What smooth talkers they are at All-Star Audio Video. Any group of employees who can talk so many customers into believing that TVs -- inside cars! -- are required accessories deserves this award. And it's not as if Houston drivers weren't bad enough, turning without signaling or lining up seven cars deep behind a left-turning car when the right lane is utterly vacant. The added distraction of TVs in vehicles now makes these inhospitable roads just that more hostile. But don't blame All-Star. The 23-year-old company is, according to Steve "Pepper" Perez, who installs these thingies, just responding to demand. "There've been TVs in cars for a while," he says. "Then when multimedia hit, it's the easiest thing to take a trip and have a video for the kids. They don't wanna get out of the car. "Dad, drive around the block.' " Around the block? Chances are, Dad's "block" is a gated community. Perez says he has done installations on the vehicles of star baseball jocks like Roger Clemens, Craig Biggio and Andy Pettitte. He also says he and his two installers (one, Andy Bartinicki, joined the company a couple of years after owner Jim Lawless opened the first shop) have done jobs ranging in price from $2,500 to $25,000. About 80 percent of his customers, he says, are regulars. Though Perez talks excitedly and knows a helluva lot about vehicular TVs, he doesn't own one himself. "But I gotta get one," he says. "I need to."
For most of the past decade and a half, the forever-young Patti D has kept a hard-core group of regulars coming back for another round at the two locations where she pours the drinks and beers: T.K. Bitterman's (2010 West Alabama) and The Ginger Man (5607 1/2 Morningside). In addition to mixing a mean cocktail, Patti also plays great music, doesn't put up with crap from goofball customers and, despite the amount of time she has been in the bar business, remains easy on the eyes.
Webster's describes yoga as a system of exercises for attaining bodily or mental control and well-being. But to its most dedicated adherents, yoga is the key that unlocks the secrets of the universe. Passing through that door is best accomplished with the help of a guide. Finding one in Houston, where yoga is booming, is easy. The city boasts a number of respected master instructors, including George Purvis and John Friend. We direct novices to The Yoga Institute & Bookshop, where owner Rae Lynn Rath and manager Becky Jordan have a combined 54 years of yoga practice and study under their belts. Rath and Jordan are disciples of Friend, the founder of Anusara, one of the newest and fastest-growing schools of hatha yoga. Anusara means "flowing with grace," and it describes an approach that integrates the rigorous physical demands of yoga with emotional, mental and spiritual expression. Or as Friend puts it, "It is a willingness to be aware of all parts of ourselves: the light and the dark, the full rainbow of sensation, perception, emotion and thought." Confused? Then visit the Institute's bookshop, which offers a sizable collection of books and videos on Anusara and other yoga styles, as well as plenty of information on meditation, holistic medicine and other aura-sharpening practices.

A woman we know has followed this man to five different salons over six years. Together they traveled from long, mousy, dishwater-blond high school hair through short and red, short and dark brown, and really short and platinum (the experimental college years) to a much more Texas-professional highlighted bob. Incredibly, through each of these phases, people have made a point to say to her that most coveted of comments, "Your hair looks great!" -- and not in that fakey way, either. His cuts are meticulous, taking 45 minutes to an hour, as opposed to the slapdash quickies of some salons. And with color, he is a mad scientist, concocting just the right combination of "tonal values" that will make a blotchy face look radiant. He'll listen to what you want and do his damnedest to make you look just like the girl in the magazine, but he's also refreshingly honest: "I know you have ponytail envy, honey, but every inch you grow your hair out is adding years to your face." Let's just put it this way: When Kevin announced he was planning to move to Las Vegas, we nearly cried. Thankfully, the desert air didn't agree with him.
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.

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