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Desert Companion

Best of the City

Welcome to Desert Companion’s second annual Best of the City. We daresay it’s even better than last year’s. Why? Fun and fresh new categories. Expert picks from movers and shakers in arts, culture and media. And shout-outs from readers just like you — engaged, enthusiastic and discriminating.

Read on. Trust us. We know what’s best. And now you will too.

 

Best hot dogs

Gourmet burger joints are a dime a dozen. Yet hot dogs haven’t really received the same kind of attention, until now. Buldogis’ name is a play on words that combines the Korean term bulgogi (grilled meat) and the good old American “doggie,” or hot dog. But beef bulgogi is just one of the items you can pile on top of a beef, turkey or vegetarian wiener. The more than 30 toppings also include pork belly bacon, chili, fried eggs, pastrami, cheese, house-made kimchi, onions, jalapeño, sauerkraut and 15 types of ketchup, mustard and mayo. These dogs are massive and fattening — but oh so good! — Al Mancini

2291 S. Fort Apache Road #102, 570-7560,
buldogis.com

 

Best Alcohol/Food Pairing Event

Best Bar and Bistro

Support comes from

Bar + Bistro 

While wine is the traditional beverage of choice for pairing dinners, many modern chefs love to build multi-course meals around all sorts of alcoholic beverages — often at special dinners for guests in the know. The best are the events at Bar + Bistro in The Arts Factory. About once a month, Chef Beni Velàzquez joins forces with one of his beverage suppliers and designs a special menu to match their products. Guests gather around large communal tables where the booze flows freely. A four-course meal generally costs less than $50 a person, with larger feasts running a bit more. — Al Mancini

107 E. Charleston Blvd. #155, 202-6060, barbistroaf.com

 

Best condiment

Located just east of Spanish Trail, Elements has developed a loyal following thanks to the global cuisine of Chef Jose Luis Pawelek and their selection of nearly 400 martinis. But the chef’s wife, Catherine, is also in the kitchen. She’s the pastry chef and the person who creates Elements’ mouth-watering house-made chutney. Mango is always the main ingredient, but she accents it with rotating seasonal berries and fruits. It’s free with the house bread if you’re dining or drinking in. Or take some to go for just $4 for a four-ounce serving. — A.M.

4950 S. Rainbow Blvd. #100, 750-2991, elementskitchenandmartinibar.com

 

Best gourmet junk food

Best Gourmet Junk FoodBest Food and Bar 

When Chef Sam DeMarco first began offering his gourmet junk food in New York’s East Village during the early ’90s, the place became the go-to after-work spot for The Big Apple’s top chefs. Today, he’s serving up many of those same dishes, and plenty of new ones at First Food and Bar inside The Palazzo. Barbecue pulled pork eggrolls, pastrami hot pockets and his monkey bread dessert (preferably drenched in some Maker’s Mark) will all make your mouth water. But don’t dare leave without trying the Philly cheesesteak dumplings: luscious little potstickers stuffed with a rich mix of steak and cheese, accompanied by spicy sriracha ketchup. Even South Philly purists will find them impossible to pass up. — A.M.

Inside the Shoppes At The Palazzo, 607-3478, firstfoodandbar.com

 

Best restaurant in Al Mancini’s neighborhood

Dalton Wilson was born in Jamaica and raised in New Mexico. Both influences share the spotlight at the restaurant that bears his initials, DW Bistro. The menu runs the gamut from New Mexican slow-cooked pork topped with fried eggs to an amazing Jamaican chicken curry soup. And don’t miss the Jamaican spiced flautas. But the unique fare is only part of the reason this place is so popular with locals that it recently had to expand. The other is the friendly, inviting nature of Wilson and his partner Bryce Kaufman (who are almost always on site) as well as their tight-knit staff. After one visit, you’ll feel like family, too. — A.M.

