Our Restaurant Awards issue is an annual celebration of culinary excellence in Las Vegas, but this year, all the glammy awards-show feels are a bit more complicated. Sure, there’s surprise and excitement, there’s pride and triumph, there’s the thrill of victory and the agony of et cetera. However, I’d be remiss if we didn’t take something like a metaphorical moment of silence as we continue to step cautiously into the New Whatever: A solemn acknowledgment of the widespread restaurant closures, the loss of livelihoods, and the upsetting disruption to Vegas’ protean culinary brilliance. I feel like every restaurant currently existing in Las Vegas all deserve an extra sweepstakes hug for managing to, well, exist — never mind excel — through one of Las Vegas’ most brutally challenging episodes.

Restaurants are vital to Las Vegas, and not just economically. Sharing food is at the center of our city’s spirit and practice of hospitality. But, as we’ve all learned from the pandemic, restaurants also compose a fragile network held together by tenuous financial realities — slim margins, volatile supply prices, high turnover, and outmoded wage systems. Over the pandemic year, I learned a lot about the often improvised high-wire hustle that restaurants perform every day just to get by. My admiration for the magic they daily perform for locals and tourists alike has only increased. So, on the surface, this year’s awards may represent a happy return to normal (whatever that means anymore), but our esteem for this year’s honorees is anything but routine.

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Brittany Howard made NPR Music's No.1 album of 2019 with <em>Jaime</em>. She's on our playlist of best songs of the year, too.
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