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Vegas4Visitors 2014 Top 10 Awards

Last year's Vegas4Visitors Top 10 Awards were born out of a certain feeling of tentative enthusiasm that seemed to be taking over the city. The worst of the recession was definitely in the rear view mirror but everyone, from the casinos to the people who visited them, appeared to be taking things slowly, testing the waters to make sure that it wasn't too hot or cold before the jumped in with both feet.

In 2014 people started jumping. Billions of dollars' worth of development either opened or was planned, fancy new hotels were born from the bones of dusty old ones, and there was a newfound energy from the dining rooms to the nightclubs to the shopping malls and beyond.

What follows are my picks for the Best of Las Vegas for 2014 in the categories of Hotels, Shows, Attractions, Restaurants (both expensive and affordable), Buffets, Nightlife, Shopping, and Casinos. And once again this year I'm making it not be all about me by including your Readers' Choice votes for the bests in several categories as well. We're kicking it off with my picks for the biggest news stories of the year.

As always, my choices are bound to elicit some commentary. If you have something you want to add, we'll be having a discussion about it on the Vegas4Visitors Facebook group.

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Top 10 Biggest Las Vegas News Stories of 2014*

1. Britney is a Hit

People scoffed when they announced that Britney Spears was going to headline at Planet Hollywood and while I certainly had a skeptical eyebrow raised, I at least recognized that she might have a shot at making it work. She didn't just make it work (bitch) she blew it out of the diva ballpark, delivering the highest grossing concerts in Vegas that don't star a French Canadian singing about sinking ships. The audiences are coming in droves, the revenue for the hotel is up dramatically, and everyone is scrambling to find the next headliner that can appeal to a younger crowd like she does. Congrats Britney - we still have call Celine the Queen of Vegas but you get to be the Princess. Read the review of Britney Spears.

2. Resort Fee Frenzy

Some hotels added them, some hotels raised the ones they had, and some pushed them so high that it became almost ludicrous. $30 per night resort fees? Remember when you used to be able to get an entire room for $30 per night in Vegas? Everyone hates them but people keep paying them (because really, what other choice do you have?) and the hotels will keep on charging them. The only questions left are how high will they go and when will the last few hotels that don't charge them finally give in?

3. Vegas Becomes a Festival Town

The city has always been big for the convention circuit but until recently Vegas has never been big on the big event type of thing, preferring to keep its visitors safely ensconced in the casinos. But the last few years have turned Sin City into Festival Town with the Life is Beautiful Festival taking over Downtown, the Harvest 91 Festival turning The Strip into a hoedown, and the upcoming Rock in Rio concerts creating their own festival grounds on the North end of The Strip. And of course we can't forget about Electric Daisy Carnival, the electronic dance music festival that now draws more people to the city than any other single event all year. Pull up a lawn chair, folks... the show is about to begin!

4. Giada Takes Over

Every celebrity chef worth his or her sea salt has at least one restaurant in Vegas but none of them have been such instant, huge successes as Giada De Laurentiis' eponymous bistro at The Cromwell. What started as dinner only has now grown to lunch and breakfast and reservations for tables at peak times require up to eight weeks advance notice. They are already expanding the restaurant and there are rumors that she will be taking over another eatery at another hotel. Congrats Giada - you have won Las Vegas. Read the review of Giada.

5. Gay Marriage Legalized

Despite the liberal attitudes in Las Vegas, Nevada is a pretty conservative state so it was a pretty big deal with the courts overturned the state's same-sex marriage ban and made it legal for gay couples to wed here. Vegas has wanted this for a long time so it can get a chunk of the billions of dollars in revenue that gay weddings are expected to generate over the next few years, but regardless of the dollar sign motivation, the city is now poised to become the wedding capital of the world for everyone.

6. The Nightclub Wars Rage On

Imagine this... you have a nightclub that regularly rakes in tens of millions of dollars in revenue every year, placing it in the Top 10 of the highest grossing clubs in the United States. So what do you do with it? Close it of course so you can completely revamp it and try to make even more money. That's what happened to Pure at Caesars Palace and Haze at Aria Las Vegas, two profitable clubs that just weren't profitable enough in this insanely competitive nightclub environment.

7. In With the New...

The truest gauge of this particular city's economic health is the number of outlandish mega-resort projects that are on the drawing boards. This year we added two more. Australian casino magnate James Packer has snapped up the former Frontier site and is planning to spend billions on Crown Resorts Las Vegas, due to open by 2018. Meanwhile, the non-gaming All-Net Resort is being planned for 2017 on the form Wet 'n' Wild site next door to SLS Las Vegas that will include a 20,000 seat arena, a 500 room hotel, and a shopping plaza. These, alongside the still in the works Resorts World Las Vegas planned for the former Stardust site seems to indicate that Las Vegas is getting healthier every day.

8. And Reinvent the Old...

The Sahara became the SLS Las Vegas, Bill's Gamblin' Hall became The Cromwell, the Las Vegas Hilton became the LVH and then became Westgate, the Imperial Palace became The Quad and then became The Linq, and THEhotel became The Delano. Las Vegas mastered the art of blowing things up and starting over years ago but has recently embraced the idea of adaptive reuse, reinterpreting classics for a new, modern era.