6115 S. Fort Apache Rd. #112, 527-5200, dwbistro.com

 

Best restaurant splurge

Nothing can compare to the fine and fantastic French restaurants on the Strip, the houses of Robuchon, Savoy and Gagnaire. But when I’m ready to blow a paycheck on a single meal, I want freshness, comfort and serious edge with my high-concept cuisine. The food at Shawn McClain’s Sage is peerless, precise and imaginative, all served in a sexy space where you can customize your own experience. The intimidation factor is nil. Hopefully your special occasion is soon, so you can get down here while wintery dishes like 48-hour braised beef belly in fig glaze are still on the ever-changing, season-driven menu. — Brock Radke

Inside Aria at CityCenter, 877-230-2742, arialasvegas.com

 

Best New Bakery

Bread and ButterBread & Butter 

Eastern Avenue has become Henderson’s ever-changing restaurant strip. Things are always opening, closing or shuffling around out here, but nothing is generating more buzz than Bread & Butter. Baker Chris Herrin’s goal was to become a neighborhood favorite from day one, and he quickly did just that by supplying his smiling customers with artisan breads and creative pastries (red velvet bagels, anyone?) and fresh, healthy sandwiches and salads. There’s a certain amount of affection that goes into building a great bakery, and Bread & Butter’s got a whole lotta love. — Brock Radke

10940 S. Eastern Ave. #107, 675-3300, www.breadandbutterlv.com

 

Best food cart with wheels

The second wave of Vegas food trucks has been decidedly non-burgerish, and one of the most active and tasty trucks making the rounds is Ben’s BBQ. There are slow-smoked standards, pulled pork and chicken, beef brisket and St. Louis-style ribs, but also bolts of creativity, like the smoked salmon BLT, well-spiced pastrami, beef barley soup laced with smoked turkey, and sausage-stuffed, bacon-wrapped jalapeños. Ben’s also has been making regular appearances at neighborhood hangouts for pop-up dinners, a delicious demonstration of the collaborative spirit that keeps food trucks rolling. — B.R.

Various locations, (775) 450-4847, bensbbqandsmokehouse.com

 

Best food cart without wheels

Don’t be afraid of that little box of a kitchen planted in front of legendary dive bar Dino’s on Las Vegas Boulevard. Even though it changed its name from the original “I Love Arepas,” trust me, you’ll love Viva Las Arepas: lovely little corn masa cakes stuffed with your choice of fillings, from shredded chicken to beef tongue to roasted pork. Squeeze on tangy avocado sauce to enhance these hearty flavors, or opt for empanadas. This is real Venezuelan street food, served in our most real part of town. — B.R.

1516 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 366-9696, vivalasarepas.com

 

Best Bar on the Strip

Rí Rá

Come St. Patrick’s Day, this beautifully appointed (if cookie cutter) Irish pub will celebrate its first anniversary in Vegas, chilling in between Mandalay Bay and Luxor. You can question its authenticity and the bartenders’ accents all you want, but you can’t dispute that Rí Rá is a damn fine place to have a whiskey and a Guinness, or several of both. Live music, multiple bars and dining areas, hearty food and a cozy yet rollicking atmosphere add up to the kind of casual fun everybody is looking for these days. — B.R.

Inside Mandalay Place, 632-7771, www.rira.com

 

Best fried rice

It may seem simple, but fried rice is one of my favorite foods. I’m not talking about that flavorless side dish you ignore from Panda Chang’s or wherever you get your bad Chinese takeout. I’m talking perfectly tender grains, each lightly coated in oil, inextricably linked to the universe of flavors mixed in. Blue Ribbon has the winner right now, oxtail fried rice with rich beefiness, crisp daikon, shiitake mushrooms and a little bone marrow just for fun. The Cosmopolitan’s steady restaurant stable does it again with this one, a must-eat at a cool joint with much more than sushi. — B.R.

Inside the Cosmopolitan, 736-0808, www.blueribbonrestaurants.com

 

Best Chinatown food crawl

Rumor has it there’s a name change in store for this unassuming Chinatown strip mall. It might be re-dubbed “Tokyo Plaza,” just in case you didn’t know some of the best Japanese food anywhere is available in this tiny space. The world remains infatuated with Raku, the artful Izakaya and Monta, ramen house supreme. Now just steps away there’s the intriguing Japanese-Italian restaurant Trattoria Nakamura-Ya, and the soulful and cheap pan-Asian cafe Big Wong. Locals and visitors continue to discover the multicultural treasures of Chinatown Vegas, an adventure made even easier when great stuff is packed into one stop. — B.R.

