AN IMPORTANT ingredient in the American melting pot is the Thanksgiving turkey. But this country being a melting pot, there are many variations on this holiday theme.

The Vegetarian Society of the District of Columbia, for instance, celebrates Thanksgiving with a turkey-free vegan (no meat or dairy) dinner. It's open to the public, and costs $10 to nonmembers who make advance reservations and pay by Saturday; $15 if you phone in your reservation by 6 p.m. Tuesday to 301/589-0722. That phone number is also the one to call if you would like to help cook, set up, serve, entertain or clean up after the dinner.

This year's vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner will be at 1 Thursday at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, 1313 New York Ave. NW. And while there won't be any turkey, there will be a speaker, door prizes and music.

The Grand Hyatt at 1000 H St. NW has planned the city's first public kosher Thanksgiving dinner, co-sponsored by the D.C. Jewish Community Center. The buffet will be in part traditonal-American (acorn squash soup with roasted hazelnuts, candied sweet potato pie, bread pudding) and part traditional-Jewish (challah, chopped liver, mushroom and potato kugel, mandel bread), and accompanied by strolling string musicians.

Reservations are suggested (call 202/582-1234, ext. 30); seatings are between 1 and 7. The buffet costs $24.95 per adult, half-price for children under 15, free for children under 3 years.

More and more restaurants are serving Thanksgiving dinner family style so that diners don't have to miss out on nibbling leftover turkey the next day. Clyde's of Tysons Corner, for example, is serving its complete dinners (turkey at $13.95, prime rib at $16.95) on platters "with plenty of leftovers to take home" or will pack up the entire meal, complete with wine if you want, for carryout if you order by Wednesday. Portions for children under 6 are free, ages 6 to 12 at half price and 10 percent off for adults over 60. For reservations call 703/734-1901.

The McLean Hilton's Thanksgiving buffet includes a whole turkey served to every table of five or more. The hotel will not only pack up the leftovers, but include a fresh whole pumpkin pie to take home. Parties wishing to have a whole turkey at the table must reserve ahead by calling 703/847-5000. Buffet price -- including champagne for adults and juice, milk or coffee -- is $25.95, $12.95 for children under 5.

CHARLIE CHIANG, whose chain of Chinese restaurants has grown to a half- dozen, stretching from Ocean City to Chicago, apparently does everything in a big way. Thus, when he decided to bring in Sichuan chefs to add excitement to his branch on Van Ness Street NW, he brought five of them, including one chef famous for his hot pots. And since those hot pots are made in special two-compartment cookers, he's arranged for the cookware to be made to order in Hong Kong.

The chefs are now settled in for a two-year stint, and the new menus -- part Sichuan, part Taiwanese and part typical American Chinese -- are in place. Furthermore, starting Nov. 24, the Van Ness Charlie Chiang's will serve Sichuan-style dim sum on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from 11:30 to 3.

A NEW ENTRY for the less-is-more archives: At the Station Grill in Union Station, soda costs $1.50, but sparkling water costs $2.50.

Phyllis C. Richman's restaurant reviews appear Sundays in The Washington Post Magazine.