Hendley Market

Hendley Market is the perfect place to buy '60s-era toys and wax lips for kids, knitted catnip-filled toys for cats, old coins for house-sitting neighbors and embroidered linens for co-workers. There are antique oddities such as medical instruments, quirky old books, gift items that hark back to the Victorian Age (in a good way, not a chastity-belt way) and Mexican retablos. It's a charming haven from the usual "sun 'n' sand" beach tourist claptrap predominant on an island.

Mi Tienda

Visiting Mi Tienda is like taking a quick trip to Mexico. When H-E-B decided to open the store, they wanted to create the most authentic Mexican grocery in Houston. They surpassed this goal. If you make it past the self-selection bakery, where you'll find tons of Mexican sweetbreads, you'll stumble across the fresh juice and aguas frescas bar with a selection like no other in town. Hungry? You won't be disappointed in the taco stand, where you can pick up your favorite Mexican plate for under five bucks. The fresh cheese and crema display will wow you, as will the ceviche stand and one of the biggest displays of fresh fruit and vegetables available. The meat counter is also like no other and includes a walk-in refrigerated section with whole pigs for sale as well as the special barbecue cooker known as la caja china.

Rick's Darts & Games

Whether you're a kid or just a kid at heart, we're pretty sure you're going to like Rick's. For 34 years, the shop has provided a plethora of games and toys to keep just about every hobbyist smiling. Besides the eponymous darts, Rick's has kites, cards, dominoes, go, chess, billiards accessories, murder mystery sets, puzzles, yo-yos — you name it. You can also order online, by phone or mail. Even if you're not a hardcore hobbyist, we suggest you swing by and check out the variety of cool games on hand that can make your next party a little more memorable. Seriously, turn off that darn Xbox and go find something that'll kick-start your brain.

I W Marks

When you want diamonds, you want I W Marks. The largest independent jeweler in Houston, this family-run business generates more than $10 million a year in sales. But while great service and an unbeatable selection earned I W Marks our Best Jewelry Store nod, the company's also high on our list of socially responsible corporations. In addition to selling jewelry (which it does really well), I W Marks supports the community with generous contributions to the Houston Grand Opera, Houston Symphony and Houston Ballet, as well as the Ensemble Theatre and Society for the Performing Arts. Sell a great product, good for you. Invest those profits in the community, good for us.

Spec's Deli
Jeff Balke

Spec's Liquor Warehouse is a booze mecca for Houston beer swillers and wine sippers alike. A drinker's dream come true, the libation emporium is as large as most grocery stores in the city and has more selections than about anywhere we've ever been. The sheer amount of options is downright staggering to think about, but luckily, the staff is well educated in the ways of drinking. Doesn't matter if you're looking for the perfect wine to pair with your dinner or beer to go with your football game, they have experts for both and then some.

Apollo Scooters

Scooters are the rage. The little buggers get 85 to 100 miles per gallon and may even be a little hip. Matthew Creed, owner of Apollo Scooters, sold about 100 of them last year. He sold 85 last month. But if you buy, you'll need a good scooter mechanic. Apollo Scooters has an entire garage, which looks like a NASCAR pit, devoted to repairing scooters. David Dodd, the shop's head mechanic, spent 20 years working on jet engines for Continental Airlines. Apollo mainly sells Aprilia, Argo and Kymco scooters, but even if you didn't buy at Apollo, Dodd will fix it. Got a Honda Elite that's been gathering dust since 1987? Dodd will make it purr. Apollo also sells and services Segways, so look him up if that's the way you roll.

Body Mind & Soul

At Body, Mind & Soul you'll find prayer bowls, plush unicorns, aromatherapy products and elegant gewgaws for the home. Check out their psychic fairs, held regularly. Metaphysicians and lay people both rave about some of the readers, such as Kevin Casey, who works in the bookstore and casts a mean astrological chart. Another of the shop's employees, astrologer Katherine Keene, is a mainstay — a Leo with a mane of red hair! — who makes unique, beaded jewelry. Not boring, hippie beads — lovely, intricate beads woven into a flower design and held together by wire, hanging from a drop necklace.

Phoenicia Specialty Foods

To call this place a mere grocery store would be to do it a severe injustice. It's a 60,000-square-foot food emporium that sells products you simply cannot find elsewhere. There are fresh dates and fresh almonds, as well as dried nuts and fruits of all kinds. The deli has many different kinds of prepared foods, including traditional tabouleh and hummus, as well as six kinds of feta cheese, all from different countries. They have an olive bar with over 30 types of olives and Middle Eastern breads of all kinds, not just the traditional pita. Their sweets counter is enough to give you a sugar fix just drooling over it. There's teas and coffees you've never heard of; wines from places you didn't know made wines, like Croatia, Bulgaria, Moldova and Romania; and olive oils that fill a whole aisle; hookahs and so many different kinds of tobacco you'll quickly lose count. And don't forget the homemade yogurt. Plan to spend a few hours gazing at products you may never have seen before.

ISSUES Magazine Store

Half the fun of this place is just taking stock of all the bizarre and esoteric titles out there. Seems like there's a magazine for just about every lifestyle, interest, hobby, career, country and sport you can come up with, and then some. Issues boasts more than 3,000 titles. Of course, your standard stuff is here, too, but sometimes it's cool to pop in without anything in mind and discover something new. Be warned, though: There ain't no coffee, trendy jazz CDs or overpriced scones, just a relatively small space jam-packed with the printed word. It's kind of a reassuring sanctuary for those of us who want to take a break from blogs and kick back with an actual, honest-to-goodness paper product. Check it out this week, and we promise you'll find something that speaks to you.

Sig's Lagoon

No, Sig's didn't win Best Novelty Store because it proudly sells vinyl — the entire upstairs balcony is devoted to that processed plastic — which is less and less a novelty every year in any case. It was more the book of illustrations that conveniently leaves a hole for the reader's penis where, for example, someone's head or a banana might be. (That book was sold, but they can always reorder.) The entire wall of bobblehead dolls — Rat Fink, the Gruesomes, the Monkees' Davy Jones, Mr. T — is nice too. There's nothing novel, however, about owner Tomas Escalante's dedication to making Sig's the closest thing the city has to a Houston music museum, with the added bonus of offering exhibits you can actually buy. And if that means he has to sell a few Hillary Clinton nutcrackers — though he's probably not selling many of those anymore; maybe he should trade them for some Obama merch — to finance the purchase of some rare TSU Toronadoes LPs, that's just fine by us.

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