Chinatown, Spring Mountain Road at Hauck Street

 

Best non-Chinatown food crawl

Even if the Trail of Tacos along East Lake Mead Boulevard is less a “crawl” and more of a “drive,” it’s worth it. The thoroughfare carves a swath through neighborhoods where some of the valley’s most authentic Mexican food is being served. Options are numerous; however, I suggest beginning with an order of tripa tacos “crunchy” with tortillas heche a mano at Taqueria El Palenque (2722 E. Lake Mead Blvd., 504-3216). Next up: Rubalcaba’s Taco Shop (5185 E. Lake Mead Blvd., 452-5832), where they’re serving California tacos — a mixture of beef and potatoes — from a very Roberto’s-esque locale. If you can, end at La Hacienda after 4 p.m. (5482 E. Lake Mead Blvd.), where on weekends you can order al pastor in the parking lot. There’s hardly a more authentic dining experience in town. — Jim Begley

 

Best Italian when you’re tired of Italian

It doesn’t seem right to describe an Italian restaurant from the Maccioni family dynasty on the Las Vegas Strip as “overlooked,” but somehow, some of these CityCenter eateries haven’t received the love they deserve. Sirio, in particular, is an invigorating experience. You could make a meal out of the incredible cured meats, Italian cheeses and vegetarian antipasti alone. We all love Italian food, but it doesn’t need to be heavy. Lighten up, come to Aria, and eat prosciutto-wrapped roasted rabbit, lobster ravioli and yellowtail tartare with avocado and asparagus. — B.R.

Inside Aria, 877-230-2742, arialasvegas.com

 

Best steakhouse when you’re tired of steak

Everybody’s got amazing aged beef these days, so how to choose between steakhouses? Go for the one with the wildest non-beef dishes. CUT is a beautiful, sleek room and Wolfgang Puck’s name is on the door, but check this stuff out: Bone marrow flan with mushroom marmalade. Maple-glazed pork belly with sesame orange dressing and plum compote. Veal tongue with artichokes and salsa verde. The challenge is to eat all this stuff and save room for some of the best beef on the Strip. You can do it. Don’t forget the parmesan polenta. — B.R.

inside the Palazzo, 607-6300, wolfgangpuck.com

 

Best bar off the Strip

The Freakin’ Frog has transcended its identity. You can’t limit the place by calling it our best college hangout bar, though it’s true. The intimate and accessible Whisky Attic, 600 bottles strong, is a rarity for any Vegas venue, especially off the Strip. But it all boils down to this: the Frog is the best place to drink beer, ever. Whatever’s on tap is infinitely more interesting compared to your neighborhood pub, and there are hundreds of different, exotic suds hiding in the cooler. Stuff you’ve never heard of. Stuff that’ll change your religion. Whatever you like, the Frog has it, and three other beers you’ll like more. — B.R.

4700 S. Maryland Parkway, 597-9702, www.freakinfrog.com

 

Best downtown food development

Downtown resurgence shifts into hyperdrive this year, but the original Vegas neighborhood is still lacking in diverse, high-quality eats. Bar + Bistro at the Arts Factory is downtown’s most complete restaurant, having morphed into an innovative Latin-fusion tapas joint with a killer weekend brunch and plenty of Arts District attitude. With lively  food and drink like bite-sized “Cubanitos” sandwiches, pomegranate sangria, chimichurri steak Cobb salad, seafood paella crepes and a full vegan menu, Bar + Bistro and executive chef Beni Velàzquez are setting a new standard; it’ll be tough for new downtown venues to keep up this pace. — B.R.

