BEST PIG NOT IN A BLANKET: The Mediterranean Manor’s Suckling Pig
If there’s one reason to don a bulletproof vest and brave the mean streets of Newark, this is it: the most mouth-watering Portuguese-style suckling pig this side of the Atlantic ($140). Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays only, cooks at Antonio Seabra’s Mediterranean Manor spit-roast whole 15- to 17-pound piglets for two and a half hours at a time, until the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender and the skin develops a thick, salty crunch. “The secret to our pigs is the brine,” Seabra says, which is made from sea salt, white pepper, bay leaves, and pork lard. “We stuff it inside the belly and then stitch the pig up, pricking certain areas so the fat can drip out—that’s why the skin crisps the way it does. After roasting, all the seasoned natural gravy drips right out of the pig’s mouth.” Got your bus ticket to Jersey yet? If the fatty, savory drippings aren’t flavorful enough for you, li’l Wilbur is also served with a side of red-hot Portuguese piri-piri sauce. After your pig-out, grab a few orange slices—they’re served to aid digestion, in the event that your intestines are confounded by the whole “pig stuffed with pig fat” concept.—Maria Fontoura
STRANGEST SNACK: Kool-Aid Pickles
Anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon Line
Take a jug of dill pickles and add Kool-Aid mix. Let sit for a few days and you’ve got a red (or purple or orange), sweet-sour candied pickle. Crunch the weirdness.—Steve Russell
TASTIEST CITY: Chicago
The city best known for its kielbasa and deep-dish is quickly establishing its name as America’s mecca for forward-looking cuisine. Grant Achatz at Alinea, Graham Elliot Bowles at Avenues, Homaru Cantu at Moto, and Michael Carlson at Schwa have grabbed the culinary baton from legendary Chicago chef Charlie Trotter and are running with it, turning out dishes that play with diners’ notions of taste and texture. (Achatz won the Best Chef in America award at this year’s James Beard Foundation Awards.) While dishes such as liquid donuts (Moto), Applewood ice cream (Alinea), prosciutto consommé (Schwa), and foie gras with crushed pop rocks (Avenues) sound more like stunts than meals, for all four chefs taste remains of paramount importance. This kind of cooking isn’t for everybody, but for adventurous gourmands the Second City is second to none.—D.S.
MOST CRACK-LIKE SNACK: Trader Joe’s Thai Lime & Chili Peanuts
These nuts spiced with dried chilies, lemongrass, curry leaves, and cane sugar are as hot as they are addictive ($1.99 per 16-ounce pack).—Kelly Alexander
ARTIEST USE OF ARTICHOKES: Artichoke Soup
Surfers drop by this ancient dive (which won a James Beard Foundation America’s Classics Award in 2003) for their insanely delicious cream of artichoke soup—smoothly puréed, an unearthly shade of pale green. It’s only $8. Sweet, bra. duartestavern.com —R.S.
BEST BARBECUE: Dry-Rub Ribs
This place practically invented dry-seasoning-rubbed pork ribs, and it lives up to its rep. Ask for less than a full order ($17) and risk the scorn of your waiter. hogsfly.com —S.R.
BEST WET RIBS
The Brick Pit
Succulent slabs of pork ribs ($17) are cooked over hickory and pecan logs, basting in their own fat for a full 12 hours. You’ll taste every second. brickpit.com —S.R.
BEST PULLED PORK SANDWICH
Jinx’s Pit’s Top Barbecue
For a mere $4.50, this juicy “sammich” on Texas toast will transport your mouth to the Mississippi Delta. jinxsbarbecue.com —S.R.
Phil’s Chicken House
The crazy-good baste—vinaigrette enriched with egg and poultry spice—was actually invented by a Cornell professor in the ’50s ($6). philschickenhouse.com—S.R.
Southside Market & BBQ
Caramelized on the outside, smoky as a fireman’s helmet, and fatty throughout. Texans call it “rich.” ($7.59 per lb.) southsidemarket.com —S.R.