Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Phooey on getting lubricated at home before going out. Instead, step into Spec's Midtown location and prep for a night on the town at one of the state's most massive odes to boozery. There's always some sort of beer and/or wine tastings, especially on the weekends. No worries on the food tip because the spot boasts a deli, a section of gourmet chocolates and heaps of meats and cheeses. And, of course, there are ridiculous amounts of specialty beers, wines and liquors available for purchase, just in case you do decide to be all boring by drinking at home.
It's inevitable: When Halloween comes around or you just need that certain something for your party, someone yells, "Just go to Frankel's!" The family-run shop, which began life in 1950 as Morty's Magic Mart, has become Houston's own Walmart of costumes, wigs and everything in between. We mean Walmart in the best possible way, too. With Halloween still a month off, no doubt people are already busting down the doors of the Frankel's warehouse looking for gear. If you want to dress up as Zombie Amy Winehouse, you are going to Hell, but no doubt Frankel's will have everything to help you get there.
This concept store from H-E-B has been a massive success in its first location in a heavily Hispanic area of Pasadena, and it's easy to see why: The store has been designed to resemble a massive indoor mercado complete with tortilleria, an aguas frescas bar and even women cleaning and prepping bright green nopales paddles. There's no Hispanic ingredient or spice you can't find here, and H-E-B's in-house store brands provide excellent savings on staples like rice and beans. Plus, you have to love a store that smartly plants a churro vendor on the way out the door.
Forget the grown men who refer to the objects of their hobbies as "toys." Sweet Spot Audio and More will have none of that. A grown-up hobby shop for the Don Draper kind, Sweet Spot is a cigar shop, men's boutique and audiophile's fantasy rolled into one. They sell coffee and tobacco along with new and used vinyl, and feature regular meet-ups for audio clubs, all in a laid-back atmosphere without a hint of hard sell. It feels like your buddy's den. They're also one of the few audio shops in town that will let you demo the equipment before buying it.
Walking into certain camera shops in town can feel like the equivalent of walking into the Comic Book Guy's store on The Simpsons. If you're not cool enough to know the most obscure photo trivia or have the newest DSLR, you're treated with barely veiled derision. Not so at Houston Camera Exchange. They carry a full range of new and used toys, digital and analog, for every manner of photography, plus the accessories to match. They'll also help you find the best camera or recorder to match your needs, whether it's documenting a new addition to your family or replacing the Nikon your grandmother handed down to you. An employee there once complimented us on a battered old point-and-shoot, calling it the best one ever made, before helping us find a way to mount it onto our motorcycle. We ended up walking out with a birdwatcher's vice for attaching binoculars to a car window, a solution we never would have thought of on our own.
Need a website? Web hosting? A server to rent or buy? Local programming whiz Keith Christensen started out renting a house near the Galleria and over the years expanded his data solutions business to include Voice over Internet Protocol, which allows users to make calls through their computers, for businesses large and small. He's now relocated to an industrial site to house a massive generator to ensure reliability for clients during power outages. The folks at Trinicom are reliable, respond speedily to emergencies and won't take advantage of their superior knowledge of IT buzzwords to overcharge you.
Tiese Jordan's housecleaning service, A Natural Woman's Touch, is a refreshing change from the services with an ever-changing, anonymous cast of characters who wham and slam through your home in between five other homes within the same day. Jordan will bring help if needed for larger jobs, such as a move-out, but usually she flies solo and, amazingly enough, gets more done. She doesn't adhere to one of those checklists most services keep to, or an "I don't do windows" mentality. Keep putting off a thorough sweep of the garage/refrigerator/hall closet? Jordan capably and calmly assists — or even takes over the burden entirely, whatever suits you best. Added bonus: She remembers where you like to keep things, so you won't have to face the frustrating task of hunting down household items after a cleaning.
Manicures are like summer romances: They're meant to last awhile, then fade away just as you're ready to replace them. Prestigious Nails in the Heights is the perfect place for a fling-worthy manicure, with minimum investment and maximum reward. The space, painted a soft sea-foam green, is well-lit and incredibly clean. Mini waterfalls create a calming effect as the nail technicians get to work shaping your finger toppers. Standard manicures are never rushed and include a cuticle trim, several coats of polish and a lotion-soaked hand massage, all for a mere $11. (For French, it's $16.) The fabulous work and dirt-cheap prices are no secret, so call ahead to make a reservation or expect a bit of a wait. Like any good lovin' for a steal, it's worth it.
The last time we were in this store, we were standing in line, eager to purchase an out-of-print book, while a middle-aged man two spots ahead of us paid more than $100 for some rare finds, including a copy of Alice in Wonderland from the early 1900s. But instead of walking out with his books, he turned around and handed Alice to the young woman standing in line behind him. He had noticed her poring over it earlier; it was obvious she was in love with the book, but unable to afford it. When it was finally our turn to buy our $8 book, the owner waxed philosophic about how you'd never see anything like that in any of the chain stores. He's probably right; we'd never seen anything like that before. The owner said there was something about his store that brought out the best in people. We had to agree. Not only did we get a great deal on a rare find that day, we got to witness an even rarer display of awesomeness.
What you want from an auto mechanic is pretty simple: Competence, sure, but more than that you want someone you can trust, someone whose eyes don't light up as he looks under the hood and imagines all the wonderful things he can charge you for. Arthur Cruz fits the bill. His shop is tucked away in a southwest-side neighborhood, but it's worth finding. He's helpful, dependable and gets the job done without fuss. And he's got an A-plus rating from the local Better Business Bureau.
Run by a father and son in the hot little Montrose block at Taft and Hyde Park, Reeves Antiques specializes mostly in mid-century furniture and decor at prices that are half of what you'd find in those shops on the Westheimer strip. Turnover is high, which means you'll find something new each time you look, but it also means you shouldn't hesitate too long over the 1962 Broyhill Brasilia dresser you love. And it's not just big names like Heywood-Wakefield and Ethan Allen. At Reeves, we once found a matching solid-wood tallboy and dresser handmade in the 1940s by a skilled Houston carpenter. Talk about buying local.
Let's say you're the type of person who loves to ride a bike but isn't necessarily a fanatic about the accoutrements — fancy bike shorts and little caps and things like that — or having some absolute top-of-the-line $5K wheels. Let's say you just want something that will reliably get you from point A to point B and you don't want to break the bank getting it. Cyclone is your place. While the true masters of hardcore racing will prefer higher-end shops like Boone's and West End, Cyclone is the first-call spot for dirty riders who prefer the sidewalks and wear their street clothes. Uniquely in Houston, Cyclone sells lots of used bikes and accepts trade-ins, so if that temperamental skinny-tired road bike isn't working for you, you can wheel that prima donna into Cyclone and ride off on a rugged mountain bike, occasionally as an even swap.