From accommodations to entertainment, the year's 'Best Bets'

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Although momentarily staggered by the past year's drop-off in visitors, Las Vegas' hospitality industry responds like a still-dangerous, seasoned prizefighter backed into a corner. Still packing a mean punch -- often with pricing retooled in the buyer's favor -- Las Vegas' Best Bets come out swinging and looking for a knockout in Part 1 of this late 2010 edition.

• Best Indulgent Breakfast on the Strip: Payard Patisserie & Bistro at Caesars Palace -- When third-generation pastry chef Francois Payard brought his considerable skills and talented Gallic team to Caesars Palace in late 2007 to launch Payard Patisserie, Las Vegas got a little richer.

The breakfast bonanza that unfolds in the cozy, bistro-in-the-round is not one of Vegas' over-the-top buffet brunches, but rather a small, classy affair that features Payard's luscious almond croissants, silky smooth quiche and baked brioche French toast.

The continental buffet, priced at $22, typifies the chef's emphasis on quality over quantity. Visit www.caesarspalace.com.  

• Best Off-the-Menu Meal Deal: Mr. Lucky's 24/7 at Hard Rock Hotel and Casino -- It's worth the short trip off the Strip to this hipster hangout, where savvy diners who order the Gambler's Special receive an 8-ounce flatiron steak, three grilled shrimp, whipped potatoes and a dinner salad for $7.77.

It's only for those in the know (it's not on the menu), but it's available round the clock in Mr. Lucky's 24/7. Visit www.hardrockhotel.com.  

PH Towers Westgate lobby• Best-Kept Secret on the Strip: PH Towers Westgate -- It's not easy to hide a 1,201-room tower, especially on the Strip, but this nongaming, nonsmoking timeshare/hotel combo isn't exactly at the top of mind when considering Vegas accommodations.

Located adjacent to Planet Hollywood with front-door access from the Miracle Mile Shops, PH Towers Westgate opened without fanfare in late 2009. The property offers quick in-and-out valet service and a short walk from front door to guestroom. Each guestroom and suite, done in a sleek, modern style, features a kitchenette or full kitchen and two or more flat-screen TVs (suites add an HD projector).

Agents booking via the PH Towers website receive 15% commission through Nov. 30. Visit www.phtowers.com.  

• Best Japanese on the Strip: Yellowtail at Bellagio -- When nightclub operator Light Group opened Fix at Bellagio and Stack at the Mirage, foodies were pleasantly surprised at the quality and presentation of chef Brian Massie's modern take on classic American cuisine.

For the company's first foray into ethnic territory, however, Light wisely secured the services of chef Akira Back, a student of famed chef Nobu Matsuhisa. Innovative preparation and artful presentation define an extensive sushi menu and dishes like tempura Alaskan king crab, rock shrimp hand roll, grilled walu and melt-in-your-mouth Kobe beef.

Impeccable service and the soothing surroundings of the chic room complement the gourmet experience. Visit www.bellagio.com.  

• Best Legacy Headliner: Cher at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace Las Vegas -- At its inception, Las Vegas was the place where top-notch performers played. Later, it became the place where they went to die, or, as some prefer to cast it, the place where the dead were still working.

Andres at the Monte CarloIt has now morphed into the place where veteran stars take their careers to another level. Cher, Elton John and Bette Midler have alternately wowed their faithful and made new converts at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace. And although all put on a show well worth the admission price, the seemingly ageless Cher shows all of us, young and old, what it means to be a performer.

This diva's show, a combination of talent, guts, showmanship and self-deprecating humor, does justice to the memory of this city's early entertainment landscape. Visit www.caesarspalace.com.  

• Best Hidden Treasure: Andre's at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino -- In a Las Vegas local's mindset, avoidance of the busy, traffic-choked Strip is a primary consideration when deciding where to go for dinner. Hence, a Strip restaurant that draws a significant number of local clientele is a true anomaly in Vegas.

Occupying that rare stratum is Andre's at the Monte Carlo, tucked away behind a low-key entryway in the casino. Chef Andre Rochat has been treating locals and visitors alike to his classic French cuisine since 1980, first at his namesake downtown restaurant, then at the Monte Carlo since its opening in 1997.

The intimate room, elegant service and rich cuisine combine to make Andre's -- winner of multiple awards, including a Michelin star -- a gastronomic pleasure for those who venture inside. Visit www.andrelv.com/montecarlo.  

Gold Coast Premium room• Best Premium Room Under $50: Gold Coast Hotel & Casino -- Obtaining an upgraded product at a value price point seems to be the holy grail in current-day Vegas, and the premium rooms at the otherwise-budget, off-Strip Gold Coast fill that bill.

Guests expecting a room with a view (there aren't any) or luxe surroundings (not here either) will be disappointed. But those looking for modern accommodations with upgraded bed linens, a dark-wood work desk, flat-panel TV, glass-enclosed stall shower and premium bathroom amenities will be pleasantly surprised with a midweek rate starting at $44, including resort fees. Visit www.goldcoastcasino.com.  

• Best Broadway Import: "Phantom -- The Las Vegas Spectacular," at the Venetian -- Despite Broadway show purists' insistence that "Phantom's" producers committed heresy by shortening the show to a Vegas-standard 90 minutes, the production remains impressive.

With a custom-built theater that doubles as a re-creation of the famed Paris opera house, a talented cast and masterful special effects, "Phantom," now in its fifth year, is that rare example of a long-running Broadway show in Las Vegas. Visit www.venetian.com.  

Look for Part 2 of "Best Bets" in a future Las Vegas section.

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