Cole's Antique Village

Long a must-see for people on the south side of Houston, Cole's is like a slice of Mexico in the middle of suburbia. Sprawling 145,000 square feet of air-conditioned space just inside Pearland city limits, this place has been in business for decades. On Sundays there is a traffic jam just to park. Families flock to Cole's on the weekends for great deals on antiques, home goods and groceries, and to partake of the food court, which puts any mall fare to shame. Where else can you buy a machete or a used turntable and eat your weight in tacos?

Knitting in the Loop

Since Yarns 2 Ewe closed its storefront on Shepherd last year, several smaller knitting shops have stepped in to fill the void. Our favorite is the cleverly named Knitting in the Loop (knitters will get it). Located in an off-the-beaten-path old house in River Oaks, this store is warm and welcoming from the moment you walk in. Most of the fibers carried here are high-quality or specialty yarns, so it's not the place to find a bargain, but beginners will feel comfortable with the patient and knowledgeable staff, especially since they offer classes almost every day of the week. The shop has also done community outreach with groups like The Houston Zoo and the Houston Area Women's Center. Stop by on Thursday nights for Sit & Knit to get a feel for the place.

Barrio Dogs isn't exactly an adoption service — it's a nonprofit staffed entirely by volunteers dedicated to educating lower-income Houston neighborhoods about animal overpopulation, neglect, low-cost sterilization and state animal cruelty statutes. But through the Barrio Dogs Facebook page and Web site, the group often unites hardscrabble barrio strays with foster parents and, eventually, forever homes. If you follow Barrio Dogs on Facebook, beware: Some of the rescues' stories are hard to swallow, but they're made all the more worthwhile thanks to regular tail-wagging happy endings.

It's not the kind of jewelry store you'd go to for an engagement ring (though you might find one there, depending on how funky your style is), but local designer J. Landa brings together the best of well-crafted modern jewelry designed by indie jewelers throughout the country. The store's shelves are lined with the kind of stuff you might see in In Style magazine, like wrap bracelets from Chan Luu and delicate sterling necklaces by Dogeared. Landa makes his own designs, too — when last we were there, his collection consisted of small enamel evil-eye charms and metal plates with Catholic icons etched on them. Pricewise there's something for everyone, and the store has regular trunk shows and sales, making it a great place to shop for gifts for your favorite (precious) metal-head.

When Montrose-area chiropractor Jacqueline Doval says she serves patients from all walks of life, she means it literally. Along with serving human clients, she's also certified in animal chiropractic care (she was the first one in Texas to earn the distinction). In practice for a decade, Dr. Doval believes that the body has the power to heal itself. According to her, with a little spinal manipulation by her (translation: cracking bones back into place), proper exercise and nutrition, anyone, on two legs or four, can quickly overcome disease and discomfort. So don't be surprised if you see several well-behaved pets in the waiting room of her clinic, the Alternative Health & Wellness Center. Like you, they're on their way back to health with the help of Dr. Doval.

Lexis Florist

Lexis's 2,900-square-foot cooler holds every kind of flower for every kind of occasion. They offer stunningly beautiful signature designs, same-day delivery and convenient online shopping. Sure, Lexis tends to be on the pricey side, but it's not like they're just jacking up the prices on run-of-the-mill roses; the flowers are exquisite and fresh, so you're paying extra for real quality. Truth be told, there have been occasions when we wanted someone to send us a gorgeous Lexis bouquet so much that we just wound up sending one to ourselves. We won't tell you what was on the card, though — that's too personal.

The staff here is so friendly that there's almost a club-like atmosphere. The owners often invite customers to bring in a bottle of alcohol to sip and stay awhile. In addition to a wide selection of loose tobacco which you can blend to your liking, they also have a great selection of pipes. The shop, which got its start online, also organizes an annual Texas Cigar Festival. Not near the Galleria? They have two other locations, one in the Champions/1960 area and one on JFK Boulevard.

West Elm

You may steer clear of the Highland Village shopping district strictly because of their rent-a-cop parking Nazis, but then you'd miss out on this chic store, which occasionally has good deals to boot. West Elm is not just trendy geegaws; it also provides stylish furniture upon which to rest said geegaws. We recently searched for months in vain for an affordable, white-leather tufted headboard and finally decided to have one custom-made, albeit from "pleather." Color us shocked that West Elm had the real deal, cheaper than all the quotes we'd collected. There are buffets, coffee tables, sofas, chairs of every stripe — all in neutral colors and often sporting some sort of "green" credential — and the Wood Tiled Dresser is a modernist work of art. West Elm offers monogramming as well, for the geegaw of your choice.

The Montrose Veterinary Clinic

Kind, compassionate and cost-effective, the Montrose Veterinary Clinic has been in business since the Jimmy Carter administration, and the clinic has won several national awards, for both design and performance. Now home to six vets, the clinic offers not just the standard array of healthcare services for cats, dogs and small mammals — diagnostics, surgery, emergency treatment — but also acupuncture and high-tech ultrasound and telemedicine services. That's all well and good, but what most pet owners love about Montrose Vets is the genuine sense of caring you get from all the employees, from the honest smiles from the tattooed ladies at the front desk to the follow-up calls from your vet after your pet is recovering at home.

Heights Neighborhood Library

The Heights Neighborhood Library takes the nod for Best Library on two counts: first as an architectural gem, and second as a center of culture and entertainment as well as education for the area. The original structure was built in 1925 by J. M. Glover. It has impressive Italian Renaissance details executed in cast stone and a tile roof. In 1979, Ray Bailey Architects rehabilitated the then 59-year-old building and added a large, modern extension that perfectly complemented the original structure. The library is a busy, bustling place with programming including book clubs, play dates for toddlers, crafts, film screenings, and talks by local groups such as the Houston Ballet and the Audubon Society. There are also job-skills clinics, computer classes and, of course, shelves and shelves of books and multimedia resources.

Best Of Houston®

Best Of