Blockbuster Video locations sprout up like so many mushrooms at nearly every Dallas intersection. But where, oh where, to go for all things urban, African, and hip? We recommend Alternative Videos in Fair Park, where you can pick from a range of selections, from Thelonious Monk videos to the Roots miniseries boxed set and a huge array of classic '70s blaxploitation flicks. The store is cluttered and can barely hold three people, but it has the most variety when it comes to the African-American persuasion. Open Friday and Saturdays only, 12 p.m.-6 p.m.

Best handmade tortilla, soft drink, and voodoo market

Super Mercado Mexico

Fiesta and Danals offer bigger, brighter Mexican stores, of course, but Supermercado Mexico is still mecca to people who like their markets small and messy and who need to see their tortillas being baked. Cow heads can be found here, in season, along with an excellent collection of prayer candles, some of which tend to veer off in the direction of certain ancient West African gods associated with voodoo. This is definitely not Tom Thumb, which is why you may like it.

It pains us to write about this subject. For the last three years, every "Best of Dallas" winner in this category, as soon as it receives this accolade, has had its service go from exemplary to downright unpredictable. It's almost as if some sort of curse is attached. With this in mind, we want to state that we wish no ill on Dee & Hattie Cleaners. We wish them well for all the personal and friendly service they have provided their customers. We wish them success for the fine quality of dry cleaning they provide. Most of all, we wish that they can continue to get the mustard stains out of our shirts.

Best place to find a gift for someone you barely know

Talulah

Talulah Belle
It has probably happened to all of us. You need a present fast for someone you barely know--cousin's fianc, boss' teenage son, better half's Aunt Mable. Gift certificates and checks stuck in nondescript greeting cards are out. They're too impersonal. Flavored body oils are a touch too personal--unless you're way friendly. Talulah in Lakewood has great, inexpensive stuff that says, "Hey, I put some thought into fulfilling what is, in reality, an imposition." The store carries specialty bath and body care items in a variety of scents and styles, from Blue Q's Ultra Fancy Dirty Girl to more manly scents packaged in plaid flannel sacks. From the whimsical (dashboard hula girls and boys) to the more conservative (baskets, candleholders, and original art), everything can be gift-wrapped. Talulah even stocks greeting cards for all occasions.

The guys at Enterprise rock: free soda when you walk in, nice people, and they deal. Granted, renting a car is usually not a pleasant experience, especially because the majority of cars are rented when your car is in the shop. And if your car is in the shop for a prolonged period of time, it's because you were in an accident. These guys understand. Here's a sample conversation:

YOU: "Hey, I was in a wreck, and I need a rental car. But I'm also under 25 and really don't want to spend an extra $20/day just because I'm younger."

THEM: "No problem. These things happen. We've got a full-size car for $36/day."

YOU: "F@#k! I only wanted an economy size and $36/day is too F@#$%n pricey."

THEM: " All right. Check this out. We'll rent you the full size at the economy price of $23/day, and you get unlimited miles. Now how you like them apples?"

YOU: "I likes."

The folks at Rent-A-Wreck understand that the primary need of a customer is to obtain reliable transportation. This is a no-frills auto rental shop, but that doesn't mean the cars are inferior, despite the unfortunate name. We loved the midsized automobile that we rented for a week at a price far lower than at one of the national chain stores. Next time you need a car between auto shop visits, save a few dollars and check them out.

The people who sell their CDs to this store either have fickle tastes or really love their CD burners, because it's easy to score used copies of new albums here. The selection runs the gamut from small, local labels to major-label releases with healthy doses of independent releases and imports available too. The selection is better than most, and so are the prices. Depending on the number of copies in stock and how long they've been sitting around, a used CD runs from $2 to $9. That means you'll save enough on that used 'N Sync CD to grab their Japanese import with the additional tracks.

OK, so the stock on hand doesn't match up with the warehouse chains, but owner Donna Cressman and her staff make up for it with friendly service and by offering useful critiques of books they've actually read. The selection of hardbacks and paperbacks is good, and if they don't have the particular title you're looking for, they'll quickly order it and give you a call when it arrives. The salespeople obviously love books and are quick to tack a note on the shelves offering a personal review of something they're eager to recommend. It's one of those hospitable stops that visiting authors, touring to beat the drum for their latest tomes, love to see on their schedules. It also sells a good selection of magazines, national and local, and greeting cards for every occasion.

In the late 1940s, Angus Wynne began building the Wynnewood community, the heart of which was the Wynnewood Village shopping center. By the early 1990s, this once very modern shopping center was an almost-abandoned hulk. In an almost miraculous rebirth it's again flourishing with stores that run the gamut, from Bobby's T-Shirts and Pan Africa Connection to Kroger and MacFrugals.

Don't stop driving until you find this hidden stone yard in Oak Cliff, snuggled against the Trinity River levee. Drive in and weigh your vehicle. Then wander the rows of stone to your heart's content, admiring rocks hauled from all over the United States. Even though it's near downtown, this is a lost bucolic corner of the city: You'll scare up some cottontails as you search. Load up what you want, weigh out, and pay up. They also deliver.

Whole Foods Market
Healthy food can be hard to come by, but Whole Foods has no problem keeping a vast stock. From organic veggies to vitamin supplements, the granola munchers of Dallas have a place to call their own. The produce sections are large and the alternative vegetarian fare--tofu dogs and such--is more varied than what most non-healthy eaters would believe possible. A fun aisle contains books of varying worth, from holistic eating guides to vegetarian manifestos. The people at Whole Foods, by and large, look pretty fit and trim; perhaps the best endorsement of the natural food concept is their toned bodies. For those who are not so committed to health but want a light meal, the prepared food section is pricey but delicious.

Times have changed in the health-food business. Lost to the beef culture are the local health-conscious restaurants of old. Natura's, Eureka's, and Preston's have all succumbed to the Atkins diet and gone belly up. Low-fat now means chicken-fried steak without the gravy. Mega-health food stores with enclosed food courts rule the day. For those who like their carrot juice freshly chilled and their wheat grass freshly mowed, there is still Roy's in Preston Royal Shopping Center. This health-food store is small but hands-on, a holdover from the organic health food movement of the '60s when wheat germ was king. Knowledgeable devotees peddle a vast array of vitamins and supplements to keep you thinking that you are doing something, anything, to stay young. Try the protein plate if all else fails.

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