Premium Goods

You won't find the latest high heels here, nor will you find ostrich-skin cowboy boots. But plenty of people still line up to buy shoes at this Rice Village-area sneaker boutique. When this sister store of the original Premium Goods in Brooklyn opened in our fine city, it brought with it New York's sneaker-collecting culture. What you'll find here are the latest ­limited-edition Nikes and unique artist-designed shirts. Buy a pair here, and you'll almost never have to worry about running into someone wearing the same shoes again.

Getting older ain't so bad when you can do it with flair. The Rice Village outpost of the national Reading Glasses To Go stocks thousands of fashionable reading glasses, including the white ones Meryl Streep wore in The Devil Wears Prada. Quel chic. Wanna look cool while reading Proust at a sidewalk cafe, but need a little help with the small print? Try one of the sun readers they carry. And think how much fun it will be when the cute waiter brings your espresso and you slide your dark glasses down your nose to appraise him over the rims.

Penzey's Spices

Hang out in Penzey's Spices and a customer will inevitably open the front door and gush, "My, it smells good in here." And it does. The large, austere storefront in the Heights is a sensuous delight with hundreds of varieties of herbs and spices, each with its own smelling jar. And it's none of that stale, MSG-filled stuff you find at the supermarket. The crushed jalapeño peppers will water your eyes. The cocoa powder will weaken your knees. Go smell for yourself.

The Briar Shoppe

A past champion reemerges! Nestled in Rice Village, this tobacconist treasure trove has been in business since 1962. Bulk, chewing, rolling, canned — they can meet all your tobacco needs. And if it's a cigar you're after, they have one of the biggest selections in the city. You can find anything from Arturo Fuente to Zino. Ye Olde Shoppe also has pipes, wine, accessories, gifts — it's textbook one-stop shopping. Whether you're a connoisseur or just getting into the smoking groove, the salespeople will help you find what you're looking for. Now, sit back, relax and smoke 'em if you got 'em.

Domy Books

Don't let the name fool you into thinking this Montrose-area store is merely some sort of Barnes & Noble-like local. Domy offers their customers the latest in specialty artist-designed toys. It's one of the only places in town to find a random assortment of Bearbricks or Kid Robot designs. From limited-edition vinyl figures by Kaws and Futura to hand-sewn plush ninjas, Domy makes collecting Star Wars toys look like the child's game it is. Since it opened, it has continued to serve local toy junkies with a wide assortment of some of the finest and most intricate toys imaginable.

Mathematician Ellen Clardy, who got her Ph.D. in economics from Rice University, has a love of logic. It shows most astutely when she recommends that potential pupils consider a tutor before October hits — when it's often too late to turn around a lousy semester in algebra. If you really want to conquer algebra (a baffling yet required math course for many), meet with her early for a few sessions of pre-algebra. Clardy says not to feel alone if you feel inadequate with word problems — that's everyone's bugaboo. After her soothing instruction, you'll likely never again scratch your head at those "If two trains are traveling at the same rate of speed, what color is the sky on Neptune's moons?" ­conundrums.

Antique Warehaus

"Trash and Treasure since 1947," the slogan for Antique Warehaus, says it all. The Montrose-based dive is stacked from dirty floor to raftered ceiling with everything from leather couches and ottomans to flatware and glassware, lamps, old cameras, bar stools and picture frames. It's the city's best, most affordable and unpretentious antiques store.

We know a driver who fell victim to one of Houston's notorious potholes, leaving half the front underside of his car dragging ominously. He took it to the nearest garage, where they helpfully jury-rigged a solution but told him to get a permanent fix at his regular mechanic. So he took it to Shepherd Square Tire & Auto, near Shepherd and Westheimer. They took a look at it and said they could replace the jury-rigging with factory parts and charge $300 or so, but it wouldn't be any better than what was on there now. Three years later, he still hasn't had any problems. The guys at Shepherd Square are straight-shooters who won't try to upsell you and will do the work they promise at the price they promise. An oil change brings with it an inspection of your car that's not designed to bilk you but to keep you safe. Plus, it's right next door to the Brown Bag Deli, so waiting for the work to be done is a snap.

Maybe Halliburton can't run a war — much less a country — but one of its former civil engineers can whip your skin into shape! Mahssa burned out on her former career but, lucky for us, became an esthetician and makeup artist. She's as bubbly as you'd expect for someone in the glamour trade, but her grasp of science and how things work gives her uncanny insight into ridding us of weird bumps and hairs (she does waxing and chemical peels, too). Mahssa is a bit of a freak, because her own skin just might truly be made of porcelain and therefore need no TLC — unlike most of the rest of us. She personalizes each skin treatment, keeps lengthy customer files (don't worry; Halliburton can't access them) and is the next best thing to a dermatologist. One woman we know with chronic acne saw a complete turnaround. And we've been told we are aglow — days after a session. Throw in a hand and arm massage, and get a quickie lesson in minerals makeup, and you'll glow, too. We won't trust our hide to anyone else. A caveat: You'd better be using sunscreen year-round, or prepare yourself for a drubbing.

Farmers' markets are hard to come by in Houston, which is why Bayou City Farmers' Market is such a find. It's tucked away on a side street in the Upper Kirby district, and growers and artisans alike come to peddle their goods every Wednesday and Saturday. Aside from produce, you can find grass-fed beef, fresh baked goods, organic salads, artisanal cheeses, locally made honey and coffee. If you're lucky, there may be some live music playing as you make your way from vendor to vendor sampling their offerings and wondering why you didn't find this place sooner. You can also sign up for a mailing list that keeps you up-to-date on fresh food happenings around the city.

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