9. Jackie Gaughan Dies

A pioneer in the development of early Las Vegas died in 2014 at the age of 92. Gaughan got his start in Vegas in 1950 when he bought a small stake in The Flamingo then later went on to own, co-own, or manage Sin City classics like The Boulder Club, the Las Vegas Club, El Cortez, The Plaza, The Golden Nugget, The Gold Spike, and The Western. At one point he owned or controlled about 25% of all of Downtown Las Vegas. Although he sold all of his properties in the later years of his life, he continued to live on the top floor of the El Cortez tower and acted as the hotel's "ambassador." He could often be seen greeting guests, playing poker, and eating in the hotel's restaurants all the way up to just a few days before he died. A Vegas legend.

10. Celine Dion Takes a Break

As mentioned in the #1 news story, Celine Dion is the Queen of Vegas with the highest grossing concerts that regularly sell out the 4,000-seat Colosseum at Caesars Palace. When the singer decided in late 2014 that she was going to cancel all of her concerts to concentrate on helping her husband fight throat cancer, the hotel scrambled to find ways to fill the empty stage dates and took a major hit to its bottom line. At this point the soonest she will be coming back is probably summer of 2015 and it is noteworthy how much her absence is felt in this town.

*In case you're wondering, the bankruptcy of Caesars Entertainment is a huge story but since they aren't formally filing for Chapter 11 until January of 2015, this will be making an appearance on next year's list.

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Vegas4Visitors Top 10 Awards 2014: The Best Hotels in Las Vegas

As Las Vegas's fortunes continue to improve and the city's hotels have started spending big again to lure more and more people through their doors, you'd expect there to be a bigger difference between last year's list and this year's than there is. But a funny thing has happened on the road to economic recovery in Sin City in that almost everyone is upping their game, making the nicest hotels still the nicest, the middle tier hotels still in the middle tier (although a nicer tier than it was before), and the bargain hotels still pretty basic by comparison. So if you compare the 2013 list with the 2014 you'll see a lot of repeats with only a couple of new entries and a few swaps of positions.

Just like last year, the list was selected based on a set of criteria that emphasizes style, comfort, and overall "experience" over things like cost and value. I remain rooted in the notion that staying in a hotel in Vegas should be a memorable occasion and not just a slight variation on the type of room you can get anywhere else just with a different view out the window.

With that in mind, here are my picks for the Vegas4Visitors Top 10 Awards Best Hotels in Las Vegas for 2014.

1. Caesars Palace/Nobu

It's pretty amazing that a hotel on the verge of celebrating its 50th anniversary can still be as compelling and competitive as Caesars Palace. A wide variety of rooms, from nice to ultra-luxurious; more restaurants than you could eat at in one visit unless you were there for weeks; a long list of headline entertainment; some of the best bars in town; shopping; a huge casino with everything you could want; and the list goes on and on. Plus now you have the boutique Nobu hotel within the hotel just to make things even more special. Yes, it's expensive but this is one of the few places in town where I always feel like I'm getting my money's worth. Read the full review of Caesars Palace and Nobu Hotel Las Vegas.

2. Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

I can't get over how much I enjoy the Cosmo every time I stay here. The rooms are unique - somehow managing to be both fun and luxurious at the same time; the casino is gorgeous and often rewarding (at least in my experience); and the lineup of entertainment and food is impressive. This is about as far from the cookie-cutter Vegas experience as you can get and it is a much more entertaining destination because of it. Read the full review of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

3. Wynn/Encore

The twins from Wynn are still, without a doubt, the most luxurious casino-hotels in Las Vegas. While the cost can be intimidating, this is one of those places where you can see your money at work from the exceptional service to the fine details in the rooms, restaurants, casino, clubs, and beyond. These are full-service, high-end resorts that provide experiences you will not forget anytime soon. Read the full review of Wynn Las Vegas and Encore Las Vegas.

4. The Cromwell

It would be enough to make it on this list just because of the fact that they managed to turn the dingy old Bill's Gamblin' Hall into something that you would actually want to stay at. But that they made it as truly exceptional as they did is something of a miracle. What the rooms lack in size and natural lighting they more than make up for in fine, funky appointments and the hotel has added what are undeniably the hottest restaurant (Giada) and nightclub (Drai's) in town so it's easy to understand why it has debuted so high on the list. Read the full review of The Cromwell.

5. Bellagio

For a long time this hotel was too staid and stodgy for my tastes but renovations over the last couple of years have managed to make it feel more contemporary without sacrificing any of the upscale attention to detail you find at every turn. The modern rooms are a gorgeous, the casino is a classic, and the food and entertainment are still among the best in town. Read the full review of Bellagio.

