THE METRO LUNCH is catching on. So far, there are only hand-lettered signs in the restaurants to tell us that we are a block from a stop. But carryouts with names like Metro Way are appearing near Metro entrances. When word got about that the new building over the Farragut North stop would have space for an eatery, dozens of restaurateurs sent in bids. Said one of the building's officials, "All the carryouts in the world are calling."

Old friendships are revived once it is discovered that Gallery Place is halfway between the two of you. New friendships are made as fresh faces invade established neighborhood hangouts. And, of course, some old frienships are lost as supervisors find their employees rushing in breathless from two-hour lunches, running on about doors that wouldn't close and stalled trains.

The blessing is mixed. Along with the temptation, the enticement of a Metro Lunch, there also is danger. Flood and famine. You neve know, as you wait in that serene underground cave, when the next train is - or isn't - coming along. And even on the best, the smoothest of days, it takes time to ride the Metro.Unless your office is within a block of a Metro stop, by the time you walk to it and through it, wait for a train and track down your destination, you'd better plan on a thirty to forty minute round-trip. And keep in mind that your culinary excursion will add at least eighty cents to your bill. So that the trip won't be in vain, phone the restaurant before you leave to ask whether it is open and likely to have space.

For weeks I've been riding 'neath the streets of Washington like Charlie on the MTA. I've mapped out likely looking places to eat lunch, dutifully investigating one or more each day, but even so had to leave many untried. Metro, after all, has twenty-four stops. While some have virtually no place to eat within the boundary I set (roughly two blocks from a Metro entrance), others have a dozen or so. As might be expected, the downtown stops - Farragut North and West, Dupont Circle, Gallery Place - were lunchtime treasures. Rosslyn, Union Station and Foggy Bottom made a strong showing.But, unexpectedly, such stops as Capitol South and Judiciary Square can leave you yawning with hunger. They are obviously place to lunch from rather than to . But after all, the wonderful thing about Metro is that it runs in both directions. Farragut North Red Line

Le Lion d'Or, 1150 Connecticut Ave. M. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, noon to 2 p.m. Reservations required. 296-7972. All major credit cards. [11]

Sholl's Cafeteria, 1433 K St. NW. 783-4133, and 1032 Connecticut Ave, NW, 296-3065. Open for lunch Monday through Saturday, 11 to 2:30 p.m. No credit cards. No reservations. [11]

Cantina d'Italia, 1214 18th St. NW. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. All major credit cards. Reservations required for lunch. 659-1830. [6]

Duke Zeibert's 1722 L St. NW. Open of lunch daily from 11:45 a.m. on. All major credit cards. No reservations. 296-5030. [13]

Chez Camille, 1737 DeSales St. NW. Open for lunch Monday through Saturday, 11:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. All major credit cards. Reservations recommended. 393-3330. [8]

Mayflower Carvery, 1127 Connecticut Ave. NW. Open for lunch Monday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. All major credit cards. Reservations. 347-3000. [9]

More, perhaps, than any other, Farragut North looks like a proper Metro stop, right in the center of an active corner, hemmed in by sidewalk vendors and edged with shops. Within two blocks are enough fine restaurants, from cafeterias to haute cuisine, to populate a small city, and parks to turn brown-bagging into a midday holiday.

You can start a lifetime of Metro Lunches with a splash at Le Lion d'Or which these days is running as smoothly as we wish Metro would. If there are fresh shrimps or tarragon or ducks to be had locally, Le Lion d'Or will have them. The daily menu pampers you with pigeon mousse and featherweight quenelles, gravlax with dilled mustard, and mocha and bittersweet chocolate mousse du chat which is like fudge in cream. Over the past year, Le Lion d'Or seems to have continually hit new highs; the sauces seem more refined, the seasoning ever more subtle, the pastries flakier and more fanciful. The price you pay also increases, these days $4.50 and up for main dishes at lunch, with an average of nearly $7 and specials running up to $10. Take a long break for this one.

At the other end of the price scale, the quality and the freshness of the food is still remarkable at Sholl's Cafeteria, where you needn't budget more than a couple of dollars and you can always depend on a long list of seasonal vegetables, bay-fresh fish, apple pie worthy of the American Dream, and a selection of custards and puddings that nobody else bothers with any more. Such good plain cooking makes one wonder each time why one doesn't eat here more often.

Downtown's Old Reliable-Italian Style is Cantina d'Italia. This underground labyrinth was designed when plastic grapevines were not yet considered an embarrassment. The food, however, continues to be original, with pastas dressed in garlicky green pesto or russet creamy essence of lobster. In the lunchtime rush, the fettuccine Alfredo has been known to come in a limp cream, but mostly the pastas are feisty, the fish dishes lustrous. The warm-weather choices - cold rockfish in a redolent homemade mayonnaise, paper-thin marinated raw veal - are second to none in Washington. And the cannole - don't ask, just order. Expensive it is, the range now common downtown.

It is not just the food - the sturdy stuff that men are made of - that draws a devoted crowd to Duke Zeibert's; it is the scene. As noisy as Times Square and big-city brusque, Duke's makes you feel like a jock even in a three-piece suit. First, there are the powerful pickles that wake up your palate, and the crusty onion rolls and yeasty pumpernickel that start your digestive juices at full speed. Even the salads are hearty, with real turkey and lots of bacon that you know is bacon, and tuna and - such a refinement! - hard-cooked eggs with double yolks. If you order herring at Duke's, it's old-country-style and family-size. The ham steak is cut thick enough to really bite into. And the boiled chicken in a pot could cure anything you walk in with. Desserts are made to knock you off your seat; every one is twice as tall as you would expect and three times as rich. The cheesecake packs about a pound in each bite, groaning under a solid two inches of strawberries. Hefty food, hefty prices, with no sandwich under $4, and most main dishes in the $5 to $6 range.

