By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Jan 15, 2014 at 11:02 AM

LAS VEGAS – Standing in front of one giant 4K Ultra HD TV after another Friday, I came to an easy conclusion: now is a pretty bad time to buy a new television. Clearly what we’re seeing at stores is no match for what’s just around the corner. Curved or flat, big or gigantic, TV is about to get a lot better.

In fact, the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show – a bucket list event of mine for years – told me a whole lot more about what was coming than what was already here. Although that’s not to stay that if you’re were looking for it, you couldn’t find it at CES. This immense show is everything you want, some things you don’t and others you didn’t know you want but you actually do.

And that’s pretty good metaphor for Las Vegas, in general.

On this now annual guys' trip to Sin City – one that mixes business and pleasure – my old friend Paul and I witnessed a city that somehow gives itself a makeover year after year. It keeps refining what it excels at – world-class entertainment – then finds a way to pile new features atop the rubble of anything even slightly outdated.

Obviously, the focal point of my coverage was CES, and to call it overwhelming is an understatement. In three gigantic halls in the Las Vegas Convention Center, there’s far more than one can possibly see during the entire show span, and in my case, a day here was laughably short.

But it also wasn’t. I found lots of duplication. The humongous TVs began to look the same after a while, and if anything, I was surprised at the stellar quality coming for Asian brands that I’d never heard of or had barely heard of. When the time comes, I now feel a little less skeptical with a brand like Hisense, for example. Their displays looked almost as great, to my naked eye, as the offering from the big boys with their cavernous pavilions, thumping DJs and sleek runway models.

Of course, I also waltzed past zillions of phone cases, e-cigarettes, 3D TVs without glasses, wireless phone chargers, drone helicopters, high-end audio peripherals, wearable tech, cars of the future and more. I got my first look at the new BMW i3, and inside the Panasonic booth, I saw the entire Lumix line of Micro 4/3 cameras and lenses – for a camera nerd, that was pretty cool.

Still, for a general assignment reporter, one who doesn’t cover tech or a tech subset exclusively, CES was better suited for a long, casual, mouth-wide-open stroll. My best advice: hold off on buying that new TV, because better stuff in the 4K format is almost here. I can check CES off the bucket list now, too, although I’d be surprised if I came back.

Tech, of course, doesn’t only come to town for one week out of the year. I received a hard-hat sneak preview of the new LINQ development, and the High Roller, the world’s largest (and probably coolest) observation wheel, being built by Caesars Entertainment Corporation. In the footprint of O’Shea’s casino (which has been rebuilt and funkified, but still has beer pong), LINQ is a bit like a Vegas version of Bayshore Town Center.

A self-contained shopping and dining district, it’s car-free, aimed at the Gen X and Gen Y crowd, and thankfully devoid from the bootleg Elmo mascots and porn card slappers who line the sidewalks of The Strip. While I wouldn’t bring kids to Vegas, LINQ isn’t family unfriendly.

"This is private property, which means we can control who’s in here," Christina Karas from Ceasars told me during my one-on-one-tour. "That means you won’t see anyone looking like Elvis or costume characters wandering up and down the LINQ."

You’ll know the center strip LINQ when you see it, nestled by the Quad Casino, which once was Imperial Palace. The HD vertical signage from the strip is impressive, but what most visitors will notice is the the 550-foot tall High Roller on the far east side of LINQ.

In fact, you’ll see the massive, spinning observation wheel from nearly anywhere in the valley dominating the mid-Strip skyline. When it opens this spring, it won’t be the Ferris wheel you’re used to. Each of the 28 cabins is luxuriously decked out (yes, you can bring drinks from the wheelhouse on it), and with an open feel, it will rise far above this sprawling and amazing city.

Prices will depend on time and seasonality – from the mid-$20s during the day, and the mid-$30s at night, Karas says – and you can rent a pod for private parties and just keep on spinning. Running about 14 hours a day, expect it to rival the London Eye in just about every way. "Most people want to ride this at night," she says.

Spectacular dining

LINQ is stocking itself with some stellar tenants from a build-your-own frozen drink bar to a mid-sized music venue called Brooklyn Bowl. Fortunately for us, we were among the very first to visit the brand-new Chayo Mexican Restaurant and Tequila Bar, which still hasn’t had its hard-opening, and it was a surprise delight. With its upscale yet cool Mexican theme, Chayo oozes understated elegance. Don’t be put off by the mechanical bull; instead, focus on the awesome service (thanks, Danielle!), the inspired drinks and delectable small-plate choices like creamy cilantro soup ($8), carnitas tacos ($12) and bass ceviche ($13).

Chef Ernesto Zendejas brings together his combination of experience in Mexico and training in France for some world-class dishes. Don’t skip dessert here either – I would fly to Vegas just for some of his amazing tres leches cake. Chayo stuffed us to the gills, and everything was just perfect. Even though we didn’t pay for it, Chayo is quite affordable, too. You simply must visit, because this place is going to get very, very hot and is a welcome touch of classy fun on this part of The Strip. Whether you ride the bull is up to you.

