You won't encounter a "mystery" section at Brazos Bookstore; nor can you order a mocha au lait. A fabulous collection of books and a knowledgeable staff are this classy enclave's draw. Brazos clearly places quality over quantity. Perusing the literature, history and art sections, you will be hard-pressed to find a throwaway title. DeLillo and Dostoyevsky share shelf space with newcomers like Jennifer Egan and Nathan Englander. Gibbons's history of Rome roosts near a new biography on Rosa Parks. Brazos has an excellent selection of art books and current literary reviews. Those who like their writers in the flesh can enjoy the store's fine reading series, which has brought such luminaries as Doris Lessing, Jerzy Kosinski and, recently, Martin Amis to the Bayou City. An adjoining gallery space showcases the work of artists and designers like renowned architect Frank O. Gehry.
This cheery newcomer, way out west on Memorial at Kirkwood, is targeted at Houston's 40,000 plus Russophone community. Even if you know less about Russia than, say, a Republican ambassador to Moscow, you can still profitably explore the spiffy, well-lit aisles for unusual goods like Cornelian cherry compote or smoked Latvian sprats. The extensive cold cases offer caviar by the pound and preprepared take-out foods for the modern career devushka who no longer has time to prepare piroshki for her family. There is a wine room offering Latvian beer, Crimean dessert wines from the old Massandra winery, once owned by Czar Nicholas II, and some Moldavian wines, portlike, that one of the three owner-operators says is ordered -- 4,000-liter batch at a time -- by HRH Elizabeth II, no doubt for serving at the larger Buckingham Palace functions. Another side room offers various Russian tchotchkes (a Russian word that has come into English via Yiddish) for gift giving and collecting.

Before Metro decided to tear up Main and Fannin at the same time, we used to like to run down to the flower district north of the Medical Center to pick up a dozen roses if we were in love, in trouble, or both. But now that the area resembles Kosovo, we find it easier to swing by Jana's in the Heights, where the prices are much more reasonable than at many local florists. Just don't tell your sweetie.

Say good-bye to the cramped, dirty Asian grocery store with its persistent fishy stench, and hello to brightly lit aisles upon aisles of groceries. True to the very Texas notion that bigger is better, the newest Hong Kong Market location on Bellaire at Boone Road is bigger than a Randalls Flagship, bigger than a Fiesta, bigger, even, than Wayne Dolcefino's ego. What it lacks in character it makes up for in quantity and variety of goods. Its in-house bakery offers almond cookies and mooncakes from local bakeries; its produce section has more green leafy vegetables than you could ever name. Its shelves house more varieties of canned shark fin, dried squid and shrimp chips than any other Asian grocery store, as well as jars of Ragú spaghetti sauce for Americanized kids. Hong Kong Market also maintains aisles of housewares with woks, rice cookers of impressive proportions, flip-flops, Pokémon alarm clocks, Asian soaps and even farmers' rice hats. Big, clean and reasonably cheap. That's all you need to know.
For decades this Montrose mom-and-pop institution has been doing what everyone hates to do: your laundry. Get your clothes in by 7 a.m. and you can have them back by 5 p.m. Your shirts will be on hangers, and everything else will be neatly folded and packed in a plastic bag. Special orders -- like letting your blue jeans drip-dry on hangers, with no crease -- are also welcome. If any items need dry-cleaning or repairs, the folks here will send them out for you. Your mother never treated you this good.

SuperStand lacks the hard-boiled grit of an old-time newsstand, but it does have thousands of magazines, cresting in glossy abundance like waves of a media-saturated sea. The inevitable mugs of Eastwood, Travolta and Buffy the Vampire Slayer stare from shelves, but you also will find more arcane fare. Aggressive outdoor types will relish mags like Turkey Hunting Strategy. The news and politics section goes beyond Time and Newsweek to offer a variety of political and foreign-affairs journals. SuperStand is a hobbyist's dream, with publications that will have you building a model of the USS Oregon or making a birdhouse for your backyard. Doll makers and coin collectors will find their interests catered to. The sparse "mature" section, featuring a handful of adult magazines wrapped like medical waste, is one of the few that does not celebrate excess. The puzzles shelf, on the other hand, is overflowing. And there are plenty of business, computer, sports, food and travel mags, as well as European tabloids and newspapers from around the world. Our pick of the day? Eminem and Friends, a fanzine with posters of the lovable white rapper.
The two most important words when it comes to thrift store shopping are quality and quantity. Value Village is both. Those of you who are pros at this kind of shopping will fall to your knees and thank the thrift gods above that this store exists. Rookies at fossicking have no fear: It's well organized (a special category exists for "Ladies Better Dresses"), and racks of ridiculously cheap clothing go on forever. But it's not only the abundance of old athletic T-shirts or the peculiar overflow of men's work coveralls that make this a mecca of thrifting. This store is stocked with trinkets and treasures that you probably could purchase with the change in your pockets. Perhaps it's an ashtray made of orange glass that reflects the light just so. Or maybe it's the airbrushed portrait of a magical unicorn affixed to a piece of fake oak. Sure, some might call it junk, but those are the same people who think it's perfectly normal to spend $100 for a pair of khaki pants at Banana Republic.
You can tell right away that Dynasty Supermarket is an authentic Asian market when you walk in, because of one telltale sign: It stinks like fish. There to the left are the fish swarming in overcrowded tanks, and in another tub crabs crawl over each other, spitlike bubbles forming as they breathe displaced from water. Soon they will become someone's dinner. Dynasty is a midsize store that houses just enough of everything: fresh veggies, bags of dried squid, canned baby corn or straw mushrooms, jugs of soy milk, fresh sticky rice wrapped in leaves, and snacks like shrimp chips and Pocky, a Japanese icing-dipped breadsticklike thing -- trust us, they're addictively yummy. And the bonus: The in-house barbecue shop serves up fragrant Chinese-style barbecue pork and daily lunch specials starting at just $2.50.

The Astros have tanked, and the pitchers can't get anybody out, but one guy at "Homeron" Field is still consistently throwing strikes: Arnie the Peanut Dude, who hurls his roasted wares across entire sections to waving fans and nails 'em in the mitts every time. Arnie doesn't just deliver peanuts and make change; he entertains the crowd in a blue-collar way that matches the baseball setting far more perfectly than the 'Stros' silly rabbit mascot. An old-school vendor, Arnie doesn't load himself down with five items to maximize his revenues. You want peanuts? Peanuts he's got, and he can dish out half a dozen bags and never lose track of who owes what. Combining keen peripheral vision with an impeccable sense of timing, Arnie senses his customers the way bats sense mice at midnight. He reaches nonchalantly into his pouch, pulls out a bag, grips it for accuracy.

The windup, the pitch: Steeeerike!

Sure, we're the types who would tend to go for the independent bookshop over the big chains, but there's good reason to praise this subsidiary of Barnes & Noble. Unlike, say, the shopping center housing the River Oaks Borders, which ended up plowing down the century-old Ale House to make room for a few dozen more parking spaces, the Bookstop used a local landmark to its advantage. The concession area of the converted movie theater now houses the checkout stands, and the impressive balcony doubles as an in-store coffee shop, making this spacious building the snazziest place in town to browse for your tomes. Their selection is huge, and they always keep a good stock of titles, both current and time-tested.

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