Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Whodunit? Murder by the Book, that's who. The 26-year-old Inner Loop book nook has retained a loyal following despite the proliferation of enormous chains in its immediate neighborhood. Many patrons of the indie store are die-hard mystery fans who go to see and hear the parade of prestigious and up-and-coming mystery authors who give readings there several times a week. Some go in search of the stacks of signed first editions, the abundance of rare and collector books, the award-winning bimonthly magazine The Dead Beat or to attend the monthly mystery book club. Still others have been clued in to the genuinely good service and informed recommendations of its staff and have switched to reading mysteries as a matter of principle. It doesn't take a detective to see why Houston readers have made this place their favorite for decades.
There are few adulthood joys that compare to the childhood experience of walking into a Toys-R-Us. But walking into Spec's Liquor gives grown-ups that same feeling of wonder. You immediately find yourself running down the aisles going, "Oh, wow! I can't believe they have this stuff, too!" Wanna down some New Orleans Voodoo Lager that you never thought you'd find in Texas? Spec's has you covered. Need to impress snooty friends with a Scotch so fine it would make Dominique Sachse jealous? Check. Need to be romantic in a pinch and pick up a rare red wine from Oregon that your girlfriend loves? They've got your back. And this playground isn't just confined to the world of alcoholics. Cigar aficionados, cheese buffs and people who love to eat rare foods will all enjoy the libationary wonderland that is Spec's Liquor.
Although having something dry-cleaned sounds like it should be a straightforward task, it can sometimes be a horrific experience: You drop off your most expensive piece of clothing and it comes back destroyed, with a terse reminder of the cleaner's liability disclaimer. A former member of Faith No More once went so far as to purposefully puke all over his dry cleaner's counter after those folks ruined his favorite shirt. Fortunately, there's no need for puking at Montrose Dry Cleaners they're always happy to take your stuff, and they always manage to return it to you safe, clean and sound. As simple as that seems, it's woefully rare.
The company's Web site says the typical DSW store carries more than 30,000 pairs of shoes in more than 2,000 styles. Sounds about right. The two Houston locations are huge yet easy-to-navigate churches of footwear. They've got everything from dress shoes to flip-flops at prices that will make your wallet as happy as your feet. And the staff isn't pushy, so you'll never have salespeople on your heels while you test out that pair of Pumas. This is shoe-shopping made easy and affordable. That should soothe anybody's sole. (Sorry, we couldn't resist.)
That's right, Megaplexxx. With three Xs, you know you're getting the real deal. We're talking a purported 100,000 movies, eight private viewing rooms and nine 63-channel arcades. We're talking a cornucopia of porn a "pornucopia," if you will. They've got hot new releases, cheap used videos and classics, and there's always a good sale going on. You like amateur videos? They've got 'em. MILFs? Check. Tranny delight? You betcha. Interracial? Don't even get us started. Basically, if it's legal, it's for sale, along with a nice little selection of toys and lingerie. It's one-stop shopping! Fun for the whole family! Er, wait, scratch that...
The total square footage of this market comes to an even freakin' huge. They had to invent a whole new measurement to calculate the aisles of exotic treasures you'll find in this Chinatown landmark. It's nothin' fancy, just tons of great produce, meat, fish, spices and desserts you'd rarely find elsewhere under one roof. Plus, watching the dudes cut up the fish is at least as exciting as the last Bruckheimer movie you saw. The store is located in the Hong Kong City Mall, so if you're fatigued and famished from the drive, you can treat yourself to some delicious dim sum and tapioca pearl drinks or chow down on whatever you just bought. This market is a must.
Once upon a time, nerds had to wait until they died to get to computer heaven. But the brothers Fry saw a market in sentient beings, so they opened one of the most kick-ass electronics stores around. And they put an emphasis on customer service to make shopping at their stores a good experience for non-nerds as well. With hardware, software, iMacs, PCs, games and robots to do your bidding, Fry's has it all. Okay, maybe not that last one. Yet. But this gigantic warehouse-type store is filled with everything you could possibly need for your computer/spaceship/spy satellite, and at reasonable prices. You can even shop online.
Has your green thumb turned brown and got ya down? And has that balcony herb garden barely yielded enough to do anything other than order takeout? Maybe it's time to stop picking plants at the grocery store as an afterthought. Buchanan's specializes in flora native to the area, so whatever greenery you choose will love the oppressive heat and humidity of this swamp of a town. Choose from a wide array of native trees, shrubs and wildflowers. Add color with in-season annuals. Insert a touch of nostalgia with heirloom vegetables and antique roses. Freshen up your cooking by planting a garden of herbs that really will flourish at home. Not the outdoorsy type? Let the knowledgeable staff help you choose some house plants to spruce up your living room. And add to your decor with their selection of candles, chimes, fountains and other eye-catching items.
Metrosexuals, unite! While the term may have gone out of vogue, (some) men's proclivity to stay neatly groomed predates and will forever outlive pop phrases such as "manscaping." Owner Raul Guzman opened METRO in November 2004 and has been offering cosmetic services, massage and pampering to his male clientele ever since. Relax in the hot tub or with a refreshing swim in the outdoor tropical pool surrounded by palm trees and lush, exotic vegetation. Popular services include soothing 90-minute massages, deep-tissue mud wraps and, of course, waxes in anticipation of beachgoing season. One service of interest is the "strim" (small trim), for body parts like the bikini area. And that seems polite to us. Hey, if someone's nice enough to visit your garden, it's good manners to make sure the bush is trimmed. And if you happen to be a woman or have a female significant other with whom you'd like to share a pampering ex-spa-rience, Mondays are coed.
In cities such as San Francisco, almost every neighborhood has a boutique bakery with handmade breads and pastries cooked with top-quality ingredients. Houston has Kraftsmen. Walk over (if you live in Montrose) or drive in from Sugar Land. Either way, it's worth the trip if you value a great French baguette or boule crunchy on the outside, dense and moist in the middle or a croissant that's light, crisp and not too oily. The zucchini bread has a following, and the sticky buns are the tastiest use of day-old croissants that you're likely to find in Texas. Whether you eat in the springy interior or under an oak tree on the brick patio next to the branch library, you're apt to feel like staying for a while. Indeed, Kraftsmen draws a seasoned gaggle of lingerers foodies, ladies who lunch, students and celebrity-watchers looking out for the man in charge, Houston chef and Pic./Gravitas founder Scott Tycer.
Yes, we know they sell meat at Fiesta and Kroger and Whole Foods. But do they sell hog chitterlings and Cajun pan sausage? Do they sell smoked andouille and three kinds of boudin? Well, they do at Burt's Meat Market & Cajun Foods, making the trek past payday stores and pawnshops to its low-slung building in the Fifth Ward well worth it. Thin slices of fat pieced in with lean pork give the andouille a richness without being overpowering. The boudin is flecked with fresh herbs. The stuffed pork chops are an amazing value at $4.69 a pound. And the high-quality staples ground chuck, fryers and sirloin will please any budget-conscious grill jockey between here and Omaha. If the sight of so much abundance makes you too hungry to wait, don't fret: A buffet section dishes up many of Burt's delicacies, hot and ready for munching.
We've been to Absinthe Lounge on nights it's so busy that you can't hear a damn thing over the voices echoing off the tile floor, and each time we're more impressed with owner Ralph Rager, who's a machine when it comes to slinging drinks. He's so deft and accurate, so quick with his hands and on his feet, that we can't help but wonder if he wasn't trained in a sweatshop. He'll have people yelling at him from all directions, and he'll spit everything back out with a slice of lime. Seriously, the man's in the weeds less than Tiger Woods.