Murder by the Book

There are sometimes as many as six author appearances a week at Murder by the Book. That's reason enough to love it. Add that the store specializing in mysteries has an ­extensive range of titles and an incredibly knowledgeable staff, and it's easy to see why it wins our Best Bookstore award. Authors ­routinely alter their tour plans to stop at Murder by the Book, which they say is among the most hospitable in the country (read: they sell a lot of books). So, want a graphic thriller? Murder by the Book has it. How about a steamy whodunit? Got it. Or an English cozy? Check. Mysteries — with every level of intrigue, sex and violence, and characters ranging from the hardened P.I. to the English grandma, the ­modern vampire to the medieval damsel — cram the shelves.

The Chocolate Bar
Dave Rosales

All right, so, "Best Candy Store," let's see...mmm...chocolate-covered popcorn...Whoops, sorry. Got distracted. Anyway, Chocolate Bar has served delicious homemade goodies for years now...mmm...chocolate cream truffles and s'mores chocolate cheesecake...Whoa — did it again! Sorry about that. Now where were we? Oh yes, Chocolate Bar has excellent ice cream, cakes and coffees to go along with their chocolate specialties like chocolate "greeting" bars and chocolate-dipped fresh fruit...mmm...and chocolate pizza...They also have sugar-free choices and even carob-covered goodies for your dog (i.e., chocolate-free). So really, it's no wonder that Chocolate Bar is this year's winner for...mmm...brownies...

This category really should be "Best Chiropractor and Former Movie Actor." Brian Cesak was one of the stars of Kevin Reynolds's first feature film, the 1985 road movie cult classic ­Fandango, with one spoken line (hilarious though it may be). A poster from the movie hangs in his Memorial-area office. You wonder if he's the lush he portrays in the movie, but one session convinces you there's no way. No one in their cups could manage such focused adjustments; plus, he's got the Jesus fish on his business cards. One thing he does have in common with the character he played: When it comes to discussing the movie, they're equally chatty. He's more focused on healing folks now.

Packaged in a simple brown paper box, this chocolate cube may not look groundbreaking, but when it comes to chocolate, it's taste that counts. Richard Kaplan, a former chef at trendy New York and Key West spots, hit the Houston chocolate scene in 2004 with a burst of flavor combos seldom if ever seen before. His recipes range from mixing milk chocolate with Jack Daniel's, caramel, cashews and fleur de sel, to white chocolate with candied Meyer lemon, Myers's dark rum and thyme. And don't forget the delicious dark stuff; Kaplan offers six variations that will make you smile and swoon. Brown Paper Chocolates can be found at several stores around town including Spec's and Whole Foods, as well as online.

Pak's

The residents of Montrose have had a deep rivalry for years. Like Republicans and Democrats, they hold arguments at bars that evoke the silliness of Dr. Seuss's The Butter Battle Book. All the fuss is over which is the better convenience store, Hollywood or Pak's. Well, the final answer is Pak's. The colorful clerks' personalities are as varied as the beer selection, and good-to-quirky music is constantly being played. It's always clean inside, and stopping and getting into a rather lengthy conversation with the clerk or fellow customers seems more normal and acceptable than awkward.

Forget about that scene in Marathon Man — Dr. John Barras is a cutie pie with a sugar-sweet staff, high-tech tools and an ubër-cool office of hardwoods and distressed walls. If a dentist's office can look like a boutique, this is the one. He specializes in "sedation dentistry" — as in, we'll relax you and even put you to sleep if need be — and his staff gives squeaky-clean cleanings. So just relax, don the headphones or position the flat-screen TV overhead and say "ahhhhhh."

Jester Plaza Veterinary Clinic

The Fido-friendly folks at Jester Plaza ­Veterinary Clinic will treat your best pal like he's family. At their doggy day care, pooches of every size and shape hang around the place getting pets, pats and even occasional kisses. And if they need a round of shots, dear Dr. Stephen Burda is right there — the day care is inside his clinic, after all. They also offer grooming services for any pup in need of a shave and a mani-pedi, and a yard out back is perfect for catching Frisbees. But the best thing about this doggy day care is that the canines kicking back at the clinic are clearly happy to be in the company of some very ­caring humans.

Drive Thru Cleaners

Rosalind Campbell and Blanca Aguirre, ­intrepid employees of Drive Thru Cleaners (owned by Michael Kaufman), have seen it all. If you inadvertently leave a thong (okay, in our case, granny panties) in your slacks, they ­discreetly hand it back. Need a fast fix for soiled clothing after a careless barista puts a cracked lid on your pumpkin spice latte, and your new suit — bought especially for that day's big meeting — gets a bath in the $5 brew? Sometimes, the only way to get it cleaned fast and best is by getting down to your Underoos — after all, you're wearing your car! "One man came in here and stripped down to his shorts," Rosalind told us. But he walked into their establishment to do it; we have the decency to stay in our car. (They deliver, if you're shy.)

If you go to 3000 Richmond, you won't see much besides an ordinary office building. But if you go behind that building — on a weekend morning, of course — you'll find a thriving, eclectic, Green-with-a-capital-G farmers market. Everything from grass-fed meat to coffee to veggies is there; local gardeners are welcome to bring their produce and try to sell it. Go around and sample stuff like it's a Sam's — an ecologically friendly, warm and fun Sam's.

Flea Markets are always a fun way to kill your Saturday, if you find the right one. There are the wrong ones with nothing but bootleg CDs, guys selling car stereos and, inexplicably, that weird D&D dude hocking all the swords and knives. Sunny Flea Market isn't that. This place is a bargain hunter's paradise; it's doubtful there's anything here the price isn't negotiable on. Most important, people bring in tons of used stuff to sell, so you have no clue what you may luck out and find. Anything from old Nintendo games to vinyl albums to vintage furniture can all be found while you're eating a nice cup of corn or something on a stick. Food is always better when it comes on a stick.

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