The total square footage of this market comes to an even freakin' huge. They had to invent a whole new measurement to calculate the aisles of exotic treasures you'll find in this Chinatown landmark. It's nothin' fancy, just tons of great produce, meat, fish, spices and desserts you'd rarely find elsewhere under one roof. Plus, watching the dudes cut up the fish is at least as exciting as the last Bruckheimer movie you saw. The store is located in the Hong Kong City Mall, so if you're fatigued and famished from the drive, you can treat yourself to some delicious dim sum and tapioca pearl drinks or chow down on whatever you just bought. This market is a must.
Fry's Electronics
Once upon a time, nerds had to wait until they died to get to computer heaven. But the brothers Fry saw a market in sentient beings, so they opened one of the most kick-ass electronics stores around. And they put an emphasis on customer service to make shopping at their stores a good experience for non-nerds as well. With hardware, software, iMacs, PCs, games and robots to do your bidding, Fry's has it all. Okay, maybe not that last one. Yet. But this gigantic warehouse-type store is filled with everything you could possibly need for your computer/spaceship/spy satellite, and at reasonable prices. You can even shop online.
Has your green thumb turned brown and got ya down? And has that balcony herb garden barely yielded enough to do anything other than order takeout? Maybe it's time to stop picking plants at the grocery store as an afterthought. Buchanan's specializes in flora native to the area, so whatever greenery you choose will love the oppressive heat and humidity of this swamp of a town. Choose from a wide array of native trees, shrubs and wildflowers. Add color with in-season annuals. Insert a touch of nostalgia with heirloom vegetables and antique roses. Freshen up your cooking by planting a garden of herbs that really will flourish at home. Not the outdoorsy type? Let the knowledgeable staff help you choose some house plants to spruce up your living room. And add to your decor with their selection of candles, chimes, fountains and other eye-catching items.
Metrosexuals, unite! While the term may have gone out of vogue, (some) men's proclivity to stay neatly groomed predates and will forever outlive pop phrases such as "manscaping." Owner Raul Guzman opened METRO in November 2004 and has been offering cosmetic services, massage and pampering to his male clientele ever since. Relax in the hot tub or with a refreshing swim in the outdoor tropical pool surrounded by palm trees and lush, exotic vegetation. Popular services include soothing 90-minute massages, deep-tissue mud wraps and, of course, waxes in anticipation of beachgoing season. One service of interest is the "strim" (small trim), for body parts like the bikini area. And that seems polite to us. Hey, if someone's nice enough to visit your garden, it's good manners to make sure the bush is trimmed. And if you happen to be a woman or have a female significant other with whom you'd like to share a pampering ex-spa-rience, Mondays are coed.
Kraftsmen Bakery
In cities such as San Francisco, almost every neighborhood has a boutique bakery with handmade breads and pastries cooked with top-quality ingredients. Houston has Kraftsmen. Walk over (if you live in Montrose) or drive in from Sugar Land. Either way, it's worth the trip if you value a great French baguette or boule crunchy on the outside, dense and moist in the middle or a croissant that's light, crisp and not too oily. The zucchini bread has a following, and the sticky buns are the tastiest use of day-old croissants that you're likely to find in Texas. Whether you eat in the springy interior or under an oak tree on the brick patio next to the branch library, you're apt to feel like staying for a while. Indeed, Kraftsmen draws a seasoned gaggle of lingerers foodies, ladies who lunch, students and celebrity-watchers looking out for the man in charge, Houston chef and Pic./Gravitas founder Scott Tycer.
Yes, we know they sell meat at Fiesta and Kroger and Whole Foods. But do they sell hog chitterlings and Cajun pan sausage? Do they sell smoked andouille and three kinds of boudin? Well, they do at Burt's Meat Market & Cajun Foods, making the trek past payday stores and pawnshops to its low-slung building in the Fifth Ward well worth it. Thin slices of fat pieced in with lean pork give the andouille a richness without being overpowering. The boudin is flecked with fresh herbs. The stuffed pork chops are an amazing value at $4.69 a pound. And the high-quality staples ground chuck, fryers and sirloin will please any budget-conscious grill jockey between here and Omaha. If the sight of so much abundance makes you too hungry to wait, don't fret: A buffet section dishes up many of Burt's delicacies, hot and ready for munching.
We've been to Absinthe Lounge on nights it's so busy that you can't hear a damn thing over the voices echoing off the tile floor, and each time we're more impressed with owner Ralph Rager, who's a machine when it comes to slinging drinks. He's so deft and accurate, so quick with his hands and on his feet, that we can't help but wonder if he wasn't trained in a sweatshop. He'll have people yelling at him from all directions, and he'll spit everything back out with a slice of lime. Seriously, the man's in the weeds less than Tiger Woods.
Texas Art Supply
We're going to have to retire this award unless someone else steps up to the easel pretty soon, but for now the folks at Texas Art Supply can hang up their third plaque in as many years. The place really does have it all: paints, brushes, canvases, easels, stamps, inks, molds, clay, posterboard, books, desks you name it. Good luck coming up with something this store doesn't stock. And, if you do, no worries: You can go online at www.texasart.com and order it.
Is there a shopping center anywhere in America as gangsta-riffic as our own Sharpstown Mall? Each of the mall's entrance halls is lined with jewelry stalls or bling counters, as we like to call them. Of course, there's the Johnny Dang/Paul Wall joint venture TV Jewelry, which now has multiple outlets in Sharpstown Mall alone, and there are about a dozen competitors. All the clothing stores sell throwbacks and other hip-hop gear. The rock and country bins are afterthoughts in the mall's FYE Music store, but the rap bins are stuffed to the gills. Every local rapper from the underground to the top of the charts has a section brimming full of not just all their official releases, but many of their street mixtapes as well. And where most malls would have kiosks offering up scented candles, Sharpstown's have silk-screened Bun B T-shirts and hats that say "Southwest Side" and "Fifth Ward Posse."
If there were any justice in the world, Nick DiFonzo would be a wealthy man. A few years back, the KHOU-TV technician/satellite truck engineer started Bizarrerecords.com, a Web site on which he posted scans of hundreds of the weird, tacky and just plain bad album covers he's found in the thrift shops of Houston and Austin. Several of them, including that of Joyce, a dowdy Sealy pastor's wife, and that of obscure rap pioneer Devastatin' Dave the Turntable Slave, have gone on to become Internet lore they've been picked up by thousands of blogs and online mags around the world. But accept no substitute. Click on over to DiFonzo's site and check out the originals in their native habitat. What's more, he's always adding stuff, so you can be one of the first to jack his newest finds. Not that you should, but...

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