Best Of :: Shopping & Services
The Briar Shoppe is a Houston institution. The place, originally opened by the current owner's mother, has been around for about 45 years. The store is an all-woman enterprise, but macho aficionados keep coming back. The walk-in humidor is great, with an easy-to-browse selection. All the favorites in the $5-to-$10 range — Cohiba, Macanudo, Romeo y Julieta — are there. For a couple bucks more, you can pick up something from the large selection of Padrón cigars. The really ambitious smoker looking to spend serious cash can check out the Stradivarius Robusto Major. The Briar Shoppe also sells plenty of designer cutters and lighters. Smoking is allowed inside, but there isn't a lot of room for lounging. Prices are a tad higher at The Briar Shoppe, but expect great customer service whether buying or browsing.
Kuenhert's Auction house is not quite a store, but there's not a more exciting way in town to shop for fabulous French antiques, plush Persian rugs or even a palette full of kooky knick-knacks, old toys, or strange hats. Every Thursday night, the hearty souls who are game enough pick up a number, sit down in the audience and wait for the auctioneer to start the bidding. Everything goes and there's no minimum bid, so stunning deals are to be had by all. Designers have been going there for years; now it's your chance to get in on the action. All it takes is a quick hand and a strong heart — once that arty armoire is yours, there's no returning it.
Want to add a distinct look to your bedroom furniture? You could always pick up one of the many tree-killing catalogues from your recycling pile, or head to Adkins in Midtown for antique glass drawer pulls. Try those great Grecian urns to flank your apartment's porch, or Art Deco tiles for a kitchen backsplash. But if you like something, buy it. Part of the charm at this rambling, sprawling old house festooned with old lawn furniture is the fact that once an item is gone, you may never see another like it again.
Viet Hoa is the Fiesta of Asian supermarkets and a pure delight for seekers of groceries and colorful oddities alike. It's big, it's clean and on any given day, you can find silk flowers, flip-flops and thousand-year-old eggs within a few steps of each other. The back wall is covered with tanks full of unusual sea creatures and case after case of fresh fish. If seafood isn't your thing, the array of roasted and barbecued meats could turn a vegetarian carnivorous. On the way out, a dizzying and attractive selection of jellied products is tempting enough to make you want to eat white fungus and mung bean...and like it.
Space City Wheels is what you might call a high-end auto parts store. Not a lot of air filters and brake fluid, but a helluva lot of chrome. Space City Wheels strictly sells rims and tires, and the shop's showroom alone is worth a visit. It looks like a strip club or casino filled with a lot of rims. Anything in the showroom is in stock — from the 22-inch Giovannas to the 30-inch Dubs — at Space City's huge warehouse. Full-service installation is included with purchase, and the store can almost guarantee same-day service. Space City is family owned and operated and has been for 15 years. Be sure to check out the yellow and black ATV decked out with ridiculously large rims. Bonus for the store's motto: "We open Sundays."
A beginning fisherman (or woman) could get lost in this sprawling tackle store in south Houston. But the staff can hook you up with all the equipment and knowledge you need to be on your way. Unlike other big-box outdoor stores, Fishing Tackle Unlimited is straight fishing. There's plenty of gear for any kind of angling — in-shore, offshore or fly. The shop hosts a couple instructional classes and demos throughout the year, but on any day a staffer will take you to the parking lot and teach the technique with a casting or fly reel. Fishing Tackle Unlimited also has a nice variety of kayaks, which it rents for $50 a day. If you get serious about kayaking, the rental fee can be applied to the purchase price. You can also try out a kayak in the store's big outdoor pool.
Elizabeth Harrison and Peter Cooper may have gone Hollywood — the couple moved to L.A. to make films — but when it came time to open a bakery, they did it back home in H-Town. Their last flick, Love and Mary, was shot in Houston, and about a baker; also, Harrison has had a sweet tooth for years. So the swanky little shop in Uptown Park is just a natural extension of their creative juices. If gluttony is a vice, so be it. But one bite of her granny's Nutella cupcake and you'll be hooked and craving (yeah, we said it) more cupcakes.
Can't fix your bike? Yes, you can. Workshop Houston gives you the tools and the knowledge to mend clicking cranks, hard-to-handle handlebars, flat tires and more — all for free (unless you need new parts, but those are practically free). They'll even teach you how to build your own bike. Sure, you could just leave your ride with a mechanic, but you might be surprised at how little time and money it takes to do it yourself. Already got the know-how? Don't let these guys stand in your way. Tell them the tools you need and they'll point you in the right direction. Stick around long enough and take a tour of the Chopper Shop. All profits are put back into expanding the shop and Workshop Houston's other charity projects that benefit Houston youth.
There are sometimes as many as six author appearances a week at Murder by the Book. That's reason enough to love it. Add that the store specializing in mysteries has an extensive range of titles and an incredibly knowledgeable staff, and it's easy to see why it wins our Best Bookstore award. Authors routinely alter their tour plans to stop at Murder by the Book, which they say is among the most hospitable in the country (read: they sell a lot of books). So, want a graphic thriller? Murder by the Book has it. How about a steamy whodunit? Got it. Or an English cozy? Check. Mysteries — with every level of intrigue, sex and violence, and characters ranging from the hardened P.I. to the English grandma, the modern vampire to the medieval damsel — cram the shelves.
All right, so, "Best Candy Store," let's see...mmm...chocolate-covered popcorn...Whoops, sorry. Got distracted. Anyway, Chocolate Bar has served delicious homemade goodies for years now...mmm...chocolate cream truffles and s'mores chocolate cheesecake...Whoa — did it again! Sorry about that. Now where were we? Oh yes, Chocolate Bar has excellent ice cream, cakes and coffees to go along with their chocolate specialties like chocolate "greeting" bars and chocolate-dipped fresh fruit...mmm...and chocolate pizza...They also have sugar-free choices and even carob-covered goodies for your dog (i.e., chocolate-free). So really, it's no wonder that Chocolate Bar is this year's winner for...mmm...brownies...
This category really should be "Best Chiropractor and Former Movie Actor." Brian Cesak was one of the stars of Kevin Reynolds's first feature film, the 1985 road movie cult classic Fandango, with one spoken line (hilarious though it may be). A poster from the movie hangs in his Memorial-area office. You wonder if he's the lush he portrays in the movie, but one session convinces you there's no way. No one in their cups could manage such focused adjustments; plus, he's got the Jesus fish on his business cards. One thing he does have in common with the character he played: When it comes to discussing the movie, they're equally chatty. He's more focused on healing folks now.
Packaged in a simple brown paper box, this chocolate cube may not look groundbreaking, but when it comes to chocolate, it's taste that counts. Richard Kaplan, a former chef at trendy New York and Key West spots, hit the Houston chocolate scene in 2004 with a burst of flavor combos seldom if ever seen before. His recipes range from mixing milk chocolate with Jack Daniel's, caramel, cashews and fleur de sel, to white chocolate with candied Meyer lemon, Myers's dark rum and thyme. And don't forget the delicious dark stuff; Kaplan offers six variations that will make you smile and swoon. Brown Paper Chocolates can be found at several stores around town including Spec's and Whole Foods, as well as online.