Best of Houston®

Best Of 2005

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Best Of :: People & Places

Best Zoo Animal

What is it? A sleek, striped donkey? A purplish-red zebra with round ears, horns and a long tongue? A furry dinosaur of some kind? Nope, none of the above. It's the okapi, and its only living relative is the giraffe. Western science didn't even know these five-foot-tall, leaf-chewing critters existed until the 1890s; the okapi was the last of the world's large mammals to be "discovered." Other fun facts about okapis, which have been on exhibit at the Houston Zoo since 2002: They are the only creature on earth able to clean their ears with their tongues (other than Gene Simmons of KISS). And according to Houston Zoo veterinarian Lauren Howard, interviewed on the zoo's Web site, they are smart beasts. Unlike most other large animals, they can be taught to allow easy inspection of their hooves, heart, eyes, ears and pregnant bellies. "Plus," adds Howard, "okapi babies are the cutest!"
Readers' choice: Giraffe

Best Cheap Date

Forget the unwieldy handle, and remember this about the UTMB-TAMUG 2005-2006 Classical Concerts series: It's absolutely free. You can spend an evening at fine arts venues in Houston and fork over a pile of Benjamins for some of the same concerts that book dates for free in Galveston. Sure, the scheduling is a bit haphazard, and some concerts are announced only a week or so in advance, but the price is right. This year's series opened with an evening of flamenco music and dancing by touring Houston ensemble Lucia & Valdemar with Gitanerias Flamenco. Check the Web site for upcoming shows. And when we say leave the wallet and plastic at home, we mean it: There's plenty of street parking around the UTMB campus, and -- we're not making this up -- free punch and cookies are typically served at intermission.

Best Apartment Complex

In a city where not having a car is a death sentence for your social life, we'll give the Bissonnet Village Apartments a nod for being strategically close to one of the hottest singles scenes in the city: Rice Village. Auto-challenged residents of "The BV" can stroll -- if need be -- to the nearby Village restaurants and bars, or just hang at the neighboring Goode Co. Taqueria. The complex is a haven for young Med Center professionals and college kids who cash in on the generous student discounts. And we love that the Marquis II bar -- a favorite of the frat/sorority set and one of the best joints in town to pick up drunken coeds -- is just a brief jaunt away, should you find yourself bleary-eyed and staggering on a Tuesday night (not that we would know anything about that...).

Best Place to People-Watch

If you want to get a real look at the people populating our hippest little multicultural area, just mosey on over to the Taco Cabana at the corner of Montrose and Westheimer, order a plate of nachos and a margarita, and pull up a chair. You'll see transvestites hailing down cars for dates, homeless youths who look like Blink-182 gone wild hawking everything from stolen CDs to crystal meth, tow truck drivers hell-bent on knocking somebody out, street hustlers with pit bulls, and ordinary prostitutes who are holding on to that slice of land as if it were decreed to them in the Declaration of Independence. And we won't even talk about the folly you'll witness coming out of the condom shop next door. There's a million and one stories written every day at that highly trafficked intersection. You're guaranteed to witness about 20 in ten minutes.
Readers' choice: The Galleria

Best Reason to Stay in Houston During the Summer

Many a balmy Houston night has been made cooler and more comfortable thanks to the efforts of the Houston Symphony. Beginning in June, when it first presented Summer Symphony Nights at Miller Outdoor Theatre, our skies have been filled with sweet sounds designed to make us forget that we've still got sweat dripping off our brows. The symphony's Lord of the Rings Symphony brought us into the air-conditioning of Jones Hall on a couple of hot July nights to witness its haunting musical retelling of the classic trilogy, and we returned for its excruciatingly fun take on Bugs Bunny on Broadway. But after that, it was back outside for more music, including a night at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, where the symphony backed disco diva Donna Summer.
Readers' choice: Air-conditioning

Best Charity

Picking the best charity is harder than it sounds. What are the criteria: the condition of the recipients? The overall effectiveness? How the money is spent? Well, if you consider all of those, then Houston's Shriners Hospital just might be the best charity to donate to this year. The hospital provides free -- yes, free -- medical care to children suffering from major bone, joint and muscle problems. These include scoliosis, brittle bone disease, limb deficiencies and spina bifida, among many others. The staff includes orthopedic surgeons, orthopedic subspecialists and pediatricians, according to spokesperson Raquel Espinoza-Williams. Many of the city's finest private practitioners also volunteer their services to the 40-bed facility. Why? Because offering excellent medical care for free isn't cheap: Last year's tab was $18 million. Why not pony up your share?

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Best Zoo Animal: Okapi

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