Texas Art Supply
They win again. Texas Art Supply won last year, and there's simply no reason they shouldn't kick butt in 2005 as well. Established in 1948, this company offers it all: paint, clay, pencils, acrylics, markers, easels, desks -- and we even heard they have paper. Of course, most art supply stores are going to have that stuff -- but visit one of the brick-and-mortars or the Web site to see all the extras, like specialty gift items, kid stuff, books and videos (including a three-hour Bob Ross tutorial -- yes!) and art classes. Whether you're da Vinci or Da Beginner, this is your store.
Houston Camera Exchange
Houston Camera Exchange boasts a 7,000-square-foot showroom of new and used cameras and equipment, including lenses, flashes, cases, tripods and more. As for cameras, you got your Canon, Contax, Fuji, Leica, Nikon, Olympus -- you name it. They also offer digital and film processing, and their Web site has a forum where you can swap tricks of the trade and talk to photo enthusiasts about camera-specific topics such as digital vs. film.
Sound Exchange
You just witnessed an awesome set by one of Houston's many local bands, and now you're freaking out because there was no merchandise available. No fear, local music lover, Sound Exchange is here. This music hotspot lets local bands hawk their latest material. Beat freaks can find DJ Sun, Freedom Sold and Geto Boys. Stoners will get more than a bowl's worth out of the Linus Pauling Quartet, Charalambides and Cosmik Power Trio. Noise purists can get an earful from Rotten Piece and MassMurderMedia. Plus, indie and punk rockers can get an ample sampling of their kind on the local I Hate It Here, I Never Want to Leave compilation. Sound Exchange is the place to shop for Houston music.
Tell us where else in the city you can purchase diamond fronts for your teeth on the same trip you buy a diamond engagement ring, and we might just let you debate us. Till then, shut your frosted yapper and head on in to the 200-plus jewelry stores located on six stories right next to Sharpstown Mall. The place is so huge, it's its own diamond district. Does your lady like small, flawless diamonds or big fat rocks with clarity issues? Don't be intimidated; the staff at these jewelers are there to help guide you through one of the most painstaking and nerve-racking decisions of your life. After the "I dos," though, you're on your own.
The way you style your hair can say a lot about your personality. But you don't have to put up with the snooty stylists and chemical smells that permeate so many salons just to look in step. The friendly folks at Elements use only all-natural Aveda products that don't hurt the environment or your look. The eclectic staff is trained to cut, style and color your hair in ways that you'd expect to see coming from New York, Paris and L.A. They provide complimentary beverages and comfortable seating while you wait and will generally accommodate walk-ins, though appointments are recommended. Searching for a new look? Someone at this trendy Montrose salon will be able to do the trick for you.
Anyone can give you a good deal on a car these days, but when it comes to servicing it after the sale, things can get dicey. Not at Archer Volkswagen. Whereas some dealerships will go over the warranty with a microscope looking for a loophole, the guys at Archer just worry about getting your car right. They know what too many dealers do not: If you give good service to customers who already have cars (even if they bought that car elsewhere), you're going to get their business when it comes time to buy a new one.
The four-foot portly baker outside Arandas Bakery on Airline represents all things hot and yummy. Grab yourself a stainless serving tray and a set of tongs here at Jose Camarena's first Houston bakery and start loading up. The fresh-baked empanadas, pig cookies, orejas and cream horns run the entire south wall of this spotless eatery, where a crack team of aproned assistants keeps the operation running smoothly. Piping-fresh bolillos spill forth from a stainless-steel mouth at the far end of the store every 15 minutes. And anyone who knows anything about these white buns knows that straight from the oven is the only time to consume them. Need something sweeter? An assortment of flan and tres leches cakes is also available, along with custom-order wedding and birthday cakes.
So successful has been the first Tasting Room in Uptown Park that Jerry and Laura Lasco recently opened a second location in Midtown. The Uptown location serves about 200 different wines from around the globe, each hand-selected by the owners. Here, you can taste, drink and shop for wines in a stylish, comfortable and relaxed atmosphere. Novice wine lovers will enjoy the savvy staff, always ready to give advice. Wines by the glass start at $5, and bottles start at $10. Here's to good taste.
Tropioca Tea & Coffee Bar
There are two Tropioca shops in Houston, and while the downtown spot isn't too shabby, the original Midtown location features something that adds a little spice to your pearl-filled smoothie consumption: the most beautiful customers in town. We don't know where they come from, but if you're in your early twenties, Asian and hot enough to have your own photo spread in FHM, then you most likely will descend on this place. Oh, yeah, and the bubble teas are delicious. Our favorites: the green tea melon with litchi jellies, and the strawberry pina colada with pineapple jellies. Tropioca is the ultimate in fine concoctions and fine-ass patrons. It's a beautiful experience all around.

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