Montrose Clinic Let's face it: No one wants to take an HIV test. But the folks at Montrose Clinic make it as pleasant as possible. A friendly staff member leads you into a small room that somehow seems both warm and antiseptic at the same time. Once there, all of your options will be explained to you in easy-to-understand terms. Then a quick little prick and you're out the door. Sure, waiting for the results isn't anyone's favorite pastime either, but getting tested is the best way to demonstrate how much you love your loved one. And you know Montrose Clinic will be there to help you if you need it.

Issues In this Webby world, the idea of a store stocking nothing but magazines might seem quaint. But the recently opened Issues on Shepherd just north of Richmond proves beyond a doubt there's still life left in the dead-tree trade. More than 3,000 titles line the walls, and the owners are eager to stock any request you have. Where else in Houston can you find such sterling titles as Sport Rocketry, or the fishing mag Crappie World? Where else can a Marilyn Manson fan ogle the black-eyelidded honeys in Gothic Beauty just a few steps from a clean-cut studious type perusing Biblical Archeological Review? Not to mention everyone's ability to purchase Y'all -- The Magazine of Southern People, featuring Jeff Foxworthy on its glossy cover the month we saw it. Drop in to Issues and find a world of things you never knew had an entire magazine devoted to them. It's like a great random tour of the Web without all the annoying pop-up ads.

Retropolis
Retropolis From the sidewalk, Retropolis looks like a sliver among the boutiques and antique shops on the Heights' main drag -- a skinny little closet of a boutique worth a quick peek on your way to the nearby gelato parlor. But step inside, walk up the wood-plank stairs at the back, and the store's name starts to click. On the expansive second story you'll find enough retro fashion to outfit a whole city of James Deans, Jane Fondas and Burt Reynoldses. The selection outranks that of the Salvation Army, and it's ordered better than the driveways on the set of Leave It to Beaver. Check out the rad collection of '80s tennis shorts, a rack of '50s prom dresses with crinolines and the expansive cowboy boot section. An immaculate '30s dress with a lace collar looks like it came straight off Olive Oyl. Some prices are surprisingly forgiving: A fuzzy cloche sells for $20, and a red belt with a butterfly clasp goes for $7. So next time you go shopping, throw away your map, forget the mall, and head to Retropolis.

Texas Art Supply
Texas Art Supply Longtime Houston staple Texas Art Supply wins by sheer volume. And since its only real competition -- Montrose's other locale for all things arty, Utrecht -- shut its doors earlier this year, Texas Art reigns supreme in anything an artist needs: rubber stamps, canvases, paints, stencils, clay, markers, easels and desks. Daily discount prices make Texas Art the place to go when inspiration strikes and you can't find a brush. Its affiliation with the Texas Arts League makes for constant art-class offerings in such areas as painting or resin-mold making. The place can turn a clueless novice into a budding Dalí.

Salon Essie It's been almost 20 years since Essie set off for a three-month vacation from Iran. She decided to stay here, and seven years ago, she opened her salon on Richmond. You'll still catch the enchanting lilt of Farsi fluttering through the store in between casual banter with her customers. Men's haircuts all too often become a painful exercise in forced pleasantries or chillingly apathetic silences. Salon Essie soars above all of that with gracious, swift service. We especially miss the departed Paul -- the gregarious Lebanese stylist who's quite possibly the nicest guy in Houston to snip, shave and shape our locks. Dudes might still balk at the prospect of getting trimmed up anyplace without a candy-cane barbershop pole outside; but let your inner metro open the door, and Essie will take care of the rest.

Cactus Music and Video Regulars stop by Cactus to browse used vinyl and check out the magazines, clothing and rock-music action figurines. They also show up when local or touring musicians drop by to perform. Oh, yeah, and they go to Cactus to buy CDs. During the past 12 months, general manager Quinn Bishop has brought renewed focus to the CDs sold at the store, pursuing both independent artists and national acts whose CDs were previously for sale only on the artists' Web sites. Alejandro Escovedo's live Por Vida album and a live Marcia Ball CD recorded at Waterloo Records in Austin are just a couple of these new arrivals. Best of all, at Cactus you won't find snooty clerks like Jack Black's character in High Fidelity. But the staffers do know what's up -- five of them have more than ten years' experience at the store. "They just truly love music," says Bishop. Imagine that.

The Galleria While the fashionistas burn up Daddy's credit card and waddle under the weight of their bagged purchases, you'll be the practical one. There's no guilt when it comes to window-shopping, and the Galleria is the hottest spot for it. All the names are here: Betsey Johnson, Kenneth Cole, Versace, Abercrombie. You can scope the United Colors of Benetton after perusing the nothing-but-black racks of Tom Ford. Drool at the rocks under lock and key at Cartier. Peer at the posh sweetery Dylan's Candy Bar, or the "I don't need it, but I want it" inventions of Brookstone. Then -- after you've done your out-of-reach sight-seeing -- head to the outlet mall.

Soundwaves - Montrose
Soundwaves So, yeah, the commercials are horrible and the Hummers a bit gauche, but when it comes to selling used CDs, Soundwaves reigns supreme. They offer as much as $5 for newer CDs, so it's a good place to get the albums you never listen to off your hands -- it's like a pawnshop full of music geeks. The fact that Soundwaves is independently owned helps the used-CD selection tremendously, since pressure from record company bean counters doesn't work here. Its larger locations (Montrose, South Main) have sections of used music that dwarf other stores' entire libraries. Don't want that Britney Spears at (gasp!) $16.99 just to listen to "Toxic" on repeat? Chances are you'll find it here for $10.99. You can find older artists no longer enjoying chart success (read: good ones) for as low as $5.99. Those kinds of steals are reason enough to say, "See you at Soundwaves."

French Gourmet Bakery French Gourmet Bakery serves up a bounty of goodies: warm loaves of cinnamon-apple bread, strudels, decadent chocolate cakes (great for parties) and box lunches containing buttery croissants with chicken salad. Need treats for the office or classroom? You can't beat the fresh cupcakes slathered in homemade frosting or the iced ginger star cookies. Even better, the sugar and ginger cookies will soon turn pumpkin-shaped with orange and white icing. Now, if they would just let us lick the bowl…

Best Place to Get a Tint Job and a Taco

Adas Window Tint Pimpin' ain't easy, least of all when it comes to your ride. If you've got to score your ground effects in Pasadena, your alloys in Tomball and your LEDs and hydraulics in Katy, you might not have time to brake for lunch. That's why today's busy gangstas head down the East Freeway to Adas Window Tint, where you can get a bitchin' tint job and throw in an al pastor taco for an additional $1.25. The same folks own the Cuban taqueria that's tacked onto the corrugated tin garage, so show up early, camp out on a picnic table in the parking lot, and ponder which is gonna be hotter: your chorizo breakfast taco, or all those chicks you'll get when your ride scrapes the street.

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