houston. His name is Tracy, and he owns Showcase Motors on Main, just north of downtown. Showcase not only fixes cars, it sells and rents them too -- which makes things extremely convenient. And his work is flawless. Tracy's been known to drop prices for struggling writers and starving artists and even gives occasional discounts on rental cars, too. At times, he's been known to even undersell customers, telling them they don't need all the things they requested. Now that's service.
McGowen Cleaners Young professionals in the know swear by this particular dry cleaner, which is nestled in the Montrose area just west of Dunlavy. And it's not because McGowen offers any gimmicks or a particularly sexy product; it's simply good at cleaning, dryly. One customer swears they can get out any stain. Another notes that they've never once broken a button -- which, alas, is more than we can say about some of their competitors. It's also endlessly reliable: If you give McGowen your clothes, you'll get them back, clean and on time. And isn't that the point?
Heights Floral Shop Established in 1935, Heights Floral Shop is one of the oldest florists in Houston. Age doesn't always indicate excellence (just ask any Hollywood agent), but this family-owned and -operated flower joint is thriving more vibrantly than ever. Take this summer, for example. While many florists reduce their employees' hours during the balmy months, this cozy old house on 20th has its crew working as much as ever. "We do a lot of funerals," says in-house designer Jimmy Castillo. Their beautiful fresh arrangements, Tuscan pottery and lush houseplants not only comfort the bereaved and give hope to the ill in Heights Hospital across the street, but they also give brides that special blush and beautify family celebrations. And through it all, the folks at Heights Floral Shop remain approachable and modest.
Spectacles on Montrose Like the librarian type? Then pop out those contact lenses, man. LASIK is vanity, but eyewear is fashion, and the folks at this friendly boutique can fix you up with the sexiest specs in town. Spectacles on Montrose offers a sprawling variety of über-chic styles, and owners Evan Mape and Corey Theige make choosing a pair a blast. Need an eye exam? No problem. Step in the back, and Dr. Mape will give your peepers a once-over. Unlike other doctors, he'll let you play with that monstrous mechanical eye machine, and he'll even allow you to peer into your sweetie's cornea. You'll never look into that pair of eyes in the same way.
Central Market At Howard E. Butt's megamart, Central Market, there are enough varieties of coffee beans to make Starbucks and Juan Valdez very jealous. The coffee buyers at Houston's gourmet paradise scour the globe to bring you the finest in roasted bulk beans. Blends from Zimbabwe, Kenya and Ethiopia sit alongside beans from Honduras, Costa Rica and Mexico. On each coffee name placard you'll find a helpful description of its flavor. The San Fran blend, for instance, is great for those seeking "good acidity and a spicy lingering aftertaste." Looking for a cup with a fruity aroma and smoky finish? That'd be the mustang blend. And if International Delight creamers aren't cutting it for you, Central Market offers a healthy stock of flavored beans (tiramisu, coconut cream and Texas pecan). Grinders are provided on site, so you can bust up your beans in the traditional style or pulverize them into dust for your French press. If you just don't know where to start, there are samples available and coffee experts on staff.
Takeout Taxi For those times when getting dressed to go out takes too much effort and yet you're tired of zapping your food, you may think your only option is Domino's or Chinese. But you don't have to settle for oversalty kung pao chicken or limp pizza ever again, since the good folks at Takeout Taxi are willing to do all the legwork for you. For a $4.99 delivery fee, Takeout Taxi delivers dishes from more than 100 different restaurants. There's a $15 minimum, but that's not bad, considering you can get Otto's rib plates, Mama Ninfa's carnitas or La Strada's Angus steak salad delivered right to your door.
Village Tropical Fish Don't tell these guys you accidentally killed your kid's pet goldfish -- you're not likely to get a laugh. The staffers at Village Tropical Fish think fish are people too and treat them like best friends. They can tell you what type of fish would be happiest in your tank, when it mates and even if it'll change colors during different times of the year. If your fish keep dying on you, you'll want these experts to step in. Their thorough knowledge of all things finned will have your little Nemo swishing happily round his bowl in no time.
Arandas Bakery Sure, the breads are delish, but it's the sweets that get us salivating every time we walk in the door of an Arandas Bakery. The place is truly Tex-Mex, featuring a variety of desserts from Mexico and the States -- although, when it comes down to it, most the stuff actually originated in Europe, the land of cream and cheese. You can get wedding cakes, cheesecakes and Jell-O. You can get flan, arroz con leche and tres leches. You can get plenty of cavities. You can get it all at Arandas.
Spec's Liquor Where else in Houston can you get a case of Guatemalan lager, a bottle of Italian Pinot Grigio, a towering pastrami sandwich and a big, stinky Arturo Fuente Churchill cigar for the ride home? Nowhere, that's where. In fact, calling Spec's a "liquor store" is like calling the Taj Mahal well a liquor store. Spec's is a 40-year-old, family-run institution, with floor-to-ceiling spirits and a friendly, knowledgeable staff. You have to know your stuff when your flagship store packs thousands of labels of wine, beer and hard stuff into 80,000 square feet. Check out Spec's monthly "Twelve Under $12" wine recommendations, tips on what kind of vino goes with foie gras and recipes for every drink from a Warm Cozy Fire (brandy, butterscotch schnapps and hot chocolate) to a Zanzibar (gin, dry vermouth, orange bitters, sugar and lemon juice). And Fridays and Saturdays, the place becomes a veritable happy hour for drinkers on a budget -- samples of wine and liquor are handed out throughout the store. Bottoms up!
Mid-Century Pavilion At a time when most hip furniture is inspired by the modernism of the '50s and '60s or by the clean lines of old-school Danish designers, why not head to Mid-Century Pavilion for the originals? Instead of dropping $2,000 for a Sam Cocker chair out of the pages of Wallpaper, you could spend $495 for an Eiffel Tower Eames chair, the design junkie's original. Located in one of the last-standing quaint brick storefronts on Washington Avenue, the Pavilion offers vintage furniture from famous designers such as Arne Jacobsen and Verner Panton, as well as assorted treasures like an antique Westinghouse fan and an immaculate, pale yellow-and-chrome Chambers stove. And not everything is mega-expensive. For example, a coffee-table cigarette lighter and a zany atomic-ball fixture are both under 25 bucks.
The Little Watch Shop How many businesses can you think of in this town that have been around for more than ten years? How about 25? And you can forget about 50, right? Well, since 1947, the dedicated specialists at the aptly named Little Watch Shop have been hunched over their desks, working their meticulous magic under the bright lights of this tiny old house on South Shepherd. Whether you need a new band, a fresh battery or even an overhaul to your mother's heirloom timepiece, you can trust the folks at the Little Watch Shop, who've been serving Houstonians' watch-repair needs for nearly seven decades.
Valu The most oft-used phrase inside these four walls must be "They don't know what they have." If they did, they'd be certified eBay millionaires. Think you're too cool for a stinking pawnshop? Maybe a drill, a gun, an obsolete stereo and a copy of Predator 2 on Beta aren't on your current wish list, but Valu at Washington and Durham goes one step beyond in the junky musical-instrument department. Sure, they stock pawnshop standard Ovation acoustics, but you might get lucky and find a severely underpriced, American-made Fender Strat too -- in working condition! Such finds are what make pawnshopping fun in the first place. And this Valu has more quality surprises than ten other pawnshops combined.