6. Mandalay Bay/Delano/Four Seasons

There are three distinct experiences here - the really nice, contemporary Mandalay Bay; the really, really nice streamlined modern Delano; and the really, really, really nice luxurious Four Seasons. No matter which you choose (which should probably be based on how much you can afford) you will most likely come away impressed with the quality and service of the product they offer. Add in what is basically a city's worth of entertainment, dining, recreation, gambling, and nightlife and it's impossible to deny the attractiveness of the overall package. Read the full review of Mandalay Bay, Delano, and The Four Seasons.

7. Red Rock Resort

Most Las Vegas hotels bill themselves as resorts but if you want the true resort experience your best bet is to head to the far west side of town to this gorgeous retreat perched on the edge of Red Rock Canyon. The casino is more affordable and rewarding than you'd expect it to be when you see how richly detailed it is and the rooms are like cozy dens that you have to force yourself to leave. And with only 800 rooms, you'll get a level of service unlike the conveyor belt mentality at the 4,000 room mega-resorts. Read the full review of Red Rock Resort.

8. The Golden Nugget

Keeping a property that dates back to the 1940s relevant is an almost impossible task but the folks at Downtown's premiere hotel have done just that with near constant reinvention. 2014 room renovations have brought most of the accommodations up to Strip standards, making them once again the nicest in Glitter Gulch. That the neighborhood around it has come so far in terms of entertainment, food, and culture isn't something you can credit to the Nugget but certainly makes staying here even more attractive. Read the full review of The Golden Nugget.

9. Aria Las Vegas

Most Las Vegas hotels impress upon first viewing but by the second or third time you walk through, the wow-worthy moments are rare. Not so with this one. The boldly visual design still impresses me, especially when you stop to appreciate all of the textures and shapes that are integrated into places that could have just been boring walls. From start to finish, this winner continues to strike a chord with me. Read the full review of Aria Las Vegas.

10. MGM Grand

It's still too darned big, but all of the changes they have put in place over the last couple of years have made the size worth dealing with. The rooms are stylish and modern yet not overwhelmingly so and there is a terrific lineup of restaurants, shows, and nightclubs, many of which you will see on the other "Best" lists this year. Sometimes bigger is indeed better. Read the full review of MGM Grand.

Readers' Choice: Bellagio

Vegas4Visitors.com went for the tried and true this year by picking what is now considered a classic hotel despite the fact that it is not even 20 years old yet. Read the full review of Bellagio.

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Vegas4Visitors Top 10 Awards 2014: The Best Shows in Las Vegas

This past year proved how hard it is to launch a new show in Las Vegas. "Mamma Mia!" came and went in less than three months; "Vegas Nocturne" didn't go for much longer; "Panda!" made it for most of the year but only because it was being propped up by a Chinese tourism agency; and a couple of shows closed before they even opened including an Australian topless review and a Mexican-themed variety production.

So what worked was the tried and true, helping to explain why this year's list is so much like last year's list. There's only one new entry although I think it's worth nothing that if "Vegas Nocturne" had stayed open it would've been near the very top. It didn't, of course, so what we have instead are my picks for the Best Shows in Las Vegas for 2014.

1. Absinthe at Caesars Palace

Profane. Outrageous. Offensive. Gratuitous. Shocking. These are just a few of the words that are used to the Cirque-meets-drug-fueled-fever-dream that is this show at Caesars Palace. Here are a few more: Laugh-out-loud funny. Gasp inducing. Wholly original. Best show in Vegas. Read the review of Absinthe.

2. Michael Jackson ONE at Mandalay Bay

Regardless of what you may have felt about the man, respect for Michael Jackson's amazing catalogue of music continues to grow and Cirque du Soleil's interpretation of it playing at Mandalay Bay is nothing short of genius. When the zombies start dancing the "Thriller" choreography I dare you not to smile. Read the review of Michael Jackson ONE by Cirque du Soleil.

3. Le Rêve at Wynn Las Vegas

Reinvention is the keyword here, as this long-running show at Wynn Las Vegas continues to evolve in interesting, exciting, and dramatic ways. New dance and special effects have only brightened the appeal, while still keeping the dark edges that make this one of the most interesting shows in town. Read the review of Le Rêve.

4. Mac King at Harrah's

King's comedy magic show at Harrah's is deceptively simple - sleight of hand magic is supposed to look easy and his genial stage presence only enhances that effect. But the intricacies of the tricks, the humor, and the entire show (stuff is set up in the first 10 minutes that doesn't pay off until the end) are anything but simplistic and a whole lot of fun to boot. Read the review of Mac King.

5. Jeff Civillico at The Linq

It's impossible not to be drawn into the infectious energy of this comic juggler and his antics that often go in directions it seems like even he is surprised by. With heavy audience participation, the show at The Linq has an almost unscripted feel to it and Civillico's quick wit is more than up to the task. Read the review of Jeff Civillico.

6. Vegas! The Show at Planet Hollywood

The history of entertainment in Vegas is put on Technicolor display here at Planet Hollywood, using great singing and fantastic dance to show off the showgirls, the Rat Pack, the disco era, and more. It's like seeing every great Vegas show all in one fun package. Read the review of Vegas! The Show.

