There are two very compelling reasons to visit Memphis: to pay homage to the history of rock-and-roll and the blues, and also to immerse yourself in an entire genre of food that should come with a surgeon general's warning.

Aiming to do both, I touch down late afternoon on a Friday and weigh my transportation options. Although the city bus system in Memphis, known as MATA, doesn't even pretend to be as efficient as its counterparts in San Francisco or New York, I happen to arrive a few minutes before Bus 32 rolls through Memphis International Airport ($1.35). It's probably not the most scenic ride into town, but it sure as heck is the cheapest.

My first inclination was to stay at a hostel, but I realize I'm getting too old for communal sleeping. Instead, I spring for an $80-a-night room at the Sleep Inn at Court Square, hands down the best deal for the money within a five-minute walk of Beale Street (not to mention the fact that the Main Street Trolley stops right outside its doors). No sooner had I dropped off my bags than I was back out on the street and headed to Charlie Vergos Rendezvous, the most famous spot in town for Memphis' beloved barbecue.

The route to Charlie's from the Sleep Inn takes in the best of historic downtown Memphis, a collage of architectural styles (beaux-arts, Victorian revival, gothic revival) reminiscent of small-town Ameri­ca that live on simultaneously with new urban developments like Peabody Place, a dining and entertainment complex featuring 22 state-of-the-art theater screens and 12 restaurants. With more locations listed on the National Register of Historic Places per capita than any other city in the U.S., Memphis offers a wonderful collision of old and new, with a killer soundtrack to boot. As I take this all in, my nose picks up the muddled, smoky waft of charcoal, vinegar, and secret spices that extends far beyond the sketchy downtown alley where you'll find Charlie's. There are more than 110 barbecue joints in Memphis, but Charlie's is the granddaddy of them all.