Inner Loopers have been patting themselves heartily on the back lately for bringing back "roadside" produce stands at various farmers' markets. Although our hats are off to the boom in homegrown tomatoes, we'd like to give props to the giant farmers' market (inside the Loop) that's been offering a tremendous selection of fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, vinegars and even milk and eggs all along. There's no place else in the city where you can buy a farm-fresh pineapple (in bulk, if you wish) at 6 a.m. any day of the week, year-round. Don't want to drive to the country for those juicy Hempstead watermelons? Canino's has them, along with a way to spend all those pennies you've been hoarding (jalapeos anyone?). Go to the very back for the best deals and the freshest hard-to-find items. Whatever you do, don't miss the tamales. Like the rest of the goods, they're tremendously fresh, and you'll see them only rarely at the other markets.
La Ojarasca Panaderia has been around for more than 40 years and that's a lot of cookies. And bolillos (French bread). And marranitos (gingerbread made in the shape of a pig). Deep in Houston's East End, La Ojarasca is the place for fresh, hot Mexican delicacies. Don't worry if you don't speak Spanish you don't have to know how to say marranitos for them to sell you one. A warning, however: On Sunday mornings, La Ojarasca is in gridlock, with an enormous after-church crowd and a sprinkling of hungover guys trying to buy their way back into their wives' good graces with just-baked croissants.
Even for a chain boasting overall prices that distribute evenly along the "Holy shit, that's cheap!" continuum, this particular Marshalls is an even better bet than most for those hoping to land CK and Polo hosiery for next to nothing. And, as a special added bonus for the frugal yet bourgeois at heart (you know who you are), the tony River Oaks location makes it relatively easy to cut an elitist swath through the morass of proletarian bargain-hunters. Note: We did say "relatively."
Since opening in December, Bombshell Tattoo has quickly become the only place we get our ink done. Whether you need a butterfly or have been dreaming of a custom back-piece, this shop's talented stable of artists knows how to create art that'll last, well, forever. Its Spartan, lavender interior is a refreshing change of pace, lending it a spalike atmosphere that'll calm and relax you as the needle pumps in and out of your skin. It's located next door to Poison Girl, so your friends can either choose to watch through the private studio's viewing windows or check out and head to the bar for a beer. They might need it. Chances are they're next.
One employee at the Apple Store in the Galleria is a shaggy-haired slacker who stumbles around the place singing to himself. "Hey, what's up?" he'll interrupt himself to ask a customer. "What's the deal-i-o?" The store, painted stark white with blond wood floors, is as sleek as the wafer-thin iPods on display. It has fast replaced the arcade and record shop as the spot in the mall where hipsters go to hang. And why not? The place hums with activity as teens download songs and videos, check their MySpace pages and surf the Net. The little ones have a station all their own, where they play Dora the Explorer and Nemo. An older crowd occasionally wanders in as well, gazing lustily at the powerful Mac G5 and the giant 30-inch monitor on display. And all day long, people of every age hunch over counters, legs crossed at the ankles, looking as laid-back as the employees.
Issues offers no coffee bar, no hearty muffins, no place to sit and page through periodicals. Heck, it hardly offers a place to park. But the store's lone location on Shepherd has that certain something the big-box book behemoths don't. Namely, it's not a big-box book behemoth. Devoted almost exclusively to glossies, Issues boasts more than 3,000 titles, ranging from the dutifully mainstream to the downright obscure. All the standard political, celebrity and music fare is represented, alongside a smattering of scholarly journals, poetry reviews and the occasional radical-culture mag such as Clamor and Lip. Fashionistas have their pick of hard-to-find international rags. In the Lifestyles section, the marijuana mag Skunk rubs spines with American Cowboy and Farm Ranch Living, which nestle against the feminist journal Bitch. If that doesn't grab your attention, check out the store's healthy array of gay and straight porn. Take that, Borders!
These days it's all the rage to slap ridiculously sized diamonds which cost as much as a two-bedroom pad in West U on plain platinum bands and call them engagement rings. But if you long for something classier than a gaudy, Paris Hilton-esque trinket, your answer is antique and estate jewelry. These pieces have a story. These pieces convey stately elegance. These pieces say, "My ring was crafted in 1899 by French artisans. How about yours?" For one-of-a-kind dazzlers, peruse the offerings at A.A. Benjamin. The cozy Galleria shop boasts art deco, Georgian and Victorian jewelry dating back to the 19th century. You can count on proprietor Amy Lawch for the goods; the gemologist and certified appraiser not only sells jewelry but evaluates it for clients. So even if you don't buy from her, she'll tell you if you've found the perfect rock. If you bought a dud, well, brace yourself for a brutal dissection. But hey, you can always make it up in your next marriage, right?
Maybe it wasn't the best idea to get the big spiderweb tattoo that curls around your neck. And though Blues Brothers is a classic, you might have gone a little far getting "J-A-K-E" inked across your knuckles. So now it's time for a little tattoo removal. The folks at Town & Country Plastic Surgery are more than happy to fire up their Palomar Q-YAG 5 System laser, a gadget that sounds so cool we wish we had ink that had to come off. Depending on the tat's size, they could have you ready for that job promotion in just a few sessions. Unfortunately, they don't promise it'll be pain-free. Dude, you should have listened to your mother.
Described by one disgruntled along-for-the-ride male acquaintance as a "cosmetics crackhouse," Sephora is an orgy of high-end lip gloss, eye shadow, blush and sundry other forms of pretty-up. For a truly overwhelming experience, venture to Sephora's Galleria location on a Friday or Saturday evening between six and eight and bear witness as scores of young women rotate like a greasepainted volleyball team from one makeup station to the next, applying globs of expensive samples to their facial tabula rasas. They eventually will emerge dateward, sporting garishly seductive mugs that they could never have afforded any other way. Inspiring!
Any photog geek will tell you there's really only one camera store in the city worth knowing, and that's the Houston Camera Exchange. A perennial winner in this category, the warehouse-size location on Westheimer is a dream come true for any avid shutterbug. And budding amateurs needn't be shy: The knowledgeable staff will set you on the path to a lifetime of photographic wonderment. The walls are lined with cool vintage cameras and recorders; the display cases are stocked with new and used 35-millimeter automatics and a variety of digital point-and-shoots; the aisles overflow with tripods, camera bags, lights and umbrellas. And for those who are resisting the digital revolution, they even sell film.

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