Winner: Spec's Wines, Spirits & Finer Foods
2. Twin Liquors
3. Don's & Ben's/Gabriel's Liquor
Winner: Dragon's Lair
Multiple locations, dlair.net
After a second-place finish last year, San Antonio comic-book shop Dragon's Lair has finally saved the princess. Founded in 1986 in Austin by CEO David Wheeler, the franchise has since branched out to three other locations in Texas, the most recent being the store in Alamo Ranch (the second San Antonio outpost) earlier this year. Along with an assortment of comics, Dragon's Lair sells games (board, card, roleplaying and miniature), graphic novels, toys, collectibles and other pop culture merchandise. The store also holds a host of events throughout the month, including Dungeons & Dragons and Pokémon open play, gaming tournaments, science shows, arts and crafts workshops (i.e. wand making), visits from special guests, cosplayers and more. Whether you consider yourself an all-out nerd who can recite full episodes of Battlestar Galactica or just someone who likes superhero movies, Dragon's Lair will likely have something you'll want to buy and keep in its box forever.
2. Heroes and Fantasies
3. Bazinga Comics
2941 Thousand Oaks Drive, Suite 101
Winner: Pearl Farmers Market
312 Pearl Pkwy.
It's not that other farmers markets need not apply — the more the merrier. But none of the others in and around town have the advantage of Pearl's setting of historic (and historic-adjacent) buildings, its water park where kiddos (and ageless elders) can get soaked and its carefully curated contingent of vendors. You're tugged one way by the aromas of Indian cuisine, another by the prospect of banana leaf-swaddled tamales. It's hard not to be seduced by specialty breads — and then by locally harvested honeys to slather on thick slices. (There's also the option of having a discussion about bee colony collapse should you be so inclined.) Kombucha and bone broth help represent the culinary cutting edge; pestos and San Antonio sauces compete for attention with craft chocolates and "award-winning" cheeses. About the only option missing is a rent-a-pup stand for those with Fido FOMO. (Yes, there are lots of dogs. And strollers.) Not everybody is set up by 9 a.m. on Saturday, and some are sold out before 1 p.m. The sweet spot seems to be right in the middle.
2. Boardwalk on Broadway Farmers Market (formerly The Rim Farmers Market)
3. Alamo Heights Farmers Market
255 E. Basse Road, Suite 130
Winner: Period Modern
4347 McCullough Ave.
Alamo City vintage hounds made their voices heard this year in the category of Best Furniture Store, electing three contenders that specialize in furnishings from decades past. And we couldn't agree more. (Life's too short to assemble another obnoxiously named IKEA item ultimately destined for the donation pile.) Taking home top honors this year, Period Modern is arguably the gold standard in San Antonio when it comes to immaculately preserved midcentury pieces. Having recently expanded into an adjacent space previously occupied by "Best of San Antonio" alum No. 9 Florals, Period Modern feels more sprawling than ever, tempting shoppers with stylishly arranged living areas reminiscent of an Alfred Hitchcock classic, paintings spanning styles and eras, smartly priced art and design books, and unique pieces ready to spice up quarters in need of a remix. On a recent visit, more than a few gems popped out, including a stacking wooden cat figurine made by the Swedish toy company Brio ($40), Beaumont Mood hanging ceramic light fixtures ($300), an incredibly heavy-looking outdoor furniture set crafted by faux bois master Carlos Cortez ($20,000) and guitars of both the electric and acoustic varieties ... which brings us to what's arguably Period Modern's most unexpected feature — an offbeat music series that's hosted everyone from politician/musician Kinky Friedman to local indie darlings Buttercup and their offshoot Demitasse.
2. Karolina's Antiques
1709 Blanco Road
3. San Antonio Furniture Finders
1805 Blanco Road
Winner: Ali Baba International Market
9307 Wurzbach Road
In desperate need of some ground goat? Ali Baba's your go-to guy. Looking for some halloumi to throw on the grill, a two-foot diameter flatbread for whatever one uses that for, some fuzzy and fresh green almonds (early spring only) to sauté in a little olive oil with sea salt? Ali Baba, again. The packaged Indian snack mixes rock. The Bulgarian feta cries out to be thrown into a fattoush salad with a little of that flatbread — toasted. Some springy squares of Turkish delight will provide the perfect honeyed contrast to a cup of dark and brooding Turkish coffee. In short, this bright and utterly enthralling market of a thousand and one delights has gone well beyond its early roots as a source for Middle Eastern ingredients. Bulging bags of dal and rice now beckon to shoppers from the Indian subcontinent. Other Asian tastes are not neglected, and shoppers of any cultural bias and background will find something to investigate. Ali Baba is the kind of establishment that proves that food is indeed our common denominator. Xenophobic politicos beware.
