Squint your eyes at Enchanted Forest's lush landscape and pretend it's the backyard of your dreams as you put your feet up and lounge on the patio furniture with the resident animals. Newbie or seasoned gardener, you're in excellent hands here, whether you're seeking out a desert willow tree, drift roses or mallow hibiscus with bright, sturdy blossoms as big as dinner plates. Want to go organic? Enchanted Forests's veggie and herb specialist will mentor you through the process. Want a custom greenery design, with not only unique foliage but also a funky container? They'll whip one up for you, or you can design and plant one yourself in their potting shed. Got a yen for classes on fairy gardens, landscape design, planting to attract hummingbirds and/or the care and feeding of bulbs? Check out their Saturday-morning offerings, year-round. They offer irrigation systems, too.
Kitchen Incubator
You might make the world's best apple marshmallow salad, but if you sell it out of your kitchen, you'll be shut down before you can even start up your start-up. Luckily for you, there's Kitchen Incubator. It's the first licensed commercial kitchen for rent in Houston, meaning you can reserve a kitchen, cook up a storm and (legally) sell your food. Kitchen Inc. is the perfect place to launch a local business; clients include chefs of small companies that specialize in everything from fudge to kombucha. The folks at Kitchen Inc. will even help you get certified. With three kitchens and every kind of oven imaginable, they'll rent you a space for as little as $10 an hour. To reward yourself after a long day (or hour) cooking, check out the cafe, where soon you'll be able to sell your own delicious wares.
We discovered Java Pura Coffee Roasters at a tasting at Central Market and now go out of our way to get to their offices in the industrial district in Bellaire just to stock the office. (Though not really geared for walk-in traffic, the offices are quite nice, and they sponsor tastings.) Java Pura's master roaster, from Portland, Oregon (where else?), is training others in his skills, which include knowing just when enough flavor has been released. (Hint: Listen for the cracking sound.)
The Pooch Pad
Fido may be a big boy who gets along better with small dogs, and Muffy might prefer to be in the yard all afternoon instead of in her crate. No matter how special your pet's needs are, The Pooch Pad will try to meet them. Located in an old house in Midtown, just minutes from downtown, the place feels more like a friend's home than a kennel. The house's large front yard is divided into two runs — one for big dogs and one for small dogs — and each room inside is dedicated to a different group of canines. It's not unusual to see puppies there who are too young to be left home alone. The Pooch Pad takes overnight stays and offers grooming, making it the perfect place for a daytime visit while the humans are at work.
We like a cigar store that's downtown. We like a cigar store that's family-owned. And we like a cigar store that carries more than 100 premium brands at decent prices. We don't like snooty and snobby, and we're not huge fans of any cigar shop that attracts overgrown frat boys who want to be seen smoking the most expensive stogie while talking about their portfolios, or whatever it is such wankers talk about. We like a place with a neighborhood vibe, a friendly, quality establishment that's going to welcome both greenhorns and veteran cigar aficionados. What we're trying to say is that we like McCoy's. And we're pretty sure you're going to as well.
Penzey's Spices
Although you can certainly find any spice your heart desires here, it's the spice blends (the Pasta Sprinkle is simply indispensable) and smartly boxed spice sets (the assortment of baking spices makes a great gift) that are the main draw here at Penzeys. Well, that and the ability to open and smell any spice jar until you find exactly the right one you need.
Do yourself a favor the next time you need an item of clothing altered. Take it to an actual alterations shop, and not just your local dry cleaner. The best one we've found is Le Silhouette, which you've likely driven past dozens of times on Alabama but never noticed. That's because it's in a tiny bungalow, where the two women who run the place do magical things with clothing. We took an XXL vintage brocade jacket there and had it whittled down to our size, which they managed to accomplish expertly, without damaging the structured shape or the delicate, decades-old fabric. They might not have it ready by 5 p.m. the next day, but they'll do the best job.
Another Time Soda Fountain
Photo by Troy Fields
If the glorious chocolate malts and grape phosphates at Another Time don't take you back, the renovated soda fountain in historic downtown Richmond, overlooking a beautiful train museum, certainly will. After polishing off your patty melt and banana split, keep the time warp going by visiting all of the many antique dealers all around Another Time — you'll work off those milkshake calories while you're at it.
Male Uwear
Underwear, thongderwear, boxer-brief-dongderwear. Male U-Wear has it all at its delightful little shop in — where else? — Montrose. Any pair you can imagine, they've got: plaid print, fruit print or even the kind perforated with a sexy cock peephole. Male U-Wear stocks the best array of swimsuits, from Speedo-type coverage on up. Whether you're gay or straight, the charming salesmen make you feel right at home and are happy to recommend some scented candles or lube to go along with your man-gerie. It's all in the name of putting your package in a stylish banana hammock.
Top Drawer Lingerie
Tucked in Uptown Park, Top Drawer Lingerie is the perfect solution for those days when local ladies need a boost. And we're not just talking about the bras. The whole store is daintily feminine, and it feels like a parlor, complete with a chandelier. Lacy panties, silk teddies, and bras that will actually fit are laid out neatly around the store and hung artfully. Top Drawer isn't cheap, but on the plus side, you won't look or feel cheap. These pieces are classy. With undercoverings this cute, you're guaranteed to feel like a girl in a panty store.

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