107 E. Charleston Blvd. #155, 202-6060, barbistroaf.com

 

Best old-school Vegas spot that’s still old-school

Park at the Peppermill and you can’t help but look north and wonder what might have been, as the aging Riviera sits quietly in the shadow of Fontainebleau’s shiny blue corpse. New school meets old school on the North Strip? Not for now, but we’ll always have the Peppermill, with its big booths, cherry blossom trees and pink and blue neon. The food is straight-up coffee shop fare, as much a three-decade flashback as the classic surroundings. And ’70s swank-cheese lives on in the Fireside Lounge, where cocktail waitresses in long black gowns are slinging mudslides, mai tais and multicolored martinis 24-7. — B.R.

2985 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 735-4177, peppermilllasvegas.com

 

Best hole-in-the-wall

Spartan. Utilitarian. Nondescript. All these words can describe KoMex Fusion Express’ decor. Decorations are sparse, save for the ever-growing collection of framed print accolades on the eatery’s walls, and while clean, the renovated space resides in a strip mall that’s seen better days.

Outstanding. That’s the only word needed to describe KoMex’s food, an unreal amalgamation of Korean, Mexican and Chinese cuisine available nowhere else in the valley. Chef Sonny Yi’s bulgogi fried rice was my favorite new dish of 2011 and the weekly specials never cease to impress, although there are no wrong turns when navigating this menu. Like any good hole-in-the-wall, it’s food first at KoMex, where revolutionary dining is the only decor necessary. — J.B.

633 N. Decatur Road, 646-1612 komexexpress.com

 

Best-kept dining secret (that shouldn’t be a secret)

No secrets are better kept than those hidden in plain sight, although you have to look in the right places. Exhibit A: the daily soup selection on the Carlos’ Kitchen specials board. Good soups are hard to come by in the desert, but Chef Carlos Fernandez showcases a rotation of outstanding house-made varieties while tucked away in Charlie’s Saloon on Durango. His hearty renditions exhibit the textbook precision you’d expect from a former Le Cordon Bleu instructor. Creamy corn and cheesy potato are outstanding, but hope you stumble upon the beef barley. It’s one secret worth letting people in on. — J.B.

4420 S. Durango Drive, 579-0245, carloskitchenlv.com

 

Best restaurant closest to Jim Begley’s house

Everyone says their neighborhood sushi joint is the best, but mine actually is. Granted, mine happens to be Sen of Japan, but it’s true nonetheless. Headed by Strip-pedigreed alumni, Sen is widely considered the best off-Strip sushi in the Valley — I’d argue it bests even some of its Strip brethren at half the price. Spanish mackerel “two ways” is a revelation, while their house-smoked salmon — available only on the omakase menu at this time — is destined to achieve legendary status. I’m within walking distance to Sen. Don’t you wish you lived by me? — J.B.

8480 W. Desert Inn #F1, 871-7781, senofjapan.com

 

Best vegan dish even carnivores will love

Since I’m a hardcore carnivore, you generally won’t find me searching out vegan dishes — except for the trek I’ll make to the valley’s eastside for ful. The Egyptian staple, consisting of fava beans, tahini, lime and olive oil, is served solely at Filfila. The dish is awash with garlic and is served alongside tomatoes and raw onion, so it’s guaranteed to wreak havoc on your breath. Just man up with some Orbit and enjoy an exciting exotic entrée worth eschewing animal products for — if only for a single meal. — J.B.

Filfila Mediterranean Cafe, 4130 S. Sandhill Road, 434-3043

 

Arts + Leisure

 

Best emerging artist

Best Emerging ArtistAndreana Donohue gives good art. Since closing Main Gallery in 2009, Donohue has quietly and diligently established herself as one of Las Vegas’ best and hardest-working artists. Donohue’s rigorous craftsmanship re-imagines the humblest of materials into humor-tinged snapshots of nature, sublime and struggling. Consider last winter’s intricately cut plain paper that transformed the Winchester Gallery into a billowing white wall of clouds. Or a recent contribution to the Government Center’s “10 x 10,” a spooky black tree straight from the pages of the Brothers Grimm. Donohue’s ambitious work is charmingly whimsical, a little bit decorative and a whole lot smart. — Danielle Kelly

