Could the home of haute cuisine be Rockville?

Maybe not yet, but in the past 20 years there has been a marked shift in the concentration of restaurants from the city to the suburbs.

In Virginia, liberalized liquor laws helped the restaurant business grow, but in both Maryland and Virginia a growing unwillingness among suburbanites to climb into their cars for a long trek to the District has created something of a boom.

Restaurant dollar volume is still highest in the District at $379.1 million, with volume in Northern Virginia $335 million and in suburban Maryland $368.3 million, according to the local restaurant association. But the numbers of restaurants show a definite shift.

In 1960 in the District of Columbia there were 1,615 food-service licenses, compared with 1,186 now. But the number of restaurants in Fairfax County grew in the same period from 245 to 1,050. In Montgomery County the number of licenses increased from 333 to 1,700. In Prince George's County, the growth was from 1,009 in 1960 to 1,959. Alexandria restaurants grew in number from 204 to 257, while the number of licenses in Arlington declined slightly.

"The restaurant market is really peculiar," said restaurant broker Al Stern. "Every five or six years it moves to a different location."

"The survivors are the fittest," he said. "Very few succeed, and the survivors are the troupers."