This year, we stayed at two of our favorite hotels: the venerable, cozy Tropicana again, with its primo South Strip location and laid-back vibe. That meant we had the chance to visit Bacio, Trop’s equally unassuming Italian bistro. Not flashy, but really tasty, affordable food set in the atmosphere of a hidden gem neighborhood trattoria you might stumble upon in New York. I found the chicken piccata to be very, very good and excellently paired with a light red Camerano suggested by our knowledgeable server. In a town where it’s easy to break the bank, Bacio won’t. A very solid choice for a relaxing but top-notch meal before a big night on the town.

But our home base for our last night on Sunday, Palms, poured it on with it one of those meals that we’ll remember forever. At the sizzling N9NE Steakhouse, we were treated to the kind of the meal where the chef, Barry Dakake, mostly picked out what to bring us. Ahi tuna tartare, Maine sea scallops and more, ramping up to a uniquely-tender 12 ounce filet ($52) for me, and a sublime 50-day dry-aged ribeye ($64) for Paul, N9NE knocked it out of the park – or "pahhk" as Rhode Island-born Dakake might say – in every single way (try the white truffle cream gnocchi).

Simply, everything was perfect: service (thanks Marco!), decor, presentation and taste – and watching the chef run the show like a field marshal in the kitchen afterwards cemented the experience. We’ve eaten very, very well over the years in Las Vegas, but Chayo and N9NE were two of the best dinners we’ve ever had, anywhere. Conde Nast called N9NE a top 100 restaurant in the world. I couldn’t agree more.

Players win, and winners play

I’d be leaving out a bit from this trip if I didn’t mention it involved an awful lot of slot machines, blackjack and even a few "free" casino cocktails. For a change, Paul and I struck gold at Palazzo at the new Ferris Bueller slot machine. Sitting next to each other, on consecutive pulls, I hit $500, and Paul hit $1,500 – I’ve never seen someone have to fill out a W-2 form at a casino. We ambled to Rio from Palms, where I got a shoulder massage while playing blackjack (very relaxing), and scoped out the Fremont Street experience downtown for some no-frills gaming at the new Big D (formerly Fitzgerald’s).

We also managed to blow our winnings on very expensive cocktails at Mix, atop Mandalay Bay, and on the $35 cover (yes, really) at the Marquee Nightclub inside Cosmopolitan. World-class DJs lit it up, and things really got cooking around 3 a.m., which is well past my bedtime. Yes, I’m entirely too old for those kind of shenanigans, but in an over-the-top sort of way, it’s all part of the Vegas experience.

Clearly, this trip ran us ragged – as it does every year. But there are ways to keep it going. I do recommend naps during the day, but for a unique but quiet nightlife experience, you must check out the brand new Laundry Room downtown, hidden inside a steam-punk hipster lounge called Commonweath.

Sort of a mix between Milwaukee’s Boone & Crockett and the Safe House, Laundry Room is a tiny new speakeasy bar that you must text for a reservation (again, thanks Danielle!). Once inside, it feels just like "Boardwalk Empire," with pre-Prohibition craft cocktails served slowly in an amazing setting.

And again, we convalesced at Hangover Heaven, the life-saving brainchild of Duke-trained anesthesiologist, Dr. Jason Burke, that has received a ton of national publicity since I first reviewed it. Last year, his proprietary IV-blend nursed us back to health. This year, he had completed his clinic and mobile renovations, picking us up on in a converted ambulance and treating us on a tour bus – remodeled from a church choir RV – while we watched "The Hangover," of course.

But there was no preaching here: The results for the $200 "Resurrection Package" weren’t quite as dramatic for me this year – on a ranking of 1-10 I’d say the good doctor dropped my hangover from an 11 to a 3, which is pretty good considering how much I abused my system the previous night. In Burke’s defense, though, I gave him an awful lot to work with after that crazy night at Marquee, and my condition probably required divine intervention. Paul fared much better, arising like Lazarus and stepping off the Hangover bus unflinchingly into the blazing desert sun.

Make a plan

Of course, the easiest rookie mistake in Vegas is to go nuts on the first night and spend the rest of the time recovering. Even after all these years, I’m guilty of making that mistake from time to time, so my parting advice is to do a little planning and pace yourself.

That begins with where you stay. I was differently impressed with both the Trop and the Palms – I love the convenience and the respite of Tropicana. Close to the airport, you could get away with skipping the rental car completely here. But I also loved the cool chic of the Palms. The renovated rooms were super cool, and even though it’s off-strip and getting a car is advised, it’s very self-contained. The center bourbon bar, Social, still is awesome, while the rooftop Ghostbar was dead on Sunday night – but so were we – still, there’s more to see at Palms, and we’ll be back.

And speaking of being back, if you want to be a repeat Vegas visitor, try not to try to do everything. It can’t be done. Travel at your own pace. Visit the Strip and Downtown, and try not to overthink it. Mix highbrow and lowbrow. Splurge on some great meals, save at a few buffets – by joining the player’s club at Palms my breakfast was about free.

Or throw in something totally random. We visited the Las Vegas Premium Outlets North adjacent to downtown to spend some of our slot machine winnings – I can’t think of another place that has a Ted Baker Outlet. We ran out of time for this, although a three-day trip is just about long enough, but next year I want to see the new Downtown Container Park for lunch and more shopping, and take a ride on the High Roller once that bad boy is spinning.

And to think, I know people who don’t like Las Vegas. I really, really can’t understand what’s not to like. It’s cliche, but it’s true: Vegas has something for everyone. And it’s getting better all the time.

Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.