Wine can be tricky. There are so many kinds and so many bottles of it, and let's not even get into the question of whether it was a very good year. Sometimes you know exactly what you want and you can walk into a store and rattle off the name and get it, but at other times all you've got to go on is that it was good, red and not crazy-expensive and there was a duck on the label. That's where the guys over at Premier Wine and Liquor come in. While some liquor store employees might balk at trying to help you figure out what you're looking for, Premier is always ready to unravel the mystery and get you the right wine. Plus, the store has a nice selection of wines, including the fancy stuff, the sort that the average person can afford to open on a run-of-the-mill Wednesday and the more obscure bottles that can be tricky to find. You can walk into this store — which is located on Yale — with only the vaguest memory of what you're looking for and the guys at Premier will match you up with the wine you actually want.

Burn #2 doesn't have a website, and the Facebook page hasn't been updated for a year, but that seems fitting for this low-profile, laid-back provider of all your smoke-related needs. The shop does tweet frequently, to let folks know about new arrivals from High Tech Glass Works or Cali Crusher, or the cool new SqErrl 710 Lego storage jars — this place has a great selection at great prices. A cozy, unassuming shop nestled in a Montrose strip center, Burn is staffed by the friendliest, most helpful folks you could ask for. You won't be disappointed.

We all know someone who loves her dog a little more than she should. Even those who don't fill their Instagram feeds with doggie snapshots and spend thousands of dollars every year on organic pet treats can occasionally be excessive with Fido. But why not? You can't put a price tag on a best friend, which is great news for Funny Fur, the pet clothing and accessories store packed deeper than a Great Dane's hindquarters with every dog-friendly accoutrement imaginable. Whether you carry your pooch in a purse or get dragged around the neighborhood on nightly walks, Funny Fur has something your pup will tolerate wearing just long enough for you to snap another selfie for your Facebook wall.

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

In the world of liquor stores, Spec's is the undisputed ruler in Houston. The jewel in the crown is the company's Midtown location, which can be described as a magical place packed full of interesting beers, 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 fancy-schmancy bottles of things that you see only in the movies, unless you can afford them. The staff is always both well-informed 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.

READERS' CHOICE: Spec's Warehouse

Kaboom's website says this used bookstore is stocked with 100,000 books, and we'll take their word for it: Walking into this charming shop in the Woodland Heights, you'll see ceiling-high shelves filled with what seems like an endless selection of titles. Kaboom boasts 76 different sections, and while it does have current titles, we especially love it for the hard-to-find gems. It truly is a reader's paradise, and offers the kind of homey, relaxed vibe that only independent used bookstores can. The owners also host readings and other events on the cozy patio, making Kaboom a real part of the community. Definitely a must for book lovers.

READERS' CHOICE: Half Price Books — Montrose­

You have to hit Baybrook at the right time to get the maximum pedestrian value out of it, but if you do, there's no finer walking arena in the city. (No point trying this on a Saturday afternoon.) It takes two laps around to walk a mile and the building is unlocked at 7 a.m., leaving a full three hours before the stores open. Baybrook can draw a healthy crowd during those hours (or it can be empty), but these people are there to exercise and not socialize, and so the air of stillness inside can rival that of a mausoleum or cathedral. Especially compared to the chaotic construction atmosphere outside — the extensive renovations are projected to be complete by the holidays — walking inside Baybrook can be a religious experience, no lie. Get in the zone, and it feels like you could walk until your legs fall off...or the shoppers show up.

You don't want to drop off your precious pup with just any doggie day care. You want a safe, clean, fun, engaging environment where dogs get to romp and play and get a few hugs. That's the Houston Dog Ranch. It is styled after an old Western town complete with a saloon, hotel and bunk houses. Each building is actually a private cabin with a porch, patio, ceiling fan, flat-screen television, air conditioning and homey furnishings including soft bedding, rugs and chairs. Each dog enjoys off-the-leash individual and group play, social interaction sessions, nap time and water play. Plus, wading in the farm's bone-shaped swimming pool is always fun. There's even cuddle time for less active dogs. While the staff uses positive behavior reinforcement with the dogs throughout the day, private training, good citizenship classes and agility training are available for a small extra fee. Staff members live on site and everyone at the farm has received pet first aid training.

READERS' CHOICE: The Pooch Pad

So if you're going to spend three-months salary on an engagement ring (that's the general guideline), you want to make sure you get the most wonderful, beautiful, spectacular diamond you can, right? And at the fairest price possible. That's where Helzberg Diamonds comes in. Morris Helzberg started the company in 1915 and expanded from one store to hundreds across the country, building a solid reputation for quality gems and excellent service along the way. Warren Buffet, a man who knows value, purchased the company in 1995. Helzberg consistently exceeds customer expectations with a full range of services including in-store viewings, Price Lock™ layaway, repairs and resetting services on site and an inventory that includes diamonds that range from $1,000 to $299,109.65.

For mysterious reasons, Houston's municipal pound — BARC — only accepted animal fosters who lived in the city's limits. But in 2015, BARC expanded the boundaries to 15 miles outside those limits, and we couldn't be happier. Houston is blessed with so many people willing to offer their time — and open their homes — to animals in need, so it's wonderful that now even more folks can help. If you're not sure if you live inside the 15-mile radius, just go to the link above and type in your address. If you've been wanting to foster for a while but never got around to it, there's no better time to get involved. You'll not only make a world of difference for a dog or cat in need, you just might wind up making a new best friend.

There are malls, and then there's the leviathan otherwise known as The Galleria. Developer Gerald Hines started planning the indoor mall back in the 1960s, and he drew on the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a shopping arcade in Milan, Italy, as inspiration for his shopping extravaganza. The result was The Galleria, which was a marvel when it opened in 1970 since it was anchored by Neiman Marcus, had a hotel right inside the mall and featured that wonderful indoor skating rink that's open year-round. Decades later The Galleria, which features more than 2 million square feet of space, is still the place to go when you're looking to do some real shopping or simply to people-watch — this is a spot where the interesting, the strange, the hilarious and the rich and famous mingle with us common folk. (The crazed holiday shoppers are an added bonus once we get past mid-October.) If you get bored with all that shopping and gawking at fellow shoppers, there's always skating on the ice rink, or watching people fall down on the ice rink.

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