7. Mystére at Treasure Island

After more than 20 years, the original Vegas Cirque du Soleil show at Treasure Island is still one of the best. Although it certainly has some of the spectacle worthy grandeur of other Vegas productions, this is a bit more elemental, showing off the essence of what makes Cirque magical. Read the review of Mystére by Cirque du Soleil.

8. KÀ at MGM Grand

On the other hand you have the entrancing, full spectacle that is this martial arts themed Cirque du Soleil production at MGM Grand. The stunts are astounding, the technology is almost unbelievable, and the story is emotional. What more do you need? Read the review of KÀ by Cirque du Soleil.

9. Boyz II Men at The Mirage

I have to admit that I was never a big BIIM fan when they were hugely popular in the 1990s, but after seeing their infectiously entertaining show at The Mirage I am now. Probably the best pure music show in town. Read the review of Boyz II Men.

10. Penn & Teller at The Rio

The masters of the thinking-man's magic are still wowing audiences after nearly 40 years together - 20 of it in Vegas! That they can continually update their act at The Rio without dumbing it down for the sake of our short-attention span mindsets is impressive. Read the review of Penn & Teller.

Readers' Choice: Mac King

Proving it doesn't take a huge budget or a giant spectacle to make magic, Mac King's comedy and illusions show at Harrah's was the pick from Vegas4Visitors.com readers for the Best Show in Las Vegas for 2014. Read the review of Mac King.

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Vegas4Visitors Top 10 Awards 2014: The Best Attractions in Las Vegas

As more and more attention is shifted away from gambling and to the entertaining diversions that Vegas has to offer, it is now possible to create an entire trip around all of city's attractions; certainly it would take the better part of an entire trip to see them all. New ones came along this year, including one that changed the skyline of the entire city, and several others tried, failed, and/or never made it to reality (Score! didn't, Skyvue wasn't, and that hoped for return of the Liberace Museum was just candelabra lit dream).

I'm expecting this list to get more and more competitive in the coming years but for now, here are my picks Best Attractions in Las Vegas for 2014.

1. Neon Museum

Although only a relatively small portion of the neon artwork saved from old casinos and other businesses has been restored to its fully lit glory, the experience of wandering through the Boneyard, surrounded by that kind of history, is a truly only-in-Vegas experience. The neon signs may be vanishing from The Strip but it's fantastic that they are still being preserved here and that honoring of the city's past makes this the Best Attraction in Las Vegas for 2014. Read the review of the Neon Museum.

2. Fountains of Bellagio at Bellagio

How many times have you seen the water ballet in the lake in front of Bellagio? A lot, probably. And how many times do you stop to watch again every time you pass by and they happen to be going off? Almost every time, I'm guessing. And that's why this remains near the top of the best attractions list every year. Read the review of the Fountains of Bellagio.

3. SlotZilla

What is not to be loved about a 12-story slot machine that has zip lines coming out of it? This silly diversion sends riders flying through the heart of Glitter Gulch in a one-of-a-kind experience that can only be found in Vegas. Read the review of SlotZilla.

4. Mob Museum

Las Vegas was, in large part, created by the mob. Larger than life figures and the ill-gotten gains they brought to town helped build most of the early casinos and hotels and this fantastic, interactive museum examines their impact not only on Vegas but on the world. Read the review of the Mob Museum.

5. Bellagio Conservatory at Bellagio

The five seasonal displays at Bellagio for spring, summer, harvest, winter/holidays, and Chinese New Year are created by a small army of people who use plants, flowers, and other natural material to make what is undoubtedly the most colorful attraction in Vegas. Read the review of the Bellagio Conservatory.

6. Dolphin Habitat/Secret Garden at The Mirage

If all you do is go watch the dolphins at The Mirage you will have a terrific anti-Vegas experience. But I highly recommend that you splurge a bit and go for one of the interactive experiences where you get to be up close and personal with these incredible animals. Totally worth it. Read the review of the Mirage Dolphin Habitat/Secret Garden.

7. The Fremont Street Experience

2015 will mark the 20th anniversary of the light and sound canopy over Glitter Gulch and the fact that it is more popular than ever is a testament to how much fun it is. It was here before Downtown got cool again! Read the review of The Fremont Street Experience.

8. Lion Habitat Ranch

The former residents of the MGM Grand Lion Habitat spent most of their time here in this multi-faceted compound that gives you some amazing, up-close-and-personal views of some of the most amazing animals in the world. Read the review of the Lion Habitat Ranch.

9. High Roller at The Linq

Rising up over the hotels of the Center Strip, the world's tallest observation wheel at The Linq now feels like as much a part of the Vegas skyline as the Stratosphere or the Luxor pyramid. Pricey, but a now-indispensable part of the Vegas experience. Read the review of the High Roller.

10. The Smith Center

The cultural scene in Las Vegas has long been defined by Cirque du Soleil and a couple of art galleries in casinos. But the Smith Center came along and changed all that, helping to turn the city into a performance arts destination with a world class facility and a stellar lineup of shows. Read the review of The Smith Center.

