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Food 101 

Whether you're on a budget or a date, New Orleans cuisine lives up to its hype.

COURSE REQUIREMENTS

Neighborhood Joints -- Many argue that the true treasures of local cuisine are found at these classic down-home eateries. In Uptown, you'll find plenty of flavors at Franky and Johnny's (321 Arabella St., 899-9146; www.frankyandjohnnys.com), where plastic tablecloths and cheap draft beer go perfectly with po-boys (try the softshell crab and roast beef po-boys), red beans and rice, and more. Also Uptown, Casamento's (4330 Magazine St., 895-9761; www.casamentosrestaurant.com) is open during oyster season (rule of thumb: all months spelled with an "r") with an oyster bar, excellent oyster po-boys and classic ambience (hint: a great spot to take parents). In Mid-City, both Liuzza's Restaurant and Bar (234 N. Telemachus St., 488-3714; www.liuzzas.com) and Katie's (701 Iberville St., 488-6582) have reached institution status for good reasons such as all-you-can-eat catfish nights, meatball po-boys, onion rings, stuffed artichokes and other delicious gut-busters.

Burgers and Pizzas -- These are traditional staples of the collegiate diet, and New Orleans has plenty of great options for both. For burgers, head to the French Quarter for Port of Call (838 Esplanade Ave., 523-0120; www.portofcallneworleans.com), where stiff Monsoon cocktails help pass the time through a very-understandable wait for half-pound burgers cooked to order. The Beach Burger at Beachcorner Bar and Grill (4905 Canal St., 488-7357) offers a tasty bang for your buck, 10-oz. for $4. There are several great burgers at Camellia Grill (626 S. Carrollton Ave., 866-9573), which stays open late into the night; try the Doc Brinker's: two beef patties with Swiss cheese, cole slaw and chili on rye bread. Head to the lakefront for the meatball pizza at R&O Pizza Place (216 Old Hammond Hwy., Metairie, 831-1248). For a taste of New York-style pizza, try Sugar Park Tavern in Bywater (800 France St., 940-6226) for pies like the all-meat Bronx Bomber on a thin, crispy (and fold-able!) crust.

FIELD TRIP

Venture to the city's outlying areas for some true hidden food treasures. Middendorf's (Hwy. 51 North, exit 15 off I-55, Manchac, 985-386-6666) offers a great spot to sit on the porch, relax and watch the sun set over the lake. House specialties include fried catfish and Gulf flounder, which comes fried and stuffed with crabmeat. For a taste of Italy spiced with rumors of a Mafia-tinged history, head across the river to Mosca's (4137 Hwy. 90 W., Avondale, 436-9942), where sharing family dinners around the table is the preferred way to sample dishes such as crabmeat salad and chicken a la grande.

WHAT YOU'LL BE TESTED ON

"What is gumbo? Where can I find the best gumbo in town?" Pose these two questions to a local, and you'll find a wide array of answers for both, though you might score several defiant "At my mama's house" in retort to the latter. Gumbo originated from African traditions to become a classic Louisiana stew-like dish made from a roux (an oil and flour base, essentially), with seafood (usually shrimp, oysters and crabmeat), chicken-and-sausage and file (pronounced FEE-LAY), a seasoning powder made from sassafras trees. Good options for gumbo include the seafood version at Liuzza's by the Track (1518 N. Lopez St., 943-8667) in the Bayou St. John area, or for great takes on all styles visit The Gumbo Shop (630 St. Peter St., 525-1486; www.gumboshop.com) in the French Quarter.

EXTRA CREDIT

Barbecue -- Despite its location in the Dirty South, New Orleans has not traditionally been known as a barbecue town. That's changed a lot in recent years. VooDoo BBQ has locations across town (100 E. James Blvd., Kenner, 464-1880; 1501 St. Charles Ave. 522-4647; 8550 Pontchartrain Blvd., 283-8301; www.voodoobbqgrill.com), its expansion built on customers loving the local chain's take of barbecue staples. Deep in Bywater, The Joint (821 Poland Ave., 949-3232) opened to much acclaim last year, with ribs, pulled pork, brisket and chicken set to traditional down-home sides such as potato salad and macaroni and cheese, served in a funky, warm atmosphere. Other smokin' spots are Zydeque (808 Iberville St., 565-5520; www.zydeque.com) and Silky O'Sullivan's (311 Decatur St., 525-1011), both located in the French Quarter.

click to enlarge Taste test: A proper gumbo is neither soup nor stew. - LOUISIANA OFFICE OF TOURISM
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