Say you have a pet in crisis, or one with special needs — maybe an elderly rescue fraught with medical problems, some of which require surgery. Forget all the Aggie jokes you've ever heard or told and head straight to the Small Animal Clinic at Texas A&M, where on any given day, Houstonians can be found in the waiting room. It's a drive, but not much more so than across Houston during rush hour. It's also expensive, but this is the place that trains all the other vets, so why not go straight to the source? (You can pay it out, and they're not profit-crazy.) The neurological team is stellar — our precious bundle was walking the day after spinal cord surgery. Precious Bundle is still walking, by the way...and running, happily.

The Guild Shop

The slogan at The Guild Shop is "Resale at Its Best," and we doubt that any city has a better resale shop than this Montrose gem. The store is run by St. John the Divine Church, and if you're looking for some cool used furniture, this place really can be heaven. From flea market rough to museum quality, The Guild Shop has it all. Some pieces are a bit expensive, like the vintage leather couches or bamboo chairs, but the selection is big enough that you can find what you're looking for on any budget.

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

The massive Spec's near downtown might be the one must-see destination in Houston. While the "water wall" at the mall or the fountains by the hospitals are probably more photographed, Spec's, a liquor store, is the place everyone seems to take out-of-town guests when they visit Houston. Apart from the huge liquor selection, there's deli food, chocolate, cigars, coffee and a great beer stock. The in-store wine specialists can help you pick out a bottle that's sure to impress your friends, but even if you're not in the drinking mood, just swing by and pick up a souvenir.

"Everyone is welcome here — from the über-crafty to those who can't pick a sewing machine out of a lineup," the Sew Crafty Web site states. And the folks there mean it. Sew Crafty is as much about community as craft; that's why they host the monthly Crafty Cocktails gathering, as well as offer classes in sewing, knitting, crochet and screen-printing. There's a sewing lounge equipped with six Janome Sew Precise machines, so you can use the shop's hardware to work on that long-term project you've been putting off. They also can host private parties and baby/bridal showers. The gals behind Sew Crafty don't consider this just a paycheck; they have a passion for this stuff, and that makes for a warm, friendly, fun environment.

The Briar Shoppe

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.

Frankel's Costume

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.

T'afia

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.

Super H Mart

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.

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