Some people have their best lunches at Chez Camille. Some people have their worst. But you know it has something special to offer when you note that despite the grimy threadbare carpet on the stairs and the sagging supperclub look, the place is full at lunch. The regulars know about the couscous and the stuffed carp and the fresh crayfish which all appear among the plats du jour in their time. They know about the pate assortment and the homemade sausages. They avoid the traps like reheated duck with canned mandarin oranges. Main dishes at Chez Camille lunch run $4.25 to $7.95 with a respectable salad, potato and vegetable that usually makes a touching attempt at being palatable.

There is a lesson in here somewhere, but I went to the Mayflower Carvery specifically to try a legendary chicken salad in a pineapple shell. Having been described to me as the best dish there, it was no longer on the menu. I should have taken a cue from the table next to me and substituted an imposingly portioned prime rib which looked rare and juicy. Instead, I ventured too far, into a veal scallopine cooked to a chewy state and laid to rest in a marsala sauce fuming with raw wine. A stuffed tomato salad was too short of ripe, its tuna filling pedestrian. I should have stopped with the soup, a nice minestrone, and the pleasant fresh fruit salad for dessert. The service is prompt in this heavily English-style dining room and there is a clubby tone, with many lunchers reading newspapers by the dim light. Maybe they consider the prices - from $3.75 for a turkey and bacon sandwich to $6.80 for the prime rib hot or cold - their club dues. Farragut West Blue Line

Jea-Pierre, 1835 K St. NW. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, noon to 2 p.m. All major credit cards, Reservations. 466-2022. [21]

Sans Souci, 726 17th St. NW. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, noon to 2:30 p.m. All major credit cards. Reservations.298-7424. [23]

Class Reunion, 1726 H St. NW. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. BA, AE, DC.Reservations 298-8477. [22]

Harvey's, 1001 18th St. NW. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. All major credit cards. Reservations. 833-1858. [12]

Le Pavillon, 1820 K St. NW. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, noon to 2:30 p.m. All major credit cards. Reservations.833-3846. [20]

Cafe Sorbet, 1810 K St. NW. Open for lunch Monday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. BA, MC, AE.No reservations. 293-3000. [19]

Athenian Plaka, 1900 K St. NW. Open for lunch daily 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. BA, CB, AE, MC. 466-6644. [18]

This Metro stop ought to be renamed Restaurant Row, for it provides access to the K Street grand cuisine strip and all the little restaurants on the side streets which broaden the field.

By now Jean-Pierre is an elder statesman among Washington restaurants, so short is their typical life span. The faithful still flock, the dining room still moves with precision, the kitchen is attempting new adventures such as cold fish mousse beautifully ribboned and inlaid, sauced with herbed sour cream. Daily specials do attractive things with puff pastry and seafood. Or for something light - and remarkably reasonably priced at $3.75 - a moist omelet comes accompanied by a salad, crisp and daringly mustardy, and well-prepared potatoes and vegetables. Other main courses escalate, of course, to the usual $6 to $7 range.

One can hardly talk about Washington institutions without mentioning Sans Souci. And I can hardly talk about my last lunch at Sans Souci without losing my cool. I know it's fun to have lunch at the next table from Art Buchwald and Robert Novak and such. But the fun palls when you still wait for your appetizer as they proceed from course to course. And when you have to pour your own wine because the waiter hasn't bothered to look your way for a half-hour. And when your shrimps are so mushy they barely hold their shape, and your brown sauce has an unmistakable burned taste and the canned baby peas taste sour and your potatoes never come and the pastries leave everything to be desired. The soft shell crabs are safest - very good, in fact - but what do you do when they are out of season? The greens are respectable in the chef's salad, the tongue and ham fine, the vinaigrette nicely balanced. But one wonders at its $6 price and resents the unripe tomatoes at the height of their season. The value of Sans Souci lies in its visual reminiscence of European grandiosity and the chance to watch the news - at least the newsmakers - in person. The ticket to this tourist attraction runs from $5 for a simple sauteed fish to $11.25 for tartar steak; just consider it a kind of unrehearsed dinner theater.

Another place to go more for the action than for the food is the Class Reunion. The heavy business seems to be done at the bar, where CIA and FBI are said to hang out, at least according to the journalists who hang out there covering them. Otherwise, it just looks like a typical black-and-white movie-poster nostalgia scene with vivacious young waitresses waiting to be discovered as they hum along with the Big Band sounds. As for the food, the less cooking is involved, the better off you are. A turkey, bacon and avocado sandwich - called Class of '53 in the nostalgia shtick - is oversold on the menu and overpriced at $3.75, but it is all right. For some reason, nearly every main dish is priced at $3.75. The Class of '75, a spinach, bacon, egg and mushroom salad, also serves well enough if you avoid the sweet orange "house dressing." Then reward yourself with the Class of '61, a crepe filled with something resembling chocolate mousse, topped with whipped cream and creme de menthe. Or just hang out at the bar with the boys.

The rules for getting the best out of Harvey's are simple: Order seafood, and order it simply prepared. Whatever oceanic delicacies are around, you will find the first quality at Harvey's; I could hardly imagine a better flounder, for instance. And overcooking is unheard of. But don't confuse the issue with fancy sauces or elaborate preparations, and be prepared to pay the price - $4 and up for main courses at lunch. A seafood salad here may hover around the $7 range, but it will consist of great quantities of top-of-the-line crab and lobster, simply dressed, tossed with faultless greens. The service is experienced, the drinks compete with the best in town (in fact, if you take along a child you will discover that the Shirley Temples are the best), vegetables may include extravagances like broccoli in a crepe, and the desserts are in the American tradition that made strawberry shortcake the stuff of midwinter dreams.

There is a population explosion on K Street, with three new restaurants recently opening on one block, from 18th to 19th Streets. While they are too new for very sure evaluations, I am including first-impressions until full-blown reviews are in order.

Le Pavillion is Washington's newest grand French restaurant, doing very well with its first impressions. It hasn't quite covered over its downstairs-office air with the chandeliers and curlicued plaster-work, and it is hard to tell how the service will hold up under greater pressure, but the work so far is highly professional in both the dining room and the kitchen. A delicately flavored rabbit pate rested on slices of memorable brioche as a first course.A roast veal nearly melted into its champagne sauce. Sauteed potatoes had an undercurrent of rosemary. And for dessert, peeled fresh figs were glazed with raspberry puree, decorated with walnuts and whipped cream rosettes. Those were the highlights, but there were few disappointments, none more serious than a less-than-ripe tomato salad, wan raspberry mousse, or unimaginatively seasoned carrots. Main courses start at about $4 for omelets and climb close to $10; the average seems about $7. Keep watching this space.

