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Desert Companion

Best of the City: These are the champions - of valley food, culture, arts, shopping and more!

We've scoured Las Vegas to locate the best, the finest, the ne plus ultra, if you will, of this city's cuisine, leisure, culture and shopping.  Now, using the latest advances in blurb science, we present our findings to you.  Read it.  Know it. Live it.

Food and drink


Best burger

Carnevino secret menu burger

The best things come in unexpected packages — like a mind-blowing burger served at a high-end steakhouse. Made with dry-aged beef, this savory burger is topped with a crisped slice of rolled pancetta, caramelized onions and Gorgonzola cheese. Carnevino’s secret burger comes in as one of the most expensive in town, but remember that this beauty comes from the same kitchen where the best steaks on earth are made. Palazzo, MW


Best sandwich

The Catota Roll at Phat Phrank’s

The torta typically gets lost in discussions regarding the upper pantheon of sandwiches; an unfortunate oversight for the Mexican staple. For a sample, some of the valley’s best are being cooked up by Frank “Phat Phrank” Miranda, including the offshoot catota roll. Miranda foregoes flattening the sandwich, instead cradling housemade barbacoa and cheese adorned with onions and cilantro in a toasted roll, fashioning the best South of the Border hoagie ever. 4850 W. Sunset Rd., $7.39, JB

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Best Mexican food

El Dorado Cantina

Buzzphrases like “gluten-free,” “organic,” “free-range” and “non-GMO” crowd the menu, but El Dorado isn’t some fussy “healthy Mex” restaurant. Rather, those phrases reflect a near-religious commitment to freshness and quality, making everything from the street tacos to the tableside guac to the carnitas an exercise in ennobled indulgence. Better yet: El Dorado is open 24 hours, making it the perfect post-party stop where you can belly-bomb those copious cocktails and feel good about it.
3025 Sammy Davis Jr. Drive, AK


Best pizza

Naked City Pizza

Buffalo, New York is the American home of Sicilian pizza. Luckily for us, local culinary impresario Chris Palmeri happens to be from Buffalo — and he’s hell-bent on spreading the Sicilian gospel in the desert with pies rich with in-house ingredients, from the sauce to the dough to the meats. Even for a Chicagoan like me, the thick, rectangular slices crusted with cheese are the stuff dreams are made of. 4608 Paradise Road; 3240 S. Arville St., JB


Best Chinese food

China MaMa

On the far west outskirts of Chinatown, the city’s best Chinese food is being doled out of a repurposed bank complete with an abandoned drive-thru. Anything you order will be no-frills but authentic: crispy green onion pancakes, Kung Pao chicken unlike anything seen on a Panda Express steam table, sweet-yet-not-cloying stir-fried crispy beef and the valley’s best xiao long bao (soup dumplings). You just can’t go wrong with mama’s cooking. 3240 S. Jones Blvd., 702-873-1977 JB 


Best Thai food

Chada Street

Chada Street

Bank Atcharawan’s follow-up to Chada Thai & Wine was one of the most buzzed-about openings of the year. Expect superb street snacks and shared plates in brisk, urban, modern environs. 3839 Spring Mountain Rd., DL


Best Italian food


Tucked away near the back of The Mirage, Executive Chef Michael LaPlaca takes imaginative liberties with the valley’s best Italian food. Aside from the outstanding made-to-order pastas on the menu, he’s gone one step further and even invented his own — try the torn “ripatelli” with wild boar Bolognese, or the chicken “rollatini” Parmesan, featuring chicken sausage swaddled in breast meat. More mainstream, the burrata agnolotti with lobster in roasted corn butter is a revelation. The Mirage, JB


Best Japanese food



It’s been eight years since chef Mitsuo Endo opened his tiny, late-night izakaya in our city’s ever-expanding Chinatown, immediately seducing admiring chefs and crazed foodies craving to sample the spot’s sublime charcoal-grilled bites (Kobe beef with wasabi) and house-made tofu. Seating has now grown to 48, but a reservation remains hard to get. We suggest planning ahead, ordering all the daily specials, and ordering wine by the bottle. 5030 W. Spring Mountain Road #2, 702-367-3511, JPR

Best chicken wings

Yonaka Hana wings

While Yonaka’s daily lunch is an ever-changing prix fixe, some of the standards on the menu have found a permanent home. The Thai street wings on the happy hour menu trump even the famous Pok Pok wings in Portland. They’re cured in fish sauce, coated in sticky sweet dark soy and garlic, and they’re utterly addictive.  4983 W. Flamingo Road, $7, MW


Best cheap eats

Viva Las Arepas

For all of the Latin American variations on tasty-things-stuffed-in-masa, the Venezuelan arepa holds the heavyweight title. Five bucks is all you need for a hand-held gut bomb stuffed with flavorful wood-fired beef and fixings. Bonus: People- watching in a colorful neighborhood free with every purchase. 1616 Las Vegas Blvd. S. #120, DL