2. Tim's Oriental & Seafood Market
7015 Bandera Road, Suite 8
3. Las Americas Latin Market
6623 San Pedro Ave.
227 Fredericksburg Road, (210) 227-1457, amols.com
For the third consecutive year, Amols' has been crowned with a Jeweled Silver Queen's Tiara (buy one in house for only $2.49) and named the best place in San Antonio to purchase a traditional Mexican piñata for your Fiesta partying needs. From colorful donkeys to cacti to mini maracas, there's plenty of room in Amols' piñatas to stuff with Skittles and Starburst and Vero Mango lollipops. Amols' moved locations earlier this year from its shop on South Flores, where it had operated for 55 years, to its new, much larger venue on Fredericksburg Road. Next year, it will celebrate 70 years in the community and continues to be the go-to place for paper flowers, cascarones and everything in between. Sure, April will always be their busiest month of the year because of San Antonio's love affair with Fiesta, but Amols' is far from a seasonal store. It's the Potala Palace of papel picado.
2. Piñata Time
3005 W. Commerce St.
3. Alamo Fiesta on Main
2025 N. Main Ave.
Winner: Rainbow Gardens
Even if you're not shopping for plants, Rainbow Gardens has something for everyone. Too bad there's no kitchen, since it's a great spot to spend a lunch hour strolling in the shade, posing for selfies, or just watching the antics of resident hummingbirds and Mexican eagles, as we did on a recent visit to the Bandera location. Rainbow is a veritable botanical garden, with some of the wittiest plant signage around ("Because of its vigorous growth," one salvia warns, "cutting back is recommended or MAY GOD HAVE MERCY ON YOUR SOUL.") That said, most everybody visits the nursery to load a cart with potted plants and garden supplies, and here Rainbow consistently offers not only the usual bedding plants but some of the most varied perennial selections in town. They've got water-saver plants, seminars and classes from the pros, too. With locations on Bandera and Thousand Oaks, Rainbow draws visitors from horizon to horizon across the North Side and beyond. This year's runners-up for "Best Plant Nursery" are nothing to scoff at: Milberger's is a powerhouse in local horticulture, with a formidable fleet of landscapers' trucks testifying to its supply of seasonal color, sod and trees. And if you're shopping inside the loop and looking for quiet enchantment, don't miss Shades of Green, with its engaging staff, organic supplies and unique gifts and decor.
2. Milberger's Landscaping and Nursery
3920 N. Loop 1604 E.
3. Shades of Green
334 W. Sunset Road
Winner: Planet K
Multiple locations, planetktexas.com
How much easier would marketing be for Planet K if they operated in one of the eight American states where recreational marijuana was legal? Water pipes could actually be called bongs; note holders could be roach clips; pollen could be kief; its "End Hemp Prohibition" campaign could change to a "Make Weed Fucking Legal Already" campaign; and not everything would need to be referred to as a "piece." Still, despite the necessarily camouflaged terminology, employees at the six Planet K locations in San Antonio are total professionals and can help anyone who walks into their establishment — from veteran vapers to reefer rookies. The stores carry a wide variety of items like cigarettes, cigars, vaporizers, novelty merchandise, books, magazines, calendars, erotica and products made from CBD (cannabidiol, a cannabis compound). They also sell molds to create your own water pipes and even Ouija boards, although we're not sure why anyone would want to mix ghosts and ganja, unless you're pretty tight with Scooby-Doo.
2. Hazel Sky Smoke Shop
3. Mellow Monkey
2286 Bandera Road
Winner: Element Tattoo Studio
4741 Fredericksburg Road
If you've been getting tattooed regularly in the Alamo City the last decade or so, then you've undoubtedly heard of Element Tattoo. Located off Fredericksburg near Loop 410, the shop has endured everything from a rotating cast of expert tattooers, industry changes, economic downfall and even a fire in 2009, which resulted in the loss of Hendrix, the shop clownfish (RIP). Owned and operated by Jedidiah Reed, Element Tattoo has risen through the ranks to become synonymous with high-quality tattoos. If you're looking to add to your collection, or deflower your virgin skin, Element Tattoo is definitely your answer to good ink.
2. Iron Eagle Tattoos
6806 W. Military Drive
3. Doomsday Tattoo
910 San Pedro Ave.
Winner: Texas Thrift
Thrifting is an art. It takes patience, endurance, agility and even a personality to be able to haggle down a price. The secret is, you gotta be willing to dig. Go through every article, every aisle, every rack. Some might be repulsed by the idea "like, ew, going through old dusty junk." However, we've spoken to more than a few folks who've shopped at Texas Thrift who have found articles of clothing, accessories and even shoes that have become their favorites and go-tos in their fashion collection. With several locations across the Alamo City, Texas Thrift is a haven and a first-stop for many a vintage collector.
2. Boysville Auxiliary Thrift Store
307 W. Olmos Drive
3. Revolution Thrift
8513 Blanco Road