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How many times have you heard a native New Orleanian return from some other city -- even a major metropolitan area -- and grumble, "I like where I live, but I miss the food!" That's not just because New Orleans is an amazing city for food; we already knew that. But it's also because of the way the food is prepared here. New Orleans is unique in this country for its ability to maintain its culinary heritage while accepting other traditions and blending them in, too.
That's why our annual Winter Restaurant Guide is categorized by cuisine and why, this year, we've even added another category: Pan-Asian, which reflects the increase of Asian fusion approaches in area restaurants. It all plays into the "what's in a name" game we play when trying to place labels in a region that so often defies labels. Maybe "guideline" is a better term, for this is the restaurant guide we provide for those moments when you know you're in a certain kind of mood ("Let's get some Creole tonight"). Here's to getting it right.

$ -- $5 to $10
$$ -- $11 to $20
$$$ -- $21 or more

African - Exotic offerings from the continent

American - More than just burgers and not exactly diners, our American is as down-home familiar as all-day breakfasts, chunky blue-cheese salads and super-stuffed potatoes.

American Contemporary - This is where fusion takes familiar ingredients into unimagined realms of flavor, such as salmon served with sauerkraut, scrambled eggs on pizzas and chipotle Caesar salads.

Bagels - If it's round and boiled with a hole in the middle, you're in the right place.

Bar & Grill - Where more drinks come from the tap than from a sommelier and where food tastes better in a pair of blue jeans.

Barbecue - Sticky and sweet, meaty and smoky, a pile of cole slaw and a ladle of beans ... you get the picture.

Brewpub - It's homebrew with a legitimate label and contemporary American eats to match.

Burgers - All-American, all-beef, all day.

Cafe - They simmer a soup and build a sandwich as well as they pull an espresso and pour on the froth.

Cajun - The Acadiana roots show through in dark roux, while a Prudhommian flair for blackening counts, too.

- Jerk chicken, curry goat, ackee and salt fish.

- The many ways of China are represented, from straight-up stir fries to dim sum for dinner.

Coffee & Dessert - A cup of java (or several) and a pastry make even Mondays and exam weeks bearable.

Creole - With many Cajun-Creole hybrids in the bunch, gumbos, turtle soups and paneed meats tend to rule the roost.

Deli - There's only a counter between you and the sliced meats and cheeses, plate lunches and prepared foods, olive salads and cheesecakes.

Diner - American-style eats with an attitude, often served late into the night

French - Coq au vin, moules, pate, Champagne ... bon appetit.

Gourmet-to-Go - Bring 'em in, pack it up, move 'em out in gourmet fashion ... unless they'd like to stay and eat for a while.

- Sun-drenched salads and spit-roasted meats.

Indian - Try a mango lassi or steamy chai tea while you wait for heady curries, peppery lentils and soft, stuffed naans.

Intercontinental - Not exactly fusion cuisine, these restaurants tend to feature one continent per plate, but a worldly variety on the menu.

Italian - It would take years to taste all the red sauces, antipasti plates and wedges of tiramisu.

Japanese - Bring on the wasabi; sushi takes the day.

Korean - Opera singers and whole roasted fish, or tableside grilling for the wary.

Latin American
- Guanabana juice, black beans with rice and tres leches cakes.

Louisiana Contemporary - Creole traditions meet cutting-edge ingredients and today's techniques, such as foie gras with lobster cream, Brie-stuffed duck breast and crabmeat with lemon confit.

- The cuisine of garlic and capers, lots of olive oil and roasted peppers.

Mexican & Southwestern - Tacos, burritos, flautas and quesadillas, all washed down with an ice cold Corona.

Middle Eastern - Vegetarians adore this category of fried chickpeas, stuffed grape leaves and tangy yogurt dips.

Music & Food
- Where the music might be the reason for eating.

- Those places where red beans on Monday and a perfect brisket is sacred and where your father might have eaten before you.

- Blending the influences of Chinese, Japanese, Korean dishes and beyond, the essence of Asian fusion.

Pizza - From caviar and capers to the plain cheese pie -- they're all here.

Sandwiches & Po-Boys - The heart and soul of comfort food.

- The prime suspects are the swimmers, the bottom trollers and the shell dwellers -- grilled, broiled, boiled or fried.

Soul - What real soul does to food: fried chicken, turkey necks, smothered okra and ham hocks.

- Let the meat speak for itself.

Thai - While paht Thai might have the final say, don't forget the coconut soups, the minty beef salads and that orangey bittersweet tea.

Vegetarian & Health Food - For the meatless, or when the rest of you have had your fill of cream sauces and can't eat another fried morsel.

Vietnamese - Steaming bowls of pho, stretchy spring rolls, tangy fish sauce, icy coconut desserts.


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