From a casual gem in the Short North to an upscale steakhouse at Polaris, we honor eight establishments that do it right, including our choice for Best of the Best: DeepWood.

OK, it's a tough economy. But you still gotta eat, right? And eating out is, for many of us, not something we think of as a luxury, but as a regular part of life. So here's our practical suggestion for coping with hard times: Go to the good restaurants. They'll stay in business and you'll be well-fed. (For the record, pricey doesn't necessarily mean high quality.)

We're here to help by announcing a new batch of places worth spending your cash on.

Columbus Monthly's eight choices for the Best New Restaurants of the past year are a mixed lot, representing a wide range of offerings: Indian (Bayleaf India Bistro), Italian (Giorgio), French (Short Story Brasserie), tapas (Wine Guy Wine Shop Wine Bar & Bistro), steakhouse (Eddie Merlot's), eclectic (Tasi) and, of course, American (Sage American Bistro and DeepWood).

A couple of our choices are not exactly cheap, but they both received our carefully guarded four-star rating: Eddie Merlot's and DeepWood. A visit to either is coin wisely spent, particularly the outstanding DeepWood. In fact, it is Columbus Monthly's choice for the very best new restaurant of 2008.

­Best of the Best

DeepWood

511 N. High St., 221-5602, deepwoodrestaurant.com

The first-rate ingredients at DeepWood are masterfully prepared with elegant simplicity. The changing menu shows a deep grasp of what makes traditional recipes great-and then improves them with deft and tasteful creativity, as well as restraint.

While the dishes may sound familiar (leg of lamb or Maine lobster, for instance), they are anything but. Oysters on the half shell are presented with citrus cocktail and apple cider mignonette. The seared duck breast is accompanied by a confit spring roll and perhaps arugula with poached plums and plum eau de vie or puréed white beans and sour cherry compote. On the plate with the roasted Chatham cod could be potato risotto and a Napa sauté of cabbage, grapes and spring onion or shaved baby cabbage with shallots, crisped pancetta, diced potatoes, cranberries and a red wine reduction. Is your mouth watering yet?

Rest of the best

Bayleaf India Bistro

1025 Polaris Pkwy., 825-1053,bayleafindiabistro.com

With dark woods and colorful tableware and dishes from India, Bayleaf is a pretty place. The food is pretty, too, but better yet, good to eat. The menu represents cuisines from across the country, and there are items to please most any taste, including plenty of seafood and vegetarian offerings. We think the daily lunch buffet is among the best in town, but the dinner menu is where the kitchen really shines: deeply flavored curries, grilled meats and seafood and the tasty samosa (a fried pastry pillow stuffed with spiced vegetables). The breads are worthy of attention, too. And consider yourself warned: When they say hot, they mean hot.

Eddie Merlot's

1570 Polaris Pkwy., 433-7307, eddiemerlots.com

Perhaps you're thinking Eddie Merlot's is just another expensive steakhouse with seafood and wine. Well, it is. But the place does everything really, really well. And sometimes with a nice touch of showmanship: The four large, perfectly cooked shrimp with cocktail sauce arrive in a small volcano of smoke thanks to some dry ice. Actually, all the appetizers are pretty enough for a picture. (A favorite is the Atlantic seafood platter, with shrimp, oysters, mussels and more served with freshly shaved ice.) The steaks are simply great, and they're cooked to order expertly. Soups, salads and side dishes all succeed. The wine list is extensive and solid. What's not to like?

Giorgio

2941 N. High St., 265-9020,giorgiodining.com

Clintonville has taken to Giorgio, and for good reason: hearty Italian fare at fair prices. The menu is mostly dishes you've heard of, and they are well-prepared. We recommend the lasagna, spaghetti alla puttanesca and classic eggplant parmesan. You also can't go wrong with the nightly specials, and the Italian wine list is a good one. Giorgio is nice enough for a night out, but you'll also feel comfortable bringing the kids. (See full review on page 47.)

Sage American Bistro

2653 N. High St., 267-7243,sageamericanbistro.com

Lucky for us that the chef at Ohio State's Faculty Club took a risk by leaving the ivory tower to open a restaurant. Bill Glover really knows how to cook. Pasta and seafood are particularly well-treated here, but everything is yummy. We are especially fond of the Sunday brunch, which features such unusual dishes ­as crème brûlée French toast and shiitake mushroom and pancetta frittata. Sage is a modest storefront on High Street north of campus, but the dining room is lovely with its exposed brick. The menu, which is priced fairly, changes seasonally or more often.

Short Story Brasserie

923 River Rd., Granville, (740) 587-0281, theshortstoryrestaurant.com

The quaint burg of Granville is the recent beneficiary of several new restaurants, including the charming Short Story, with its name, theme and décor inspired by the owner's love of Hemingway. The lively, well-executed and French-inspired menu features dishes meant for sharing, such as the selection of hot and cold small plates (try the circles of lamb tenderloin). There also are interesting large plate choices, including the delicious sea scallops. And don't miss the truffles for dessert. The service is pleasing, and the owner gives serious attention to the wine list. (A wine bar is downstairs.)

Tasi

680 N. Pearl St., 222-0788,tasicafe.com

Tasi Rigsby's gem of a casual place is hidden on Pearl Street in the Short North, near the five-star restaurant, Rigsby's Kitchen, that she and her husband co-own. Tasi makes its mark with its wonderful breakfast items (available all day, fortunately), such as cinnamon challah French toast with warm banana and Frangelico syrup, as well as poached eggs with black bean cake and jalapeño butter sauce. There are good sandwiches for lunch, too, especially the marvelous Philly cheese steak with caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, mozzarella and horseradish mayo. Or even go for dinner and order an oven-roasted specialty such as stuffed meatloaf with veggies and prosciutto with twice-baked potatoes.

Wine Guy Wine Shop Wine Bar & Bistro

500 Creekside Plaza., Gahanna, 536-0411, thewineguywineshop.com

As the name suggests, a lot is going on regarding wine at the Wine Guy Wine Shop Wine Bar & Bistro (there's an older location in Pickerington, too). But at the bistro, you can find an eclectic menu with many good dishes: nicely chosen cheese and antipasti, tasty hummus and olive tapenade, grilled lollipop lamb chops, pan-seared orange tea marinated duck breast and ginger sesame-crusted tuna. And don't forget such sides as mushroom risotto cake and white cheddar cheese grit cake. The atmosphere is festive, with folks lingering over their wine and ordering yet another small plate.