Best Grammar School
1. Lusher Charter School (5624 Freret St., 504-304-3960; www.lusherschool.org) — This Uptown charter school offers an arts-based education and leads with innovative teaching techniques — it was awarded an A+ rating by the Louisiana Department of Education and is the highest performing K-12 school in the state. Its grammar school offers environmentally focused field trips, the latest technology and support from Tulane University.
2. Isidore Newman School (1903 Jefferson Ave., 504-899-5641; www.newmanschool.org)
3. Metairie Park Country Day School (300 Park Road, 504-837-5204; www.mpcds.com)
Best High School
1. Jesuit High School (4133 Banks St., 504-486-6631; www.jesuitnola.org) — The Blue Jays on Banks Street first held classes in 1926, but the school originated 160 years ago downtown and was founded by the Fathers of the Society of Jesus. The Archdiocese college prep school ranks among the top schools in the country for National Merit semifinalists.
2. Benjamin Franklin High School (2001 Leon C. Simon Drive, 504-286-2600; www.benfranklinhighschool.org)
3. Isidore Newman School (1903 Jefferson Ave., 504-899-5641; www.newmanschool.org)
Best Local University
1. Tulane University (6823 St. Charles Ave., 504-865-5400; www.tulane.edu) — Tulane University first opened its doors in 1834 and is consistently ranked one of the best southern universities by Forbes and U.S. News & World Report. Its undergraduate and graduate programs included focuses on the environment, business, public health, social work, medicine, architecture and law — and the Green Wave gets to play in the Dome.
2. Loyola University New Orleans (6363 St. Charles Ave., 504-865-3240; www.loyno.edu)
3. University of New Orleans (2000 Lakeshore Drive, 504-280-6000; www.uno.edu)
Best Saints Player
1. Drew Brees — As 2012 revs up to a highly anticipated year for an invigorated Saints, Gambit readers know who to turn to: New Orleans' own "$100 Million Man," Drew Brees — the quarterback never flinched at the idea of leaving the city, even as the NFL tried to keep him apart, but another "Best Of" title couldn't hurt.
2. Jimmy Graham
3. Darren Sproles
Best Hornets Player
1. Anthony Davis — Though the 6-foot-10-inches-tall Kentucky Wildcat has hardly touched the wood inside the Hive, the 19-year-old's "Best Of" buzz kicked off when he was selected overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft. And he's already a Team USA Olympian, bringing not only his height and hoops skills to New Orleans but a gold medal from across the pond.
2. Eric Gordon
3. Jason Smith
Best Local Novelist
1. James Lee Burke — OK, Burke isn't strictly local. He lives in New Iberia and Montana, but he still writes about New Orleans and Louisiana (his latest Dave Robicheaux novel, Creole Belle, was released last month). Moral and morose, Burke has written as poetically as anyone about the beauty and destruction of Louisiana wetlands, but his books still carry the narrative thrust of a Hollywood thriller.
2. Billy Martin (the former Poppy Z. Brite)
3. Julie Smith
Best Local Nonfiction Author
1. Chris Rose — It's been five years since Rose published his one book, 1 Dead In Attic — a collection of columns and essays about those dazed days post-Hurricane Katrina. Since then, he left The Times-Picayune, wrote briefly for Gambit, moved up north, moved back and found a new outlet for his voice as an essayist on Fox 8's newscast.
2. Tom Piazza
3. Ken Foster
Best Local Artist
1. George Rodrigue — The lovable Cajun (and Blue Dog) artist (www.georgerodrigue.com) moved to New Orleans before Katrina, and his popularity continues to soar, proving that you can't keep a good man (or a good dog) down. He won this category last year as well.
2. James Michalopoulos
3. Terrance Osborne
Best Art Gallery
1. Arthur Roger Gallery (432 Julia St., 504-522-1999; www.arthurrogergallery.com) — Arthur Roger Gallery has earned a reputation nationally as an influential leader in contemporary art, representing a variety of Southern painters, sculptors and artists in other genres. The gallery represents a long list of artists including Elemore Morgan Jr., John Scott, Lin Emery, Dale Chihuly, Ida Kohlmeyer, John Alexander, Willie Birch, George Dureau, Robert Gordy, Francis X. Pavy and many others.
2. Rodrigue Gallery (730 Royal St., 504- 581-4244; www.georgerodrigue.com)
3. Cole Pratt (3800 Magazine St., 504-891-6789; www.coleprattgallery.com)
1. New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) (1 Collins Diboll Circle, 504-658-4100; www.noma.org) — NOMA makes it easy to explore art, offering a 40,000-item permanent collection as well as hosting curated special shows and traveling exhibits from ancient to current times. Museum admission is free to everyone on Wednesdays. Next to the museum is the 5-acre Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, a free venue with 60 sculptures by artists from all over the world exhibited along meandering paths and lush gardens.
2. National World War II Museum (945 Magazine St., 504-528-1944; www.nationalww2museum.org)
3. Ogden Museum of Southern Art (925 Camp St., 504-539-9600; www.ogdenmuseum.org)
Best Louisiana Reality Show
1. Swamp People — Louisiana reality TV used to be very Bourbon Street-centric, but recently cable had a love affair with the charming folks of backwoods Louisi- ana, leading to several Cajun-themed shows. History Channel's Swamp People was the one that started that trend, following the alligator hunters living in the Atchafalaya Basin Swamp.
2. Duck Dynasty
3. Tough Love New Orleans
Best Food Festival
1. Po-Boy Festival on Oak Street — A short five years after its inception, the Po-Boy Festival has grown exponentially, with more than 50,000 attendees crowding Oak Street last year for one day. With more than 40 vendors sprawled throughout eight blocks, the Po-Boy Fest provides the best possible showcase for all the flavors of the city's favo- rite sandwich.
