Vegas4Visitors.com Weekly Column by Rick Garman

Want to know what's happening in Las Vegas? You've come to the right place.

Each week you can come here to get the latest news, the juiciest gossip, and the best reviews for the most fabulous city in the world, Las Vegas. Hey... it says "fabulous" right on the welcome sign!

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New Restaurants Debuting

A lack of dining options has never been a problem in Las Vegas - even less so now with the opening of several new high-profile restaurants and eateries all within about a month of each other.

Carlos' and Charlie's is now open at The Flamingo in a huge 13,000 square-foot space near the main lobby of the hotel. The Mexican restaurant and party bar is part of a small chain that has several outlets in tourist areas in Mexico plus in Austin, Myrtle Beach, and West Palm Beach. The facility has both indoor and outdoor dining and drinking areas that overlook the Flamingo's lush pool area.

Owned by the same corporate parent, Senor Frogs is now set to debut at Treasure Island on May 5. Despite the name, the menu is much more wide ranging than Carlos' and Charlie's with some Mexican dishes plus pasta, burgers, wraps, BBQ, and much more. It will be located in the front of the hotel with an outdoor patio overlooking the Sirens of TI show. They also have indoor seating so you don't have to be tortured by the Sirens show if you don't want to be.

The first ever Metro McDonald's is now open on The Strip on the corner of Harmon Avenue next door to Planet Hollywood. The new concept has a sleek, modern decor and uses digital menu screens to jazz things up even further. It is open 24 hours a day.

Gordon Ramsay Steak, from the notoriously prickly "Hell's Kitchen" chef, will be opening at Paris Las Vegas on May 15. It will feature an English spin on the traditional steakhouse menu with additions of things like fish and chips to give it a cheerio spin.

Luxor has just debuted their new food court. It's much more open and airy than it used to be but the offerings are pretty standard: Starbucks, LA Subs, Bonanno's Pizzeria, Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs, McDonald's, Original Chicken Tender, and Blizz.

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New Downtown Bars Planned

If you haven't been to Downtown Las Vegas lately, you really are missing out. It is rapidly becoming THE place to go and have a low-pressure, relatively low-cost good time especially at the fun and funky bars like Insert Coin(s), The Vanguard Lounge, and The Griffin to name a few.

Several new bars are being planned for the area that may further cement Fremont Street as the epicenter of Vegas nightlife.

Drink and Drag is now open at Neonopolis, bringing what they are billing as the world's largest staff of drag queens to Downtown Vegas. The facility took over the space once occupied by Jillian's and has a nightclub, a 12-lane bowling alley, video games, and more. It's the area's only gay bar, although all open-minded people are welcome to stop by.

Two new clubs are being planned for the former Sears building at the corner of Fremont Street and 6th Avenue, across the street from El Cortez. A music venue will host live bands and other concerts while an upscale sports bar and billiard hall operates separately. It is expected to open in September. Retail stores and more are planned for the building's second and third floors.

Directly across 6th Avenue from that will be another new bar called the Commonwealth. The two-story venue will feature a prohibition era design and will have a main bar downstairs and a rooftop patio bar and dance floor upstairs. It is planning for a summer 2012 launch.

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Smith Center Summer Concert Series

The Smith Center for the Performing Arts has announced their all-star summer line-up set to kick off in June.

Broadway and "Glee" star Idina Menzel will be performing in Reynolds Hall on June 10, 2012 at 7:30pm. Garnering huge critical acclaim, Menzel gained fame on Broadway with her Tony Award-winning performance as Elphaba, the misunderstood green girl, in the blockbuster "Wicked" and in her Tony-nominated role as Maureen in the revolutionary "Rent."

Trumpeter Chris Botti, the world's largest selling jazz instrumentalist, will perform in Reynolds Hall in support of his latest album release, Impressions on July 6, 2012, 8:30 p.m.

CTA featuring former Chicago drummer Danny Seraphine will play Reynolds Hall on July 6 at 8:00 p.m. and July 7 at 7:30 p.m. The band recreates classic hits from Chicago and other pop/rock acts.

k.d. lang and her band the Siss Boom Bang will play Reynolds Hall on July 13, 2012, 7:30 p.m. The Grammy Award winning singer is most famous for her hits like "Constant Craving."

Stephen Sondheim, A Life in the Theater: An Evening of Music and Conversation will perform at Reynolds Hall July 14, 2012, 8:00 p.m. Composer and lyricist Sondheim is widely considered to be the most important artist to work in the American musical theater over the past half-century and here he will discuss not only his work (Gypsy, West Side Story, etc.) but the theater itself.

Jazz great Diana Krall will play Reynolds Hall on August 13, 2012, 7:30 p.m. Krall is a multi-platinum, GRAMMY-winning musician with an unprecedented nine #1 Billboard Jazz chart debuts.

Legendary comedian Steve Martin will be picking up his banjo and performing with The Steep Canyon Rangers for "An Evening of Bluegrass and Comedy" in Reynolds Hall on August 22, 2012, 7:30 p.m.

And finally the Symphonic Rock Show will play Reynolds Hall on August 24, 2012, 7:30 p.m. featuring Brody Dolyniuk and a 21-piece orchestra playing classic rock songs from Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Queen, and more.

Tickets to individual shows begin at $26 and can be purchased online at thesmithcenter.com or by calling 702-749-2000 starting Friday, April 27.