 

Best hope for the art scene

2012 promises the opening of three brand new cultural institutions anchoring downtown Las Vegas: The Mob Museum, The Neon Museum (disclosure: I’m the chief operating officer), and The Smith Center. Apart from providing fabulous new destinations for local and visiting cultural tourists, the implications for the immediate area are huge. Folks will need something to do with their time in between seeing all those Broadway shows and sawed-off shot-guns and neon signs, something other than penny slots. Let’s hope it’s more galleries and cafes, and maybe even a — gasp — bookstore. Downtown could blossom into an urban cultural oasis. My fingers are crossed. Now about that art museum ... — D.K.

 

Best Art Gallery

Best Art Gallery

Pop Up Art House 

What isn’t there to love about The Pop Up Art House? This grand white space with ample room for ambitious work of any scale is serious about bringing serious art to Las Vegas. Proudly plopped down smack dab in the middle of industrial Henderson, it is also accessible and completely down to earth. Open less than a year, PUAH and its owner/director Shannon McMackin have courageously exhibited work that is usually good, sometimes great, but always committed to expanding the local art dialogue with fresh perspectives and new ideas. PUAH is art food for the brain. — Danielle Kelly

730 W. Sunset Road, www.thepopuparthouse.com

 

Best director

When the play “Hellcab” pulled into Las Vegas Little Theatre at the end of 2010, few suspected that its near-perfect staging marked the beginning of an exceptional run by director Troy Heard. This year, he demonstrated a temperament that encompassed postmodern drollery (“Thom Pain”), high camp (“Theodora, She-Bitch of Byzantium”), black farce (“That Atrocious Tradition,” presented as part of the first-ever “Fearophilia” festival) and capped these achievements with a blood-curdling, immersive staging of Jennifer Haley’s cyber-horror drama, “Neighborhood III: Requisition of Doom.” In his spare time, he crafted a “found footage” shocker out of Christopher Durang’s “The Book of Leviticus Show.” Except for a too-many-cooks “Tommy” at Green Valley Ranch, Heard’s productions are marked by fine detail, intense unanimity of purpose and an ability to get the best his actors have in them. Next up: a stage adaptation of “The Corpse Grinders” and LVLT’s summer tuner, “The Great American Trailer Park Musical.” Heard keeps proclaiming he’s on the verge of “retirement,” but don’t believe him for a minute.
— David McKee

 

Best place to exchange books

Thought Amber Unicorn went the way of its namesake? It did … temporarily. But it’s back, to the delight of valley bibliophiles, which co-owner Myrna Donato insists are abundant, despite dismal literacy rates’ suggestion otherwise. After a 10-year hiatus, Amber Unicorn Books reopened in 2008. “We thought we were going to retire, but I have this disease: I can’t pass up books for sale,” Donato says. She didn’t just need a place to unload inventory (currently estimated at around 150,000 titles); she says she also missed the customers. The store’s friendly attitude toward exchangers is one thing that sets it apart from many other used bookstores. Another is its outstanding collection of cookbooks, choice examples of which can now be bought at The Cosmopolitan hotel’s boutique Eatdrink. — H.K.

2101 S. Decatur #14, 648-9303, amberunicornbooks.com

 

Best album

The Mad Caps’ self-titled album displays a grasp of hound-dogging rock-a-blues usually reserved for old cowboys and guys in scrap-metal Ford coupes. But from start to finish, the two twentysomethings execute throwback rock ‘n’ roll that sounds like Elvis Presley and George Thorogood having a fist fight with The Black Keys. Their only real crime might be an unintentional adhesion to the framework they establish early in the record with “Baby Man” and not diverting too far off its pot-holed path. But that’s only if you aren’t picking up what they’re laying down. For everyone else, this is a gritty, trend-bucking record that’s equal parts “Lonely Boy” and “Bad to the Bone.” — Max Plenke

themadcaps.bandcamp.com

 