Readers' Choice: Bellagio Fountains

This one is so obvious that I'm not sure why I keep asking. The dancing waters at Bellagio have won every year that I have done this list and I expect they will keep winning for a long time to come. Read the review of Bellagio Fountains.

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Vegas4Visitors Top 10 Awards 2014: The Best Dining in Las Vegas

There has never been a better time to be hungry in Las Vegas. For a long time it was nothing but bargain-basement prime rib and then it was nothing but outrageously expensive epicurean adventures. Now we seem to have settled into a nice groove that offers a wide variety from a price, cuisine, and presentation standpoint. No matter your budget or your tastes you should be able to find not just one but a bunch of restaurants that will satisfy. In fact the biggest problem these days is trying to choose from the embarrassment of riches.

The list this year is split this list into three parts - one for expensive restaurants, one for affordable, and one for buffets - and as usual these were the toughest lists to narrow down to just 10 choices each. I could have easily gone to 15 or 20 on both without breaking a sweat. But since Top 10 lists are supposed to be just 10 (I hate math), here are my picks for the Best Restaurants in Las Vegas for 2014.

Expensive Restaurants

1. L'Atelier at MGM Grand

The meals I have had at this incredible French bistro at MGM Grand are ones that I will remember for the rest of my life. I may be paying off the bills for that long also, but it is totally worth it. Read the full review of L'Atelier.

2. Giada at The Cromwell

Food Network star Giada De Laurentiis' sunny Mediterranean café at The Cromwell was an instant smash, with two month waiting times for prime time tables and rave reviews, all of which were totally deserved. Read the full review of Giada.

3. Old Homestead at Caesars Palace

You can't swing a dead cow without hitting a steak joint in Las Vegas but no one does beef like this place at Caesars Palace, based on the NYC institution in business since 1868(!!). Best steaks in town and best a lot of other stuff, too. Read the full review of Old Homestead.

4. Aureole at Mandalay Bay

Charlie Palmer's French cuisine served at this Mandalay Bay restaurant is nothing short of genius; an intricate balance of tastes and textures that makes you not give a hoot about how much it costs. Read the full review of Aureole.

5. Javier's at Aria Las Vegas

Mexican joints are a peso a dozen in Vegas these days but upscale examples of the cuisine like the stuff served here at this Aria restaurant is rare almost anywhere. Warning: it could ruin you for Taco Bell and Chipotle forever. Read the review of Javier's.

6. Alizé at The Palms

Three French restaurants in the Top 10? Yes, and you'll understand why when you taste the amazing creations of chef Andre Rochat, served in one of the most amazing dining rooms in town, located atop the hotel tower at The Palms. Read the review of Alizé.

7. Bartolotta at Wynn Las Vegas

Chef Paul Bartolotta practically moves time and space to bring the Mediterranean seafood to the Las Vegas desert here at Wynn Las Vegas that is so fresh it seems to have just come out of the water. Read the full review of Bartolotta.

8. Andiamo Steakhouse at The D Las Vegas

The dark, clubby atmosphere here at The D Las Vegas is like old Vegas come to life and the classic steaks and Italian side dishes are a delight. This is the best steakhouse in Downtown Las Vegas. Read the full review of Andiamo.

9. Raku Grill

A lot of attention gets paid to the offbeat items on the menu at this Japanese robata grill - pork intestine anyone? - but there is a lot here for every taste and it's all fantastic so don't let the odd stuff scare you off. Read the full review of Raku Grill.

10. Crush at MGM Grand

I'm totally crushing on the internationally inspired small plates served at this charming Michael Morton restaurant at MGM Grand. Bring a big group and do a lot of plate passing. Read the full review of Crush.

Affordable Restaurants

1. Griddle Café at SLS Las Vegas

The LA restaurant on which this place is based has an almost cult-like following. The same should happen here at the SLS Las Vegas, with insane portions of really great food at affordable prices available 24 hours a day on the weekends (and almost that long on weekdays). Impossible to not love and a no-brainer for the Best Affordable Restaurant in Las Vegas for 2014. Read the full review of Griddle Café.

2. Citizens Kitchen at Mandalay Bay

Comfort food takes center stage here at Mandalay Bay with all of your diner favorites like meatloaf and mashed potatoes. The quality is stellar, the service is fantastic, and the prices are reasonable. Throw in an amazing dessert case and you have a winner. Read the full review of Citizens Kitchen.

3. Carson Kitchen

Chef Kerry Simon has two restaurants on this list and this one is his farm-to-table style small plates concept in Downtown Vegas that is already racking up major kudos from foodies. Worth the trip. Read the review of Carson Kitchen.

4. Eat

Another Downtown outpost that serves up amazing breakfasts and lunches and is so popular there are often lines down the block to get in. Totally worth the wait. Read the review of Eat.

5. Hash House a Go Go at The Linq

The twisted farm food they serve here at The Linq (and at other locations around town) comes in the form of giant pancakes, waffles with bacon baked in, and their signature hashes served in a skillet. There are four of them in town with a fifth coming soon, which only speaks to how much people love them - and for good reason. Read the review of Hash House a Go Go.