You might think you got off the Metro in Paris if Cafe Sorbet is your destination. In addition to French songs underpinning the conversation, the walls are prepared with outsize photos of Paris. Light, airy and pretty it is, and the menu follows suit. As in Paris, the mainstay is steak frites, the thin steak tasty and the French fries more like Ocean City's Thrashers than any others I have tasted. The platter is $4.50, or a full dinner with soup or salad (don't miss the mellow onion soup), dessert and coffee is $6.75. There are some unusual salads, particularly a kind of salmon mayonnaise over shrimp, and for dessert there are surprisingly good apple tarts, Le Sorbet's famour sherbet, or some spectacular frozen alcoholic fantasies made from the same sherbets. Those drinks are $2.75, salads are $1.75 to $3.50, sandwiches from $1.35, hot main dishes up to $4.50.

The Athenian Plaka is open twenty-four hours a day, but since the Metro is not, that does not concern us here. It achieves a certain Greek waterfront air; perhaps it is the unfinished wood on the walls, the geraniums in the window boxes, the blue and white checked tablecloths. But most likely it is the movie-poster sort of mural behind the bar of panting blond bomb-shells bursting out of their simple dressed. But you came to eat, didn't you? At lunch the best choices are probably the souvlaki and gyro sandwiches, $2.25 each, dripping olive oil and chunks of feta cheese from grilled pita bread. They make up in zest what they may lack in basic quality. Kefalotyri, listed as an appetizer, is an interesting light dish, an egg-battered melted cheese, buttery and unctuous. Greek pastries in this preliminary foray were heavy; finish off with Greek coffee instead. Dupont Circles

Red Line

Apple Tree, 1220 19th St. NW. Open for lunch daily, 11 a.m. BA, MC, AE. Reservations accepted until noon. 223-3780. [5]

The Palm, 1225 19th St. NW. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. All major credit cards. Reservations required. 293-9091. [7]

Cafe Rondo, 1900 Q St. NW. Open for lunch daily at noon. No credit cards. No reservations. 232-1885. [3]

Kramerbooks and Afterwords. 1517 Connecticut Ave. NW. Open daily from 8 a.m. No credit cards. No reservations. 387-1462. (2)

Golden Temple Conscious Cookery, 1521 Connecticut Ave. NW. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, noon to 3 p.m. No credit cards. No reservations. 234-6134. [1]

Toremolinos, 2014 P St. NW.Open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. AE, BA, MC. Reservations. 659-4382. [4]

At Dupont Circle you can eat indoors, outdoors, upstairs, downstairs. You can eat on a porch swing or in a bookstore. You can find fried squid or vegetable burgers. And if you need strong drink after ascending that nearly endless Dupont Circle escalator, you can find everything from a ramos fizz to real Pilsen beer.

Let's start at the bottom, with the Apple Tree, a kind of decorator's version of a cave strung with tiny white lights and furnished with more porch swings and sofas (with lap trays) than tables. What people eat at the Apple Tree comes from Eve's Garden, a salad bar as fanciful as the seating arrangement. For $2.75 it includes a couple of soups which inexplicably tasted mushy, and a long stretch of greens and raw things like broccoli and cauliflower, plus brownish bean sprouts and paler croutons. What knocks you out, though, is the fruit on the salad bar: melon, sliced oranges and apples, and other things in season. Dressings are the usual, except for one that tastes like caramel sundae sauce, and the breads are chewily robust. Besides the salad bar, there are some unusual but indifferent tidbits like apple fritters and teriyaki steak, mushrooms, burgers, omelets, crepes, quiches and more serious platters up to an $8.50 steak. None of it would divert you from your conversation, and a lot of the nutrition consumed at the Apple Tree is liquid, from the vitamin C in the mimosa to the calcium in the banana tree.

Across the street in another world is the Palm, where the eating is serious, the drinking is serious, the service is serious, and the check is serious. Wait - I amend that. The soup du jour at lunch is one of the secret eating bargains in this town. For seventy-five cents it is a befty bowl of what might be, if you hit the right day, the creamiest, richest, most butery, nutty-flavored mushroom soup of your life.And the chef salad, at $4.25, is an astonishing portion of freshly roasted turkey, ham, cheese, egg and tomsto with impeccable greens and what could be a uarter pound of Roquefort in the dressing. Other main dishes run through an excellent, mysterious shrimp curry, outstanding chicken or shrimp salad, veals and omelets and daily seafood specials, all $4 to $6, or the steaks which are the Palm's mainstay, but cost upwards of $11. Some people, however, order the platters just as an excuse for the hot crunchuy homemade potato chips called Palm Fries.

Strolling has revived around Dupont Circle, with some thanks due to its outdoor cafes. Cafe Rondo is one of the magnets, its square yellow umbrellas competing with the sun. Don't ask too much of the food; in fact, stick to the salads. The open-face sandwiches look much better than they taste, and the omelets are just all right. Beef Rondo is flavored with pizzazz and onions and mustard under a row of sliced apples, but the meat itself was heavily laced with fat. All of these choices range from $2.25 to $4.75, and most of them include a pleasantly dressed green salad.

Decisions, decisions. Should you eat in Kramerbock at the door cafe, or among the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] shelves indoors or one of the balony? Yes, environment [WORD ILLEGIBLE] at Kramerbooks and [WORD ILLEGIBLE] terwords, but it is enough. The food is - adequate. Cold soups, salads, quiches, pates all wilt under too-close scrutiny, but they can be happily washed down with house wines or espresso or Perrier or even true Pilsen beer. Most of the main dishes cost less than $3, so you could have enough left to buy a book to read while you eat.