Best dessert

Sweets Raku

Raku’s Mitsuo Endo committed a sweet grand theft when he coerced chef Mio Ogasawara from Japan to helm his dessert-focused restaurant Sweets Raku. In a space just across the parking lot from his flagship location, every day Ogasawara crafts a variety of desserts with a meticulous attention to detail worthy of the Raku name, from “Soleil,” an “orange” made of ice cream, mascarpone and mousse, to the Mt. Fuji chestnut cream cake.
5040 W. Spring Mountain Road #3, JB


Best cafe


From the interior design, to the loving obsession with coffee bean selection, to hiring in Seattle’s award-winning Cole McBride as head barista, PublicUs is a case study in detail. Another sign of greatness? A business that reacts to customer feedback. PublicUs has worked so hard to correct early service issues it’s as if they never occurred. Add in a sublime food and baked goods selection made entirely in-house, and PublicUs pushes the East Fremont borderline in the best way possible. Plus, it’s the cafe where downtown doers do. 1126 Fremont St., 702-331-5500, JPR


Best specialty food shop

Artisanal Foods

Fine dining chefs and in-the-know gourmands depend on this hidden gem for hard-to-source provisions. Selections include a mix of exotic imports (caviar, truffles), domestic delicacies (foie gras, Brooklyn-made sriracha) and local goods (Hexx chocolate bars.) A bite from the in-house café is a mandatory experience. 2053 Pama Lane, DL


Best Bakery

Bouchon Bakery

Leave it to Thomas Keller to bring class to your to-go breakfast. From blueberry muffins to baguettes and foie gras, every item at this pint-sized pastry outpost is executed to perfection.
The Venetian, 702-414-6203 DL


Best buffet

Bacchanal Buffet

A dining experience once reserved for indiscriminate gluttons just got an upgrade. The picture-perfect portions of food at this buffet are approachable but aimed at more sophisticated palates: sliders are made with Wagyu beef, mac and cheese is studded with lobster, and potatoes are infused with truffles. A private dining option is also available. Caesars Palace, 702-731-7928 DL


SambalatteBest coffee


In just five years, Brazilian-born Luiz Oliveira has taken Sambalatte from a Boca Park sensation to three locations, including one on the Strip. You can chalk that up to the cosmopolitan aesthetic of Oliveira’s coffeehouses (multiple languages are heard every time we are there). Or, you can simply say that Sambalatte’s excellent espresso and coffee is hospitable to the palate of those raised on chain-caffeine, but seeking to explore something significantly more elevated. 750 S. Rampart Blvd. #9, 702-272-2333, JPR


Best cocktails

Herbs & Rye

Plenty of well-respected craft mixology bars have broadened Vegas’ cocktail palate in the six years since Nectaly Mendoza reignited the old Venetian Ristorante with this Prohibition-styled chophouse. While we might like them all, we live for Herbs & Rye. Why? A lengthy menu of classic cocktails precisely executed by a friendly team of talented yet humble bartenders. Add a swanky vibe that reminds us why we love Las Vegas, and Herbs becomes irresistible. 3713 W. Sahara Ave., 702-982-8036, JPR

Best brunch

Hearthstone Kitchen & Cellar

In 2015, the seasonal fare of Hearthstone shone on the Summerlin dining scene, including a Sunday brunch with decadent salted caramel French toast, their spin on chicken and waffles with duck confit as the fowl of choice and their pimento-cheese adorned namesake burger. But the best part of their brunch? It’s hard to decide between the expansive covered outdoor patio with mountain views or the Bloody Mary tableside cart.
(10:30a-2p Sundays) Red Rock Casino, JB


Best bar food


From 5p to close at Andre’s, you can belly up to either the downstairs or Cigar Lounge bars and sample from selections highlighting Chef de Cuisine Chris Bulen’s culinary prowess. Pick from the best boudin blanc sausage you’ll find west of the Gulf Coast with an unctuous apple and pork sauce, or fried frog legs rife in rosemary and parsley. Can’t decide? Then let him lead the way with the chef’s tasting plate, an innovative quintet of nightly selections of Bulen’s choosing. He won’t steer you wrong.
Monte Carlo, JB


Best 24-hour diner

Siegel’s 1941

The El Cortez, keeping abreast of the tastes of downtown’s late-night hipster cognoscenti, swapped their steakhouse for a diner, but didn’t rest on their laurels.  Built on the kind of menu Siegel had in the Flamingo many decades ago, it’s full of Italian- and Jewish-American classics — from seven-layer lasagna to corned beef — made without the kind of frozen heat ‘n’ eat stuff that defines most other 24-hour diners.  The El Cortez, MW


Best tasting menu

Le Cirque

Oft overlooked, Le Cirque should be considered near the top of Strip French fine dining hierarchy, capable of going toe-to-toe with heavyweights Savoy and Robuchon. Wunderkind executive chef Wilfried Bergerhausen oversees a menu consisting solely of ever-changing tasting menus, leaving it up to you to decide how far you want to go down the rabbit hole. But Le Cirque is best experienced full-on, so make the time for the Menu Prestige, a 10- course menu that treats diners to dishes like “La Caille,” a gold leaf-encrusted quail stuffed with foie gras and white truffle.

