Mi Tienda

Score another one for H-E-B. Last year's winner was the South Houston/Pasadena location of their Mexican/Central American supermarket; this year's gran campeón is the Northside behemoth that opened last December and made the first one look like a mere bodega by comparison. Like its predecessor, the Northside Mi Tienda features a tortilleria, a carniceria and an aguas frescas bar, not to mention every spice, fruit, vegetable, queso and edible cactus from Tegucigalpa to Nuevo Laredo, all available at rock-bottom Walmart prices. Here's the thing: At 97,000 square feet, it's double the size of the Pasadena store and has a selection to match beyond its festive mango exterior and Saltillo-tiled portals. The meat counter is the length of a football field, and the tortilleria churns through so much corn, this Mi Tienda has its own freaking silo, one capable of storing 18 tons of maize. In the beer coolers, there's every Mexican brew available on this side of the river and quite possibly the world's largest retail inventory of Bud Light.

Houston Dairymaids

One of the best things about this not-so-hidden treasure is its support of Texas cheesemakers. The titular maids comb the state for the best home-grown cheeses (note: Cheese, we're told, isn't technically "grown") like Sand Creek Farm's gouda, farmhouse and brick varieties, or CKC Farms's baby caprino. Although we were disappointed to learn they don't sell our favorite artisan cheese — a Sicilian delicacy called "Velveeta," which is so rare it comes in its own protective sheath — their extensive selection includes such delights as Hoja Santa, Deep Ellum Blue, and Brazos Valley Havarti. What's more, the maids team with Saint Arnold Brewing Company to bring cheese-and-beer tastings to your home or office. Basically, if you want to make room in your life for more cheese; or if you're on a quest to find a variety to call your own, then consider Houston Dairymaids to be your spiritual guides. Yeah, it's totally cheesy — and we mean that in a good way.

Cactus Music

Besides, you know, music, Cactus Music is an excellent place to replenish your wardrobe. The Shepherd Plaza institution's T-shirt stock features bands from the Strokes to the Stooges and local landmarks like Saint Arnold's beer. And every self-respecting Houstonian should own a plain old Cactus shirt to go alongside their copy of Live at the Old Quarter. Cactus rotates its stock on a regular basis; this past summer, it's had trouble keeping two particular shirts in stock — one said "The plural of vinyl is vinyl," capitalizing on the recent surge of interest in LPs and 45s. The other was self-explanatory: "I'm not moving to Austin."

Just because K&H Autohaus has a waiting room as beautifully appointed as a Bugatti Veyron and as comfortable as a Mercedes S550 doesn't mean you can't afford to take your VW Beetle there. But unfortunately, there's little excuse to stay and enjoy yourself, because not only is the shop a block from the light rail, they'll often ferry you back to work. More important, your car gets pampered too, with the kid-glove treatment from service manager extraordinaire Markus Drunk. The crew, certified in both automotive (master status) and body work — including BMW, Audi, ICar and ASE Blue Seal certification in eight categories — can easily and swiftly grasp any automotive challenge. In the case of a collision, Drunk says, "We are focused on the individual customer, not the big insurance company." We learned the truth in this statement after a New Year's reveler slammed into our VW Passat. Thanks to K&H, the entire incident was pain-free.

The best-read member of the Houston Pavilions family, Books-a-Million is an ideal browsing stop before a meal at McCormick & Schmick's or Andalucia and/or some live music at Scott Gertner's or House of Blues. You can grab a quick cup of java at the in-store coffeehouse while you peruse something from its three walls of periodicals, or perhaps pick out one of the many gift items: Puzzles, games, stationery, globes, piggy banks, "As seen on TV" novelties, neck pillows, lap desks, RPGs and so forth. Amazingly, Books-a-Million also has actual books — best-sellers to brainier matters — thousands of them, often offered at 20 percent off or three for the price of two.

Soap Suds Coin Laundry

With a lot of Laundromats, we sometimes feel like our clothes come out even dirtier; it seems like the median age of washers and dryers in the city is a quarter-century, and owners never seem to want to splurge on amenities like air conditioning or asbestos abatement. In short, a typical trip to the Laundromat during a Houston summer can be like sitting around tapping your feet in the ninth circle of hell. And then there's Soap Suds Laundry, where the equipment appears to have been manufactured in our lifetime, the interior is spotless, the Wi-Fi is flowin' and the flat-screen TVs give you something to stare at other than your tumble-drying dirty drawers. Or if you don't feel like hanging around, take advantage of the convenient drop-off service.

Heights Vinyl

It's not a bad problem to have. In the past few years, Houston's record scene has exploded. One of the newest kids on the block, Heights Vinyl, has already made an impression with its in-store shows, collection of old, refurbished turntables and clever record-pricing system based on the characters from the movie Reservoir Dogs. The shop cleans and evaluates every record it intends to sell, sometimes replacing the inner and outer sleeves, so prices can be a bit higher due to the quality. It's also the place to pick up supplies for cleaning those records you found at the thrift store, or for making sure your dad's old turntable is in tip-top working order.

ISSUES Magazine Store

Leave it to a store devoted to magazines actually printed on paper to not have an online presence. That's because Issues doesn't screw around. They claim to have more than 3,000 titles, and we believe it: The no-frills space is jam-packed with every magazine you've ever heard of, and a ton more that you never knew existed. There's nothing else like it in Houston. Just stop in one day without a particular magazine in mind and browse around. We guarantee you'll fall in love with some mag that explores whatever weird, obscure hobby or music or plant life you're into, and you'll be hooked.

Shaw's R&R

The titular double-Rs are Rodney and Rhonda, part of this family-owned establishment that's been around since 1993. And Shaw's does it all: buying, trading and selling jewelry, electronics, firearms, musical instruments, sporting goods — you name it. They also offer check-cashing and payday advance services. Oh, did we forget to mention that they can repair your jewelry and watches, as well as custom-design your jewelry? (They have a G.I.A. graduate gemologist on-site.) Decent loan rates, friendly staff and a remarkable selection of items make this store a must-see for anyone looking for a great value.

Massage Envy

This low-cost but reputable massage chain allows its members to frequent any Massage Envy facility, no matter the franchise owner. So for $49 per month, you can get a one-hour massage all over the country. But why skip around when the best is in Houston's very own Meyerland? Barbara Peschon is trained in a number of types of massage — including craniosacral, sports and prenatal — and is certainly qualified to provide a relaxing session. Savvy clients, though, will sign up for her trigger-point work, which has been known to alleviate excruciating tennis elbow, fractured feet, chronic migraines and any number of ailments we stressed-out humans accumulate throughout life. Warning: That brand of work does not feel good — until you hop off the table, that is. Honorable mention at that location: Jesse Penilla.

Best Of Houston®

Best Of