If smoking cigars were as popular as drinking booze, then the Briar Shoppe would rank up there with Spec's as a Houston institution. In fact, it probably already does. The Briar Shoppe has been a Rice Village fixture for close to 50 years, and each year, the place keeps churning out a great selection of cigars. Even better, in an industry that's full of machismo, the Briar Shoppe is run by women. Even if cigar smoking isn't your thing, this place should be on everyone's to-do list in Houston.

For 58 years, Frankel's has helped kids and adults get in touch with their inner ghost, ghoul, French maid, pimp, ho, devil, clown, or whatever particular persona floats their boat. Whether you want to buy in-store, online, or over the phone, we're pretty sure your Frankel's experience will be a good one. There are a ton of cheap, quick chipping options, the prices are great and the place has a bazillion costumes, so there's something for everybody. Even if you told yourself that last Halloween was the last time you were going to dress up, that you were too old to be doing that kind of thing — just take a look at what Frankel's has to offer, and you may want to dress up for years to come.

As it says on the all-local Midtown Farmers' Market's Web site, "It's a foodie paradise and morning party all in one!" And they aren't exaggerating. Although it's not the largest of Houston's farmers' markets by a long shot, it's the best place to go on Saturday mornings from 8 a.m. until noon to run into friends, get your knives sharpened by the friendliest guy ever to come at you with a blade and stock up on fresh meat and produce for the week ahead. Vendors include Kraftsmen Bakery, the Houston Dairymaids and Katz Coffee, in addition to the local farmers, who rotate out with some frequency. Sign up for the newsletter to be kept in the loop about new vendors as well as a weekly list of expected produce, so you'll know what to expect before you even head out the door.

This primarily Korean grocery store opened with great fanfare in the summer of 2008, and with good reason: The large national chain offers an enormous selection of Asian foodstuffs, fresh seafood and household products in a bright, clean space with prices that are competitive with the likes of H-E-B and Walmart. Super H Mart is a one-stop shop for most Korean families, with sections like a Great Wall of Kimchi and a food court serving up hot bibimbap and bulgogi, as well as a culinary mecca for Houstonians looking for inexpensive, high-quality seafood, exotic produce and baked goods featuring cheese, red beans and pumpkin instead of the typical chocolate and vanilla. And if that's not enough, Super H Mart even sells industrial-size rice cookers and jewelry.

As "written" communication is increasingly measured in tweeted characters instead of blocky paragraphs — or, for real journalism old-timers, column inches — the printed page nevertheless holds out a couple of key advantages over its computer-screen counterpart. First of all, it's a lot less catastrophic to spill food or drink on a piece of paper than on a laptop. If you should find yourself in a hospital or doctor's-office waiting room, meanwhile, WiFi ought to be about the last thing on your mind anyway. This puts the Med Center's Newsbox Etc. in an ideal spot. The selection of newspapers and magazines may not be the city's most in-depth, but it is comparable to any airport or supermarket news rack, with a full complement of other newsstand accoutrements (cigarettes, candy, batteries, etc.) to boot. And if you don't feel like partaking of any of the many nearby eateries, peruse your periodical of choice over a hamburger or hot dog at the old-fashioned lunch counter — which is enough of a rarity itself these days.

Over 50,000 people stream each weekend through the stalls at this 35-acre bazaar that sprawls along a gritty, norteño-blasting stretch of north Houston's Airline Drive. Not only can you get traditional flea market-style items like furniture, art and religious statuary, battered toys and cartridges from long-dead video game platforms, tools and appliances, but you can also buy extremely fresh produce to take home and choose from plenty of cuisines for hot meals on-site. At the food court, you can select American, Chinese or any one of three different regional Mexican cuisines. You can even take out an insurance policy and get your shoes repaired, all while strolling around with a cold Tecate from a beer stall. Speaking of cerveza, there is also a cantina on-site and strolling musicians. The occasional ICE raid is all there is to remind you that you are not, in fact, across the river in old Mexico.

It is not easy to choose a vendor at all the local farmers' markets as the best. There are so many, doing so many cool things right now. But when it comes to longevity and consistency, Animal Farm leads the pack. One talk with Gita Van Woerden will prove to anybody that she knows what she's doing. The organic, sustainable Animal Farm brings Houston chefs and restaurants some of Texas's tastiest baby arugula, juiciest heirloom tomatoes and unbeatable seasonal beans and peppers. Try the baby eggplants, and you'll be sold. Find Animal Farm at several Houston farmers' markets, including Urban Harvest and Highland Village.

If you find navigating a cart through Central Market on a weekend to be too much of an emotional and physical workout, try Belden's in Meyerland. This refreshingly independent store is a treasure trove of surprises: hard-to-find baking supplies, steaks that eclipse anything from Outback, fresh baguettes put out warm each afternoon and a wine selection second only to that of Spec's. (Belden's has the cheapest prices in town for Shiner, too.) Normally, we steer clear of the grocery store's frozen section, but this is where we discovered Mamie's Famous Cheese Wafers, shipped in from Alabama. There's also Peet's Coffee by the bag, and the checkout line offers The Economist, not rags featuring 20 Ways to Lose That Belly Fat.

At Pearle Vision in the Galleria, optometrist Nadia Sledge and opticians Mehri and Bobbie brighten their customers' days, making it easy to do what is usually a chore. This is the place to go for stylish professional glasses that will still get compliments years later. And the level of care provided is exceptional. On a recent visit, when a customer started seeing floaters and flashers in one eye, the optician efficiently and immediately steered her to Houston Eye Associates. Pearle called the patient the next day to make sure everything was all right with the client's vision (it was). Pearle always has your back.

Brookwood is a local, nonprofit mini-chain of garden and retail shops with luscious plants that are in better shape than those at most nurseries. One season, they had a special breed of the bluebonnet, only it was maroon. (Surprise: Texas A&M cooked up that version.) Brookwood's not limited to native Texas plants only: It also offers handcrafted pottery and such made by adults with special needs and upscale garden and home accoutrements — at not so upscale prices. Someday, when we can budget time for a long, leisurely lunch, we hope to visit the store's fabled headquarters, The Brookwood Community in Brookshire.

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