Midtown If, five or so years ago, you decided to ride your bike through Midtown, you might've felt like you were on the set of Judgment Night. But chic restaurants, hip bars, tall condos and Randalls supermarkets have replaced the area's haunted empty lots and dilapidated shacks. And what was once almost certainly a crack house is now a CVS Pharmacy. Today you might see a family casually strolling through this once-intimidating neighborhood. It's not Beaver Cleaverville just yet, but with more money pouring in and an increased police presence, it will be soon.

Dominique Sachse We don't mean to undercut her journalistic talents by saying it, but a fact's a fact: Dominique Sachse is freaking hot. There's something in that flashbulb smile that brightens a living room for the 10 p.m. newscast. Something in that pouty haircut that just says, "Give me naughty. And give me weather and sports after the break." Something in those hypnotic eyes and that tight figure. Dominique, we would never say you were one of those television anchors who just reads the news. You read the news and have us all crazy in love.

Moody Gardens Ask six different people why they've come to Moody Gardens and you'll get six different answers. It has lush gardens you can tour for free, an aquarium with amazing fish and penguins, an indoor rain forest with ocelots, tree frogs and bats, an indoor ice rink, IMAX movies and Palm Beach, where you can sunbathe on white Florida-style sand without that ungodly seaweed smell. And the hodgepodge of attractions on this 242-acre site manages to come together nicely. Moody Gardens is a little bit Epcot, a little bit Space Center Houston (except kids don't get bored as quickly) and a little bit Kew Gardens. But unlike those other places, it just doesn't seem as, um, touristy.

State Representative Bill Callegari Those maniacal westside GOPers usually go off the deep end, they but some show real savvy about the system. The best example for the last four years has been their support of low-profile, mild-mannered grandfather of 11 Bill Callegari. He gives constituents real information and representation rather than the sorry hardline rhetoric spewed by the likes of congressmen such as John Culberson and Tom DeLay. Callegari is a civil engineer and a civil person, the kind who rejects cheap partisan ploys in favor of achieving results for his district. When the Houston Community College System tried to ram annexation down his constituents' throats, Callegari's good standing among Democrats as well as Republicans made him a natural leader during the controversy. And who better to keep the political crap away than a guy with a class A certification in wastewater operations? Legislators from both sides should take a cue from a straight shooter like Callegari.

State Representative-elect Alma Allen Democratic State Representative Ron Wilson reeked of political arrogance long before he joined the Tom DeLay-led redistricting drive, which will further reroute much-needed state help from the inner-city District 131. Wilson thumbed his nose at the people who needed him most; he even hurled savage taunts at such effective leaders as fellow representative Garnet Coleman. But defeating a 27-year incumbent, even a turncoat one, is a daunting task for any Democrat. The party, and the people of the district, can be thankful that educator Alma Allen was up to that considerable challenge. Her 14 years on the state Board of Education, and her proven credibility and candor, provided the experience and above-the-fray dignity that Wilson couldn't offer. If the Democrats ever rebound from the GOP beatings, there better be many more Alma Allens ready to step forward. Wilson, who resigned as a lame duck in August, claimed to be "ecstatic" about his loss. The party faithful get that same feeling about Allen, a candidate with real class.

Best Place to Pretend You're Famous

The LounGe on Montrose Here, Trent Steele got everything he needed -- when he needed it (see "How to Be Famous," April 29). VIP table with a view of the crowd? Check. Cup of cherries? Check. Confused admiration? Check. Witty insult from a woman who thought he was an asshole? Yep, that too. The line to get in was surpassed with minimal effort, and the drinks were cheap. Hell, there's nothing better than inexpensive booze and an inflated feeling of importance, two things that go hand in hand at this Montrose pub-club full of twentysomethings. Mr. Steele was pleased.

David Tillman Yo! Dude! What's doin' out yonder? Count on David Tillman to tell you, straight up. Houston has its multitudes of manic meteorologists -- from the pretty-haired, fashion-plate "personalities" to the stern high school principal types -- all dividing those dew-point decimals and spewing that nonsensical nomenclature about upper-level troughs. Tillman is pleasantly low-pressure, even when the systems are high-pressure. And he's got stellar credentials, including an Emmy for snowstorm coverage at his old TV station in Memphis. Tillman is content to deliver the forecasts on weekends, mornings or any other time he's needed, then to retire to his family of three. He keeps life -- and his forecasts -- simple. Like a front moving in from Canada, he's naturally cool.

Michael McSpadden, 209th District Court In an era of turnover on the benches, Judge Michael McSpadden provides a blessed balance for beleaguered citizens. He drew criticism in his early years for being an outspoken advocate on nearly every front -- from voluntary castration options for sex offenders to depoliticizing the justice system. But in these homogenized times, more than a few courthouse regulars would love this warrior to mount the occasional crusade again. Perhaps McSpadden has mellowed. No matter: What's most important is his determination to be fair to all sides, and to conduct his court with the kind of old-school decorum that brings refreshing dignity to the system. In that, he has succeeded. And with his kind of integrity, he'll be succeeding at it for another quarter-century.

Best Place to Meet People with Large Discretionary Incomes

The Houstonian Hotel, Club and Spa Need some funding for your new nonprofit group? Common sense dictates that you not hit up your would-be benefactor during the week. But don't bug him at the office either; that's what everyone does. Better to chat him up during a leisurely game of tennis, say, at the Houstonian. If you're looking for a benefactor, investor, monied client or, hell, a sugar daddy or mama, this is your place. Old-money types hang with up-and-comers at the sauna, tennis courts, poolside or, in the case of Mayor Bill White, at the basketball court. Star-starved? This fabled Houston hideaway is a popular choice for visiting celebs and politicos -- try your luck at Olivette, the in-house bar and restaurant. Just don't go pushing your idea for a John Kerry biopic. After all, this is Bush Sr.'s turf.

James D. Squier, 312th District Court Family courtroom legal brawls can be especially vicious. But Judge James Squier, who got his start coaching in Pasadena's school district, has seen it all. He's paid his dues during a solid decade on the bench, along with 20 years of practice as an attorney (six of them as an associate judge). Squier came aboard in the most embattled of times for family courts; his patient, common-sense approach, good humor and -- above all --fairness deserve much of the credit for restoring credibility to Houston family courts. His added duties as administrative judge speak volumes about the respect Squier has earned, from both colleagues and those appearing before him in court. There's no doubt about it: This ex-coach has excelled in the toughest of leagues.

Best Of Houston®

Best Of