All convenience stores are pretty much the same, right? Wrong. This place has all the basics -- you know, candy, chips, sodas, cigs, forties -- but it's the extras that really make it a cut above the rest. There's incense, faux designer sunglasses and weed magazines galore. (Seriously, we had no idea there were so many mags devoted to bud.) But what really makes this place rock is the young staff (always helpful and friendly) and the music (always jamming and turned way the hell up). Hang around long enough and you'll become an expert in Asian-tinged electronica, not to mention what kinds of nuggets have been coming out of BC lately.
Halloween is but one time of the year to dress up and pretend you're someone (or something) else. For example, you can go rampaging anytime. For the uninitiated, that's when a group of friends all dress up in the same wacky style, be it as Santas, ballerinas or simians, and hit up bars and events en masse just to see how people react. And Frankel's will meet all your rampaging needs. This place has got materials for pretty much any kind of costume you can imagine, not to mention tons of other party favors and magic tricks. You and your friends want to go out as Madonnas? Frankel's has the wigs and bustiers to do it. Y'all wanna go all Jersey-style and dress up as gangsters? No problem -- just grab a suit and a fake gun. And how about faux cowboys? Yep, Frankel's has even got you covered when it comes to stirrups and Dubya masks. Now get out there and raise a ruckus.
Six years ago rapper Paul Wall hooked up with Vietnamese jeweler Johnny Dang, and the mouths of the South haven't been the same since. Dang's skills with grills are legendary in the hip-hop community, as is evident by the man's client list: Lil Jon, David Banner, Z-Ro, Mike Jones and Nelly, to name a few. It's easy to attribute a lot of this success to Wall's promotional skills, but you can't deny the benefits of TV Jewelry's factory-direct approach. You walk in, pick out a style, get fitted and come back when the work is done. And then you get to slobber all over the piece before walking out the door, just to make sure it's going to stay in place. Pearly whites, get ready to shine.
Nestled in the same strip center as Aries Restaurant and Zimm's Wine Bar, Spectacles on Montrose is perfectly poised to make you look like a true Inner Loop hipster. Want a shiny, iridescent pair of exclusive Booth & Bruce frames from England? How about some paper-clip-thin, uber-chic, aluminum frames by !ci Berlin (for your sunglasses, natch)? For those who understand the fashion aesthetic rule that eyewear can be an accessory, owners Evan Mapes and Corey Theige have created a mecca of designer specs. Mapes, who looks every bit the Montrose hipster but is positively nerdy about eye care, is acutely attuned to a patient's desire to look cool despite -400/-100 (read: lousy) vision, and is known for making contacts work for people who dream of a life free from glasses. Whether you're looking for one-of-a-kind frames or the perfect set of gas permeables, this is the place to make a spectacle of yourself.
Readers' choice: Texas State Optical
The former Christopher's Wine Warehouse may have a new name and a new location, but the selection, ambiance and expertise are as excellent as always. Christopher Massie has been in the business for 20 years, so he knows his stuff. And if you hang out long enough at his shop, you will too. Oenophiles will delight over the wide selection, including labels from Europe, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. And they're priced from $10.99, so you don't have to break the bank. For those whose knowledge of wines is limited to the sweet nectar of Mr. Boone's farm, Christopher's hosts a weekly seminar and frequent tastings.
Jay Lee, Houston Chronicle Help Line columnist and co-host of KPFT/90.1 FM's Technology Bytes, makes understanding the oft-frustrating wired world of computers possible for even the most basic of users. Lee's strength is in his simple instructions and advice. But if you want to get hard-core, he can also out-geek any challenger on the methods of machinery. Lee first became interested in computers in high school in 1978 with a Tandy TRS-80 (that sleek design, the sensuous hot buttons...oh, wait, we're talking about a machine here...), but he didn't own his first system until the late '80s. "It didn't work when I took it out of the box, but I was able to sort it out myself. That's when I knew I had a knack for computer troubleshooting," he says. Lee notes that spyware is now the "single most common cause of computer performance problems today" and preaches with the zeal of Jimmy Swaggart in a whorehouse about the urgency to back up, back up and back up your computer's data and files.
The pane pugliese at Kraftsmen is the ideal loaf -- it can be eaten alone, dipped in olive oil or made into the perfect panini. The large, round, rustic loaf with a thick, extra-crisp golden crust and airy, chewy interior originated in the Puglia region in Italy. These hand-formed, artisanal loaves are made daily from the best ingredients. Because they contain no preservatives, they have a shorter shelf life than your typical Wonder loaf -- which is not a problem, since with a loaf this tasty, it won't be around long.
Readers' choice: Three Brothers Bakery
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.

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