It's hard to find a cigar shop that truly feels like the real deal these days. That's where McCoy's Fine Cigars comes in. We can't help loving a shop that's family-owned and located in downtown Houston, with the bonus of actually being all about good cigars. They have an excellent selection — more than 100 top brands are offered at prices that, you know, we can actually afford — and this is a shop devoted to fine cigars instead of to the status symbol of having a cigar. You won't find a bunch of bros puffing away, and the store is as far from uppity as a joint can get. It's the kind of place where you'll find real cigar lovers, and such spots are few and far between, so enjoy.

For those looking for a fun way to kill an afternoon without falling into bankruptcy, Speedy's gives one helluva return on investment. Speedy's has the best go-karts in Houston, but the off-track there is solid entertainment, too. The mini-golf course isn't bad, given the sorry state of Houston putt-putt. The arcade, on the other hand, is totally rad, with plenty of classics. Whether you're trying to get a high score on any of the various games of the Pac-Man family, reaching deep into your memory banks to see how many combos you can still remember from Street Fighter 2 or just trying to impress your date with some skee ball, Speedy's is a fun throwback to the days when every mall had an arcade. Bring some cash and a few friends, and be prepared for a good couple of hours.

Dogs are the best and we really love them, but sometimes we need a little help because, say, our furry friends have taken to getting into the trash or shredding books to ribbons or trying to attack other dogs on sight. That's where Donald Chambers comes in. Chambers is a certified dog trainer and a born dog whisperer. Even the most neurotic of canines (the ones who think trying to bite strangers is an acceptable way of saying hello) will leap into Chambers's arms and do just about anything he asks them to. He's the best because instead of judging our dogs and all their problem behavior, he sits down and figures out how to understand them, work out whatever is bothering them, and make things happier and mentally healthier for everyone involved.

Leaving your dogs with someone else isn't always easy, which is why it's important that you already feel comfortable with the people you're leaving them with before you drop them off. From the first phone call, the folks at Lakeside will make you feel as if you don't have a thing to worry about. Don't worry if your dog is one of those "doesn't play well with others" types; Lakeside is good with all canine personalities, and will work with you to make sure it's a happy experience for your four-legged friend. They'll even give you a call a few days after your visit just to make sure your dog is still doing fine. You'll appreciate that type of dedication.

There are plenty of plants that will grow in Texas, but not all of them belong here. That's where Buchanan's Native Plants comes in. As the name implies, this Heights nursery specializes in plants indigenous to the Lone Star State. We're talking about Texas Firecracker, Texas Kidneywood, Texas Olive, Texas Persimmon, Texas Sage, Texas Sotol, Texas Star Hibiscus and even a few without the word "Texas" in their name. (But who would want those?) If you're looking to grow something green that's also distinctly Texan, this is the place to go.

Calling the Galleria a mall is like calling the Hope Diamond a piece of jewelry — it's technically accurate and a grotesque understatement at the same time. The Galleria is the mall of malls, filled with the best stores and the widest variety of people (including the famous types), and then there's the ice rink. The place is packed from morning to night, and whether you're there to engage in the mother of all shopping sprees, dig through sale racks or simply people-watch, there's something for everyone. Since the Galleria expanded, there's also a new wing and a massive parking garage, so you can both shop and actually park. That's pretty much the dream.

Finding the right hobby store means finding one that has reached the perfect ratio of games to game space. Some places have tremendous selection, while others have more tables than you can count, but rarely does a store have both. The folks of 8th Dimension understand the delicate balance, which is why you'll find a selection of some of the most popular board and card games around, as well as room to sit down and actually play them, with regular gaming nights for those who like a little more structure in their gaming. If you're the type who wants to plan your week around the next time you'll get to toss some dice, you have a home at 8th Dimension.

Manicures are meant to look good, last long and — above all — be cheap. By our standards, CC Nails is the holy grail of nail places. Stationed in a boring strip center, the space is beautifully lit and impeccably clean, and there never seems to be a wait. We usually find ourselves in a chair soaking our nails almost instantly, but that doesn't mean the manicurists are in any rush to get you back out the door. They always do beautiful work that holds up for weeks. Go on, get your toes done, too.

When you've just torn your favorite vintage rayon dress, there's only one place to go: Carol's Alterations & Cleaners. The shop doesn't look like much from the outside, but when you walk in, it's clear these people know what they're doing. They can work miracles with clothes you thought were lost causes, and thorough fittings ensure you won't leave Carol's with anything less than flawlessly repaired clothing that hangs on your body perfectly. Even better, the garments are always ready when promised.

Jeff Balke

When you're looking for a good bottle of wine, it's best to head over to Spec's. Nowhere else in town can compete with the sheer breadth of selection offered at the Midtown location, the crown jewel of the Houston liquor-store empire. The store is huge, with the wine aisles making up a significant section, and the employees are incredibly helpful. They'll track down that particular bottle you're seeking or match you up with the right vino whose name you don't know yet — all you need is a vague inclination of what you're after. If you want to add a little cheese to your wine, they've got that, no problem. And if you are catering to someone who (for some strange reason) isn't into wine, there's plenty of beer and liquor, too, so everyone wins.

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