Ekko Greek-American Deli

Let's face it: Gas is gas, and who really cares if it's $3.25 a gallon at one place and $3.40 at another? Even if you have a mammoth tank to fill, you're saving what, $4 each time you fill up? Nope, what really sets the best gas stations apart is the food and amenities on offer, and none in Houston offer more and better of those than this once Greek-American, now Arabic-British-American deli offering Mediterranean fare and immense, wickedly delicious breakfast tacos. Also on the menu: full breakfasts, Greek salads, souvlaki, specialty dogs and burgers, hummus and other Middle Eastern dips, sandwiches (on your choice of five types of bread) and gyros, juicy kebabs, succulent keftedes and magnificent moussaka. And baklava to boot. The gas may top out at 91 octane, but the food goes all the way to 100.

Lisle Violin Shop

The inside of Lisle Violin Shop's Bissonnet location is a small space cluttered with instrument cases, a couple of bookshelves with beginning theory books, accessories from cakes of resin to shoulder rests, and a couple of racks of violins and violas. Another room has the cellos and double basses and one violin made to look like a flying V guitar; all are available for sale or rental. But the real action happens in the workshop out back, where five on-staff luthiers make and repair a good many of the stringed instruments for 25 Texas school districts — as far away as College Station, Waco and Tyler — using only hand tools. In fact, the afternoon we visited, Lisle's newest violin-maker had just finished his very first fiddle. In business since 1984, Lisle also offers payment plans, instrument insurance and even delivery services.

Te' House of Tea
Stephanie Meza

You don't have to sip your tea at Té House of Tea — you can eat it, too, with the shop's Green Tea White Chocolate Cookies (finger cookies topped with ground green tea and white chocolate icing). With more than 130 teas on the menu, the shop boasts robust blacks, earthy greens, subtle tisanes, delicate whites and more, all ready to be brewed up just for you. If you insist on it, you can have your tea over ice, though you'll get it in a rather plain-looking plastic glass instead of a lovely ceramic pot. If you don't have time to sit and enjoy your tea in the shop, Té House has bulk tea for sale, with offerings including organic and fairly traded varieties. You can also pick up brewing equipment such as pots, strainers, and all-in-one cups with tops and lift-out strainers. Part of Té House's allure is its laid-back ambience. There's a regular schedule of entertainment including a Varieté Show and an open-mike night.

D & Q Mini-Mart

Not many Houston quickie-marts get a 95 ("world-class") rating from the brew snobs at Beeradvocate.com, but D&Q richly deserves that acclaim. The nondescript convenience store may look like any other on Lower Richmond, but step inside and you will quickly see that D&Q is to the art of malt and hops as the Hollywood chain is to cigars and porn: a tiny Shangri-La. They don't just carry regional and microbrews even the fussiest of beerologists might be surprised to find, but also hand-blown glasses and souvenir T-shirts from the breweries as well. For those overwhelmed by the size of the nearby Spec's Warehouse, or for those in search of gently fermented grain beverages after 9 p.m., there is no better spot in the Lone Star State than the D&Q. As one recent convert put it, "this place should be a Texas landmark," and owner Brandon Nguyen is a municipal treasure.

M2 Sports

For most Inner Loop dwellers, M2 Sports' location way down Westheimer is a hike, but if you are looking for great deals and greater gear for your excursion, then you can't do any better than the locally owned M2 Sports. They carry wakeboarding gear, snowboard stuff and even skateboarding supplies for those of you who never learned how to swim or got used to the snow. Inquire about wake lessons, too.

The Bead Shop

Looking for pre-Columbian beads? Maybe vintage Chinese enamel? Or the latest trend in glass jewelry? The Bead Shop, in business since 1970, has you covered, offering baubles made from stone, glass, wood and precious metals. The beads come in every color and shape, spilling over their containers like colorful candy. The walls are lined with strands of beads — giant pearls, metal charms, skulls and tiny wooden beads painted in bright, primary colors. Shop staff members are available not only to advise you on your purchases but to string together custom creations. If you need inspiration for what to do with those leftover beads from previous projects, just look at the large mirror hanging in the shop window.

Las Manos Magicas

The hands that created the art seen at Las Manos Mágicas might very well have magic in them. The shop has been around since the early '70s and built a solid reputation for itself as the place in Houston for affordable artwork, especially by regional and Latin American artisans, as well as by self-taught and outsider talents. Owner Madeleine Crozat-Williams, an expert on Mexican folk art, makes a couple of big buying trips a year, visiting individual workshops and studios to hand-pick new paintings, sculptures, textiles, jewelry and tinwork. By buying directly from the artists, Crozat-Williams ensures quality and low prices for her customers, as well as a fair price for the artists. Among the works you'll likely see at Manos Mágicas are painted ceramic figures by Josefina Aguilar from Oaxaca, who's world-famous for showing everyday village life and religious scenes. There are also one-of-a-kind garden pots by Doña Dolores Porras, also from Oaxaca, and Día de los Muertos skeletons by Saulo Moreno, from Michoacán. But Manos doesn't focus exclusively on Latin American artists. The shop also carries beadwork from India, baskets from Nigeria and needlework from Uzbekistan, among other treasures. And all of it is at amazingly affordable prices.

Memorial City Mall

Memorial City Mall off I-10 helps you kill two wallet-draining birds with one stone. All your favorite mall staples are here, including an Apple store, The Gap and a plethora of shops to keep you busy on a lazy weekend outing, including a Target. There's even an ice rink, a carousel, a movie theater and a play castle for the kids, so you can shop for bras and underwear in peace. Around Christmas, the mall turns into a magical wonderland of debt, but the kids can at least meet Santa Claus at his posh digs near the main entrance.

DSW Designer Shoe Warehouse

Oh, DSW, what would we do without you? We'd run all over town, from store to store, looking for the best prices and a different style of shoe at each store, that's what we'd do. Fortunately, we don't have to endure such a nightmarish existence, because DSW (that's "Designer Shoe Warehouse," for the uninitiated) gives us selection, style and excellent prices, all under the same roof. Yeah, K-Swiss and Bruno Magli, living in harmony, side by side. And while the W stands for "warehouse," there are no cramped, narrow aisles as at some of the other chains, just wide open space for you — a pleasurable podiatric pasture, if you will. Your feet deserve the best and your wallet deserves a rest, so do yourself right and get thee to the warehouse.

In many ways, Braes Heights seems more like Rice Village than Rice Village. First, there's the food: It's home to iconic and storied local eateries in Molina's Cantina, and two Village refugees in Fuzzy's Pizza and one of the last redoubts of the once-sprawling Antone's po-boy empire, not to mention Hunan's, an ­unpretentious time warp to the '80s Chinese-American place much like the closed Fu's Garden in the Village. (And then there are the smoothies at Dan's Vitamin House.) Imagination Toys and Shoes reminds us of the Village's long-gone and much-lamented mainstay World Toy and Gift Shop. There's a good, old-fashioned, honest-to-God, red-white-and-blue-polled barbershop, much like the Village's long-departed Times Barber Shop. Just seeing the name I.W. Marks takes us back to good times in the Astrodome and the late Big Irv Marks's plenitude of TV commercials: "Come see us, come see us and save." All that fun and nostalgia comes in an attractive, two-story, clean-lined Mid-Century mod architectural package. Sure, there's a nail salon in the strip mall itself and a CVS next door — those are required by Harris County ordinance. (Just kidding). But this remains our favorite strip mall in town.

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