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Most excellent!

Andrew Kiraly

The people! The food! Our vast public lands! The Las Vegas Philharmonic! My wife! The fact we are a pretty tolerant, creative, colorful place to live and grow! The Bellagio Conservatory! The mountains and snow, vibrant nightlife, and food is cheap! My husband! McCarran Airport direct flights to nearly everywhere! Legalized pot! Nevada Public Radio! The Writer’s Block! The Mob Museum! Springs Preserve! Opportunity for everyone! The smell of creosote when it rains! There is so much to do! Coming home and knowing everything is still open!

Those are a random fistful of answers (verbatim, minus the bangers added for effect) to our Best of the City Readers’ Poll finale question, “The BEST! THING! EVER! in Las Vegas is ...” My favorite part of reading the survey results every year is scrolling through the answers to that curtain-closer, answers that never fail to compose a sort of Rorschach inkblot radiating Vegas pride and civic contentment. (An inkblot with its shadows here and there: One cynic’s answer to best Vegas thing ever was “leaving.” Burrrn!) Sure, our annual Best of the City issue is largely a consumer proposition (nothing wrong with that; I eat, drink and merch like a beast), but I perhaps naively like to think that underneath that proposition is this sort of glowing and decidedly nonmaterialistic spiritual substrate partaking of community-mindedness and optimism that manifests this annual printed gratitude prayer giving thanks for our abundant sources of pizza and cocktails. Okay, done overthinking it: The reader-polled and expert-curated bestness starts on p. 55

The themes of excellence and expertise continue elsewhere in the magazine, particularly in “A maker’s mark” (p. 71). Backstory: At Desert Companion, we’ve been closely covering the fine arts scene and profiling local artists for years. We thought: But what about the trades, crafts and artistic pursuits that literally require you to get your hands dirty? In this feature story, we profile six makers, from an avant-garde dressmaker to a stone sculptor, who reflect upon the fascinating processes behind their literal handiwork. On p. 40, Nevada Ballet Theatre’s Artistic Coach Cynthia Gregory and dancer Alissa Dale discuss footwork — both the physical and the mental kind — in advance of NBT’s production of classic ballet Swan Lake. It’s a fascinating conversation for many reasons, but what strikes me is how it reminds us that ballet, at once both physical and abstract in its rigorous, stylized expression, also has an intensely intellectual component. There are ideas at work — and at play. And there’s even excellence for dessert: On p. 48, enjoy a taste of master chocolatier Jin Caldwell’s work that blurs the line between food and fine art.

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Finally, heads up. Our annual “Focus on Nevada” photo contest is open and ready for your submissions at Now in its fifth year, “Focus on Nevada” has become more than just a contest and a pillar feature in our June issue. There are a host of X factors — the diverse contest judges recruited from across the valley, the exhibition party that overdrives into a pop-up feelgood photo salon, the celebration of our readers’ photographic talents — that have happily turned it into something much more. It all goes to prove that excellence is the fruit of a community effort.

As a longtime journalist in Southern Nevada, native Las Vegan Andrew Kiraly has served as a reporter covering topics as diverse as health, sports, politics, the gaming industry and conservation. He joined Desert Companion in 2010, where he has helped steward the magazine to become a vibrant monthly publication that has won numerous honors for its journalism, photography and design, including several Maggie Awards.