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.

In late May, Houston got a HERO. No, not the Enrique Iglesias kind — the nondiscrimination kind. City Council passed the Equal Rights Ordinance 11-6, creating nondiscrimination protections not just for sexual orientation and gender identity but also for race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, military status, disability, religion, pregnancy and genetic information. Woo, that's a long list, and that's a good thing. Houston is a great city, and everyone should get equal opportunity — at least under the law — to enjoy it. Plus, even Shreveport, Louisiana, has a nondiscrimination ordinance, so the most diverse city in the country should have one, too.

There are running stores and then there's Luke's Locker. We love this place because the staff is a crew of super-fit and extremely helpful running experts. They have all the gear you could possibly imagine and a few things you never thought actually existed. Plus, the salespeople know their stuff. Consult them, and they'll look at your foot and watch you trot up and down the main aisle of the store as many times as it takes to be sure you get running shoes that will get you through your marathon and not destroy your feet.

Walking into Retropolis the first time can be overwhelming. The store is packed to the gills with clothes, jewelry, hats and shoes that have somehow survived long enough from the '30s, '40s, '50s and on to end up in this gem of a place in the Heights. It's basically a vintage mini-mall with different vendors offering up their finds. We still get giddy seeing all the racks of clothes just waiting to be pawed through in search of a '40s-era rayon swing dress, a polka-dot bikini from the '60s or the perfect 1920s red velvet dressing gown. You can wade in and dig through the entire stock if you're so inclined, or — once you've learned your way around — you can just head straight for the booths that specialize in the eras of clothes you're after. You get what you pay for, so prices will go up based on the condition and rarity of the items, but they aren't astronomical, and you can score some amazing finds with a little luck and good timing.

Best Of Houston®

Best Of