I'd take a subway from anywhere for a mushroom meadow at the Golden Temple Conscious Cookery. The only thing that could improve a perfect baked potato would be sauteed mushrooms and sour cream and butter, maybe a little salad on the side for contrast, and that's the mushroom meadow. To round out the meal, sample your companions' tangy eggplant bhajan sandwich or mild cheddary enchiladas. And plan a finale of a hot carob sundae with goat's milk honey ice cream, its sauce certainly strong competition for hot fudge. Golden Temple is vegetarian and serenely pretty. Service may be slow, but it is unfailingly kind. You can lunch for under $2, but may be tempted to spend as much as $10. The fruit and yogurt beverages are too small for their ninety-five cents, but they are very refreshing liquids, as is the spicy yogi tea. Even the bread is special.

A garlic and olive oil break could do a lot for your afternoon. At Torremolinos you can have your garlic and olive oil with rockfish or with eggs or as a soup. Spanish restaurants, after all, use them as the Chinese use soy sauce. If you think of eggs as a breakfast dish, you need a lesson from Torremolinos in eggs manchego - baked in an earthenware casserole with ham, peas, asparagus, artichoke hearts, pimientos and tomatoes. It comes accompanied by flamenco music and stucco walls accented by dark wood. Main courses average $3 to $5 at lunch; if in doubt, order seafood. Gallery Place

Red Line

Golden Palace, 726 7th St. NW. Open for lunch daily, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. AE, DC, BA. Minimum eight people for reservation. 438-1255. [34].

Szechuan, 615 I St. NW. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. BA, AE. Minimum four people for reservations. 393-0130. [33]

Ruby, 609 H St. NW. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. AE, BA. Reservations accepted for three or more. 347-5014. [31]

Great Shanghai, 809 H St. NW. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. All major credit cards. No reservations. 638-1010. [32]

[WORD ILLEGIBLE] pending, 8th and G [WORD ILLEGIBLE] NW. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, noon to 4:30 p.m. No credit cards. No reservations. 638-6503. [35]

The important thing to know about Galley Place is that it is the gateway to Chinatown. Just get off the subway and wander down H Street looking in windows and reading menus until you find a Chinese restaurant that intrigues you. I haven't yet scratched the surface.

At the Golden Palace you will be handed a small golden lunch menu lising about two dozen dishes ranging from $3.10 for chow mein to $4.30 for Singapore-style sauteed rice noodles. Ask for the little pink dim sum menu instead, even though it is written entirely in Chinese - that will make you look knowledgeable. You can hardly go wrong by pointing to any of them, but I particularly recommend No. 10, a gossamer version of egg roll, and the har gow (No. 8) and shu mai (No. 12), both steam stuffed noodles. Among the heavier, fried dim sum are beautifully prepared taro root balls (No. 16) and gmtinous fried triangles (No. 15). And for adventure, try the pancake-shaped fried sticky rice filled with various meats (No. 2) and, if you wish, topped with a fried egg (No. 1). To drink, chrysanthemum tea for your health. Most dim sum are ninety cents a plate, so you can gorge yourself for less than $5 amid the gilded lasticework.

Pick a sunny day, and walk the extra block and a half to the Szechuan. You are bound to find something on the extensive menu that you haven't tried before; and so talented is the kitchen that you are bound to find something you want to try again. The Szechuan dishes may be hot, but they strike the palate as more intricate than searing. Investigate the Hunan dishes - lamb, perhaps - faintly vinegared in a complex brown sauce. Szechuan dishes, chicken for instance, punch first and lay on the subtler flavors later. Shrimp are prepared well; kung pao is slightly sweet-sour-peppery-crisp and delicious. Most of these main dishes cost $5 to $6, though several turn up as lunch specials for $2.95 to $3.25. The vivid food is in a vivid modern setting, the colors seeming more Mexican than Chinese. Service and housekeeping had become lazy by my last visit, but any restaurant that cooks vegetables as well as Szechuan merits a little indulgence.

Ruby is a familiar sort of Chinese restaurant: small, crowded, noisy, barely bilingual, Cantonese. What is has of particular interest, besides a strong, loyal following, is the chance for a lone diner to try an assortment of dim sum, those irresistible meat-filled dumplings. The $2.85 dim sum pastry platter includes hot tea and zix different delicacies, from shrimp in delicate noodles to dense, chewy fried taro balls. Nobody else makes sampling so convenient.

The dim sum at Great Shanghai win no prizes except for one, the Shanghai spring shrimp roll, a refined sort of egg roll. The other prize goes to lunch special; for $1.95 it offers soup, rice, tea and a choice of over two dozen main dishes which go beyond the chow mein to moo shi pork and diced chicken Peking-style. Colorful shrimp sauteed is aptly anamed, being pale pink with polka dots of peas, carrots, ham, pork and two kinds of mushrooms, even with a few peanuts and ginkgo nuts. Mildly seasoned, it is appealingly light. Richer and heavier is twice-cooked pork Szechuan-style, dark and searing, calmed a bit with cabbage and green pepper squares but unfortunately swimming in grease. Flawed, certainly, but $2 lunches rarely come better.

An art museum should be tasteful from tip to toe, and so it is fitting that the National Collection-Portrait Gallery feeds its visitors at Patent Pending, through a downtown relative of Georgetown's Hot Diggity Dog. Light, white and bright, as the saying goes, the small dining area displays parsley bouquets rather than flowers on the tables. The menu is sandwiches, salads, quiche and soups; the style is abbreviated cafeteria; the prices hover around $2 or $3. There is wine and beer, and the second cup of coffee is free. More important, the food is fresh and appealing, nicely cooked. Soup or chili - both homemade - can be ordered with half a sandwich. Or you can get a hot dog - nitrite-free - piled with onions, mustard, pickles, relish, tomato and hot peppers. But whatever you choice, stick around for the buttery, cinnamony apple pan dowdy capped with thick whipped cream. All the art in this museum is not on the walls. RosslynsBlue Line

Alexander's Three, 1500 Wilson Blvd. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. AE, CB, DC, MC. Reservations. 527-0100. [49]

China Garden, 1901 N. Moore St. Open for lunch daily, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. BA,AE. Reservations. 525-5317. [51]

Gourmet Snacks, 1200 Wilson Blvd. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. No credit cards. No reservations. 528-5230. [48]

Pawnshp, 1911 North Fort Meyer Dr. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. AE, [WORD ILLEGIBLE] MC. No reservations. [WORD ILLEGIBLE]

From the Rosslyn [WORD ILLEGIBLE] stop you have ready access to penthouse dining. But Rosslyn has some interesting basement food, too, and some original possibilities in the middle. unlike donwtown, Rosslyn's lunching possibilities are not obvious; some of the best are hidden behind high-rise facades. And heading for the wrong building can cost you ten minutes. So plan ahead.