Bellagio, JB




Best hat shop

Goorin Bros.

Timeless fedoras. Hipster trucker hats. Flamboyant top hats. Whatever your taste, this popular hat shop is stocked with high-quality, affordable chapeaus to frame your face (or insulate your chrome dome).
The Linq, DL


Best new bookstore

The Writer’s Block

Anyone who has been to the Writer’s Block can tell you what a charming little spot it is. With an incredible selection of everything from political memoirs to the latest fiction and children’s books, the Block is also the best place to pick up a quick gift. It helps that co-owner Drew Cohen has seemingly read everything and can recommend three perfect books in 10 seconds. 1020 Fremont St. #100, 550-6399, MO


Best used bookstore

Amber Unicorn Books

Close your Amazon tab and make a day out of browsing an impressive selection of titles (150,000+) in real life. Food lovers will benefit from a special collection of rare cookbooks. Friendly mom-and-pop owners and the reminiscent scent of old books enhance the experience.
2101 S. Decatur Blvd. #14, DL


Best dry cleaners

Mint Locker

Dry cleaning is one of those necessary nuisances that few of us think about unless we have to. The hardest (?) part about Mint Locker is setting up an account online. Then, drop your dirties into one of dozens of locker locations around the valley (more to come), place your order online, and wait for a happy text telling you its ready. The best thing about this homegrown, Downtown Project-funded service? It’s so good, it disappears into the background and becomes part of your life. Citywide dropoff lockers, 702-800-5904, JPR

Moder home and giftBest Home goods

Hub: Modern Home + Gift

The word unique gets thrown around a lot, but we all know that most items you pick up, even at boutiques, are not unique. Hub changes that. This small home goods store focuses on modern design and the truly unique in everything from picture frames to fashionable jewelry. To demonstrate the power of their finds, just ask the owner to see his list of items on back order. Yeah, everyone wants a little more special in their life. Downtown Container Park, 707 Fremont St. #2080, 702-359-9982 MO


Best toy store

Kappa Toys

Kappa toys

Maybe your niece wants the latest Disney princess whatever. Kappa Toys probably has that. When you arrive, though, the store is filled with full-grown adults not just shopping, but playing. That’s because in addition to a lot of the stuff contemporary kids want, this spot has toys for big kids. The toys of your childhood — friendly little tin robots, thumb-sucking Monchichis, Clue, jacks, kazoos — line the walls, whispering, “Come out and play.” Downtown Container Park, 707 Fremont St. #1170, 702-359-9982, MO  


Best thrift store

Charleston Outlet

A trip to Charleston Outlet always yields treasure: dandy men’s shoes that look like they’ve never been worn, three-piece suits, fanciful ladies dresses and accessories galore. Then there’s the boutique section, where we’ve found specialty stuffed animals, dolls, unique glass pieces, high-end  purses and more. You know it’s a good sign when a thrift store needs overflow parking. 1548 Charleston Blvd., 702-388-1446 JP


Best vintage store


Part of Downtown’s Next Big Thing (the Arts District!), Exile shares Main Street with loads of cool vintage shops. If the juxtaposition of Exile — a small, locally-owned, upcycled fashion store — against the 800-lb. gorilla of used clothing, Buffalo Exchange, makes it interesting, it’s the curated selection that makes it awesome. From flared jeans to hippie blouses to leather jackets and moto boots sporting perfect patinas, scanning Exile’s Instagram is like taking a long, sexy trip back to the 1970s you always dreamed were real. 1235 S. Main St, 702-823-3957, JPR


Best mall

Galleria at Sunset

Always a bridesmaid but never a bride — until now. This family-friendly Henderson shopping center has finally become a destination mall, thanks to a surge of new stores and restaurants. Must-visit health & beauty stores Kiehl’s, MAC and Bobbi Brown are firsts for a suburban mall in the Vegas Valley; add H&M and Buckle to the list of youthful stores such as American Eagle and Aeropostale and you’re a hit with the Millennials. Add to that the easy-to-navigate layout, a food court with abundant seating and a great mix of price levels, and the revived Galleria is hard to beat. New restaurants added to the mix — steak & seafood sensation Larsen’s, the affordable upscale fare of Bravo Cucina Italiano and the French pastries of Le Macaron — round out the experience. 1300 W. Sunset Road in Henderson, JP


