Appetite for Deviation

We all get trapped in our gastronomical ruts.

Between work, kids, working out and other responsibilities, cooking can fall to the end of the priority list. And by the time we think about what to eat, we’re often too hungry or too exhausted to try something new.

It’s easy to get caught in the routine of the drive-thru breakfast sandwich, the sub spot around the corner for lunch, or the bucket of chicken on the way home. And pizza is never more than a phone call away.

We already feel guilty about not cooking enough, then we pack on the guilt — and the pounds — with food that is fast, and often not that satisfying. We’re lured by pervasive national brands that conjure sentimental childhood memories, zippy service that doesn’t require us to get out of our cars, and fatty familiar foods that reliably taste the same every time.

But we can find the comfort food we crave — and get out of our comfort zone.

According to the National Restaurant Association, Americans eat out an average of four times a week. What if just one of those times, you tried something new? Even if you sampled just one new restaurant a month, you would be well on your way to breaking old habits and introducing new foods into your diet.

A constantly growing selection of restaurants is helping Northeast Florida’s palate evolve. Pick a country on the map, and we’re likely to have an eatery that serves that cuisine.

Yes, there’s plenty of Chinese and Japanese to choose from, but there’s also Korean, Vietnamese and Thai to try. We have myriad Mexican restaurants, but you don’t have to go far to find Cuban, Spanish, Peruvian, Dominican or Caribbean options. Indian cuisine has been well represented here for years, as well as Greek and Middle Eastern foods. You don’t have to look too hard to find Italian that goes beyond spaghetti and meatballs, and the region’s French restaurants are some of the finest in the area. We even managed to replace a closed Ethiopian restaurant with a new one.

Many of these restaurants are locally owned. When you patronize a business owned and operated by your fellow community members, more of that money stays in Northeast Florida. You’ll find many of the menu items at these restaurants as affordable as the fast-food choices on a drive-thru menu.

Many of these cuisines pack in the flavor using spices and herbs, making high-fat preparations less necessary. Several of these cuisines focus on small amounts of protein and larger varieties of vegetables, a suggestion many of us have heard from our doctors. You’ll get a primer on three of these cuisines in this week’s cover story.

You can still work in your favorites from barbecue and burgers to seafood and Southern. And, of course, there’s always pizza — but maybe you can occasionally switch out pepperoni for some flavorful roasted red peppers and order it from one of several locally owned pizzerias.

If you’re eating out more than a few times each month, you owe it to yourself to branch out.

Make a point to jot down the restaurant you saw mentioned in a review. Stop by that place that just opened near your workplace or home. Seek out a cuisine you’ve always wanted to try. Search our database of restaurants.

And, by all means, keep copies of Folio Weekly’s Bite by Bite in your home and car so you’ll always have an answer when someone asks, “Where should we go to eat?”