2. Oyster Festival
3. Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival
Best Live Music Festival
1. New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival — Jazz Fest boasted one of its beefiest lineups ever this year. No wonder it also contained the most pedestrian traffic, as portable chairs formed vast amphitheatres around the main stages, and crowds surrounding headliners such as Bruce Springsteen, The Eagles and Foo Fighters became nearly impossible to maneuver.
2. French Quarter Festival
3. Voodoo Music Experience
Best Local 5k/10k Race
1. Crescent City Classic (www.ccc10k.com) — Elite athletes and Olympians from around the world line up alongside (or more likely waaaay in front of) less serious runners/walkers/partiers at this annual tradition. On the Saturday before Easter for the past 33 years, runners — growing from about 900 in 1979 to more than 20,000 in 2012 — line up at Jackson Square for the 10-kilometer race, ending with a post-run celebration at City Park, replete with live music, food, shopping and an awards ceremony — all before 2 p.m. The next Classic is March 30, 2013.
3. Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure www.komenneworleans.org)
Best Summer Camp
1. Zoo Camp at Audubon Zoo (6500 Magazine St., 504-581-4629; www.auduboninstitute.org) — Designed to teach children about animals and the outdoors, zoo camp, scheduled during summers and holidays, includes hikes around the zoo, animal shows, videos, animal encounters, educational activities and more.
2. Ripples at Tulane University (Reily Recreation Center, 504-865-5375; www.reilycenter.com/youth.asp)
3. Jewish Community Center Uptown (5342 St. Charles Ave., 504-897-0143; www.nojcc.org)
Best Golf Course
1. Audubon Golf Course (6500 Magazine St., 504-212-5290; www.-auduboninstitute.org/visit/golf) — Set among Spanish moss-dripping, knotty oak trees, this 18-hole, verdant course is the creme de la creme of New Orleans golf courses. There's no lovelier scene for a business game or leisurely Sunday afternoon. The pro shop and clubhouse have everything you need to fit in here.
2. City Park Golf Course (1051 Filmore Ave., 504-483-9410, www.cityparkgolf.com)
3. English Turn (One Clubhouse Drive, 504-392-2200 www.englishturngolf.com)
Best Tennis Courts
1. City Park (1 Palm Drive, 504-483-9383; www.neworleanscitypark.com/tennis.html) — With 26 well-kept courts – 10 clay and 16 hard – the City Park tennis courts are a full-service facility with a pro-shop and a clubhouse. The tennis club holds tournaments twice a year, and at $25/year for individuals, it's one of the most affordable fitness memberships in the city.
2. Audubon Park (6320 Tchoupitoulas St., 504-895-1042, www.auduboninstitute.org)
3. New Orleans Lawn & Tennis Club (5353 Laurel St., 504-899-1574; www.noltc.com)
Best Carnival Day Parade
1. Rex — Rex outdid even its own high standards this year, with a vibrant parade featuring mythical figures from the culture and lore of the Americas, from Native Americans like Hiawatha to Aztec gods. The krewe also introduced a new signature float: The Butterfly King. Its fluttering wings helped raise the parade in voters minds.
Best Carnival Night Parade
1. Muses — Muses had plenty in store for parade goers in 2012. The group parodied its own love of shopping in a theme marrying chain stores and current events. The "J. Crude" float reminded locals about BP and oiled oyster beds, and "Wombs To Go" was a self-deprecating self portrait. Credit card- and cash-themed throws offered a little extra incentive to get viewers to buy into the fun. They shopped until they dropped.
Best Local Charity Event
1. Zoo-To-Do (Audubon Zoo, 6500 Magazine St., 800-774-7394; www.auduboninstitute.org/ztd) — Zoo-To-Do is one of the city's swankiest benefit parties, with scintillating light animal sculptures, top-notch food and drink, and big name musical acts. This year saw performances by The Family Stone, Anais St. John, The Kinfolk Brass Band, and Liquid Pleasure, and more than $1 million was raised for the Audubon Zoo.
2. Hogs For the Cause www.hogsforthecause.org)
3. Red Dress Run www.neworleanshash.com)
1. LA/SPCA (1700 Mardi Gras Blvd., 504-368-5191; www.la-spca.org) — The LA/SPCA has been around since 1888 and has been actively involved in not only rescuing, rehabilitating and adopting unwanted pets, but in getting the community involved with obedience training, pet first aid courses, and a number of activities for kids.
2. Bridge House/Grace House (4150 Earhart Blvd., 504-522-4474; www.bridgehouse.org)
3. TIE: Junior League New Orleans (4319 Carondelet St., 504-891-5845; www.jlno.org)
3. TIE: NO/AIDS Task Force (2601 Tulane Ave., 821-2601; www.noaids-taskforce.org)
Best Place for a Wedding Reception
1. City Park (1 Palm Drive, 504-488-2896; neworleanscitypark.com/weddings.html/) — What could be more New Orleans than to celebrate nuptials among the native flora, aged oaks, graceful fountains and sculptures at City Park? The New Orleans Botanical Garden, Pops Fountain and the neoclassical Peristyle are popular spots.
2. Audubon Tearoom (6500 Magazine St., 504-212-5301; www.-auduboninstitute.org/weddings)
3. The Balcony (4738 Utica St., Metairie, 504-885-8001; www.thebalconyreceptions.com)
Best Pothole to Avoid
1. Fleur de Lis Drive — We talked about this last year: Part of Fleur de Lis north of Veterans Memorial Boulevard has been repaired, then the new road top drops off north of West Harrison Avenue into a continuous mess of potholes and cracked asphalt. Do you need the number of your councilwoman?
2. State & Hurst streets
3. Perdido Street between Gravier and Galvez streets