Before now, nationwide restaurant guidebooks weren't even worth a good argument. But at last we have Where to Eat in America, a restaurant guide to thirty cities, written by knowledgeable locals and edited by William Rice and Burton Wolf. It will set you salivating, start you planning detours to St. Louis or Cincinnatti, and get you fired up enough to challenge some of its judgements to the last bite. It is a relief finally to have a restaurant guide to America that makes judgements - strong judgements, such as "Big Deal - Not Worth It" and "If You Have Time For Only One Meal" - and judgements based on sound taste rather than on advertising space or the size of the rest rooms. You may think a particular choice is off base, but if you know what you're talking about, you won't find it far off base. The book wisely organizes its recommendations into such categories as Big Deal, International, Specially Cooking, For Individual Needs (Best Hotel Meal, Business Breakfast, Fast Good Food/Lunch, Best Wine List, Late Snack, Country Inn, and the like). In the Suburbs, and Markets. You can easily find what suits your mood, whether it be the best hamburger or Sunday brunch. It is a book to eat by, to savor. The major flaw in this American feast is that, like the best American chocolate chip cookies, it is too big to fit in your pocket.

Where to Eat in America, edited by William Rice and Burton Wolf. Random House. $5.95.