Best Flea Market

Broadacres Marketplace

Swig a michelada and bounce to lively mariachi music while you talk a hawker down on the price of a piñata (or refrigerator, overstock cosmetics, knick knacks, etc.) More than a thousand vendors take over this outdoor space on weekends to serve the city’s bargain hunters. 2930 Las Vegas Blvd. N., DL


Best men’s store

Paul & Shark at the Forum Shops in Caesars

Buttery leathers, super-soft cashmere and the iconic turtleneck make this our go-to shop for sophisticated men’s looks. And the sporty-chic look of its “Smart Casual” collection, which can at times look positively space-age, pairs pieces you wouldn’t normally put together for a modern aesthetic that makes any man stand out from the crowd. The Las Vegas store is one of only four in the United States. Forum Shops at Caesars, JP


Best women’s store

Charlotte Olympia

The whimsical nature of this high-end shoes and accessories designer brings out our sense of fun. The brand’s distinctive “kitty” flats come in styles such as “punk kitty” and “grunge kitty” and even “mid-century kitty” slingbacks. But fun doesn’t mean flimsy: owner Charlotte Olympia Della trained at Cordwainers, the renowned college for footwear and accessories in London. Forum Shops at Caesars, JP


Best spa

Gianna Christine Salon and Spa

It’s a stereotype that spa treatments are so relaxing that you fall asleep, but even after a grande cup of high-octane, it’s hard to keep your eyes open at Gianna Christine. Their amazing massage therapists and estheticians are so talented, and the environment so inviting, that you walk out of there in full Benjamin Button mode — getting glowingly younger by the minute. The District at Green Valley Ranch, 2265 Village Walk Drive, #105, Henderson, 702-407-0516 MO


Best accessory shop

Hiptazmic Studio

Sure, someone might compliment you on something you pick up at Charming Charlie, but has anyone ever asked you if your wristwatch is a time machine? They might if you shop at Hiptazmic, purveyor of steampunk goods that feature gears and whirligigs, and are inspired by anything that you might need a top hat and goggles to operate. The Arts Factory, 107 E. Charleston Blvd. #105C, 702-516-9563 MO


Best hair salon

Shag Me Salon

A good haircut is often priceless, but even priceless things are worth getting at a good price. For $25-$35 at Shag Me, you can get a stylish ’do in an environment where you’re likely to fall in love with a down-to-earth stylist in cat-eye glasses, or at least become her favorite new drinking buddy. 8889 S. Eastern Ave. #130-140, 702-823-5446, MO


Best mani/pedi

Original Diva at Miracle Mile Shops

Get on trend with the hottest nail colors and designs at this one-stop beauty needs shop. Gel polish? Check. Nail art? Check. A cocktail while you get ready to paint the town red (or gold or purple)? Check — yes, Original Diva’s newest package includes a manicure, a pedicure and a cocktail, making for a perfect hour or two of pampering. Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood, JP


Best outlet store

Banana Republic factory store

You know when you pick something up at a store and think, “I could be the me I see in my imaginary movie montages if I had this,” then you see the price tag and walk away dejected? This Banana Republic outlet has solved that problem by offering up the same adorable jackets, chic dresses, sporty blazers and slim slacks at reduced rates. Las Vegas North Premium Outlets, 875 S. Grand Central Pkwy. #1280, MO


Best beauty products

Cala: Bath, Body, Home

The tang of fresh sliced ginger and the enlivening scent of lime … this is the smell of the cutest little beauty supply shop you’ll ever visit. Cala is a relative newcomer to the Container Park, but judging by their exquisite products, like rich lotions and scrubs, imported natural candles, and soap so fragrant you’ll wish you were dirtier, they’re here to stay.
Downtown Container Park, 707 Fremont St., 702-359-9982 MO


Best mechanic shop

Gil’s Auto Repair

A good mechanic is hard to find, that’s why I cherish the recommendation that led me to Gil Hernandez and his dedicated and friendly team at Gil’s Auto Repair. No-fuss, just-honest repairs at reasonable prices. I started going to Gil’s shop two cars ago and couldn’t imagine going anywhere else. 549 W. Sunset Road, 702-567-2598 JP




Best Live Music Venue

Brooklyn Bowl

Brooklyn Bowl

Bowling, live music and fried chicken … who could ask for anything else? The real reason to see a show at Brooklyn Bowl, though, is the sound and the space. Whether you like to be right up front or hang back, your favorite band never sounded so good. 3545 Las Vegas Blvd. S., MO


Best new again live music venue

The Bunkhouse

From a smoky den with a subpar sound system to a swank spot with top-shelf offerings to a more realistic locale with decent sound, great bands and a new menu: The Bunkhouse has had more makeovers than Madonna. With luck, the latest iteration — with its focus on the big picture of lunch-goers and live music — is here to stay, since it seems better suited to Downtown’s market. 124 S. 11th St., MO


