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.


The jewel of the East End, this historic cemetery is one of the largest in Texas and serves as the perpetual home for blues great Lightnin' Hopkins, arts patrons John and Dominique de Menil, former U.S. senator Lloyd Bentsen, early Houston developer Jesse H. Jones and infamous pickaxe murderer Karla Faye Tucker. Bordered by Brays Bayou and with a lake in its southern section, the cemetery contains more than 100,000 graves and features beautiful Tiffany stained glass and a carving of the face of Jesus that appears to follow the viewer with its eyes.

It's no surprise that Buchanan's is celebrating its 30th year in the Heights area, with its winning formula of hiring friendly, knowledgeable staff and its emphasis on native plants and organic gardening. Customer service is key, from handy take-home reference sheets about seasonal plants to accessible and communicative staffers. Sprinkled throughout Buchanan's are whimsical and colorful metal sculptures, garden accents, decorative signs and pottery, making it easy to imagine your own backyard escape. Buchanan's offers regular seminars and workshops on topics as varied as setting up drip irrigation, prepping a fall garden and creating a butterfly habitat, and helps sponsor the nonprofit organization Urban Harvest, which fosters community gardens, education and farmers' markets.

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