KHOU-TV/Channel 11 In Houston, there's local TV news, and then there's KHOU-TV. Other stations fall into the stygian depths of endless, mindless crime stories (Channel 2) or have good intentions but lack the financial resources (Channel 39). KHOU has varied its formula very little over the years -- solid beat reporting, comprehensive breaking-news coverage and important scoops that other media are forced to follow. They've lost their best investigative reporter, Anna Werner, to a San Francisco station (who'd want to live there instead of here?), but there's no reason to think they won't continue to pump out stories like the ones they broke on the HPD crime lab.

The Fountains in Stafford Malls all over Houston try to distinguish themselves in some way, but not many succeed. The Fountains, just past Beltway 8 on the Southwest Freeway, does better than most. There are the eponymous waterspouts, of course, but there's also a semi-boardwalk along a small lake that links restaurants such as Sam's Boat, Kim Son, Texas Land & Cattle Steak House and Razzoo's. The mall also includes suburban outposts of two longtime Inner Loop favorites: the Avalon Diner and Otto's Barbecue. Beyond the food, there's a Loews movie house, an Old Navy discount outlet and a Borders Books. Let's be honest -- even with the fountains and boardwalk, the aesthetics aren't going to make anyone forget Venice. Or Kemah, for that matter. But there's a lot of stuff within strolling distance of wherever you park, and you don't have to go into the big mean city to experience it.

www.cityofhouston.gov Just enter your zip code, and www.cityofhouston.gov will list your nearest libraries, parks and police stations. But what's really entertaining about this site is the Super Neighborhoods section. Its demographics breakdown is a trivia buff's dream, with census information split into fascinating tidbits. Want to know how many Asians in your neighborhood make more than $200,000 a year? What about the number of your neighbors who spend more than 35 percent of their income on rent? Or the number of women in your neighborhood who work construction? Strangely enough, the answers are waiting for you right there online.

Uptown Sushi
Uptown Sushi The point of a first date is to ascertain whether to have a second one. You're too nervous to relax. Your chances of scoring are slim. And don't even think about bringing your A material -- for all you know, your date has a Catholic-priest uncle and wouldn't appreciate your jokes about altar boys (oops). Forget about having fun: You need to think of this evening as a series of litmus tests. And that's where Uptown Sushi comes in. This sleek Galleria-area eatery may not be Houston's answer to Nobu -- as the trendy-nistas claim -- but it does offer plenty of chances to explore the important questions. Is your date sophisticated enough to dine with beautiful people? Self-controlled enough to not get drunk on sake? Adept at handling chopsticks? It won't help with everything you need to know, but it's a good start.

Mark's American Cuisine - CLOSED
Mark's American Cuisine You're getting the brush-off, but you're getting it in style. Mark's has the proper solemnity for the most bittersweet of partings: It used to be a church, for God's sake. Mark's has tables perched high in the choir loft, vaulted ceilings and a communion rail-turned-bar. Confessions come easy in a place like this, and you can feel comfortable letting a tear drip down your cheek and into your raspberry tart. You can also slip to the bathroom, emit a few desperate sobs, and return to the table with your dignity intact.

Wyatt Chapel Community Cemetery Motorists along U.S. 290 might never realize the rich heritage hidden in the woods-shrouded lowlands about 30 miles northwest of Houston. University Drive, near the edge of the Prairie View A&M campus, has displayed a historical marker for the Wyatt Chapel graveyard for the past decade, but few outsiders know that the real thing -- the remnants of a slave cemetery -- is just to the east, down a rough, winding, quarter-mile trek through the trees. Only a handful of simple, post-slavery grave markers still stand on this former plantation ground. But the haphazard depressions in the soil loom as stark reminders of an enslaved people, most of them unable to offer more than simple trinkets or beads to mark the burial sites. But here in this silent, lush undergrowth, the atmosphere is more vivid and haunting than in the grandest of granite-adorned graveyards. The past, it seems, doesn't rest well at the Wyatt -- nor should it.

Tom Koch Every anchor, from the networks on down, has to unleash the occasional amusing asides and anecdotes -- those supposedly spontaneous but carefully scripted lines to show how human and personable these made-up personalities are. But something's different about Tom Koch; the guy from Oshkosh U (no kidding) can't help but radiate a genuine, energetic enthusiasm and love of the business. That's not easy at 5 a.m., much less so when he does it again on the same day for the afternoon broadcast. His smooth delivery and grasp of the news (he's been with the station since 1982, including several years as a reporter) can rival any street reporter or anchor. But Tom Terrific's best trait is one that beams through the TV: He knows best how to take his work seriously without taking himself too seriously. It's a lesson the rest of the anchor crews should learn.

Best Place to Meet Single Women

Valhalla
Valhalla Aren't you tired of chasing the mindless girls of the Downtown Carrie Bradshaw Impersonation Society only to discover that, when you finally catch one, she doesn't have anything to say? Well, take off your running shoes and rest those weary feet at the steps of studious Valhalla. Located in the basement of Keck Hall on the Rice University campus, the place is part beer hall and part Ivy League frat house, and it's great for meeting smart, single women. Sure, you might have to work a bit harder -- some of them may even be a touch out of your league, but then, who doesn't enjoy a challenge? And the 12-ounce cups of Shiner for under a buck mean you won't be out too much money at the end of the night. That's more than you can say for the Paris clones sipping froufrou drinks at your usual haunts.

Houston Shriners Hospital Picking the best charity is harder than it sounds. What are the criteria? The condition of the recipients? The overall effectiveness? How is the money spent? Well, if you consider all of those aspects, then Houston Shriners Hospital is the best charity to donate to this year. The hospital provides 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 the hospital spokesperson. Many of the city's finest private practitioners also volunteer their services to the 40-bed facility. But offering excellent medical care for free isn't cheap: Last year's tab was $18 million. Why not pony up your share?

The Texas Hammer (in Spanish) He may very well be the whitest guy in the world, so to hear his thick Texas tongue try to punch out, "I'm Jim Adler, the Texas Hammer," in Spanish induces unequaled laughs. Imagine an older, more uptight Ray Childress hawking lawyer services rather than automobiles. One just hopes that soon he and fellow ambulance-chaser Christian Hill will join money-grubbing forces to form the Law Offices of Adler & Hill and craft a commercial catering to Houston's growing Chinese population.

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