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Desert Companion

Ten years of Desert Companion, seven years of Best of the City

Desert Companion has been compiling its annual Best of the City issue since February 2011, which makes us late-comers in a way: “Best of the (specific geographically defined area)” packages are a time-honored tradition in the biz, having been around at least since ancient man dabbed the pictographic equivalent of “Best Mammoth Hunter: Og!” on cave walls. The formula doesn’t vary much: You devise a bunch of categories — Best Pizza, Best Shoe Store, Best Wine Selection — pick some winners, throw a party, hooray!

Las Vegas is a particularly fertile place for this, says Desert Companion editor Andrew Kiraly, who, the record shows, green-lighted an award in the category Best Restaurant Closest to John Curtas’ House in that first Best of.

“What better place to celebrate bestiness than the city of superlatives?” he says. “Particularly for our tasteful and discerning Desert Companion readers, all of whom I’ve met personally. But seriously, in such a bustling, protean city, it’s truly useful to offer an annual snapshot of the best in food, culture and services.”

It’s a madly changing city, as you know. Look at that February 2011 issue. Best Non-Ethnic Vegetarian: Red Velvet Café — now closed. Best Bookstore: Plaza Books — closed. Best Theater: Insurgo Theatre Movement — who knows? This comes as no surprise in churn-happy Vegas, but it does have an upside: New discoveries await Best of the City readers every year as the city morphs, diversifies, turns over. Which makes an authoritative rundown of the city’s best even more, as Andrew says, useful — and challenging.

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“To keep up,” Andrew says, “we tap our star chamber of enthusiastic experts — the dining critics, art-lovers and lifestyle writers who contribute to DC every month — to share their favorites.”

Indeed, beginning with that first Best of, Desert Companion — unlike similar efforts in some other publications — has based its picks on opinions by trusted experts, not by polling readers. Or, to put it in more topically appropriate terms, we skipped the popular vote and went straight to the Electoral College. (Though we do poll readers online and sidebar some of their selections in print.)

Did we go that route because we believed there’s a limited value in reflecting readers’ own opinions back at them? Because although individual Las Vegans are exemplars of good taste, collectively you vote Olive Garden as Best Italian? Because tallying hundreds of votes required too much *shudder* math? Who knows? That decision is lost in the mists of time. What we do know is, in 2011 we gave an award for Best Place to Take Your Kids and Maintain Your Hipster Dad Cred, and it’s hard to imagine readers offering a coherent group vote on that (other than Olive Garden, of course).

At the same time, the editors recognize that there are many routes to expertise, and we’ve tried to vector in on it from multiple, sometimes surprising directions. That first Best of the City package featured breakouts pitting “natives vs. newbies” — our way of acknowledging two equally legit methods of finding the city’s good stuff: by spending a lifetime sifting your way to it, or by pouncing on it with the fired passion of a newcomer. A subsequent Best of the City featured “urbs vs ’burbs,” and another engaged a slate of neighborhood experts to show readers around their patches. As long as there are different ways to size up this place, future iterations of this idea will surely continue — cat people vs. dog people, perhaps, or the speed-frenzied commuters of I-15 vs. the tail-gating crazies on U.S. 95. Could be anything!

That’s the big takeaway here, we suppose: It takes all kinds to make a great city, and a great Best of the City.

Oh, and if you want to take your kids somewhere and maintain your hipster dad cred, La Joya Auto Sales (?) is still open.

If you’ve enjoyed this read, wait until you get your hands on a bunch of these reads from contemporary voices mining the good stuff from Las Vegas — all laid out in a gorgeous design experience. Subscribe. It comes to your house. For real!

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