Traders Village

At Traders Village, you can buy a Chihuahua, get your hair cut, drink a beer, arm yourself with nunchakus and a samurai sword, and then buy a dress for a quinceañera. Not to mention, all the friendly vendors are truly the salt of the earth. One image that sums up Traders Village is a life-size statue of Arnold Schwarzenegger from The Terminator, for sale in front of a table of incense. What's not to love?

G & G Model Shop

Hobby shops have become huge chain stores these days. Rice Village has become a charmless strip of overpriced Gap-like outlets. So it's a little bit surprising that tear-it-down Houston has a charming old-timey hobby shop, and that it's in Rice Village. G&G has been around since TV was new (it has the retro sign to prove it) and specializes in trains, airplanes and other modeling minutiae. Says one hobbyist we know, "Hobby shops, like the neighborhood drugstore, are an anachronism now that Internet stores can sell for so much cheaper. But what you miss by not supporting your local hobby shop is being able to hang around, swap tips with other modelers, ask advice from proprietors, that kind of thing." And that's just the "kind of thing" that G&G specializes in. Long may it do so.

Nothing fancy here — and we appreciate that. It's $1.25 per load in (often) old machines that can shake like they're possessed, and three or four quarters in the scalding hot dryers usually gets the job done fast (careful about burning your threads, though). The set-up is drab; the arcade games are kind of depressing. But here's what makes the place stand out: The attached (and modestly priced) wash-and-fold means there's always someone on hand to field a complaint, keep the lights on an extra five minutes or, most thankfully, make change for a $20 bill — a far cry from the faceless, coin-sucking misery of most Laundromats. As an additional bonus, the place is centrally located on the bustling hipster thoroughfare of Westheimer, allowing one to pass time with a drink at nearby Poison Girl or do some people-watching (or mocking) at the countless clothing exchanges down the street.

So you're buying a house, or need someone to check work done by someone else on your digs. Michael Busch, a licensed sewer inspector, has got the camera equipment to ease your mind. He even takes smaller plumbing jobs on a case-by-case basis, with the caveat that he may be called to bigger, filthier emergencies at any time. Busch jokes that he's got a really strong immune system from being forced at many a lunchtime to eat a sandwich while checking a sewer line, but to look at him, he's sartorially sanitary. He's respectful of your turf, too, leaving behind no detritus of any kind.

Spec’s Fine Wines, Spirits and Finer Foods
Jeff Balke

How many different ways can you riff on the reasons why Spec's downtown is the best liquor store in the city? Not many, because the store continues to be the best for the same reason: Whether it's beer, wine, whiskey, rum or scotch, Spec's will have it. Almost guaranteed. Not to mention a deli and cheese selection that's ridiculously large. Or the cash discount. This year, Best of Houston® exhaustively searched for another liquor store that could match up to Spec's, but fact is, there's no place like it, and until another store steps up, we'll keep awarding it to this place. Because anytime out-of-towners make a point to visit a liquor store for the experience, you know it's solid gold.

Houston watched proudly in 2006 as fashion designer Chloe Dao went on Bravo's hit series Project Runway and, beating out 15 other designers, emerged as the winner. (One guy had rudely dismissed her as a "pattern-maker, not a designer." He later took home third place for his trouble.) Soft-spoken and mild mannered in a horde of drama queens, Dao let her work do her talking. It seems the judges liked what they heard. Dao came home and sunk her $100,000 in prize money into her shop, Lot 8. In the three years since Project Runway, her Simply Chloe Dao line has become a big hit on QVC.com, she's partnered with Nuo Tech to design mobile technology and travel accessories, and she launched the Dao Chloe Dao collection for nationwide retail distribution. So what does the fashion maven like to wear when she's making the rounds in Houston? A pair of shorts, of course.

After a long week at work, an hour on the massage table could be your cure. Finding a masseuse, however, is another matter. Your best bet is to check out Massage Envy, a national chain with 26 locations in Houston. We're familiar with the store at Buffalo Speedway and Westpark Drive, where "membership" costs about $50 a month. That gets you one massage — same-day appointments are usually available — and any additional massages run about $40. That rate probably isn't the best around town, but it's better than most. And the best part: Massage Envy stays open late on the weekdays, making it maybe the only late-night massage joint in town that won't get raided by the vice squad.

Marines, skinheads and head-lice victims all agree: There's nothing like having your head shaved. The warm lather, the feel of a razor (preferably a straight razor) scraping over your scalp, the sting of the post-shave tonic on your freshly shaved pate — it's the tonsorial equivalent of a deep-tissue massage. For those of us who prefer to leave an inch-wide, inch-high strip straight down the middle, nobody etches a finer Mohawk than Ambrose Cardenas at Joe Lee's Barber Shop downtown. Shortly after we moved to Houston, we wandered into Joe Lee's wondering if anyone in town would be able to touch up our 'Hawk; the soft-spoken, laid-back Cardenas didn't bat an eye and told us to have a seat. We've been going ever since, and only wish we could figure out a way to make our hair grow faster.

There are no garish posters here. Miracle Nails & Spa, near Meyerland, is simply yet tastefully decorated, and your hands will be too. Miracle is spotlessly clean, with cozy and vigorous spa massage chairs and — miracle of miracles — an actual man doing nails. Aaden's female colleagues – look for Lisa, Cindy and Nancy – also are adept, and the salon just reduced hour massage prices to $45. "Better than Massage Envy," says Lisa: "No membership." Plus, none of the manicurists gossip about the clients in another language (see Seinfeld episode No. 110).

Get us into a bookstore — especially one as conveniently located as the new Books a Million in downtown's Houston Pavilions development — and there go at least a couple of hours down the drain. With an entire wall of publications ranging from The Nation and Mojo to Guns & Ammo and Vanity Fair, Books a Million is a magazine lover's paradise. Better yet, the staff won't mind if you sit a spell and browse the periodicals (as long as it's not one that comes in a sealed wrapper, but there are plenty of those too), or if you take a couple over to the in-store coffee shop and read as you sip.

Best Of Houston®

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