Don't turn your noses up at sky-high dining. Alexander's Three doesn't leave it all to the view to satisfy your taste. True, the view, sweeping from Georgetown to Alexandria, is a solid spectacle (and so is the metallic purple and orange interior, but of another sort). But even at ground floor, this would be a creditable lunch spot. The Metro Special, for instance, is twin filets of beef with an ivory mushroom sauce and fat green asparagus, rather elegant for $4.75. The menu is extensive, sometimes including calves' brains or smoked trout, always featuring a very good quiche, crabstuffed crepe, beef dishes, stuffed avocados and Italian dishes, with a meaty eggplant parmesan at $3.60, about a dollar below th average main dish. Desserts here are worth the trouble if you like your mousse and cheesecake sweet and creamy. At cocktail hour, small tenderloin and cheese sandwiches were recently selling for fifty cents, which sounds even more impressive than the view.

The view is less lofty at the China Garden, but there is a perverse fun in lunching right over the Key Bridge traffic, as seen from second-story picture windows. Inside, the dark woodwork and crystal chandeliers look more Beverly Hills Scandinavian than Chinese, not without a certain grandeur. But I hope my latest experience at China Garden was atypical, because it was a tossup whether the waiter or the food seemed more tired. Bland, bland, bland, from the cabbagy egg rolls to the shrimp toast to the winter melon soup to the crystal shrimp to the sizzling wor bar. From bland we went to gfreasy, but that was preferable, because the crispy duck stuffed with mashed taro is an exciting mix of textures and flavors, and the spareribs bo (prepared in an earthenware pot which seals in the juices) were complex in flavor and delicious - except that they were unforgivably undercooked. Luncheon dishes run $2.20 to $4.75, but you ought to investigate the dinner menu, which averages $4 or $5 for main dishes. All this is prelude to the real reason for eating at China Garden: a dessert called deep-fried ice cream flambe, one of the great desserts (and, at $1, great bargains) of the metropolitan area. Vanilla ice cream is fried inside a crisp ball of light, spongy dough. Rum is ladled over it and flamed, and the flames are doused with chocolate sauce. Zowie!

The little underground luncheonette called Gourmet Snacks feels like a house party, with everybody seeming to know everybody else. The basement room is brightened with yellow paint and some of the owners' friend's oil paintings - for sale - propped against the wall. Service is cafeteria-style from a choice of sandwiches, soups, and daily special platters like braised lamb with spinach or zucchini baked with cheese. The marinated sliced steak platter, at $2.20, is justifiably a best seller. And nobody who had the choice would miss the desserts - meringue with strawberries and whipped cream, napoleon, chocolate royal pie, and a pie-shaped eclair.

It may be a Disneyland version of skid row, but the Pawnshop is fun. In decor terms, one might say that it has eveything: windows with a view, park benches, mirrored walks, trumpets and rhino heads hanging from the ceiling. From the umbrellas suspended over the tables to the peacock blue wrought iron, the colors are flossy. The music is loud and nostalgic. The waitresses are spirited. As for the food, pawn your calorie allotment for the potato skins with sour cream and butter, $1.25 as an appetizer. The burgers are big and lean, served rare if you want, best with both Swiss and American cheese and bacon, at $2.90, though the blue cheese and mushroom version sounds smashing. Otherwises and omelets, mostly, at around $3 to $5 - confuse quantity with quality. For dessert, Gifford's ice cream. Foggy BottomBlue Line

Tinker's, 1113 23rd St. NW. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday brunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. All major credit cards. Reservations. 466-3040. [14]

Adam's Rib, 2100 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Open for lunch Monday throught Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. BA, MC, AE, DC, CB. Reservations for three or more. 659-188. [16]

Intrigue, 824 New Hampshire Ave. NW. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. All major credit cards. Reservations. 333-2266. [15]

Le Gaulois, 2133 Pannsylvania Ave. NW. Open for luch Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. AE, MC, BA. Reservations. 466-3232. [17]

No, you don't have to eat at the George Washington University Hospital cafeteria if you disembark at Foggy Bottom. While there is hardly the density of restaurants one finds downtown, there were more than I was able to cover.

Tinker's looks like a vacation, sunny and golden, fresh and airy. There are vivid Latin American primitive art works on the walls and silk flowers in the bud vases. And the enclosed terrace will have a blazing fire in the winter. The menu is brief and imaginative, with shrimp mediterraneo in a sprightly tomato sauce pungent with mustard and curry, a $3.50 appetizer which doesn't need much to follow it, maybe just a spinach and mushroom salad ($1.50) or lemony cracked wheat and mint salad known as tabulleh ($1.75). Along with the sesameencrusted bread, it is a light lunch to suti the setting. On the heartier side are the stewed, paprika-spiked Spanish sausages, chorizos. I wouldn't bother with the luncheon steaks, but the crepes are stylishly filled. Platters run $4 to $6, accompanied by vegetables that are much more than after-thoughts. Soup, salad and a glass of wine costs $3.50. Desserts are not a strong suit, but coffee is.

After you have tried enough Washington restaurants at lunchtime, you begin to appreciate qualities you may never have noticed before. Quiet, enough quiet to hold a conversation. And enough space between the tables that your conversation need not include the next table. And thus you appreciate Adam's Rib, with its soft chairs and soothing variations on beige, its service which brings your food promptly and unobtrusively, its hush. So maybe you can forgive the food, which tastes quiet and beige, too. In any case, the menu covers the field from seafood to beef to international specialties to sandwiches and salads, with most of the choices under $4. You are best served by ordering something plain, or try the Korean pul koki, a largely inauthentic version which comes off a soy-flavored kebab; be sure to request it without the floury gravy.

