That sense of déjà vu you're experiencing is very real — last year's winner is again this year's champ. Sure, Apple stores tend to be prettier, sleeker affairs, which is great for strutting around with a sense of superiority. But if you really want to get down to business and take care of all your computer and accessory needs under one roof, at amazing prices, with sales staff who won't look down their noses at you, this is the place. Make sure you sign up for the email list to be notified right away of sales offered on top of Fry's already great deals.

There's no need to wait for Halloween to find a costume at this year-round institution. The store's massive 20,000-square-foot showroom east of downtown occupies an entire city block and has everything you could imagine and then some. With more than 60,000 rental costumes and an enormous supply of stage and special-effects makeup, it's the go-to stop for theater professionals. The staff know their stuff, from zombie makeup to period costumes, finding just the right accessories to seal the deal. The family-owned business got its start in 1950 as Morty's Magic Mart, and continues to serve local magicians and illusionists with specialty items for ventriloquism, fortune-telling, fire magic and mentalism.

READERS' CHOICE: Frankel's Costume

We adore Luke's Locker because it offers everything you could possibly need as a runner, plus a few items you probably never dreamed could actually exist, like the world's most perfect sports bra or running shorts with pockets perfectly sized to hold your keys and a snack. On top of that, the salespeople know what they're doing. After examining your feet and watching you trot up and down a pathway in the center of the store, they'll match you with the perfect set of running shoes for wherever the road takes you.

We expect the ideal dry cleaners to be like alchemists. We want them to be able to remove any stain, no matter its age or origin. We'd also like them to be reasonably priced and fast, and we'd prefer to get our clothes back without any iron marks. Most dry cleaners can do the majority of these things — natural selection tends to take care of the rest. But Eagle Express is one of the precious few places that can do all of these while at the same time extending downright wonderful customer service. That's not anything we expect. But it's something we love.

READERS' CHOICE: Heights Discount Cleaners

After celebrating its second anniversary, Liberty Armory has shown it can hold its own in a city that doesn't exactly have a shortage of firearm shops. These friendly folks know their stuff, making Liberty a great place to get your concealed handgun license and defensive training. Members can also take advantage of what's described as the only "publicly accessible" indoor shooting range inside the Loop. And the selection won't disappoint: Sig Sauer, Mossberg, Springfield, Nighthawk Custom and some of our favorite abbreviations: H&K and S&W. Liberty also provides armorer services, like diagnostics, cleanings, custom barrel fittings and the like. We look forward to many more anniversaries.

The Crosstimbers location for this national chain is always jam-packed on weekends, but the employees move dirty trucks, vans and sedans through at lightning speed while ensuring each vehicle is back to that new-car-smell level of cleanliness. While a fleet of attendants vacuums your car, you can wait inside, prowling through a phenomenal selection of greeting cards, costume jewelry, scented candles and knickknacks. Be sure to munch on free popcorn and shoot water at your vehicle as it rolls through the automated wash.

Photo courtesy of Camp Run-A-Mutt

Cage-free day care and boarding is all the rage in California, and we finally got our own Camp Run-A-Mutt right here in H-Town. Owners and dog lovers Jonathan Lim and Phu Nguyen know their stuff, assessing dogs with a temperament test before they can join the pack. But for those who make it in, it's doggie heaven. Pups are placed in groups by activity level instead of size, and they're sure to be dog-tired after a day of play. Overnight campers sleep in a giant room with a staffer, so your best friend will never feel lonely. If you want to make sure, just watch Fido on the proprietary Muttcams, viewable online during business hours.

Even before moving to a bigger location on West Road, 8th Dimension always felt like more than just a place to buy stuff. These folks are active when it comes to community-building, and their calendar stays full with various game nights and quarterly ladies night events. There's a dedicated game room for serious players, and vending machines and nearby delivery options will keep you fueled no matter how deep you get into a Dungeons & Dragons quest. 8th Dimension also doubles as a concert venue for geeky musicians on the road who might not otherwise have a place to play in Houston. Whether you're into role-playing games, card games, board games, comics or toys, you'll feel right at home here.

We can sum up Pete's, a Houston institution, in two words: meat heaven. But go do your own investigating — just don't go hungry, because once you walk through the doors of this bustling, friendly, family-­owned business, you will be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of selections. Not only will you find superior standbys like brisket, burgers and ribs, you'll probably find yourself wondering — for the very first time — what python tastes like. Ditto with emu kebabs and moose. But even if your tastes don't run more exotic than wild boar, Pete's has your back. And your belly.

Jeff Balke

Spec's downtown, the epicenter of it all, the giant rabbit source from which all other bunnies flow, is kind of like an enormous playground for grown-ups. Row upon row and aisle upon aisle of wines, beers and libations, arranged by type, subtype, region and subregion, sparkle under the fluorescent lights. Staffers' knowledge runs deep. Plus Spec's offers cash discounts and 11-hour flash sales, and the Tuesday tasting events are pretty happening. For those with more refined palates, the rare-liquor selection includes the Macallan Fine & Rare Collection, Hennessy Paradis, the hard-to-find Port Ellen single malt whisky and the ultimate cognac, Louis XIII.


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