Best bike shop

McGhies Bike ShopMcGhie's 

There may be more intimate places to get fitted for your next tri bike or talk table-tops with your mountain bike crew, but McGhie’s is the mecca of all things bike for all kinds of people, from beginners to beasts. “We don’t look down our noses at anybody,” says General Manager Shawn Tyrone. “We’re happy to put anybody on anything. We’re just happy there’s another cyclist in the community.” And speaking of that, McGhie’s uses its size and power for good, promoting cycle-friendly culture by holding in-store classes, leading weekly rides and sponsoring just about every bike-related event in town. Tyrone says what he values most is his staff, who are so knowledgeable that if the brick and mortar store disappeared today, God forbid, they’d have the business back up and running tomorrow. — Heidi Kyser

4035 S. Fort Apache Road, 252-8077, www.mcghies.com

 

Best concert of 2011

Regardless of the uncontrollable bachelor battalions rampaging with drunken force through unsuspecting, easily bruised hipsters, Gregg Gillis (better known as mash-up master Girl Talk — and someone you need to add to your morning jog playlist) brought the most ravenously fun show to The Cosmopolitan’s pool stage early this year. As the mixes integrated corny ’90s throwbacks and dirty rap anthems (“Nothing compares to you / I was gettin’ some head”), the sweaty throngs danced like every other song was a New Year’s Eve countdown. Highlight: a group of guys carrying a soon-to-be husband to the front of the crowd like an over-head funeral march. — M.P.

illegal-art.net/girltalk

 

Best sleeper bar

Most folks don’t expect El Cortez to have anything besides dirty bathrooms and oxygen-tank grandmas. But earlier this year the downtown mainstay turned a shoddy space behind a row of blackjack tables into Parlour, a respectable — and affordable — cocktail bar. The big draw is the $8 classic cocktail menu (including, depending on the bartender, an almost-immaculate Old Fashioned), and an often-quiet crowd in an often-quiet, dimly lit space. Once in a while they hire an awful cover artist instead of an atmosphere-appropriate pianist, but come late with the night-cap crowd and skip anything resembling a guitar-and-drum-machine cover of “Don’t Stop Believin’.” — M.P.

600 E. Fremont St., 385-5200, elcortezhotelcasino.com

 

Best high-end hotel room

If you want to feel you’ve really arrived, spring for one of Wynn Encore’s Resort Suites. Even at 700 efficiently used square feet (the HDTV set is swivel-mounted so it can be watched from bedroom or living room), they’re like cozy apartments, with well-arranged living areas, panoramic views and a subtly luxurious aesthetic. Perhaps designer Roger Thomas did his job too well: Whether you’re reposing on the comfy bed’s Egyptian cotton or the sofa, he’s created a perfect, meditative space for composing yourself. The in-house array of TV channels offers several Asian options, along with a Wynn Resorts feed, narrated soothingly by Steve Wynn himself, that’s like “Story Time with Uncle Steve.” All that’s missing is an in-room teddy bear. — D.M.

3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 770-7171, wynnlasvegas.com

 

Best mid-price hotel room

Want to feel like you’ve splurged without actually doing so? The recently remade Tropicana Las Vegas, with its new Caribbean aesthetic, is the place to do it. The operative word is “light,” whether that means the color scheme, the furniture or the total gestalt — worlds away from the heavy, immobilizing and clunky style that still prevails on most of the Strip. New, white, plantation-style shutters keep the Strip glare at bay. If you want a view, try the plethora of HDTV sets that are standard issue. That’s just part of a comprehensive, imaginative makeover that’s turned a dowdy dowager into a frisky party gal. — D.M.