6. La Comida

What does it say that there are so many great affordable restaurants in Downtown Vegas? That you should go to Downtown Vegas, certainly, so you can sample stuff like the incredible, authentic Mexican specialties and kickass margaritas. Read the review of La Comida.

7. The Commissary at The Downtown Grand

Yes, we are still Downtown (at the Downtown Grand to be specific) and we are still embracing Latin cuisine with this grab and go food court style eatery that serves up amazing tacos, burritos, and more for a fraction of the cost you'll pay on The Strip. Read the review of The Commissary.

8. Lola's

Cajun and Creole cuisine is best left to the people of Louisiana but luckily the titular Lola is from there and she has brought some of the most authentic examples of the food to Vegas. This really should not be missed. Read the review of Lola's.

9. KGB at Harrah's

Burger joints are a dime a dozen in Vegas these day's but Kerry Simon's at Harrah's is my favorite. Their interesting combos and unique toppings make this one stand above the rest of the pack. Read the review of KGB.

10. Sugar Factory at Paris Las Vegas

The menu is epic in size and scope at this Paris Las Vegas eatery but no matter what you choose you should be more than happy with the quality (and quantity) of what you get. Despite the name it's not all sugar, but be sure to indulge in that portion of the offerings! Read the review of Sugar Factory.

Buffets

Nothing interesting happened in the buffet world this year. Seriously. One new one opened at the SLS but then it closed and won't be up and running again until sometime next year. So my list of favorite buffets in Vegas has not changed from last year - this is the exact same list. The good news is that there is a reason these places made it on the list in the first place and they are still just as good as they always have been. So here's the rerun...

1. The Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace

I'll admit that I still don't totally "get" this place at Caesars Palace. The sheer scope of it is a bit overwhelming to me, the food is good but not fantastic, and the prices are downright outrageous. But like Sherman's army marching to the sea, it is virtually impossible to resist the force of it. It is the biggest, most audacious, most expensive, most insane buffet in Las Vegas and that's exactly what the Best Buffet in Las Vegas for 2014 should be. Read the review of Caesars Bacchanal Buffet.

2. Buffet at Wynn Las Vegas

Just because I didn't put this buffet at number one doesn't mean that I don't think it's the best buffet in Vegas. How does that figure? Well, the Bacchanal Buffet takes number one by being a crowd-pleasing bit of Vegas silliness but if I personally am going to spend the kind of money these types of buffets cost, I'd spend it here. The buffet at Wynn Las Vegas is elegant and upscale from the beautiful, sun-dappled garden room to the fine foods served. It doesn't feel like you are eating at a buffet, which makes it a great buffet in my book. Read the review of the Buffet at Wynn Las Vegas

3. Garden Court Buffet at Main Street Station

I'm lousy at math but I'm sure there's some kind of formula that could scientifically prove that this food extravaganza at Main Street Station is the best buffet value in Las Vegas. The prices are almost suspiciously cheap and yet the quality is fantastic, rivaling buffets that cost two or three times as much. Read the review of the Garden Court Buffet.

4. Station Casinos Feast Buffets

As always, I'm lumping these Feast Buffets into one bucket just because no matter which one you choose - Red Rock Resort, Green Valley Ranch, Santa Fe Station, Sunset Station, and beyond - the quality and selection will be top notch and the prices incredibly affordable. Read the review of a Feast Buffet.

5. Spice Market Buffet at Planet Hollywood

I still say that this place was better when the hotel that surrounded it was The Aladdin, but even though its star has diminished a bit in my opinion since Planet Hollywood took over, it is still a terrific buffet (as is evidenced by its placement on this list). The wide variety of food goes past the typical American/Salad/Chinese/Mexican thing to much more interesting, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean-inspired fare and it's not as outrageously expensive as some of the other Strip buffets. Read the review of the Spice Market Buffet.

6. Carnival World Buffet at Rio Las Vegas

From a pure option standpoint alone, this longtime favorite buffet at The Rio proves its worth by offering one of the biggest varieties you're going to find at a Vegas buffet. The food stations are interesting and the cost seems less crazy these days (but only because there are so many other more expensive options in town). Read the review of the Carnival World Buffet.

7. Le Village Buffet at Paris Las Vegas

Yes, the Disneyland-style experience of eating in a stylized representation of the French countryside is silly fun but it's really the food that seals the deal here at Paris Las Vegas. It has enough Gallic influences to be intriguing without going so far as to be intimidating for the meat and potatoes crowd. Read the review of Le Village Buffet.

8. Buffet at Bellagio

Long before Bacchanal came along, this buffet at Bellagio was making people sit up and pay attention to what had been a fairly pedestrian eating experience. It set the standard for a quality of food and ambience that was more than just a dine and dash, all-you-can-eat refueling. After more than 15 years, it's still one of the best in town.Read the review of the Buffet at Bellagio.

