At first glance, this midsize shop looks like any other mall CD store. The racks are arranged so that the person behind the counter can see all of the activities throughout the store, giving would-be shoplifters a hard time. But it's what's on these racks that sets this place apart. Most mall stores focus on Top 40 hits, and for the most part they sell more trinkets and memorabilia than music. Not so at Music Depot, where you can find the deepest collection of homegrown rap music available in the city. Pretty much every mixtape and local and national release is available here at any given time, from Slim Thug's Already Platinum to Willo tha Wiz's My Music Is My Life. Music Depot supports our local artists like no other, giving them the opportunity for in-store appearances even when they're just releasing a mixtape. Mike Jones filmed his "Back Then" video here, and there's a good chance you'll see your favorite artist dropping off his or her wares just about anytime you visit.
Readers' choice: Cactus Music & Video
Jeff Balke
Known as the largest liquor store in the world -- though we're not sure that has been confirmed -- Spec's Warehouse fills 80,000 square feet of floor space with more than 40,000 labels of wines, spirits, liqueurs, beers and fine foods. Visit on a Saturday afternoon, and you'll almost surely leave tipsy, as promotions people from a variety of wine, beer and liquor companies push their mini-shot samples on you at every turn. Stumble into the deli and discover why that blue-and-gray, fist-size hunk of cheese costs $14; then get your weekly supply of gator sausage and a bottle of Jack Daniel's-spiked pancake syrup. Wash it all down with beer from Tahiti, wine from Australia and a shot of anything from Tennessee.
Readers' choice: Spec's Warehouse
It's not just the smell of glossy, well-inked pages pressed by ever-crisp binding, the sensual peeling apart of the articles and images, or even the spacious, casual atmosphere. It's all of the above. Issues Magazine Store gives enthusiasts a place to congregate without fear of the Frappuccino crowd and their 2.5 kids muscling past, as they tend to do at the box bookstores. Issues is the habitat of connoisseurs. It has the cover for you, whether you're interested in trip-, dip- or hip-hop, home decor, cooking or news and opinion mags. And it's user-friendly -- sure, kick your flops off and plop down on the floor, where you can sit a while and find out just how serious punk rock drummer Rat Scabies is about finding the Holy Grail.
The consumer fire is dying down. You've searched through linens, leathers and all manners of finery during today's Galleria hunt. But the fleeting thrill of discovery and possession is waning as the weight of your bags increases. Shopping is tiring, we know. What you need is a sugar fix. At Dylan's Candy Bar, bright candy-stripe borders and oversize lollies greet you as the Jackson 5's "Candy Girl" spins from the sweet shop's speakers. Here's licorice by the foot, exploding candy, fudgy glumps, candy necklaces big enough for the WWE, and an entire wall of Pez dispensers. What have you been doing with yourself these past 20 years? Reclaim your childhood with a Wonka Bar and joyously sticky fingers.
One of the oldest Asian-oriented strip malls in Houston, Diho Square may not lure you with goldfish or pagodas, but for everything from hot-pot beef to the hottest Pacific Rim fashions, it's still the best. The uber-cute Japanese shop girls in Harajuku Loft sell clothes that look Japanese (but they're made in China and cost, like, $4 for a tank top). Next door, Tapioca House blows the lid off of bubble tea with drinks such as the Plum Snowbubble and Green Apple Jelly Juice. There's a vegetarian restaurant with gluten duck kidney, if that's your thing, and also herbalists who can point you to the best Korean ginseng and Chinese rose petal tea. Shanghai Restaurant serves up plates of meat that you boil yourself in a delicious broth spiked with peppers and star anise. Bodard's Bistro is a perpetually packed pho dive, and Welcome, the supermarket, can sate the most demanding Asian chefs. But the most amazing thing about Diho is that Asian barbers, doctors, bakers, video clerks and travel agents all office here. It's a Chinatown unto itself.
Photo by Houston Press Staff
Nothing captures spontaneity more than a trip into a photo booth. In four frames, moods and gestures can change so rapidly. While a lot of photo booths have come to the modern age with color photos and stickers, this veritable time warp inside Amy's Ice Cream has stayed just the way we like it. Inside, friends and lovers can cozy up to one another, cutting themselves off to the rest of the world with a thin curtain. A few minutes and $2 later, lifelong memories are created.
So the last mystery you read involved one or both of the Hardy boys? Not a big fan, you say? Well, do yourself a favor and check out this store, now celebrating its 25th year of providing the best whodunits around. The folks at MBTB love their genre, and their passion is contagious. They publish their own quarterly newsletter (The Dead Beat Magazine), host author discussions/signings and offer monthly book discussion groups. Owner Martha Farrington was even honored by the Mystery Writers of America, who this year gave her their Raven Award, for "outstanding achievement in the mystery world." Get a clue and go to this store -- it's elementary, Watson.
Readers' choice: Half Price Books
Dogs, to many of us, are like non-speaking children. We feed them, bathe them, buy them toys, shower them with affection and take them on walks and to the doctor. They may have fur, but isn't that kind of like being naked? Don't you want your best friend to look stylish? A Dog's Life offers everything from funny little hats, hair bows and charms to designer collars and even sleepwear is there for the taking. You can even buy products that actually serve a purpose, like beds, bowls, toys and blankets. The only catch: The Sugar Land-based business doesn't have a storefront. But you can order products online, and the folks from A Dog's Life often set up shop at malls and festivals.
Pity the fool who hasn't browsed the rows of delightfully handmade and hand-harvested offerings at the Bayou City Farmers' Market. As local jazz players weave their way around the musical scale, shoppers move through the stalls in the parking lot behind 3000 Richmond, checking out fruits and vegetables, cheeses, blended teas and locally roasted coffees. Step up and sample a lovingly blended salsa or sniff a goat's-milk soap. Some of the most successful and established growers from Harris County and beyond make the weekly trek to this market. Some even do it twice, laying out their wares at the less-attended Wednesday gathering. For those just beginning the crossover from mega-farm chain groceries, be prepared. The carrots, cucumbers, radishes, squash and berries grown in regional organic Texas soils pack a wallop of flavor and texture that may take you by surprise. Proceed with caution.
You tried to just walk by, to leave the samurai weaponry and throwing stars alone this trip. Instead, you fondled a nocturnal flying squirrel from Tasmania and haggled a little too aggressively over a sofa set already priced beneath outlet prices. Hell, you handled every power tool in sight at this 60-acre flea market, the largest marketplace on the Gulf Coast. So even if the key you had copied at the makeshift locksmith shop didn't work -- despite the courtesy "valet notch" -- the $1 spent was worth the time away from entertaining your knife fixation. Inevitably, you start to move past the bluegrass band, hot dogs and piles of blue jeans. The weapons are drawing you in, you can feel it. But a flash from the ground breaks the spell. White block lettering stenciled on a black doormat reads "OH SHIT. NOT YOU AGAIN." You're laughing hard as you fork over a few more Washingtons, and you've completely forgotten where you were going. Nice save.
Readers' choice: Traders Village

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