Say what you will about George W. Bush's term as governor, one thing that can't be argued is that he broke apart the good-ol'-boy network that previous Republican govs habitually used to fill judicial vacancies. One of the minority attorneys he named was Levi Benton, a previously little-known lawyer who was nominated in 1999. Benton has stayed out of the limelight for the most part since then but has won a reputation as a courteous, well-prepared judge who's ready to listen to both sides. He's not the flashiest guy on the bench, but neither side of a case comes out of his courtroom feeling like they got screwed. Well, not too much, anyway -- no one who loses a court case ever thinks they got a fair hearing.
With a name that's somehow both unassuming and boastful at the same time, The Brazosport Facts sets itself a high bar. And the feisty paper usually lives up to its moniker, providing colorful, comprehensive coverage of Brazoria County. It's not afraid of taking on polluters or the state agencies who don't police them, which can be a rare philosophy in smaller towns dominated by industries. And the staple of community papers -- maybe too thorough coverage of local sports, schools and society -- is presented in a lively way that appeals to more people than just those whose names show up in the stories.
Tabbing Rusty Hardin as Houston's best criminal defense lawyer is like naming Lance Armstrong as Best Bicyclist from Texas -- it's not exactly a groundbreaking pick. But Hardin proved again this year why he remains the name that should be on the speed-dial of every athlete or deep-pocketed Houstonian who might ever conceivably get into trouble. After a ton of bad pretrial publicity -- the kind that comes when it's discovered a city icon has fathered 14 kids by nine women -- he won an acquittal on child-molestation charges for former Houston Rocket Calvin Murphy. And Hardin's only notable loss in his criminal defense career, the conviction of Arthur Andersen for its part in Enron, was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court this year. It was another big year in a long string of them for Hardin.
As an amorphous blob of dishonestly named subdivisions, Houston offers drivers few signposts, greetings or markers of real meaning. One exception is the Law Office of Tim Hootman, which is as geographically appropriate as it is bizarre. Drivers exiting Interstate 45 at Pease for downtown will see, in front of his lot, a metal sculpture of a fat, busty lady, painted orange, with thick hair of blue wire. Behind her ample breasts, Hootman's office comprises three brightly painted railroad cars. They are surrounded by a fence of welded train wheels. A rusty tower in the courtyard, with a star at the top, is built entirely from railroad spikes. Veteran Houstonians might recognize the tableau as a recreation of the city's logo, which shows a star and a locomotive. The busty lady rounds it out: hooting trains, Hootman, hooters; Houston, well said.
For more than 20 years, the Houston Food Bank has been distributing millions of pounds of food annually to those in need. Efficiency counts for more than glitz, and the bank doesn't stop with just handling food donations; chefs and nutritionists give their time to help kids and indigent families learn about healthy meals and snacks. Covering an 18-county territory and providing help to organizations that assist abused women and kids, the elderly and the forgotten, the Houston Food Bank has quietly and consistently been a glowing part of the Houston charitable community.
Our pick for best flack is also the Houston Press Club's "Communicator of the Year" for 2005. Espinoza-Williams produces a great monthly newsletter for the Houston Shriners Hospital, which offers free treatment to children suffering from a variety of serious conditions. Her stories not only reflect the innovative treatments the hospital offers but also dig deeper to get the emotions of the doctors, nurses, physical therapists and, most important, young patients. Some flacks are just in it for a paycheck, but we get the impression Espinoza-Williams really cares about her organization and understands that spreading awareness can help more children in the future.
She's big, bold and beautiful, with more style than Vera Wang, Donna Karan and the entire Queer as Folk cast combined. Kofi hosts late-night events at JR.'s, including the male stripping and dance contests. On a recent Monday night, Kofi warmed up the crowd by lip-synching "I'm Every Woman" and "You Can't Hurry Love" while patron after patron paid their respects with dollar bills. She knows how to get a crowd going with a simple shake of her hips and that grand, warm smile. A self-described "country boy" from Louisiana, Terry Nabors has proved that you can take the boy out of the country and slip him into a gorgeous silver gown with no trouble at all.
Reader's choice: Wendy Chicago

So many toasts, so little time. The only problem: The more glass-clinking we do, the more forgetful we become, and so we neglected to highlight a few Houston classics. Luckily, our readers stepped in to remind us of the Categories We Forgot.

Best Buffet
Todai Japanese Seafood Buffet
7620 Katy Fwy., ste. 300, 713-682-0009

Best Cafeteria
Cleburne Cafeteria
3606 Bissonnet, 713-667-2386

Best Huevos Rancheros
La Mexicana
1018 Fairview, 713-521-0963

Best Scrapbook Store
Photos Forever
4061 Bellaire Blvd., 713-662-0200

Best Ship
Battleship Texas

Best Spa
Bergamos Spa Retreat
2535 Kirby, 713-529-2444

Best Tortilla Soup
El Rey Taqueria
910 Shepherd, 713-802-9145

Best Veterinarian
West Alabama Animal Clinic
2030 W. Alabama, 713-528-0818

Best Wi-Fi Spot
403 W. Gray, 713-520-6896

Best Adult Tap Dance Lessons
Tap Happy
Multiple locations

Best Detox Spa
Deer Lake Lodge & Spa
10500 Deer Lake Lodge

Best Gluten-Free Restaurant
Ruggles Green
Multiple locations

Best Hot Sauce Store
4227 Bellaire

Best Nudist Resort
Emerald Lake Resort
23198 Texas 494 Loop

Best Tattoo Removal
Clean Canvas Laser
10780 Westview

Best Of Houston®

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