Think of this: It's Christmas or Mother's Day, and you forgot to buy that special someone a gift. Sure, you could go to the big-box electronics store for a big-screen or the jewelry shop in the mall for a nice watch or the hardware store for a lawn mower, and in the process waste a full tank of gas. Or you can just hit up Action Pawn. They have a large selection of items, from Xboxes to bicycles, diamond rings to laptops, and seemingly everything in between. There are big sales on most major holidays, and Action Pawn is ready to loan you money if you're in need.

Have you noticed the price of your average birthday card at the grocery store lately? At $5.99, it's hard to justify another Maxine card, no matter how clever that old hag is. Turns out there's a shop in Montrose that offers unique handmade cards by local and national artists for the same price and sometimes less. Space is a unique gallery space-cum-boutique-cum-gift store that carries a bevy of handmade items from jewelry to original art. And to go with those gifts, there is that awesome array of cards of all styles, from the froufrou baby shower card to the ever-so-sappy anniversary card to an absurd birthday card of Jesus riding a T. rex. If your recipient will appreciate something non-Hallmark, Space is the place.

The storefront of this auto parts merchant at the very north border of Houston's Northline Park neighborhood is deceptively small. The counter is staffed by knowledgeable, strictly-business attendants ready to assist you promptly and provide you the best price. Behind the office is a large room with multiple shelves containing everything from starters to transmissions. This room leads to a much larger warehouse that contains even more rows of meticulously categorized parts, which then leads to the outside portion of the yard, where you'll find over five acres of salvaged auto carcasses ready to be harvested. Computers and modern technology are great, but the technicians at Estrella know every vehicle and part on the property, and will sell them at fair prices that beat any dealership.

Whether it's for Halloween, a theme party or just because you feel like dressing up on a random Tuesday, Party Boy is your destination for great deals on a wide variety of costumes. They've got your superheroes, your pirates, your cops, your flappers. They also have everything you need for an awesome theme party, whether you want to treat your guests to a luau, a Mardi Gras bash or a night under the disco ball. Party Boy can also help with your kid's birthday party needs, offering more than 25 patterns for paper dishes — from Winnie-the-Pooh to High School Musical and so much more. Just remember: When you think "party," think "Party Boy."

Camera Co-op

When you're ready to move up from your cell-phone camera to something a little more professional, Camera Co/op should be your first stop. They cater to all types of photographers, from digital warriors who always have a spare memory card on hand to those who still like to do their work in a darkroom. It also has that lived-in, mom-and-pop-store feel that comes from having been around forever, a tribute to the fact that they've managed to adjust with the times and technology. If there's anything you need related to cameras, you're damn near sure to find it at Camera Co/op.

Just thinking about this shop's remarkable selection of pipes gives us the munchies. These are pure works of art, some of the finest glassware we've ever seen, and we're not just saying that because we're in an especially mellow place right now. Generic "smoke shops" are a dimebag a dozen — you see them in just about every strip mall, and they're all interchangeable. But the guys at BC are artisans. They're passionate. And it's reflected in the inventory. The Web site proudly proclaims, "'Cause it's the...DANK!" Truer words were never coughed out in a smoky haze.

Hidden in an unassuming shopping center between Fondren and Gessner, this combination carnicería, taquería, frutería and grocery is the best place to buy all the fresh ingredients you need for a magnificent dinner. The fajitas are of excellent quality and can be purchased marinated in a powerful and tasty blend of chiles and other spices. You will also find pollos enteros, menudo, asado de puerco and steaks. Complete your shopping with fresh fruits and vegetables, pan de dulce and tamales. If your hunger gets the best of you, they also have a counter with daily lunch specials, soups, tacos and aguas frescas.

Spec’s Fine Wines, Spirits and Finer Foods
Jeff Balke

In the world of liquor stores, Spec's is the undisputed king in Houston. And the featured jewel in the crown is the company's Midtown location, which can be described as a wonderland full of beer, spirits, cigars and specialty foods. Every aspect of this store is top-shelf, with low-priced selections of your favorite tequilas and whiskeys; specialty beers such as Saint Arnold Divine Reserve; and those high-end bottles that you only see in rap-music videos. The staff is always available and friendly, and if by some remote chance they're out of what you need, no worry; they'll find it for you at one of their 70 other locations.

It's one thing to carry board games, card games and miniature war games, but what's really impressive about Asgard Games is the amount of space they devote to giving the gamers of Houston a place to play. From flattops for Magic: The Gathering to elaborate battlegrounds for miniature armies, there's a good chance that if you've got a physical game, there's a place to play it at Asgard Games, and with their weekly tournaments for the more popular games, you'll never be in need of an opponent again. There's even an online forum on their Web site to help gamers connect with each other outside the store.

Sloan-Hall

Some of the quirkiest, most beautiful and eclectic jewelry we've seen in Houston has been inside the glass cases of Sloan/Hall. Though it's not solely a jewelry store per se, the store's owners, Marcus Sloan and Shannon Hall, seek out artisan jewelry from artists like The Woods and Ileana Makri, which includes everything from a delicate bangle in the shape of a snake with diamond eyes, to stackable rings in a variety of gemstones, to tiny string bracelets with 14k gold "sequins." If you're shopping for a gift, be sure to also check out their excellent selection of cards.

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