Gentlemen, when our old lady was pregnant with the Little Genius, as we've taken to calling our firstborn son, we discovered that nothing soothed flared hormones and other things starting with "h" better than an unexpected purchase from a happening maternity store. None of that Liz Lange "fashion" they're selling at Target, none of that bargain-rack nonsense from Motherhood in the mall, but swanky silks from the likes of Pickles & Ice Cream, where the tops are tops in good-lookin' and the bottoms don't make Mama's bottom look twice the size. Pea in the Pod has a few things Pickles doesn't--including the awesome Nicole Miller over-the-shoulder diaper bag Dad bought after watching Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and don't ask--but Pickles seems to have a cooler shade of clothing, including a better selection of Japanese Weekend apparel than the JW Plano store, which is in one of the 32 malls along the Dallas North Tollway.

This West Village shop is hip for all the right reasons: It combines simple, classic styles with fun images and quality construction. If only other trendy boutiques could do this. We're partial to the T-shirts, everything from the cabin boy line to the ones featuring our favorite monkey, Julius. Because if you can't buy a T-shirt with a grinning monkey, why are you even shopping? It's essential to any good wardrobe.

Counter Culture
At what point did the scourge of childhood--being forced to wear clothing already used by someone else, usually a sibling--become so cool that people will pay $30 for a thrift store-quality, ironic T-shirt? No, really, we need a date. We'll go back in time and open a chain of stores like Counter Culture. The stylists--"cashiers" or "clerks" doesn't do them justice--pick only the best to put on hangers and affix with pretty little price tags. It's like the best of Goodwill, color-coded for your convenience.

You won't find price tags on the Nikons and Minoltas at this mom-and-pop shop. All the prices are in the head of its colorful owner, Ramsey Jabbour, who knows precisely what each item is worth. Just ask him. Some might call it haggling, but he calls it offering the most competitive prices around. His no-nonsense business style makes comparisons to Seinfeld's soup Nazi seem appropriate, but Jabbour knows his business like few others. His full range of camera equipment and supplies, both traditional and digital, makes his store the most important photographic resource in this area for the professional as well as the hobbyist, for large corporations as well as individuals. His no-frills store, located in an industrial area and piled high with boxes, makes little investment in marketing gimmicks. And why should it? And why do you question him about it?

You spend a lot of money on a suit, wear it a few times, have it dry-cleaned and suddenly it just doesn't look, or even fit, like new. It's all in the pressing. Sam Cox knows a lot about pressing; his establishment has been doing it superbly since 1961. "First, we use no air-operated equipment that smashes clothes and actually creates wrinkles and shows seam impressions. Unlike most, our presses have cloth heads on both sides to prevent shine." According to Cox, it's all in the details. "If you set the collar properly, the lapels will fall properly, and there will never be a wrinkle between the shoulders in the back. And we never press with the pocket flap down, which can make an indentation that ruins the look of the whole jacket. We take the time to press the flap separately." You pay for what you get: Cleaning and pressing run $13.60 for a suit, $9.25 for a jacket and $6.60 for a pair of pants. Pressing alone costs 25 percent less. Cox's clients, including Neiman Marcus and the clientele of several of Dallas' leading custom tailors, agree that it's worth it.

When we visited Junkadoodle for the first time, it was not on purpose. We were searching for another address and in the process saw what we are now lauding for Best Junk. We have to admit that it was the name that sucked us in--and the fact that the sign out front was designed with bubbly purple letters. In case you were wondering, we are also the kind of people who buy books based simply on their covers. Shallow, maybe, but sometimes you pick a winner--as was the case with Junkadoodle. This shop is filled with all sorts of goodies, from antique furniture to artwork to a bowl filled with buttons. And despite the name, "junk" is not really apropos of the store's contents. Maybe it's that whole "another man's trash" thing, or maybe we're just incredibly cheap, but we think Junkadoodle is more treasure than anything else.

Hang out in the metro music-scene nightlife long enough, and you'll realize one thing. It feels like there's just as many struggling musicians in the city as there are peeps in China's army. "Feel" is the key word, word. Where is the coolest place shaggy-haired melody makers can find some cash flow to go along with sudden inspiration? We're assuming a gig at Guitar Center. There's nowhere else drummers get a head at cost and guitarists may play with more bodies than fingers know what to do with. For musicians cool enough to embrace a setting full of instruments as a way to maintain a lifestyle, Guitar Center is a home away from home. Guess that applies to those other musicians, too, plucking away in offices full of every instrument known to mankind besides the musical ones. Or for people new to instruments who just have an urge to play one. OK, we admit it, Guitar Center is for everyone. "Stairway to Heaven" riffs or unknown musical masterpieces, they'll let you play; maybe you'll like it enough to pay, and since the folks answering your questions know a thing or two about the craft, you're in good hands.

Pair O'Dice is our best because we trust them with our own bodies. It's almost the official tattoo parlor of the Observer staff. We go here; we bring our friends. We tell strangers to come here when we find them gawking at us in line at the grocery store. Get the hint? Come here. To us, trust is a key element in tattooing. You're paying someone to permanently scar your body. And the folks at Pair O'Dice can do that. Lots of other people can, too. But here you'll feel at home, always have a say in what they're doing and never feel intimidated. If you look nervous, you'll get teased...and possibly placed in a headlock. No, really, it helps. In addition to the artistry of Richard Stell, Deb Brody, Josh Robinson, J.P. Morin and Casey Cokrlic, there is also plenty of wacky stuff on the walls and loud tunes on the stereo to keep you distracted.
Big, bright, sparkly clean, lots of pumps, with beautiful cashiers and friendly service, yada yada--that's not why this is the best pit stop. It's the best for one simple reason: The owner is oddly obsessed with selling the coldest, cheapest beer in Dallas. The beer is already chilled to 36 degrees. As Best of Dallas was going to press, Lakewood Mobil was undergoing major reconstruction to create a special "ice-cave" at the back, where the beer will be chilled to 26 degrees--still liquid, but the bottles might freeze to your fingers. They sell all the hard-to-get cigarettes--Esmir Stingers, Kents, Dunhills--and they have a pretty decent wine selection, too. Not bad for a Mobil, eh?

Truth is, the term "belly dancing" is a bit of a misnomer. The traditional dance moves actually give the knees and lower back a workout, not the abdominals. Just ask the lovely ladies you'll find at Egypt World, which houses a diverse supply of belly-dancing gear. In addition to the rookie purchases of silky veils and hip sashes covered in bells or small metal coins, there are also dresses, pants (think I Dream of Jeannie), skirts, bra tops and a wide range of things that go jingle-jingle-jingle when you go shake-shake-shake, including belts, bracelets, anklets and headpieces.

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