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Lucky 7: Best Off the Beaten Track Restaurants

Last week I started my series of the Best Off The Beaten Track Experiences in Las Vegas with my picks for the Best Hotels. This week we move on to restaurants:

Austins

Almost every hotel in Vegas has a steakhouse and many have more than one. So what makes this one standout and make it worth the drive to the north part of town? Good steaks at affordable prices. Sometimes it's just that simple. Read the full review.

Capriotti's

By now most of you have heard my wax rhapsodic about the amazing subs at this chain of sandwich shops so if you haven't taken the time to experience one for yourself, you really only have yourself to blame. Read the full review.

Fellini's

It's at a hotel on The Strip but it's tucked way back in an almost forgotten corner of the casino, which makes this comfort food Italian joint a true hidden gem. Read the full review.

Lola's: A Louisiana Kitchen

Fans of Cajun and Creole cooking really should go to New Orleans for the real stuff but if you can't make that trip, a visit here will provide with the best bayou food you'll find this side of the Rockies. Read the full review.

M&M Soul Food

Gravy smothered fried chicken. Do I really need to say anything more than that? Okay, let me just add that fans of down home southern cooking should absolutely go out of their way to find this terrific eatery. Read the full review.

Raku Grill

What many consider to be one of the best restaurants in Vegas is found in an assuming strip mall miles from the actual Strip. Their Japanese robata grill skewers are heaven on earth and will make you want to order the entire menu. Read the full review.

Todd's Unique Dining

Gourmet cooking can be found all over the place in Vegas, but this out-of-the-way miracle has fantastic food at prices that won't make you faint. Read the full review.

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Vegas4Visitors Weekly Awards

The Keep on Dancing Award of the Week Part 1, goes to JabbaWockeeZ, the hip-hop dance crew whose show closed at Monte Carlo over the weekend but only temporarily. They will be performing in a temporary tent outside the hotel starting in June until their new theater at Luxor is ready in September. The Blue Man Group moves into Monte Carlo's main theater late this year.

The Keep on Dancing Award of the Week Part 2, goes to the Broadway Theater, a new venue that will go into the space formerly occupied by Rok nightclub at New York-New York. It will feature two shows - the Irish themed "Spirit of the Dance" and the ABBA tribute show "Dancing Queen."

The Stretching the Definition Award of the Week goes to former American Idol winner Taylor Hicks and Bally's, who announced that he would have an eight-week "headliner" residency at the hotel starting in June. I put headliner in quotes because Hicks will be playing the small Indigo Lounge, which is basically a corner of the casino with a few tables and a small dance floor.

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Knowing the Streets: Which Way Your Cab Ride Should Go

There's a big story in the Las Vegas Review Journal about the continuing problem of long-hauling, the illegal but still common practice of cab drivers taking you the long way in order to boost fares. The story estimates that as many as on third of all cab trips in Vegas are not taking the shortest route, especially those originating at the airport where what should be a $15 ride can turn into a $50.

How do they get away with this? Simple... most Vegas visitors don't know that they are being taken for a "ride" (so to speak) because they don't know the ins and outs, highways and byways of the city. If you want to make sure you're not being taken advantage of, you have to know the best way to get where you're going and how much it should cost you.

If you're coming from the airport and going to The Strip or Downtown, your cab should exit on Swenson Road going north. If you ever see the cab going south on the 215 bypass (you'll know because you'll go through a tunnel) you're being long-hauled.

For the South Strip hotels like MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay, the cab should turn left on Tropicana Avenue. The 3-4 mile ride should cost you in the neighborhood of about $15 before tip.

For Center Strip hotels like Caesars Palace or Bellagio, the cab should continue up Swenson, cut over to Paradise Road, and then turn left on Harmon Avenue or Flamingo Road. This is about a 4 mile ride and should cost you about $18 before tip.

For North Strip hotels like Wynn Las Vegas or The Stratosphere the cab should continue up Paradise to Sands Avenue or Sahara Avenue and then turn left. This 4-5 mile ride should cost you $18-20 before tip.

If you're heading Downtown there are several routes that the cab could take including continuing on Paradise to Las Vegas Boulevard near The Stratosphere and then north to Fremont Street or, depending on the time of day, the cab could cut over to Interstate 15 via Tropicana and go into Downtown from there. The latter route is longer but may wind up being faster if street traffic is really bad. The trip is about 10 miles and should cost you about $30 before tip.

Note that all of these fares are subject to additional costs for "wait time." If you are stuck in traffic and not moving, you get charged at a pro-rated cost of $30 per hour if the cab is moving less than 12 miles per hour for an extended period of time. So for instance, if you get stuck in a jam for 10 minutes, you'll wind up with a $5 wait time addition to your fare.

Going from one place to another on The Strip is a little trickier to predict and depends a lot on when you are trying to go. If it is on a busy Friday or Saturday night, you may want to stay away from The Strip where bumper-to-bumper traffic can cost you a lot of those wait time penalties. Using Dean Martin Drive, Frank Sinatra Drive, Industrial Road, Koval Lane, and even Interstate 15, which all parallel The Strip but often have a lot less traffic, will be longer in terms of mileage but may get you there faster so it could all work out to be about the same fare-wise.

The best thing to do is to use an interactive map either online or on your smartphone to get the exact mileage via the shortest route between where you are and where you're going, then do the math to figure out what your fare should be. Taxi rates are $3.30 to start (with an additional $1.80 if you are being picked up at the airport) and then $2.60 per mile after that. When you get in the cab, tell the driver where you are going and what you expect the fare to be (say something like "I'm going to Mandalay Bay, so that should be about $15, right?"). That will put the driver on notice that you aren't some hapless tourist who isn't going to let someone scam them out of their hard earned money.

Except maybe in the casino.

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