9. Studio B Buffet at M Resort

The energy of this place at M Resort on the south edge of town is undeniable, with a modern edge, lots of light, and some really great food. It's a bit of a trek to get there but totally worth the drive. Read the review of Studio B.

10. Ports o'Call Buffet at The Gold Coast

Normally cheap means low quality but at this small but satisfying buffet at Gold Coast you'll find a much higher quality to price ratio than you would expect. It's about a third of the cost of the big buffets but not a third of the goodness. Read the review of the Ports o'Call Buffet

Readers' Choice

Best Restaurant: Hash House a Go Go

Y'all like your breakfasts big, obviously! For the second year in a row, Hash House wins the Readers' Choice Award for Best Restaurant in Las Vegas. Read the review of Hash House a Go Go.

Best Buffet: Garden Court Buffet at Main Street Station

I guess you guys like my version of math also, selecting the affordable all-you-can-eatery at Main Street Station as your Readers' Choice for Best Buffet in Las Vegas. Read the review of the Garden Court Buffet.

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Vegas4Visitors Top 10 Awards 2014: The Best Nightlife in Las Vegas

The influence of nightclubs on Vegas can't be understated at this point. From the restaurants to the room decor to the casinos, which are ceding square footage to dance floors and bars, the nightlife ethos is king right now in this town.

And why not? We're talking about a billion dollar business - literally! There a clubs in this town that regularly make more than $100 million per year and it has become such a cutthroat chase for the latest and greatest that the average shelf life of a nightclub these days seems to be about five years. Witness Haze at Aria, which was making money but apparently not enought money so it closed in order to be revamped into something bigger and better.

And if you really need evidence, look no further than Pure, the former mega-club at Caesars Palace. It came in at #6 on the list of top grossing nightclubs pulling in more than $35 million in 2013 and yet they closed it earlier this year so they could completely redo it.

My list of the top nightlife in Vegas is a mixed bag - a couple of high-energy clubs, some laid back ultralounges, some craft cocktail havens, and some plain, old-fashioned bars just to keep things real. Here are my picks for the Best Nightlife in Vegas for 2014.

1. Fizz at Caesars Palace

Co-created by Elton John's husband David Furnish, this tiny slip of a champagne bar at Caesars Palace makes a statement with big tastes (some of the best drinks I've ever had), bold decor (love the photographs of Elton's friends), and a relaxed vibe that makes this far and away my number one choice for Best Nightlife in Vegas for 2014. Read the review of Fizz.

2. Drai's at The Cromwell

Speaking of the latest and the greatest, the newest nightclub on The Strip is killing it at The Cromwell with a sexy indoor/outdoor space and a rooftop view that is one of the best in town. This is the party spot of the moment and it deserves it. Read the review of Drai's.

3. Light at Mandalay Bay

Taking the regular nightclub experience to the next level, this partnership with Cirque du Soleil at Mandalay Bay adds their performance art, aerialists, acrobats, and high-tech theater effects to make this much, much more than just a place to go dance and drink. Read the review of Light.

4. Liaison at Bally's

The first gay club inside a Strip casino/hotel is noteworthy enough, but that they made it so interesting is like a bonus. Located just off the casino floor at Ballys, there are two rooms with different beats, a friendly vibe, strong drinks, and lots of eye candy. What else do you need? Read the review of Liaison.

5. Insert Coin(s)

The idea of combining a video game arcade and a bar has become a lot more popular recently but Insert Coin(s) in Downtown Las Vegas was one of the first to do it and they did it right. High tech, low attitude, lots of fun. Read the review of Insert Coin(s).

6. ghostbar at The Palms

A recent renovation gave this long-running ultralounge at The Palms the shot in the arm it needed. It has style and attitude but not in an overwhelming way, and the views from the top of the Palms tower are incredible. Read the review of ghostbar.

7. Vanguard Lounge

If you like a little craft in your cocktail, look no further than this award winning bar in Downtown Vegas, which serves up some of the most incredible, fresh, and creative drinks in town. Read the review of Vanguard Lounge.

8. Body English at The Hard Rock Hotel

If you find the big nightclubs in town to be too overwhelming, come check out this more intimate space at The Hard Rock Hotel. It's plenty big enough for a fun crowd but more manageable than the mega-clubs. Read the review of Body English.

9. Atomic Liquors

There really isn't much to this place in Downtown Las Vegas other than a bar, a few stools, and a few other distractions, but the history of the joint and the fun, atomic age themed drink specials, make it a cool spot to visit. Read the full review of Atomic Liquors.

10. Hyde at Bellagio

Views are a big deal in this town and this one, just yards away from the Bellagio Fountains, is pretty amazing. The fun ultralounge space that comes with it is pretty darned cool, too. Read the review of Hyde.

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Vegas4Visitors Top 10 Awards 2014: The Best Shopping in Las Vegas

Las Vegas remains one of the best shopping towns in the world. Whether you are looking for high end merchandise or low priced souvenirs, you'll be able to find it here and probably find a bunch of stuff you didn't even think of in the first place. Here are my picks for the Best Shopping in Las Vegas for 2014.