The Intrigue is so dim that it surely took its name seriuously. And, given its purpose, it doesn't interrupt you with service; in fact, the waiter didn't bother us for a whole hour at lunch until be brought our appetizers. Maybe it was starvation, but the food, when it came, tasted good. Veal a la Swiss is a house specialty, a delicate ground beef patty with avocado and tomato under melted Swiss cheese, its brown sauce complementary rather than competitive, and the French fries good enough to stand alone. The hot rum pecan pie is as good as it sounds, except for the whipped topping. Main courses average $4 to $5, and lean heavily on seafoods, with a couple of fancy hamburgers and salads.

The left bank, so to speak, of Foggy Bottom is settled squarely at Le Gaulois. Day by day the kitchen turns out very good bourgeois French cooking at modest prices, mostly under $5, from homemade sausages to fish in white wine sauce. It has also cornered the local market for cuisine minceur with its small selection of diet dishes. Its only problem is that it is too well loved, so you may have to line up behind the faithful fans. Metro CentersRed and Blue Line

Reeves, 1209 F St. NW. Open for lunch Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. No credit cards. No reservations. 347-3781. (29)

Thai Room, 527-13th St. NW. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. No credit cards. Reservations. 638-2444. (28)

Kowloon, 1105 H St. NW. Open for lunch Monday through Friday 11:00 a.m. to 3 p.m. BA, MC, DC. Reservations. 638-4243. (30)

Old Ebbitt, 1427 F St. NW. Open for lunch Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 P.m. BA,MC,AE. No reservations. 347-5560. (27)

German Deli, 814 11th St. NW. Open for lunch Monday through Saturday 11:00 a.m. to 2 p.m. No credit cards. No reservations. (30)

Here it is, the crossroads of the Metro system, right in the heart of Washington's old downtown. Of the many places to eat, between the department store dining rooms and old shoppers' lunch counters, I've chosen an old one, a new one, a renewed old one and an oldish new one.

Ninety-one years old and as spry as ever, Reeves looks as a lot of restaurants in Wwashington only try to look. The Tiffany lamps appear to be originals, and so do the waitresses. Long counters line both aisles, their mirrored walls punctuated with coat hooks. Noisy and efficient, it reminds one of Boston-s historic market restaurants. Few other restaurants make their own mayonnaise, and even fewer serve peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or potato salad (quite good, by the way) as a main dish. Reeves is a charming anachronism, with commendable but timid chili and tamales, and a long list of tea-roomy randwiches, almost all of them under $2. All that is prelude, however, to the desserts. Reeves' bakery counter, which lines the front, is a magnet, its strongest force being the strasberry pie. But the other pies are moe than supporting cast, and any of them is sufficient reason for a stroll down F Street.

The news at Metro Center is the Thai Room, a long-needed downtwon branch of Chevy Chase's jam-packed Asian favorite. Like the uptown version, the Thai Room serves fiery food such as pearly white but potent coconut milk soup, and beef, pork or chicken with hot chili and garlic, all the dishes for about $2.50 to $3 for lunch . Not all the food is searing, though you can smell the garlic and peppers halfway fthrough the door. On the mild side, and consistently delectable, is the Thai Room chicken, fried drumsticks stuffed with crab and mushrooms. And besides tessing your palate, this downtown branch tickles your ribs; where else can you eat Thai-style noodles in a forest of gilded Corinthian columns and Roman friezes, where timid Oriental waiters weave between draped goddesses. The old Caesars II restaurant lives on in Asian splendor.

More typically Asian in a pretty, sedate way is Kowloon. It was one of the first Chinese restaurants around to serve dim sum every day, and the twenty-eight choices run from the familiar har gow (shrimp dumplings) to sow stomach and hot pepper chicken feet. Each order is ninety cents, and the best of those I tried were the har gow and the pillowy roest pork bows. Ordering from the dinner menu at lunch you can have a juicy, crisp-skinned half of a roast duck, fragrant with five-spices powder, for only $3.50. Or venture into a unique taste, steamed pork with dried grapefruit peel. In crab season, the fried crabs with scallions and ginger are less peppery than American steamed crabs, and as much fun to eat. Main dishes on the lunch menu average $2.50 to $3.50, and dinner dishes work up from there.

If Reeves looks like Boston, the Old Ebbitt could pass for a New York pub, jwith its Twenties-style chandeliers and dark wood, stuffed animal heads and high ceilings. On tap are Bass Ale, Guinness Stout and more everyday brews. On the plates are some pedestrian versions of pub food: club sandwiches, reubens with chewy corned beef, hamburgers, and crab cakes which taste like bread flavored with sea water. Even the homefried potato chips are overcooked and stale. Two redeeming features are fresh-tasting turkey and authentic whipped cream.But beer is the thing.

You may never again want to bring a brown bag from home once you try a carryout lunch from the German Deli. Just the hot sausages - bratwurst, weisswurst, knockwurst, smoked bratwurst and German franks - could provide a week of lunches to anticipate. And there are the usual cold cuts, hoagies, reubens, and a few "inflation specials" for under $1 (though none of the sandwiches costs more than $1.75). One taste of smoky Westphalian ham or lachsschinken will forever make you impatient with everyday ham. But look in the refrigerator case for your big splurge, a quart of imported juice from Germany - apricot, cassis, plum or apple - which costs $1.35 to $2.25, and tates as close as I have found to fresh fruit. Union Station Red Line

Gandy Dancer, 200 E St. NE. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. All major credit cards. No reservations.546-3377. (38)

Jonah's Oyster Kitchen, 400 New Jersey Ave. NW. Open for lunch Monday throught Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. All major credit cards. Reservations. 737-1234. (36)

The Monocle, 107 D St. NE. Open for lunch Monday throught Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. All major credit cards. Reservations. 546-4488. (37)

Tempting as it may be, I am not going to tell you to switch from theMetro to Amtrak for lunch in New York. But if you are going rthere for dinner, restaurants around the station will hold you until you get there.