Best Local Jazz Artist

Mike Gonzales 

Few artists display the range (and willingness) to rock Cabaret Jazz and the Double Down in the same week, but local trumpeter Mike Gonzalez does this with frequency and poise. A graduate of UNLV’s jazz program, Gonzalez has rescued jazz-fusion from four-letter-word status and breathed life into the Strip-performers after-hours scene. Catch his genre-bending spectacle, Unique Massive, Tuesdays late-night at The Double Down — then try not to be surprised when you see him guesting in more refined places throughout the valley. CB


Best Local Rock Band

Mercy Music

Lead by lead guitar shreduoso Brendan Scholz, this trio has sharpened its live set through relentless road grinds and high-profile local appearances, including Life is Beautiful and with Bob Mould. Expect new music and a bevy of cross-country dates out of these guys in 2016. CB


Best Singer-Songwriter

Jesse Pino

Able to blur the once-pronounced line separating folk and punk, Jesse Pino first caught the scene’s ear as a member of Left Standing. Now backed by the Clever Clouds, Pino is poised to release an anticipated follow-up to his EP The Burn. CB


Best category-busting musical act

Same Sex Mary 

Same Sex Mary

It is a rare and meaningful occurrence when the show of the year comes from a local act, but Boulder City psyche-rockers Same Sex Mary achieved just that with an ambitious spectacle celebrating the release of their album The Second Coming in 2015. Here’s hoping the weird and wonderful scene mainstays continue to raise the local stakes and challenge expectations this year. CB


Best Street Art

Omayra Amador

Omayra Amador was trained at Parsons in New York. She also studied in Paris for six months, where she saw wheat-paste installations by the elusive Banksy. When Amador arrived in Las Vegas she began her Milk the Bunny series, colorful portraits of fuzzy rabbits with a unicorn horn, and helped Las Vegas street art stand up to old-school graffiti and Life is Beautiful leave-behinds. Mindful of the political tradition of street art, her quick installation in January 2015 connected Las Vegas to the global call of Je suis Charlie. EF


Best Local Sculptor

Pasha Rafat

Pasha Rafat’s Las Vegas work is an adjacent voice to the California Light and Space movement, as seen at his stellar solo show at Brett Wesley Gallery last year. Also in 2015, his “Untitled” (2003), light art made of argon/mercury gas tubing with steel framing, was purchased by the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego. The longtime UNLV professor also approaches walls and environment as sculpture, as demonstrated by new works recently hung at the Nevada Arts Council’s OXS Gallery in Carson City. EF


Best Local Artists

Justin Favela,

JK Russ

With so much talent in town, how can we pick one? Justin Favela’s piñatas advance post-Chicano/Latino art dialogue at the national level. Also, by stringing party décor and piñatas across Michael Heizer’s “Double Negative” for his piece “Family Fiesta,” Favela turned the basin and range into Nevada’s backyard. With “Chop Shop,” even the chore of taking apart his work became a pop-up gallery.

JK Russ’s collages are visual seductions in paper, crafted from fragmented patterns, often using themes of environment and fashion, as seen recently at P3 Studios, and until recently in UNLV’s Barrick Museum. They are empowered movement that walk, stroll, dance and assemble on gallery walls with a subversive grace. EF


Best Local Photographer

Julian Kilker

This could easily go to a photographer with a masterly shot in Desert Companion’s Focus on Nevada contest, or to someone who sends a frenzy of stunning images through Instagram. But what catches my eye is the growing body of exhibition work by Julian Kilker, beginning with “Annie and the Shaman” in last year’s Basin & Range exhibition at UNLV’s Donna Beam gallery. Kilker’s subsequent show at Nevada Humanities Gallery was billed as photojournalism and data analysis explored together. What distinguishes Kilker is how he uses two common references to Las Vegas — brooding desert noir composition with abandoned objects dabbed with artificial light. EF


Best Movie theater

Galaxy Luxury, Green Valley

“Ah” is the only sound you hear from moviegoers at Galaxy. Luxury theaters, with their large reclining seats and moveable dining trays, are trendy for a reason. But the real appeal is that Galaxy isn’t much costlier than the old sticky-floor experience. At $9 for a matinee and with discounts for kids, seniors, and students, you can afford to add a glass of wine (served in an actual glass!). 4500 E. Sunset Road #10, 702-675-7424, MO


Best Local gallery

Brett Wesley Gallery

Brett Wesley GalleryConsistency is a beautiful thing. Add in attention to detail and gorgeous aesthetics, and you have something we can all be proud of. Bringing the valley art from new and established artists in a smart atmosphere (with hours you can actually count on), Brett Wesley remains a cultural staple. Art Square, 1025 S. First St. #150, MO


