Texas Junk's hours are wonky. If it's open at all, it's only open Friday and Saturday, and calling first is mandatory. But if you have a shred of pack rat in you, you owe yourself a visit even if you have no intention of buying anything. The three garage doors in front are your first clue that this is a place for serious stuff, for which the owner spends the rest of his time scouring the Southwest. (That's why the hours are so limited.) Known for its mind-boggling selection of cowboy boots — so much so that it takes months to fully restock after rodeo season — Texas Junk also boasts an equally impressive array of picture frames, books, cassettes, clothing, household knickknacks, gadgets, and both odds and ends. Come inside for a quick look around and you may well find yourself spending all day browsing through all the wonderful, reasonably priced...stuff. No credit or debit cards.

Renee Guerdrum operates You Had Me at Woof out of her Montrose home, and getting a dog-sitting session with her isn't easy. For one thing, most of her clients come through recommendations. And she auditions each and every dog she watches (one wonders if it's really the dogs or the owners getting the auditions). But it's that attention to detail and deep love of animals that come through when your fur baby is in her care. Guerdrum offers daytime care, vacation boarding and overnight sleepovers, and best of all, she's always willing to work with your schedule for late pickups or weekend visits. One look at Guerdrum's Facebook page shows a bevvy of happy furballs playing in her backyard. Don't be surprised if, while you're out of town, you get tagged with a photo just to let you know how well little Spot is doing in your absence.

When Billy Gibbons's pre-ZZ Top garage band the Moving Sidewalks reunited earlier this year, guess where they came to get their gear? Every city has a music store staffed by musicians who can teach you not only how to play an instrument but how to fix it, too, and luckily Houston has been blessed with Rockin' Robin for more than 40 years now. It's been in its spot near Shepherd Plaza since 1980, featuring a fantastic mural of another of Rockin' Robin's best customers...the late Stevie Ray Vaughan. If you can make music on it — all manner of guitars, basses, mandolins, ukuleles, drums — they've got it, plus a wide array of amps and pedals that will make that instrument sound just right. Because it's just that righteous, Rockin' Robin even sells surfboards.

As a licensed interior designer, Gibbins has an especially discerning eye, and it shows in her shop's remarkable selection. This includes Welsh dressers, cricket tables, trunks and more period oaks than you can shake a stick at. According to her Web site, "Carol makes three to five buying trips every year, which helps her keep the shop in Houston full of inventory on three large floors." So you're guaranteed to fall in love with at least one piece any time you go. Whether you're a beginner or you've been ­antiquing your whole life, you won't be ­disappointed.

Photo by Houston Press Staff

A good bartender acknowledges you right away, serves you promptly and keeps the drinks flowing steadily. A great bartender also remembers your name and your drink preference and will become one of your most important confidants aside from your partner and your priest. Andres Chapa, the dark, handsome and eternally cool mixologist, fits this description perfectly. While other barkeeps in Houston range from aloof hipsters to sunglass-wearing snobs, Chapa keeps it professional and prompt. He takes his work seriously and is a veteran of many upscale restaurants, bars and lounges all over this city. You can also find him tending bar and managing at Eighteenth Cocktail Bar and Hughes Hangar.

Houston is blessed with many good supermarkets, both chain and independent, which is a great thing for the consumer. We've got hoity-toity places, no-frills bargain bins and plenty of exotic markets. But among the four prominent local chains, we usually find ourselves at Kroger — and one Kroger in particular: the gleaming, expansive oasis in West U. The produce, seafood and meat seem fresher there; the layout more intuitive; and the whole space just seems cleaner and brighter. H-E-B tried to snatch some of the upscale clientele by opening a store across the street, but no thanks. We're sticking to the O.G. — that's Original Grocery.

This family-owned business has a wonderful selection at reasonable prices. Whatever the occasion — birthday, anniversary, sympathy, wedding, thank-you or "just because" — the friendly, experienced staff can help you find the best way to express your thoughts. Ace says on its Web site, "Because all of our customers are important, our professional staff is dedicated to making your experience a pleasant one. That is why we always go the extra mile to make your floral gift perfect." They're telling the truth. So we encourage you to give them a shot the next time you need to say it with flowers.

Mass transit demands a certain amount of uniformity, which means a rail station is really defined by its surroundings. Looking out the windows as you pull up to the Ensemble/HCC South Bound station, you're greeted by something lacking at most other rail stations: character. It's a location that feels like a haven from the great concrete constructs that make up most of the line, a tiny section of the city that feels inviting instead of daunting. You may not find the biggest rodeo in the world or the hustle and bustle of downtown when you step through the railcar doors, but you may just make some new friends.

A Houston institution, Texas Art Supply has been meeting the needs of armchair doodlers and professional artistes for as long as we can remember. No matter your medium, Texas Art Supply will be able to meet your needs. Whether you're shopping for yourself or for a friend or family member who's even just a little passionate about art, this should be your destination. It's nearly impossible to browse among all the paints, inks, papers, textiles, clays, ceramics and pastels (and on and on) and not be inspired to create something yourself. It's that amazing.

Jeff Balke

Could there possibly be any question? El Bolillo stands as close to a model of fresh-baked Mexican pan as anything America knows, and rightfully so. Don't be fooled by its imposing, stately facade: Once you're inside, all the warmth of a neighborhood panadería is yours. There are the piles of variegated cakes. There are the buckets of fresh bolillos waiting for their customers' trays. There are the rows of pastries — the ones iced as you like, the ones filled with whatever fruit jam you can imagine — all for the taking. And you're a fool if you leave without a slice or three of tres leches stowed away. Come hungry and bring friends.

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