Best Specialty Store
Photo by John Kiely

Hot sauce isn't for everyone, and those with feeble palates have no business anywhere near iBurn. They don't know what they're missing; hot sauce is now an estimated $1.37 billion-per-year industry (per USA Today), and in Houston this cozy shop off Bellaire Boulevard is Ground Zero for those who are happiest with tongues aflame. Next to a gun range and a mural as fiery as anything in one of the hundreds of glass bottles inside, iBurn specializes in taste-bud destroyers that make the offerings at Kroger and H-E-B seem like Pace Picante Sauce. Among the many salsas, sauces, powders, rubs and marinades — a wealth of bacon-flavored items — many products bear names like "American Bad Ass," "Powder Keg," "Mad Dog," "Creamator" and "Reaper." All of this heat, however, pales in comparison to the seclusion of iBurn's closet-size "Chuck Norris Room," whose shelves proffer condiments so piquant children under 18 are forbidden.

Best Wedding Venue
Photo courtesy of AvantGarden

Aside from everything a bride can think to demand for her dream day, what really makes a wedding is the venue. The space for the reception is crucial to providing a loving ambience and a feeling for the newlyweds that will truly last forever, as well as making guests feel welcome. Mariana Lemesoff, owner of AvantGarden, began dedicating the venue in recent years to weddings and has transformed the patio into a luxe, cool backdrop that any bride- and groom-to-be would swoon over.


Texas Children's Hospital

The staff at Texas Children's Hospital are very aware that being sick is hard, but not only do they do their best to make sick kids better; they also make sure they do everything possible to make it easier on families, too. From the moment the first patient arrived in 1954, Texas Children's has been at the forefront in how it handles and treats its young patients. The first physician-in-chief, Dr. Russell Blatner, established the policy, groundbreaking at the time, that a parent can stay with a child continuously while the kid is in the hospital. Since then, Texas Children's has made a point of being on the cutting edge of medical technology — the hospital has excelled at treating everything from pediatric HIV/AIDS to childhood cancer, and it still funds a prodigious amount of charity and medical research — while never forgetting that most of its patients are still kids. Thus, red wagons are often used to transport the children, as per tradition, but the hospital also has a kid-focused radio station, age-appropriate playrooms, a classroom and even a hair salon that is open to all.

Houston Camera Exchange

Put people who love something in a store that sells items related to that something and you get a combination of outward nerdiness and downright obsession with detail. Houston Camera Exchange is the definition of such places. Filled with more camera gear than logically possible and expert salespeople who are shutterbugs themselves, this is the place to get a new lens or camera body or just some assistance with how real cameras work in the age of the cell-phone selfie.

Best Doggie Day Care
Photo by David Locke via CC

There are tons of choices when it comes to doggie day care in Houston, but Bed & Biscuits Pet Spa is truly a notch above the rest. When your dogs come out of a busy day at Bed & Biscuits, they will be socialized, exercised and ready to go home and take a leisurely approach to life alongside their chosen human. The place is set up with large indoor and outdoor play areas so that dogs can play, rain or shine, no matter how hot it gets outside. On top of that, each new dog is evaluated when he or she gets to Bed & Biscuits so the attendants can figure out whether the dog will do best with the big canines or the small ones or with more walks, cuddles and general hangout time with people.

Best Pedestrian Mall
Photo by Barry Sigman

City Centre, west of Houston at the Beltway and I-10, is like a miniature city within a city, with its sprawling campus of shops, restaurants, hotels and entertainment. The pedestrian mall could easily fill a full day or whole weekend of action. After a morning of shopping, spend the afternoon browsing Muir's Fine Art Gallery or even getting the spa treatment at Life Time Athletic Club's LifeSpa. For dinner, find seafood at Eddie V's, a fat Brazilian steak at Texas de Brazil or Mexican and margaritas at Cyclone Anaya's. And afterward, kick back with some wine tasting and live music at The Tasting Room or maybe a movie and cocktails at Studio Movie Grill.

Brazos Bookstore

Brazos Bookstore was established by Karl Killian in 1974 to encourage the nascent Houston literary scene at the time and has been a city institution ever since. Brazos is smart in its approach; the independent bookstore can't possibly compete with the big-box stores or the online sellers for sheer selection, and it doesn't try. Instead, it's lovingly stocked with books that are carefully curated to offer unusual copies of the classics nestled among great books you've never heard of. This results in a bookstore with remarkable depth of selection. Go in for a new copy of Melville, and you'll walk out with exactly what you were after along with an armful of new discoveries. As if that weren't enough, the store is involved with all things literary in Houston, from holding in-store book signings to supporting creative writing programs and readings by famed authors.

Erotic Cabaret

If it feels like déjà vu, don't worry, you're not crazy — last year's winner maintains its status as the best place in Houston for all the fun stuff that keeps your relationship spicy. And if you want to celebrate with this year's medicine theme, we suggest the Naughty Nurse, Heart Stoppin' RN or Dr. Phil Good men's costumes — all of which are guaranteed to make your partner open up and say "ahhhhhh." Even if costumes aren't your thing, Erotic Cabaret has all the toys, lingerie, fetish gear and accessories you can imagine, and probably more than a few you can't. Outstanding customer service and terrific prices will make your experience even more enjoyable. You'll be coming (hey-oh!) back for more.

Best Place to Buy Gaming Supplies
Photo by RedCraig via CC

This gaming mecca is a geek's paradise, and we don't mix metaphors lightly. Board games, cards, role-playing, tabletop miniature — whatever your gaming jones, Asgard will hook you up. Magic: The Gathering, Star Wars, Cards Against Humanity, Warhammer — we could go on and on. Even better, Asgard fosters a sense of community by holding weekly games and tournaments, as well as maintaining an online forum. There's a genuine love of gaming within these walls. You'll find kindred spirits with whom to slay dragons or blow up spaceships, or whatever the mission may be. Game on.

Best Dentist
Photo by William Warby via CC

Maybe you associate a trip to the dentist only with thoughts of excruciating pain, but that's because you haven't been in a chair in Dr. Bruce Smith's office yet. Not only is Smith a wonderful dentist, the kind who can work wonders on your smile and overall gum and dental health, but he's also a dentist who does not believe in causing his patients any unnecessary pain. Because of this, he evaluates patients based on their sensitivity, anxiety about going to the dentist and any other extenuating factors, and then makes sure that when they're in his chair, they are always, at the very least, completely comfortable. Smith's understanding and compassion for his patients don't stop there. When he first opened his practice, in the early 1980s, the AIDS crisis was worsening. Smith founded a clinic to offer dental treatment to HIV and AIDS patients and came up with a protocol to allow dentists to care for infected patients safely. He's still at his Montrose location along with his fabulous staff, who do everything to make you feel at home from the second you walk in the door.

Best Of Houston®

Best Of