Best Theater company

Cockroach Theatre Company

Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play is only one of the many amazing, edgy and so necessary productions that Cockroach has put on. Theater is a risky business, and it only gets riskier when a company chooses to produce work by young playwrights from distant cities, work that can be construed as “highbrow.” But Cockroach didn’t climb to the top of the heap by playing it safe, and we’re so very glad. Art Square, 1025 S. First St. #110, MO


Best Theater director

Walter Niejadlik

There are a few great unsung heroes of the local theater scene. Walter Niejadlik is definitely at the top of this list. His years of seemingly tireless direction of subjects as diverse as Mozart and the transgendered are what make the Las Vegas Little Theatre still worth a visit. MO


Best Local Playwright

Erica Griffin

Erica Griffin

Combine a wildly imaginative sensibility with the talent to put a black-comedic skew on thought-provoking material, usually set in Las Vegas, and you have Erica Griffin. She’s not only penned a raft of one-act gems like Waxing On (Lizzie Borden and Jack the Ripper offer couples therapy) but dark, full-length fare like the prize-winning, spirited Spearminted. We await her next opus with impatience. DM


Best local dance company

Nevada Ballet Theatre

Nevada Ballet Theater has it all — dancers with skill and personal appeal; a repertoire ranging from such classics as Swan Lake and Giselle to more recent works by Balanchine and Alvin Ailey; an academy from which to draw new talent; dedicated administrative support from founder Nancy Houssels and Executive Director Beth Barbre; a luxurious venue, The Smith Center, in which to perform; and a 43-year history of artistic excellence. HD


Best local choreographer

Bernard Gaddis

Bernard Gaddis may be best know as a superb dancer and founder/director of Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theatre, but he is also a highly gifted choreographer. He was trained in classical and contemporary modes, and his choreographies often combine both. Many of the dances he’s crated for LVCDT have been performed to critical acclaim alongside legendary works by Alvin Ailey and Ulysses Dove. A choreographer’s works have to be of the highest quality to keep that kind of company. Mr. Gaddis’ definitely are. HD


Best local writer

Olivia Clare

Let’s celebrate her while she’s ours, Vegas. Because Olivia Clare is on an upward trajectory, one that surely promises opportunities beyond this valley. Recently out with a well-regarded poetry collection, The 26-Hour Day, she can look ahead to her major-label debut, Disasters in the First World, a story collection to be published by Grove, which will also release her first novel. That’s the big time, folks. SD


Best Museum

Mob Museum

Mob MuseumYes, they have the wall from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and the barber chair in which Albert Anastasia met his maker. But don’t let those high-profile exhibits blind you to the serious scholarship that pervades this former post office and courthouse. Mob Museum curators have done their work so thoroughly that you can spend three hours there and still be only halfway through the many exhibits. It’s a mob hit of a different sort. 300 Stewart Ave., DM


Best Strip Headliner

Human Nature

What’s better than Motown classics? It’s those same hits performed by this boyish quartet. Somehow, seeing faultless Motown moves and hearing dead-on R&B vocal stylings coming from a quartet of very white, very Australian lads only adds to the charm. Smokey Robinson’s ear for soulful talent is still not to be second-guessed. At the Venetian DM


Best strip show

A sizzle reel of Cirque du Soleil’s virtues: the astonishing acrobatics, the kinetic beauty, the sweeping narrative, the dreamy spectacle — and that technological marvel of a stage! If you don’t feel a bit of euphoric fizz as you leave, check your pulse. At the MGM Grand, SD


Best Old-School Strip Show

Donny & Marie

If you want to see true pros in action, check out this variety show at the Flamingo, which demonstrates what a Vegas headliner is at his or her best. The Osmonds sing, dance and generally carry on the longest, most-endearing sibling rivalry in contemporary showbiz. Even when you know the gags are coming, it never, ever gets old. DM


Leisure, family & fun


Best Poker Room

The Venetian

The Bellagio may have the high-roller action on lockdown, and Aria may have the imprimatur of Phil Ivey, but for the rest of us, the poker room at The Venetian is where you can get a taste of the whale experience on a working-stiff bankroll. Far more spacious than the cramped Bellagio room, The Venetian is plenty comfortable for those marathon sessions, and its amenities are on-point. More important, there’s plenty of tourist action to be had at the more democratic limits, without turning into a war of attrition between savvy locals like at even the better off-Strip rooms., 702-414-7657 JS


Best Sports Book

Red Rock Resort

A summer renovation stepped up the technology game in what was already a quality book for fans on both sides of the race and sports divide — which is nice, as far too many books give the ponies short shrift. All-new screens and an improved ticker now make it possible to see the exact moments where all your money goes down the drain. (You didn’t really think the Browns were going to cover, did you?), 702-797-7777 JS


