After spending way too much money on Day of the Dead bread at a bakery inside the Loop last year, a friend-in-the-know pointed us to this bakery, fused to the side of a taqueria near Hobby Airport. Order your Day of the Dead bread early, as this popular panadería gets muy busy closer to the holiday. No need to wait if you've got a taste for some pan dulce. Walk in, grab a tray and tongs, and help yourself: empanadas, galletas, maranitos, whatever you fancy. It's all there, and it's all delicious. After you make your selections, they'll ring you up and bag your goodies. A recent visit cost just a little more than $5, with two bags of delicious desserts tantalizing us in the car the whole way home.
"We doctor shoes. We heel them, we save their soles and attend their dyeing." So goes the motto of Herman Shoe Repair, a mom-and-pop outfit run out of a converted old house in the Heights. The place, owned by veteran boot repairman Herman McCarty, is pungent with the smells of leather and polishes, the way any good shoe clinic should be. What sets Herman apart is the quick, dependable service and the reasonable rates. Resoling boots starts at $41.50, and takes up to two hours. Old boots return transformed to their former glory, with sturdy soles, attractive heels and impeccable stitching. Herman's dedication to his clients leaves him little time for anything else. When asked for some basic facts about his business, a harried McCarty replied, "I ain't got time for this right now. I've got customers."

We don't know about your pets, but ours don't like to take medication. At all. We have the battle scars to prove it. Instead of buying cases of first-aid ointment to heal all the wounds received while trying to administer medication to our asthmatic cat, we discovered it's cheaper and easier to call BCP Veterinary Pharmacy. They work wonders with asthma medication, insulin, antibiotics -- you name it. Instead of wedging a pill between little FiFi's clenched teeth as she scratches every inch of you to get free, you can give little FiFi a VetChew, a medicated treat flavored with chicken, tuna, shrimp, liver, beef, seafood or even fruit flavors. If little FiFi is too finicky, you can get the medication in a transdermal gel, which you rub into your pet's ear, where it is absorbed. BCP is the brainchild of Houstonian Jennifer Gimon, R.Ph., who now boasts clients in homes, wildlife refuges and zoos all over the globe.
For a bakery, St. Honoré is located in a weird place: inside an Asian mall that is perpetually empty, its escalators moving and moving nobody at all. Never mind, though. Just head straight to the bakery on the first floor, with the window display of a huge gingerbread-houselike Chinese palace, layered in icing. St. Honoré bakes delightful French-style cakes, multicolored cake rolls, bite-sized icing-topped desserts, fragrant raisin bread, all sorts of rolls with coconut and pudding fillings, and a yummy bolo (pineapple) bun. They also serve up simple lunches like ham-and-egg croissants, and ground onion and beef baked inside croissants. (Which is actually a lot tastier than it sounds.)
Meandering the aisles of Droubi's with Arabic music in the air, one can imagine wandering through a Lebanese open market, only with air-conditioning. The aroma of constantly baking bread that is sold still warm, a myriad of bulk herbs and spices sold by the pound and the daily lunch specials of Lebanese food sold in the grocery's small dining area keep the nose twitching and the mouth watering. The expansive family-owned grocery is a mystery tour for Anglo customers who know neither the language nor the alphabet and can only hope for a picture of the product on the label, but "tourist shoppers" eventually find what they're looking for. The deli is easier -- you just need to know how to point -- but the vast selection of feta, olives and pickled vegetables (including eggplant) requires at least some agonizing. Fresh hummus and baba ghanoush, so popular they must be made several times a day, are inexpensive and tasty, as are the kibbe, cabbage rolls and stuffed grape leaves. While the prospect of visiting the war-torn Middle East might be a little unnerving, taste buds can still take a vacation here.
Legend has it that Fred once threw a couple out of Rudyard's because they ordered only water. All right, so it sounds a little harsh. Actually, it's comforting. The world is full of bartenders who are willing to give you free water, listen to your stupid problems and shake their heads sympathetically. But not Fred. He's too busy serving your pathetic ass some cold beer to mess with that nonsense. If you need a quality drink and some witty banter and you need both right away, Fred is your man. Plus, he's a bartender you can trust because he actually drinks the bar's liquor and hangs out there when he's not working. You'll usually find him throwing darts, dressed in his well-worn Montrose Beer and Gun Club T-shirt. Yes indeed, Fred is a drinker's bartender if ever there was one. Just don't order only water.
The founder, owner, operator and sole employee of Bugs & Burglars is Roy Law Elliot, a Houston native who has also been, at one time or another, the owner of Doctor Doom's Garage of Mystery (a legendary Volkswagen repair facility in Berkeley, California), a counterculture T-shirt silk screener (12 designs are in the permanent collection of the Oakland Museum of Art), the confidant of underground cartoonists and the husband of, at last count, six very interesting women. That, however, does not give the full picture of the man, who comes up with more ideas in the course of a morning than most men do in an entire lifetime (he also has a business card for an enterprise called Neptune, which has the slogan "Inventions While You Wait"). His bug treatments are guaranteed for one full year and annihilate all the usual Houston invertebrates. The "Burglars" in the company name refers to an Elliot invention: a steel structure built around a door frame, thus rendering the front door sturdy enough to withstand an attack by a small medieval army. But don't take our word for it.
There is nothing quite like Christopher's in Houston. The creation of the husband-and-wife team of Christopher and Donna Massie, this 6,000-square-foot, single-venue operation offers rare wines that sometimes are allocated by growers and importers to less than one case for the entire state of Texas. French wines are showcased here, as Massie himself has lived and worked in French vineyards and is a certified sommelier with more than 15 years of experience. Other countries and, of course, California are also represented. The inventory usually runs to about 50,000 bottles, so there is likely to be something for every serious oenophile. And the inventory is properly stored, a detail that unfortunately not many Houston wine retailers attend to with the required rigor. On Saturdays, "Customer Appreciation Day," there are tastings and lectures on the products for sale.

This cheery newcomer, way out west on Memorial at Kirkwood, is targeted at Houston's 40,000 plus Russophone community. Even if you know less about Russia than, say, a Republican ambassador to Moscow, you can still profitably explore the spiffy, well-lit aisles for unusual goods like Cornelian cherry compote or smoked Latvian sprats. The extensive cold cases offer caviar by the pound and preprepared take-out foods for the modern career devushka who no longer has time to prepare piroshki for her family. There is a wine room offering Latvian beer, Crimean dessert wines from the old Massandra winery, once owned by Czar Nicholas II, and some Moldavian wines, portlike, that one of the three owner-operators says is ordered -- 4,000-liter batch at a time -- by HRH Elizabeth II, no doubt for serving at the larger Buckingham Palace functions. Another side room offers various Russian tchotchkes (a Russian word that has come into English via Yiddish) for gift giving and collecting.

Before Metro decided to tear up Main and Fannin at the same time, we used to like to run down to the flower district north of the Medical Center to pick up a dozen roses if we were in love, in trouble, or both. But now that the area resembles Kosovo, we find it easier to swing by Jana's in the Heights, where the prices are much more reasonable than at many local florists. Just don't tell your sweetie.

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