Traders Village
There's a certain odd comfort that comes from wandering around the expansive grounds of Trader's Village in South Grand Prairie. It's like a giant flea market mixed with the State Fair of Texas, and it happens every weekend of the year. Hundreds of vendors open up shop in small garage units, selling anything imaginable from furniture to comic books and music. The merchandise is mostly fake (don't look too closely at the diamonds on those gold necklaces), but the tattoos you'll likely see are all too real. The only thing better than the people-watching is the price of beer in the food tents: $2 for a Pacifico.
Avant Garden
If your idea of a great flower arrangement comes from 1-800-FLOWERS, you might be surprised by the sophisticated European-style offerings from Avant Garden. The Highland Park Village flower shop has been serving the surrounding affluent community for well more than a decade, but in 2010 it received a makeover thanks to new owner Todd Fiscus. While the shop's appearance changed, one thing that didn't was the style of the small, compact, hydrangea-heavy arrangements that the shop is known for, all of which come in artfully designed vases that you don't have to be filthy rich to appreciate.
Penzey's Spices
With more than 250 different seasonings, spices, herbs, sprinkles and blends from around the world, Penzeys Spices is the place to go if you're looking to spice things up, whether you're a professional chef or amateur in the kitchen. Penzeys offers traditional seasonings like cinnamons, black peppers and curry powders, as well as dozens of unique blends. Northwoods seasoning, a combination of Hungarian paprika, herbs, black pepper and garlic, spices up everything from chicken to fish and even homemade salad dressing. The tantalizing Sunny Paris seasoning is next to impossible to resist as the aroma entices the senses — actually your nose can guide you through the place — and Mural of Flavor can be sprinkled on anything. Penzeys opened its first storefront in '97 — the Dallas spot opened in 2005 — and has been selling its worldly selection of spices by mail order for more than 20 years.
Titan Comics
What we said about Nick's Sports Cards goes triple for Titan Comics, the longtime Bachman Lake staple recently dispatched to Forest Lane to make way for a Walmart (much better location). We've said it countless times before: No toys, no action figures, no plush Green Lanterns for the baby dork, just comics, past and present, lining every wall and every shelf and stuffing every file cabinet in which the old issues are now pragmatically stored for each browsing. (The hand-painted, comics-artist-designed statues, also for sale, serve more as museum pieces behind glass cases.) We've taken countless collectors to Titan over the years, including hard-to-please out-of-towners, and all walk out with stacks of stories they remembered as kids and had to have again, as well as the new tales of suspense introduced to them by Jeremy Shorr and his staff of fanboys — and fangirls, no kidding. No geek locker room here, just the world's finest.
REI
Maybe because other places have been selling decent tents for cheap in recent years, REI has found ways to offer its own store line of tents at pretty good prices — under two bills for a two-man — and still maintain the quality for which REI is so well known. Their tents can get pricey, of course, but they have smart salespeople on hand to tell you exactly what you're getting for your money. If you're in the market for a good tent but you have questions, REI is definitely the way to go.
Pitaya
As much as we want to like Forever 21 for its affordable style, it's too disorganized, loud and glittery (have you seen that floor?!) to get our business. That's why we're grateful for Pitaya. Not only can we find trendy dresses, tops and bottoms for $50 or less on average, we know that new stuff is guaranteed to be there on every visit because inventory is updated weekly. On a recent trip we snagged a Native American-inspired, one-shoulder dress for $30 and a pair of fringe-y sandals for $40. Not too shabby and nowhere near the mall.
Spirits
Of all the hundreds of categories in Best of Dallas, this is one of those we write about with something bordering on absolute authority. For a long while this spring we scoured the city for a lone bottle of Old Fitzgerald, widely considered the finest of all cheap bourbons. (We are nothing if not penny-pinching aficionados of grown-up drink.) Two teases and one special order later, we would eventually find an endless supply at the Sigel's at Abrams Road and Skillman Street, for which we remain eternally grateful. (We hope they still have it. In summer we tend to drink rum, and the Bacardi Añejo is another pragmatic revelation. Anyway.) Among the countless stops on our quest, however, was a return to Spirits after many years away: It's a warehouse of booze where the supply's generous and the price is reasonable to the point of being low. Try finding Buffalo Trace White Dog cheaper. Then, try finding Buffalo Trace White Dog anywhere.
Goody Goody
When it comes to wine and spirits, Goody Goody Oak Lawn's staff know their stuff. Don't be surprised if when you walk in the door you're warmly greeted by at least three or more alcohol aficionados — especially during peak hours. The staff is eager to guide you through the expansive wine and liquor selections. Not only is the service great, the prices aren't bad either. Despite an expansive selection, when you ask the staff for suggestions and recommendations they'll have an answer for you, and if they don't, they'll ask someone else, and if that fails they'll happily hop on the computer and find it. There's no hard sell here, just good old-fashioned customer service.
Curiosities
We've known proprietor Jason Cohen since his days running Forbidden Books in Expo Park; he's the man who introduced us to the joys of Naughty Dallas ... and Naughty Dallas, the movie, which is a whole other story. But then he morphed into a picker, an expert in discerning your trash from your treasures and then directing them to the attention of those of us who like to go to, let's say, curated garage sales. No, he doesn't specialize in Texas goodies, but he and the others sellers in the shop keep their searches close to home, which is why we spent one brutal Saturday afternoon agonizing over whether to take home original Norman Bell sketches done for Southwestern Bell Yellow Pages covers or a Tango opening-week poster or a State Fair panoramic dating back to the '20s. We panicked and left with a press photo of the Dallas Eagles baseball club of 1951, which we found buried beneath a pile of old magazines and newspapers. Pick your picker.
Mike's Hobby Shop
We admit calling Mike's best "hobby shop" might be limiting the definition of hobby a bit. Maybe your hobby is knitting, or pottery or viewing online porn. Fine, there are plenty of yarn stores, craft shops and the Internet out there for you. Our hobby — the non-Internet one, anyway — involves things with electric motors that go high and fast and, sadly, break fairly regularly under our unskilled hands. If radio-controlled airplanes, cars or boats are your thing, Mike's is the best place for kits, servos, motors, radios and any other part you can send on a death spiral into the ground. The joint is huge, with dozens of models of scale planes dangling from the roof, plus indoor and outdoor tracks in an adjacent warehouse space featuring a competition schedule for RC car hobbyists who prefer to keep things mostly on the ground. (Watch out for the jumps. In fact, just watch these guys go. There's some amazing miniature driving on display nearly every day.) The employees know their gear and will even take the time to explain it to rookies, and prices are comparable to online shops. Best of all, there's not a dried flower, ball of yarn or gnome in the joint.

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