Best Casino Public Areas


In the midst of all the go-go-go of Las Vegas, it’s nice to find a place where you can actually sit and enjoy your surroundings — and are actually encouraged to do so. The public spaces at The Cosmopolitan employ oddities, art and modern social conveniences (such as pool tables) to attract everyone and anyone: There’s a larger-than-life, hot-pink, lace-up pump courtesy of artist Roark Gourley, a coffee table filled with Scrabble tiles, stacks of vintage books and vintage telephones, wooden sculptures from Africa and five Art-O-Matic vending machines — and these are just a few of the goodies you’ll find. Now’s the time for a treasure hunt to track them down. JP


Best casino game for nongamblers

Sigma Derby

Sigma Derby only costs a quarter to play, and the action moves slowly, meaning one roll of quarters can be good for a half-dozen free drinks, even if your horses don’t come in. Betting is super easy, all the odds are laid out before each race, and bettors simply try to predict the fastest two horses. On top of that, it’s a social game, where all the bettors face each other and cheer on the horses galloping around the center of the table. The derby can get pretty raucous. If you know of a better time in a Las Vegas casino, I want to read about it. MGM Grand and The D Las Vegas AG


Best Strip Attraction

The LINQ Promenade

Linq promenadeThis fun outdoor promenade offers a bit of everything: eclectic stores such as Kitson, bowling, dining and drinking at Brooklyn Bowl, a cupcake ATM at Sprinkles and dressed-up dogs at Haute Doggery. It culminates in the best way to see the Strip: the High Roller. Afternoons really are a delight when you spend happy hour with a drink cart in your gondola. Restaurants such as Margaritaville, Chayo and Yard House all have balconies that overlook the promenade, so whether you’re in the middle of it or looking out over it, you’ll be in the thick of it. JP


Best Nerdatorium

Maximum Comics

Maximum ComicsNow sprawling over three locations, Maximum has the comics-shop nerd fare you’ve come to expect — toys, games, statues, actual honest-to-God comics — but what’s been fascinating this year is the franchise’s ambition. Whether advertising in Marvel issues or participating in store-branded variant cover incentives, or holding monthly events, like its Comics & Karaoke series at Flex Cocktail Lounge, Maximum could be poised for good ol’ fashioned Lex Luthor-style takeover.
Multiple locations, JS


Best thrill ride

Desperado Roller Coaster

Are there quality thrill rides closer to home? Sure. Are there quality thrill rides closer to home that start with a long, slow climb, followed immediately by a 60-degree, 225-foot, pants-wetting drop … that race through a tunnel at a top speed of around 80 mph … that allow patrons to experience about 4Gs of force? Uh, no. Now of legal drinking age — it opened in August 1994 — the Desperado Roller Coaster at Buffalo Bill’s in Primm still can lay claim to being one of the tallest, fastest coasters in the world, and the only “hypercoaster” in Nevada. A word of caution to the squeamish and easily bruised: This has never has been the smoothest of rides, and the in-car jostling has gotten worse as the coaster has aged. But for those with sturdy backs and steel stomachs seeking a Six Flags-like thrill minus the four-hour drive, Desperado delivers — especially from the front row! At Buffalo Bill’s in Primm, MJ


Best venue we can't wait to finally open


Gotta hand it to the folks at MGM Resorts International and AEG: They promised a state-of-the-art arena that would attract world-class sports and entertainment events. They promised that the $375 million project would require nary a nickel of public funding. And they promised it would be finished by spring 2016. Not only are they on track to go three-for-three, but they hit it out of the park with a bizarre-but-oh-so-very-Vegas grand-opening lineup that pays homage to the Entertainment Capital of the World’s past (Wayne Newton), present (The Killers) and future (Shamir). Sure, we’re curious as to how the whole ingress-egress thing is going to shake out. And we want official confirmation on that damn NHL team. That aside, we’re very much looking forward to April 6, when the city’s new jewel finally swings open its doors. MJ


Best way to root, root, root for the home team (with the kids)

Las Vegas 51s’ Value Menu Mondays

Anyone who has attended a professional baseball game in the 21st century can attest to the fact that buying the family some peanuts and Cracker Jack — let alone a hot dog — has required dipping into the kids’ college fund. So hats off to the Las Vegas 51s for rolling back concession prices to 1981 during Monday home games at Cashman Field, where various menu items — including hot dogs, popcorn and Cracker Jack — will set you back a single buck. MJ


Best way to root, root, root for the home team (sans kids)

Las Vegas 51s’ $1 Beer Thursdays

Step 1: Lock in the sitter for Thursday night. Step 2: Load the wallet with a handful of George Washingtons. Step 3: Dial up Uber. Step 4: Enjoy nine innings of quality Triple-A baseball and a bevy of $1 cold ones with your BFFs. Step 5: Call in sick Friday morning. Wait, beers are only $1 during Thursday 51s home games? For the entire season? Seriously? Hey, we wouldn’t joke about something like this. MJ


Best Place for Family Fun

Town Square

This mall has it all. In addition to plenty of opportunities for shopping, Town Square also features a playground and splash pad, a movie theater, the Cactus Coaster kiddie train and several family-friendly dining options. Another highlight? Town Square is home to GameWorks, one of the most elaborate arcades in the city.