Feast with your eyes at Gandy Dancer, the two levels a smorgasbord of macrame and supergraphics on brick walls, a tribute to modern design. The food, too, is designed with flair, the salads in wide glass bowls, the platters and sandwiches garnished in depth. Nothing tastes quite as good as it looks, but it looks good enought to allow some leeway. Whateve there is, there is a lot of it - a lot of salad, a lot of omelet, a lot of soup, and a lot of service. The baron de Barante omelet burts with lobster, drips with two cheeses, and wafts the fragrances of mushrooms and port wine. This four-egg omelet costs $5.75, but could easily serve two, maybe with a hous salad on the side for $1.25.

There is a family resemblance to White Flint Mall in the Hyatt Regency Hotel's Jonah's Oyster Kitchen. And the effect of the copper sheathing and etched glass is quite lush, reflected as it is in the handpainted pottery salt shakers, teh butter served in a scallop shell. Life in such a setting is bound to be expensive, and os the lunch dishes average $5 to $7. For that you get solicitous service with occasional leaps into the precious - salad forks presented in a bed of shaved ice. There is some inspiration in the house - heavy, rough raisin-pumpernickel bread and spectacular fruit garnishes - but you have to wade through insipid bouillabaisse salad and dry lobster in the otherwise good lobster benedict. Here is one of the few opportunities to sample two kinds of hot oysters - Rockefeller and Kirkpatrick - alone or as an assortment with baked clams. But my favorite meal would be a light one, just oysters moscovite, raw on the halfshell with caviar and horseradish cream, then fresh fruit if they would serve it alone, and their very good coffee.

The Monocle is not as old as it looks, but it does hold a place in Washington's history, and continues to draw heaviuly from the halls and caucus rooms of the Capitol. It is a meat-and-potatoes sort of place, meant to give stomachs a rest from exotic reception food, and plain is best. The crab cakes are little but crab and mayonnaise, not lump crab but fresh and sweet. The Greek salad is heavy with feta cheese and good Greek olives, blanketed with oregano and anchovies, teh better to work up one's thirst for the evening's cocktail party. The rum pie, despite excessive gelatin and soggy crust, tasted pleasant. Prices range from $3 sandwiches to $7.50 steaks, fair enought except for the $1.50 glass of wine. The efficient service can get you back to your Metro stop before your lunch overextends itself. Eastem Market Blue Line

Ali Baba, 665 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. Open for lunch Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. No credit cards. Reservations for six or more. 543-5570. (40) Patio Cafe, 406-408 8th St. SE. Open for lunch daily, 8 a.m. AE, BA, MC. No reservations. 546-7666. (42)

Capitol Hill Wine and Cheese, 611 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. Open for lunch Monday througt Saturday, 10 a.m., Sunday noon. No credit cards. No reservations. 546-4600. (41)

Kelley's Beef, 629 Pennsylvanis Ave. SE. Open for lunch Moinday throught Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. No credit cards. No reservations. 544-2100. (39)

Probably the best way to apend lunch hour at Eastern Market is food shoppingf in the market itself, and nibbling as you go. But there are also some good lunches of a moe structured sort.

If there were any justice in the world, Ali Baba would be left for the exclusive use of its Capitol Hill neighbors. It has, after all, only a handful of indoor seats, being a converted Little Tavern, its chrome storage shelves and bar stools intact. In nice weather, the rear garden expands its capacity and its appeal. But at it s best it is a barebones eatery with wellmeaning but halting service and some surprisingly good food. The lamb kebab is tangy, tender, nothingshort of delicious, teamed with bright yellow rice heavily cuminscented and studded with raisins. The portion is small, but $3 is all it costs. At less than $2, there is tabulleh, a very lemony cracked wheat and mint salad, a cubed melange of tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, chick peas and scallions, the Ali Baba Special Salad, and a good version of the eggplant and sesame puree, baba ghanouj. Don't be talked into the lamb liver kebab or the spinach pie. it is a small menu with a long list of desserts, French and Middle Eastern pastries made by a neighbor. Impressive quality, thjose pastries, with the reine de saba, the flaky nut-layered bastila and the datefilled cookies outstanding. Tea at Ali Baba involves a choice of a half dozen, properly brewed in a rotund pot, or try a luzurious yogurt and fruit drink that could be concocted, were the season right, from fresh peaches or berries. Even the lemonade is the real thing.

I tried, at the Patio Cafe, to like the so-called homemade specialties, because the brickwalled garden with tile tables deserves a return visit. So I waded through the super-processed chicken salad, the acceptable - but - forgettable chopped live, teh Vienna Salad with very American cheese, slathered with mustard in lieu of salad dressing. All I could like was the cole slaw, sprightly with celery seeds, but that could hardly make a meal. Oh, well, with top price at $2.25, maybe it is worth it on a nice day, if you consider the tab as chair rental.

You can't bring your own lunch to the Patio Cafe, but in case you find another comfortable picnic spot, you can fill in the picnic part from Capitol Hill Wine and Cheese. They have picnic boxes for all seasons, filled with quiches or cold cuts ro cheeses and fruit and wine and salads. Individual boxes cost about $3 to $4, or yu can simply get a sandwich - a far from simple sandwich - like roast beef and havarti cheese, lox and cream cheese or a stunning Italian hero.

Some days you don't want to have to make choices. You don't want to face some food you've never heard of before. You want something familiar, uncomplicated. It's the day for Kelley's Beef. You don't have to look at the decor; it's just a house-brand Roy Rogers. You can skip all the accessories that are carefully labeled homemade - the macaroni and cheese, bread pudding, soup. Stickto the roast beef sandwich. It is carved just for you from a great big steamship round, and slurped into meat juices and piled on a pretty good roll. It costs $2 with tax. It's a classic. McPherson Square Blue Line

Sheraton-Carlton, 16th and K Street NW. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. All major credit cards. Reservations recommended. 638-2626. (25)

Hay-Adams, 800 16tg St. NW. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. All major credit cards. Reservations recommended. 638-2260. (24)

Contrast is all at McPherson Square. Step onto 14th Street honkytonk and lunch in one of the most distinguished looking dining rooms in the city - in the Sheraton-Carlton or the Hay-Adams. Food, you will find, is not foremost, but thestyle adds a big something.