1. Downtown Container Park

This is not shopping for the masses - there is no GAP in this particular mall. But the stores you will find are completely unique, focused on art and artisan creations, and all located in old shipping containers and pre-manufactured cubes surrounding a park-like playground. Oh, and there's a giant fire breathing praying mantis out front. How can this not be the number one pick for Best Shopping in Las Vegas for 2014? Read the review of the Downtown Container Park.

2. Zombie Apocalypse

Let's face it, zombies are the new black and no place does the reanimated dead better than this tongue-in-cheek survivalist store. If you can get past the end of the world paranoia, it's a hoot. Read the review of the Zombie Apocalypse Store.

3. Bonanza Souvenir Store

Nothing says Vegas more than a tacky souvenir and you won't be able to find more of them than at the place that bills itself as the world's largest souvenir store. Read the review of the Bonanza Souvenir Shop.

4. Toy Shack at Neonopolis

Your childhood comes to vibrant, vivid life in this brightly colored emporium that carries both new and vintage toys of all types. Read the review of the Toy Shack.

5. Hershey's Chocolate World at New York-New York

Chocolate. Lots of it. I don't know what else you need to know about why I put it on the list. Read the review of Hershey's Chocolate World.

6. Gambler's General Store

This city was built on gambling and so why not celebrate that at this temple to all things casino? Whether it's a book or a blackjack table, you'll find it here. Read the review of Gambler's General Store.

7. Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian

There are three big themed malls in Vegas but this one at The Venetian has the best of them with a canal running down the center of it, complete with gondolas. The shopping is almost secondary but there's still plenty of that as well. Read the review of the Grand Canal Shoppes.

8. Town Square

I'm still not totally sold on the idea of an outdoor shopping mall in Las Vegas - news flash: it gets a bit hot here - but as long as the weather is cooperating this walkable village has a lot of stuff going for it. Read the review of Town Square.

9. Sweet Spot Candy Shop

Candy. Lots of it. Do we really need to go through this again? Read the review of the Sweet Spot Candy Shop.

10. Linq Promenade

They took a dank alley between casinos and turned it into a nice shopping plaza so that's a good start but then they filled with interesting stores and restaurants. Nicely done. Read the review of the Linq Promenade.

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Vegas4Visitors Top 10 Awards 2014: The Best Casinos in Las Vegas

This list differs from the Hotels list in that is focuses solely on the casino experience. What makes a good casino in my opinion is plenty of gaming options (I get bored easily and like variety), a comfortable space where you don't feel like you're right on top of other people, a nice but not overwhelming decor, and a friendly staff. Oh... and it helps if I have won money there. The casinos on this list have all of that and that's why they are my picks for the Best Casinos in Las Vegas for 2014.

1. Caesars Palace

The best thing about Caesars Palaces is the rambling layout of the casino floor, which provides several distinct experiences, all of them comfortable and quite often profitable (at least in my experience). Plus you have to give bonus points for keeping a 1960s classic as modern as they have.

2. The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

This remains the most visually stimulating casino in town, with a design that is almost endless eye candy wrapping up a compact and easily navigable space. That older casinos have been trying to revamp to look more like The Cosmopolitan says a lot.

3. Wynn Las Vegas

There's something oddly comforting about the casino at Wynn Las Vegas, with its simple layout, luxurious but not fussy appointments, and wide variety of machines and tables to choose from.

4. Golden Nugget

Take a moment as you walk into the modern, golden-hued casino at The Golden Nugget and think about the fact that people have been gambling here, pretty much non-stop, since 1946. That it still remains relevant and entertaining today is worthy of celebrating.

5 Red Rock Resort

Part of what I love about Red Rock Resort is the affordable, lower limits and friendly staff, but a lot of it has to do with the gorgeous design that makes use of different textures and natural light to create a warm and inviting space.

6. Planet Hollywood

I'll be up front and admit that most of why I like to gamble at Planet Hollywood is about how much money I have won over the years in this casino, leaving me a winner more often than not. Having said that, it is a lively space with the highest ceilings in town giving it an airy, uncrowded feel.

7. Green Valley Ranch

They keep the lighting subdued at Green Valley Ranch, which gives the casino an intimate feeling that belies how big it actually is. Low limits, really friendly dealers, and plenty of options make this one a winner in my book.

8. Mandalay Bay

The revisions they have made to the casino at Mandalay Bay over the last year or two have made a huge impact on reducing the barn-like feeling it used to have. It has more energy now and that can make a huge difference in the entertainment quotient.

9. Aria Las Vegas

It's impossible not to be wowed by the visuals at Aria Las Vegas, with heavy use of fabric, stone, wood, and metal to create a dramatic flair that is missing in most casinos. I know you may not think you need drama in your casino experience, but trust me, it leaves an impression.

10. Bellagio

Still a classic, the upscale amenities at Bellagio provide a touch of class and the layout, which compartmentalizes a huge floor space, makes it feel more personal than it has any right to feel when it is as big as it is.

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