3801 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 739-2222, troplv.com

 

Family + Community

Best free attraction for kids

Barnyard Buddies Tour 

So a cow, a rooster and a hound dog walk into a bar ... except it’s not a joke. It’s a free show for kids. Oh, and instead of a bar, it’s Anderson Dairy. The dairy runs its Barnyard Buddies Tour for local families, but it’s much more than your typical factory tour. This is a full animatronic show starring a talking cow and other farmyard animals, a walking tour of the facilities, and one very special treat in the form of a huge bowl of ice cream that is doled out to both the children and their parents. At Anderson Dairy, you can spend an entire morning out doing something educational, have a treat, and never spend a dime. And that makes this attraction the bestest ever. — Andrea Leal

801 Searles Ave., 642-7507, www.andersondairy.com

 

Best dog groomer/boutique

Barking Dog GroomersBarking Dogs owners Craig and Kathy Patterson know what it takes to live in harmony with animals, having given a home to creatures great and small over the last three decades. If it’s possible to make your dog any more loveable, they’ve found the way. You can de-funk Spot in the self-serve wash or have a groomer do it in the full-service salon (take your pick), then elicit freshly perfumed hugs and kisses with a reward for his good behavior from the bakery. Barking Dogs’ boutique offers more pet products than you can shake a Kong at, including a healthy selection of holistic and organic food. — H.K.

9325 S. Cimarron Road #145, 247-9274, www.barkingdogslv.com

 

Best place to align your chakras

Little did Lee Papa know, when she founded the Ganesha Center in a business complex in mid-2009, that her unassuming two-room place for people to find peace would triple in size in less than three years, so great was demand for said product. As the square footage grew, so did the list of services — now ranging from healing modalities and oneness blessings to spirituality workshops and yoga classes. There’s even a café where you can hang out and just be. Sound intimidating? Fear not, Papa says. Most people are put at ease by the practitioners’ professionalism and a guru-less culture that encourages individual exploration. “We provide a foundation for people to find their own path and connections to well-being,” Papa says. “Take what resonates and leave the rest.” — H.K.

3199 E. Warm Springs Road #300, 485-4985, www.ganeshacenter.com

 

Best Public Servant

Barbara BuckleyBarbara Buckley

In a Legislature where many are driven by ego and ambition, former Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley always stood out as one of the prime exceptions. Her legislative agenda was aimed at helping those who need help most: victims of payday lenders, homeowners facing foreclosure, school children. And while Buckley could have run for governor in 2010 after she reached her term limit in the Assembly, she decided instead to take a break from politics, for the sake of her young son.

But that didn’t mean Buckley walked away: She continued her day job as executive director of the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, which is a virtual continuation of her work in the Assembly. There, she and her staff of lawyers help low-income people with legal problems ranging from divorce and child custody to foreclosure. They provide legal help to foster children, classes on navigating the court system and hope for people facing mounting debts in a slow-to-recover city.

It just goes to show that true public service doesn’t necessarily require an election. — Steve Sebelius

 

Best family consignment shopping

If buying expensive items with stupid-low price tags is the definition of fun shopping (and it is), then the As They Grow consignment event is a glorious amusement park where you get on every ride, toss your cookies, and still beg for more. This semi-annual event is where parents just like you sell their kids’ outgrown toys, clothes, cribs, and a myriad of other kid accoutrements. The sale features thousands of square feet of retail space, an infinite variety of children’s items, and the chance to consign your own kids’ stuff in order to stretch that overused parental dollar. Start practicing those jiujitsu moves and work out your shopping strategy, because only the strong survive. Brand-new Petunia Pickle Bottom diaper bag for $20? Yes, please! — Andrea Leal

Location varies, 499-1438, www.astheygrowlv.com

 

Best place for a playdate

Chasing a young toddler around is a hard workout to endure when you’re already suffering from the mommy-tireds. A tiny table, chairs, toys and books make Saxby’s Coffee Shop the ideal baby corral. Grab a latte and a scone, settle in for a long chat with your friends on their fireplace-facing couch, and set the kids to autopilot. If you want to make it a bigger play date with several families, their adjacent meeting room is free as long as you make the reservation in advance. That room is spacious, comfortable and can be entirely closed off from the rest of the shop for an extra layer of fencing for the baby herd. — A.L.

Multiple locations, www.saxbyscoffee.com

 

Best animal attraction

Roos-N-More leaves other local animal attractions in a cloud of desert dust. This is a hands-on zoo experience in Moapa that allows kids to interact with a wide range of animals including monkeys, lemurs, boas, otters, toucans and, of course, kangaroos. Nowhere else will your kids will have the chance to hold, pet and learn about so many creatures the way they can at Roos-N-More. And if the idea of getting up close and personal with animals sounds like a dirty endeavor, fear not — the animals at Roos-N-More are clean, fluffy and downright kissable. — A.L.