6605 Las Vegas Blvd. S., SV


Best Place to Get Kids Away from Screens

Exploration Peak Park

Kids will love the park’s unique playground, which features seesaws and a climbable Old West town filled with slides, tunnels, and stairs. After playtime, families can hike to the top of Exploration Peak for impressive views of the valley below.
9700 S. Buffalo Drive, SV


Best view worth hiking to

Mountain Springs Summit

It’s a bit off the beaten path, hiding in the mountains between Las Vegas and Pahrump. Mountain Springs Summit offers views of Red Rock and Las Vegas that almost nobody gets to see. On this limestone peak in the Spring Mountains, you stand above the tops of notable summits in Red Rock. It’s amazing to look down and see the gray limestone melt away as vibrant red and yellow sandstone emerges in enormous monoliths, towering over the valley far below. AG


Best Family Hike

Lost Creek Trail

Clocking in at just under one mile, Lost Creek Trail is easy enough for young kids to conquer, but long enough to provide families with plenty of interesting sights along the way. After hiking through a wash, visitors will find a boardwalk that has been built over a small creek. In spring, the area is sprinkled with colorful wildflowers. Hikers who continue to the end of the trail might even be lucky enough to find a waterfall. Red Rock Canyon, SV


Best intermediate hike

White Rock Loop

This trail at Red Rock travels through two very different habitats, giving hikers the colorful, open desert experience for which Nevada is known, and a verdant, tree-lined path more familiar to folks back east. At six miles, it’s challenging enough to make you feel like you’ve earned that post-hike beer, but easy enough that it stays fun. And because it’s a loop, you won’t see the same sights twice. AG


Best advanced hike

Fire Canyon

My single favorite place to hike in all of Southern Nevada has the best of what Valley of Fire has to offer. From its relaxing start through Petroglyph Canyon, hikers journey to Mouse’s Tank, and then beyond into a maze of slot canyons that always have me wanting to know what’s around that next bend. Fire Canyon is advanced not because it’s a lung-buster, but because it puts your navigation skills to the test. From the bottom of a winding labyrinth of slot canyons, it can feel nearly impossible to stay oriented. But for an advanced hiker, that’s part of the fun. AG


Best place to get away from it all

Beaver Dam State Park

Truly a best-kept secret, less than three hours from Vegas. I was there last summer on a prime travel weekend, and aside from my group, the park had exactly four other visitors. Beaver Dam has flowing water, numerous hiking trails, even a hot spring. And it’s so well kept, the vault toilets actually smelled ... good! 3.5 hours north, near Caliente, AG


Best Outdoors Social Media Channel

Spring Mountain Ranch State Park

On their social media channels, Spring Mountain Ranch provides a nice mix of park information, upcoming-event details and nature photos, punctuated with just the right amount of humor and enthusiasm. Find this park-with-personality on Twitter @SpringMntRanch and on Facebook. 800 Blue Diamond Road, SV


Best way to meet “real” people in Vegas

It’s not a dating site. It’s a place where people of common interest get together in real life. Whether it’s hiking, writing, dining, knitting, you name it, there is a Meetup in Vegas that caters to it, making it easy to bond with people who share your passion. The relationships forged through Meetup can be deep and lasting — it’s how I met most of my close friends here. AG


Best Downtown Attraction

Container Park

container parkWhile it’s hard to top the flame-shooting mantis, the local owners and artisans who’ve set up shop here are true attractions themselves — don’t miss the glorious meat found at Ern’s BBQ; Blumarble, where more than 15,000 beer, wine and liquor bottles are repurposed as shot glasses, cheese trays and jewelry each month; Vegas Flip Flops, which has the best selection we’ve seen anywhere; and Kappa Toys, where we can get our anime and classic-toy fix. The centerpiece of the park is The Treehouse, with a 33-foot slide and oversized foam building blocks for kids of all ages. And you can get cozy with your sweetheart on a wooden swing. 707 Fremont St. free admission, JP


Best Animal Attraction

Lion Habitat Ranch

Fill your cuteness quotient at this outdoor facility, at which you can watch descendants of the famous MGM lions (formerly housed at the MGM Grand), play, sleep and eat — you can even feed them yourself. See everything from mature lions to cubs, as well as the newest resident, a giraffe. Behind-the-scenes tours are available. 382 Bruner Ave. in Henderson, $25, JP


More Best of the City: Personal bests | Readers' poll | Bested & tested

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