Maybe it's the goofy messages posted on the sign ("We Make Good Scents," for example). Or perhaps it's the odd collection of celebrities painted on the front of the building (David Letterman, Tom Hanks, Jerry Seinfeld and Roseanne -- you figure it out). Maybe it's the cheesy rock stations permanently tuned in, continuously playing the lamest yet greatest '70s and '80s rock tunes ("Meet you all the way! Rosaaaaaaannnaaa!") Either way, this wash 'n' fold/Laundromat is an endearing, hidden gem, tucked under Highway 59 in the Museum District. If you want to do your own laundry, there's a convenience store next door so you can revive yourself with sodas and Pop-Tarts while you wait. Graustark has a thick selection of old magazines to read while you snack and wait for the spin cycle to finish. If you want to drop off your dirty things, the longtime staff will do their best to remember your name. And they have a remarkably quick turnaround time -- must be that upbeat music they work to.

Susan Jackson has one of those high-beam smiles that could blind you if it didn't make you feel so good inside. That's part of her power as a music teacher. There's also something about her tiny attic studio that makes you feel really, well, arty. It's filled with instruments, because Jackson doesn't teach just the wonderfully antiquated accordion; she will also help you and yours master the piano, guitar, violin and pretty much anything else with a string to pluck or a key to press. For a half-hour you'll get her undivided attention, always upbeat and positive. And even if you're not as fabulously talented as you wish you were, you'll leave class feeling like a true musician. And if you need some extra inspiration, you can catch her at one of her gigs around town, where she plays and sings like a fabulous she-devil with Beans Barton and the Bipeds.
Sister act Peggy and Maggie Lu run Instyle Nails like Donald Trump runs real estate. In the past four years they've had to add more spa chairs thanks to increasing demand. As any local woman knows, a spa (vibrating chair and foot whirlpool) mani/pedi is $25 at practically every shop in town. But the Lu girls have added a free neck and shoulder massage. All the women are experts at massage and quick as the wind with the clippers and polish. It doesn't hurt that the shop is next door to Ziggy's, either. If there's a wait, many customers will cool their heels with an iced tea and a buffalo burger. It's the best relaxation for the price, seven days a week.
A relative newcomer to the Westheimer vintage strip, Leopard Lounge is a welcome young upstart. The leopard-print motif and blaring hip-hop music let you know this is not your mother's consignment shop. The usual suspects are well covered: bellbottom jeans, '50s dresses, tight-fitting team T-shirts from the '70s and so on. But it's the quality of the Lounge that makes this store worth checking out. Finish browsing just one spinning rack of vintage pants and we guarantee you that you'll be headed to the leopard-print dressing rooms with at least five pairs you absolutely must try on. Sure, most of the staff has the requisite cooler-than-you look, but if you chat them up a bit, they'll be eager to offer opinions and assistance. On your way out, be sure to check out the large collection of dog-collar bracelets and chokers. Told you your mom wouldn't shop here.

Even if you don't sew, this fabric store is worth a visit. There's a whole room devoted to silks that makes you realize fabric designing is a true profession. The customers are dead serious in their searches. Brides-to-be walk dutifully, following their dressmakers with anxious looks and hands full of lace. Twenty buttons are scrutinized with a strip of fabric, and furrowed brows accompany questions to the employees. It's enough to make you want to buy a roll of stitch-witchery and make some pillows!
Want to find the styles of the moment? At Tootsies you'll be surrounded by crazy-cool clothes and CZ jewelry that's a great knockoff of the real thing. From Via Spiga shoes to Ralph Lauren haute couture, Tootsies has got you covered. Looking for that diamond horseshoe necklace that Carrie wears in Sex and the City? Just peep under the glass jewelry cases. And don't be put off by the armed HPD guard -- naturally, he's nice. As are the salespeople. Our fave is Miriam, who will run around looking for the perfect T-shirt until she finds it. In fact, Tootsies has the best T-shirts around: Michael Stars. They're not cheap, but they're flattering on everyone. And the sales, oh, the sales! Merchandise is sometimes marked down as low as 75 percent. Un-freakin'-beatable. But get there quick -- in a matter of hours, the merchandise is wiped out. The best strategy is to get on the mailing list so you'll be notified when the sales take place. Now excuse us, we heard there's a sale on. Bye!

Poet Dorothy Parker once scorned her lover's gift of "one perfect rose." Perhaps her boyfriend's mistake was not going to Buchanan's to buy his present. The beautiful Heights plant-and-flower shop offers so many different types of roses it would have been hard for him to stop at just one. The shop, staffed with knowledgeable flower lovers, offers everything from hearty, disease-resistant antique roses to the more finicky but beautiful hybrid teas, known for their large flowers and strong scent. Reasonably priced (some roses sell for just $10.99 a gallon), the offerings include every color you can think of, from red to white to purple. Buchanan's is also in regular communication with the Houston Rose Society, a group of locals in love with the popular plant, so you know it's got its fingers on the pulse of the rose world.
Houston Wine Merchant
Owner Scott Spencer renamed his store, formerly Wines of America, because the name no longer reflected his product offerings. This little gem of a wine shop carries selections from all over the world and reflects what you can do with your shelves when you have limited space but excellent taste. Chat with the knowledgeable staff. Ask questions. Is the Aussie shiraz still as sweet as it once was? What are some of the better vineyards of the Rhône region? Who makes a high-quality yet affordable Pouilly-Fuissé? What's new in Chile? Better yet, ask the staff what they've been drinking lately. By all means, take their recommendations. These folks know their grapes and want to wake up the oenophile in you.

Central Market
With a full-time cheese buyer who spends most of her time visiting local farms worldwide, a full-time department head, and a full-time cheesemonger who may spend 15 to 20 minutes with a customer helping him match up the perfect cheese-and-wine combination, it's easy to see how Central Market manages to stock nearly 700 different cheeses. Each cheese department employee is passionate about one thing and one thing only: cheese from all over the world. Here, you'll not only find a delicious Spanish manchego, you'll find four different kinds. Dutch Gouda comes in seven varieties, many from small artisanal suppliers. The Parmigiano-Reggiano is made especially for Central Market in Italy. Their supply of raw-milk cheese is unsurpassed in the city. Most of their cheeses arrive in bulk and are individually cut and wrapped by hand, with a two-week shelf life, after which they are removed from sale. With the resurgence of fondue parties and the fact that many people are rediscovering the simple elegance of wine-and-cheese parties, they don't have to remove a lot from the racks unpurchased.

Eleanor Roosevelt's solitaire came from Tiffany's; Dennis Oppenheim created a sculpture in New York based on their engagement ring designs; George Peppard had a plastic ring from a box of Cracker Jack engraved by them in the classic Breakfast at Tiffany's. Since 1837, these experts have been dealing in rings and diamonds and little blue boxes with white ribbon. There is no known account of a woman declining a proposal accompanied by that box. Pricey? Certainly. But she's worth it.

Best Of Houston®

Best Of