746 Snowden Ranch Road, Moapa, 467-3585, www.roosnmore.org

 

Best place to recycle electronics

You can stop hitting up your token tree-hugger friend for suggestions of places where you can dump your defunct cell phones without their toxic parts polluting the water supply or worse. The mainstream has finally caught on. At all six Best Buys in Southern Nevada, you can recycle audio accessories, cameras, computers, TVs, video players, video games and more for no fee. Best Buy is an official partner of the EPA’s Responsible Appliance Disposal program. “We make sure everything gets broken down properly and put where it belongs,” says Sarah Batzloff, assistant manager of the Maryland Parkway location. For a complete list of what they’ll take and what they won’t, jump to the “Recycling” page of the website and choose “Nevada” from the drop-down menu. — H.K.

Multiple locations, www.bestbuy.com

 

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 Best Vegas-themed iPad app

Now that you unwrapped a new life-changing (and pricey) iPad app this holiday season, what are you going to do with it? Why, waste even more time playing games, of course. Currently the best Vegas-related free application to download from iTunes is probably Rock the Vegas, a strategy game that allows you to build the Vegas of your dreams, a virtual Sin City in your own image—in essence, the perfect antidote to our construction-halted reality of the Strip and outlying suburbs.

Create, demolish or relocate structures like hotels, casinos, bars and residential neighborhoods, and watch the coins come in. (You can pay real money to speed up gameplay, but if you’re patient the free version, available at itunes.apple.com works just fine.) With more cash, you can construct roads, warehouses and power stations. Turn the time dial to evening (which is when the city looks best) for added revenue, and post your progress on Facebook for friends to see what an industrious and successful tycoon you are—even you’re just lounging on the sofa in your pajamas. Plenty of help options, too, in case your bustling desert metropolis gets an upper hand. —Jarret Keene

 

Reader’s choice

Yoga

Yoga Sanctuary – two locations (on the east and west sides). Upon moving to the Mojave two and a half years ago, this place immediately made me feel at home. I never leave a class without feeling grounded and wonderfully tingly inside. — Annette Miller

 

Best cupcakes

The Cupcakery (www.cupcakery.com) wins a sparkly cupcake tiara for being nothing short of stunning. Although cupcakes used to be for kids, that sort of thinking is old-fashioned and backwards. It's time to get hip. Of course, you will still allow your kids to indulge in cupcakes right along with you. But gosh darn it, they had better be delectable if you are going to spend your calories on them. The Cupcakery's red velvet in particular, dubbed the "Southern Belle,” will make you see double cupcake rainbows. And if you bring a couple dozen of these confections to a party, everyone will see you as a hero. On a double rainbow. Wearing a tiara. — Andrea Leal

 

Reader’s choice

Hair salon

I’ve lived here 45 years, and for the past 37 I have had the same hairstylist, Tony DiMaria at DiMaria Salon (600 East Warm Springs Road, 614-3000). Tony and his wife Peggy came to Las Vegas in the late 1960s from Detroit Michigan. When they arrived, they worked at Caesars Palace Salon before opening their first beauty salon on Paradise Road. Tony and Peggy DiMaria have three children who followed their parents’ hairstyling profession — all with the same great hairstyling and coloring talent. — Sharon Carelli

 

 

Best road trip breakfast spot

Valley of Fire State Park is awesome any time of day, but its name is especially deserved under the rays of a rising sun. Leave the city before dawn and break out your brunch basket at the picnic tables at Rainbow Vista. Afterward, climb about 100 feet above the road to enjoy the magnificent dance of sunlight on Duck Rock, the White Dooms, and a host of other unnamed but no less spectacular marvels. Be sure your camera’s juiced up — the sun-on-rock show is irresistibly photogenic, and it lasts until around noon. — Mark Sedenquist