At the Sheraton-Carlton the lavishness of th arched windows and elaborately painted beams is matched by the buffet's studiously garnished foods. It is a truly grand room, with service to match, and for $6.50 one would not find a more impressive spread. What endears the careful observer is the freshness of the vegetables and fruits. Forbear the broing seafood and the sleazy curry. The green beans and the new potatoes, the turkey and ham salads, fruit melange and even - surprisingly - very good egg salad suffice, and there may be hot corned beef carved to your measure. Coffee is the best finale, perhaps with ripe Persian melon. The cakes and pies and puddings taste as if they are strictly for show.

Stodginess is comfortable when it comes to furnishings, but has little to recommend it when it invades food. Thus, the Hay-Adams is a more satisfactory place to sit than to eat. Sometimes it makes a hit - gently poached cold salmon with a mayonnaise of character - and sometimes they miss - softshell crabs that were practically hardshell. Service has bordered on the inept. In all, the anxiety - will I be a winner or loser today - is simply not worth the price, which is hefty. L'Enfant Plaza Blue Line

Luciano's, 700 L'Enfant Plaza, Promenade Level East-Southwest. Open, for the lunch Monday through Friday 10:30 a.m. No credit cards. No reservations. 554-4040. [45]

For a long time I had been hearing how crowded were the few eating places at L'Enfant Plaza. But I found them half-empty. Maybe L'Enfant Plaza employees are already scattering on the Metro for lunch. So now there's room there for the rest of us.

Not a single bet is missed at Luciano's, a cafeteria-style Italian restaurant with an enormous carpeted dining area. The red flocked wallpaper has two shades of red, no less. Romantic - if gaudy - paintings line the walls, and crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling. But that's not all. You eat your pizza to the accompaniment of a live combo at lunch. With all those extras, I hesitate is respectable, the calzone delectable, the bread homemade and sesame seeded, the wine a mere eighty cents for a big glass. You can also get sausage rolls, lasagne, spaghetti, all the classic red-sauce Italian dishes. And one of the most endearing junk foods ever invented, fried dough snowy with sugar and oozing grease - I loved it.

Yes, there are grassy stretches at L'Enfant Plaza. And there are very good carryout foods to enjoy on them. L'Enfant Gourmet carries an amazing collection of snacks and appetizers like cumin-scented empanadas, wrapped in plastic and kept hot. There is also a wide selection of lunch meats and pate for sandwiches, made into conglomerations called Eiffel Tower and Cannibal and Lfayette and the like. My particular favorite is and electic mixture named the Concorde, French bread bursting with rare roast beef, corned beef anf bacon, a bit of lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. A $2.35 knockout. FEDERAL CENTERSW Blue Line

Market Inn, 200 E St. SW, Open for lunch daily, 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. AE, DC, BA, MC, CB. Reservations. 554-2100, 554-7400. [44]

Among the last remnants of the old market area is the Market Inn. And among the last remnants of Washington as a seafood capital are some of the Market Inn's specialties. New England clam chowder, for instance, is as thick with clams as ti is with cream, and the crab Norfolk is a simple buttery dish of the backfin crab which has made the Chesapeake Bay a culinary legend. Fried seafoods crunch where they should and give where they should, and taste as fresth as they should. To wash these down, try a musty ale, which is a mug of ale mixed with beer. You can enjoy all this in a choice of dark, musty rooms, one decorated with portraits of classic cars, another with portraits of classic nudes. Ane if you hang around at the right time, live music will accompany your lunch. Sandwiches start at $2.25; seafood platters at lunch average $3 to $5. Pick through the menu with care, because you may get caught by the likes of she-crab soup, which tastes like thickened Newsburg sauce and is topped by sweetened whipped topping, or a chef seafood saled which is studded with fine lonster and crab, but drowned in bacon which tastes, at best, as if it came from a can. It is certainly not necessary to bother with the stolid, soggy key lime pie or the anemic strawberry parfait. Crystal City Blue Line

Capriccio, 1999 Jefferson Davis Highway. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. CB, AE, DC, BA, MC. Reservations. 521-5500. [47]

I took my Crystal City lunch at Capriccio, Marriott's Italian specialty restaurant. And whatever it cost, I got a lot of service for the money; the Marriott hearty welcome is practiced full force. In the food department, though, there was more slippage. Canneloni were unobjectionable, but no more than that. Crab-meat benedict, a tower of king crab, tomato slice and cheese on an English muffin with a buttery dollop of hollandaise, was a pretty classy dish, except for the dismal French fries on the plate. The iceberg lettuce salad is nicely dressed, and there is a sensational casata, the ice cream bombe edged with marzipan and glazed with chocolate.Lunch choices are limited to one soup, three beef dishes, four Italian dishes and fish or chef's salad, with a daily special; prices run about $3 to $6. The cassata, at $1, is the best buy as well as possibly the best dish. Capitol South Blue Line

Rotunda, 30 Ivy St. SE. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. All major credit cards. Reservation. 546k-2255. [43]

Picking are slim at Capitol South, being limited to one private club, one carryout and the Rotunda, which is priced for a captive audience. A glass of wone or a simple green salad cost $1.85; quiche, omelets and eggs benedict are $5.25. For that you get indiferrent service (a waiter who shrugs and walks off when you remind him that he forgot your soup) in a setting full of plastic ferns and Roman gewgaws, a kind of Busby Berkeley Roman Forum. I have had some fresh rockfich in a routine nantua sauce, and a pork nicoise that turned out to be a slicesif sadly dry pork under a stewy mix of tomatoes, peppers, onions and black olives. With the peculiarly bitter, dried-out chocolate mousse or a reasonably extravagant peach melba, you could manage to order one of the least satisfying $10 to $15 lunches in town.