by Jane and Michael Stern

Feeling ravenous on Route 66? Need some slippery joe (dinerese for coffee with cream) in Sioux Falls? Got a yen for Frogmore stew, bodacious barbecue or making Whoopie (pie, that is, a Maine drive-in specialty)? Pop culture connoisseurs and coauthors of the "Two for the Road" column in Gourmet, the Sterns have compiled a cross-country culinary guide that should be stashed in every food lover's glove compartment, right next to the maps and the Swiss Army Knife.

We're not talking haute cuisine here, but Midwest pie palaces, New England clam huts and Southern soul food shacks. And the Sterns are expert at steering readers toward humble pieces de resistance—be it the tuna salad at Eisenberg's Sandwich in New York City (Bumble Bee solid white and Hellmann's mayo mixed with a big spoon), sopaipillas (fried bread) at Rancho de Chimayo in New Mexico, or pizzas topped with crawfish tails at Dean-O's in Louisiana. Restaurant Row it ain't, but Eat sure does make you want to head out to the back roads and blue highways and chow down. (Broadway, $15)

Summertime can be bummertime if your vacation plans come a cropper, so a travel guide that tells you what to expect can be as essential as sunblock to prevent you from getting burned. Staff writer Kyle Smith reviews the latest offerings.

LET'S GO: THE BUDGET GUIDE TO EUROPE 1997

All the dirt, dirt cheap: This backpackers' urtext (often spotted shredded into chapters on the tourist superhighway) is so authentically gritty with information about under-moneyed travel that you feel like taking a shower (that's five guilders extra, by the way) after reading it. (St. Martin's, $18.99)

INSIGHT COMPACT GUIDES: LAS VEGAS

This nifty, well-illustrated booklet makes its bones with useful advice on games, hotels and shows. Love the photo of the notice board at the Grace-land Wedding Chapel: "Lorenzo Lamas and Jon Bon Jovi were married here!" We hope they're very happy together. (Houghton Mifflin, $7.95)

BLUE GUIDE: FRANCE

Less a travel guide than an architectural and history lesson (and, as a result, about as much fun to read as an encyclopedia), this bricklike volume offers no hints on where to eat or stay but drones on in numbing detail about every historic pile of bricks. Few travel guides have so much contempt for travelers: Of the towns on the Riviera, the author sniffs, "Several still claim to be fashionable, although the dense crowds of vacanciers which converge there have been well described as the fourth scourge of Provence." That takes a lot of Gaul. (Norton, $29.95)

FIELDING'S EUROPEAN CRUISES

At last, an answer to the troubling question: Can one live well on only $1,000 a day? Ship-by-ship charts together with brief reports-of-call on topics from hiking to Vikings, reveal that—surprise!—nicer trips cost more. Some of the budget cruises sound like The Poseidon Adventure. (Fielding, $18.95)

LONDON: THE ROUGH GUIDE

Impressive research on architecture and history, and thorough coverage of the capital's attractions, are marred by poor organization here—if you're in hip Camden Town, for example, you'll have to flip to one chapter for local color, another to find restaurants, still another for pubs. The authors also need to do some tourist triage—not all sights are worth seeing—and punch up prose that fails to capture the vim of such offbeat, lesser-known neighborhoods as Notting Hill and Brixton. (Penguin, $15.95)

THE UNOFFICIAL GUIDE TO WALT DISNEY WORLD 1997

Almost as big as Let's Go: Europe, this exhaustive study of every WDW hotel, ride and, seemingly, rest station makes the D-Day invasion plan look like a whim cooked up over a couple of martinis. As the authors say, "Spontaneity and self-discovery work about as well at Walt Disney World as they do on your tax return." This tome is worth its weight in Park-Hopper passes. (Macmillan Travel, $15.95)

SOUTH-EAST ASIA ON A SHOESTRING

Asia travel without a Lonely Planet book is like Asia travel without a hepatitis shot: Why take the chance? This literate, not-just-for-backpackers series (which has expanded nicely with European and U.S. guides) features an excellent new edition on such challenging destinations as Vietnam and Thailand. (It's nice to know the Vietnamese police allow haggling when they exact a fine.) But the Lonely Planetarians have one flaw: They don't update their books every year, so check publication dates. Information rapidly superannuates in developing regions. (Lonely Planet, $21.95)

OUT & ABOUT GAY TRAVEL GUIDES: USA CITIES

This frank and funny guide (of one tour service, it advises "men who are insecure in the company of bubble-butt beach boys should beware") has straight talk on where to go and how to get there for singles, couples, the shy and the sociable, but the three male authors mostly write about outings for men. (Hyperion, $14.95)

L.A. BIZARRO! THE INSIDER'S GUIDE TO THE OBSCURE, THE ABSURD, AND THE PERVERSE IN LOS ANGELES

From wax museums to wacky diners to the final resting place of Scatman Crothers, this compendium of the kitschy-kitschy cool is ribald fun. (The authors strip a wax effigy of Michael J. Fox to find a wad of tinfoil duct-taped to his crotch and tell about mayhem at Disneyland.) But the way annoying cyberjunk graphics are, like, so 1992. (St. Martin's, $16.95)

THE MOST SCENIC DRIVES IN AMERICA

Gorgeous photos of magnificent vistas make this a coffee-table book as well as a how-to with maps and directions for those who enjoy spending days behind the wheel. Mercifully the editors omit the ticky-tacky souvenir shops, littered "scenic overlooks" and Winnebago-clogged arteries that are bound to vex you along the way. (Reader's Digest, $30)

SEATTLE ACCESS

Whatever happened to Seattle? Turns out, it still exists, even after grunge became as stale as yesterday's mochaccino and magazine editors stopped doing cover stories on the hipness of it all. This volume adroitly covers each neighborhood with history, trivia and plenty of tips on dining and nightlife. It could use a better index, though—the only way to find out where Bruce Lee is buried is by chancing upon the page with that particular nugget—and, like everything Seattle-centric, the book has an annoying cheerleader tone. (One sports bar, we are breathlessly told, has "30—that's right, 30—color monitors.") So does your local Sears. (Harper Perennial, $18.50)

PARENTS'GUIDE TO HIKING & CAMPING

Or how to tell the theme parks to hit the road and detox your kids from Nintendo and TV, saving a bundle to boot. Handy tips abound on ways to instill some backbone in the little ones (one field-tested example: Hand out some peanut M&M's but call them "power pills") while opening their minds and racking up oodles of quality time. One big drawback: The book doesn't describe any specific trails or sites. But, hey, it turns out "high-fat foods are great for keeping warm." So don't forget the marshmallows. (Norton, $18.95)

Beach Book of the Week

by James W. Hall

Beach Book of the Week

ELEVEN DOLPHINS HAVE BEEN MASSACRED at a Key Largo research center. They have been shot, decapitated and most of them have been disemboweled. Fans of Hall's seven previous novels know that the only person who could possibly make sense of this seemingly senseless act of violence is Thorn, South Florida's mono-monikered, fly-tying defender of all that is right and virtuous. Thorn has barely begun his investigation before he is viciously attacked and paralyzed from the waist down. Thus begins a battle of wits with the vindictive villain, a frightening Dr. Feelbad, as Thorn struggles to regain the use of his lifeless legs.

It is a nervy notion to confine an action hero to a wheelchair for the bulk of the action, but Hall pulls it off with panache in this first-rate thriller. After crossing wires in his last effort, Buzz Cut, Hall is at his electrifying best here. You know the old saw: Red Sky at Night, readers' delight. (Delacorte, $23.95)

  • Contributors:
  • Paula Chin,
  • Mark Donovan.