McGowen Cleaners Young professionals in the know swear by this particular dry cleaner, which is nestled in the Montrose area just west of Dunlavy. And it's not because McGowen offers any gimmicks or a particularly sexy product; it's simply good at cleaning, dryly. One customer swears they can get out any stain. Another notes that they've never once broken a button -- which, alas, is more than we can say about some of their competitors. It's also endlessly reliable: If you give McGowen your clothes, you'll get them back, clean and on time. And isn't that the point?

Heights Floral Shop Established in 1935, Heights Floral Shop is one of the oldest florists in Houston. Age doesn't always indicate excellence (just ask any Hollywood agent), but this family-owned and -operated flower joint is thriving more vibrantly than ever. Take this summer, for example. While many florists reduce their employees' hours during the balmy months, this cozy old house on 20th has its crew working as much as ever. "We do a lot of funerals," says in-house designer Jimmy Castillo. Their beautiful fresh arrangements, Tuscan pottery and lush houseplants not only comfort the bereaved and give hope to the ill in Heights Hospital across the street, but they also give brides that special blush and beautify family celebrations. And through it all, the folks at Heights Floral Shop remain approachable and modest.

Best Place to Pick Up a Slightly Worn Copy of the Marquis de Sade's The 120 Days of Sodom

Detering Book Gallery Inc.

Okay, maybe you won't find that precise title, but this place is about as highbrow a used bookstore as you'll find in this city that doesn't market exclusively rare and collectible editions -- though there are plenty of those on the shelves. This is not a source for light reading; Jackie Collins fans might not make it past the ropes. Detering Book Gallery is the place to go when you're feeling Kafka, or a little Dante. History buffs and people with academic interests of all sorts likely will not walk away disappointed. It's a must for any book lover who's looking to load her personal library with titles that extend beyond last week's best-seller list. Detering is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

Best Spectacles/Glasses/Optometry

Spectacles on Montrose Like the librarian type? Then pop out those contact lenses, man. LASIK is vanity, but eyewear is fashion, and the folks at this friendly boutique can fix you up with the sexiest specs in town. Spectacles on Montrose offers a sprawling variety of über-chic styles, and owners Evan Mape and Corey Theige make choosing a pair a blast. Need an eye exam? No problem. Step in the back, and Dr. Mape will give your peepers a once-over. Unlike other doctors, he'll let you play with that monstrous mechanical eye machine, and he'll even allow you to peer into your sweetie's cornea. You'll never look into that pair of eyes in the same way.

Central Market At Howard E. Butt's megamart, Central Market, there are enough varieties of coffee beans to make Starbucks and Juan Valdez very jealous. The coffee buyers at Houston's gourmet paradise scour the globe to bring you the finest in roasted bulk beans. Blends from Zimbabwe, Kenya and Ethiopia sit alongside beans from Honduras, Costa Rica and Mexico. On each coffee name placard you'll find a helpful description of its flavor. The San Fran blend, for instance, is great for those seeking "good acidity and a spicy lingering aftertaste." Looking for a cup with a fruity aroma and smoky finish? That'd be the mustang blend. And if International Delight creamers aren't cutting it for you, Central Market offers a healthy stock of flavored beans (tiramisu, coconut cream and Texas pecan). Grinders are provided on site, so you can bust up your beans in the traditional style or pulverize them into dust for your French press. If you just don't know where to start, there are samples available and coffee experts on staff.

Takeout Taxi For those times when getting dressed to go out takes too much effort and yet you're tired of zapping your food, you may think your only option is Domino's or Chinese. But you don't have to settle for oversalty kung pao chicken or limp pizza ever again, since the good folks at Takeout Taxi are willing to do all the legwork for you. For a $4.99 delivery fee, Takeout Taxi delivers dishes from more than 100 different restaurants. There's a $15 minimum, but that's not bad, considering you can get Otto's rib plates, Mama Ninfa's carnitas or La Strada's Angus steak salad delivered right to your door.

Village Tropical Fish Don't tell these guys you accidentally killed your kid's pet goldfish -- you're not likely to get a laugh. The staffers at Village Tropical Fish think fish are people too and treat them like best friends. They can tell you what type of fish would be happiest in your tank, when it mates and even if it'll change colors during different times of the year. If your fish keep dying on you, you'll want these experts to step in. Their thorough knowledge of all things finned will have your little Nemo swishing happily round his bowl in no time.

Don't be put off by the sign outside that reads "wholesale" -- if you've got cash, they've got the merchandise. While they specialize in Middle Eastern ingredients, they also have many Western and Eastern European specialties. Here you'll find bulk bulgur at 59 cents per pound; all kinds of dried and canned beans and lentils; many different kinds of teas, coffees and spices; a half-dozen different kinds of feta cheese starting at $1.59 per pound; fresh dates as low as $1.99 per pound; and dozens of different kinds of olives starting at $1.50 per pound. Here, you'll also find various kitchen tools and implements as well as elaborate narghiles and hookahs, the glass and brass smoking pipes that are prevalent in the Middle East, along with many different kinds of tobacco.
Arandas Bakery Sure, the breads are delish, but it's the sweets that get us salivating every time we walk in the door of an Arandas Bakery. The place is truly Tex-Mex, featuring a variety of desserts from Mexico and the States -- although, when it comes down to it, most the stuff actually originated in Europe, the land of cream and cheese. You can get wedding cakes, cheesecakes and Jell-O. You can get flan, arroz con leche and tres leches. You can get plenty of cavities. You can get it all at Arandas.

Spec's Liquor Where else in Houston can you get a case of Guatemalan lager, a bottle of Italian Pinot Grigio, a towering pastrami sandwich and a big, stinky Arturo Fuente Churchill cigar for the ride home? Nowhere, that's where. In fact, calling Spec's a "liquor store" is like calling the Taj Mahal…well…a liquor store. Spec's is a 40-year-old, family-run institution, with floor-to-ceiling spirits and a friendly, knowledgeable staff. You have to know your stuff when your flagship store packs thousands of labels of wine, beer and hard stuff into 80,000 square feet. Check out Spec's monthly "Twelve Under $12" wine recommendations, tips on what kind of vino goes with foie gras and recipes for every drink from a Warm Cozy Fire (brandy, butterscotch schnapps and hot chocolate) to a Zanzibar (gin, dry vermouth, orange bitters, sugar and lemon juice). And Fridays and Saturdays, the place becomes a veritable happy hour for drinkers on a budget -- samples of wine and liquor are handed out throughout the store. Bottoms up!

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