Kitchen open Sunday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to midnight.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. AE, MC, V. Prices: Appetizers $2.20 to $3.95, sandwiches $1.95 to $3.50, main dishes $4.75 to $5.95.

NOW there is Timberlake's, and again Dupont Circle has a hangout, a neighborhood pub, a place where the conversation is not insulted by the food, where the prices are as casual as the dress code.

With apologies to urban anthropologists, I have been looking into what makes a neighborhood hangout. Location, of course, but timing is part of the location. A few years ago Connecticut Avenue was empty after the early show at the Janus Theaters. Now people promenade, stroll late at night, and stop in for a drink or a snack. So Timberlake's arrived at a good time.

Tone is a more subtle factor. Timberlake's etched logo on the storefront windows is an understated invitation to enter rather than a hard-selling and possibly intimidating come-on. The interior is dense with bar and tables, walled with brick, and decorated with a sufficiency of bar mirrors, ceiling fans and pressed tin ceiling, two TVs for watching the game at brunch. The juke box is just loud enough to raise the pitch of the conversation. Timberlake's is new, clearly new, but it looks as if it will age well.

A neighborhood hangout requires a certain ongoing liveliness, a dependable sociability which the restaurant can't necessarily invent but can certainly encourage. At Timberlake's, the lighting is bright enough for camaraderie, the long bar is as friendly a scene as a row of hair dryers, and table-hopping is an Olympic-caliber sport.

No carpets. No tablecloths. No space between the tables. Nobody on the service staff who seems to have more than two weeks' restaurant experience. Timberlake's is for an evening-or morning-when you don't want a big deal of a restaurant, just a place you can drop into for some good food.

Timberlake's surprises are in its food. Who expects home-made french fries these days? At Timberlake's you do. The menu lists the all-too-familiar litany of sandwiches (club, "your basic reuben," roast beef, Monte Cristo), hamburges (with artichoke hearts alfalfa sprouts, bacon and the like), salads and quiches. Their preparation, however, surpasses the familiar. The roast beef is rare and juicy, served on good French bread, with a little bowl of bouillony pan juices. The hamburgers are all-star productions, thick and charred on the outside but still rare inside. Take them plain, or with smoky bacon and cheese, but don't stumble into continental excess of bearnaise (bright yellow and sticky, with a medicinal flavor) and artichokes. The reuben, on the other hand, is-as promised-basic, standard, average; and the turkey on the club sandwich is everyday stuff. Whatever deficiencies a particular sandwich might have, they are compensated by beautiful garnishes of curly endive, ripe tomatoes, raw cauliflower or broccoli, a garden of them enlivening the plate, or maybe slices of fruit. Salads, too, are big and colorful, mounded with meats and cheeses, but their dressings are lamentably bland.

Work is also needed in the hot dinner entrees. The choices are imaginative: curried orange chicken, shrimp and crab casserole, meat and seafood kebabs, ham in plum sauce, crepes and beef stroganoff. Prices are modest, from $4.25 to $5.95. But the tastes and textures are those of amateur concoctions rather than professional dishes. Still, seasonings are daring, peppery, personable, so you remember fondly the flavor of a beef stifado despite its textural errors.

Eat sandwiches and hamburgers if you want to play it safe at Timberlake's. Also dependable is the puffy and flaky quiche, though it may be excessively reheated. You drink Michelob or Pabst on tap, and end with very good coffee in a thick white mug, not bothering with the oversweetened pies that have stood around too long. Have Haagen-Daza if you must end sweetly.

You've done well, even though the server may have brough your main dish at the same time as your appetizer of forgotten your spoons and your onion rings.

But you've missed the best of Timberlake's. One doesn't usually go to a neighborhood pub to order appetizers, but they are the sleepers. Shrimp and avocado costs $3.95. But you could make a meal of it, and it is a vivid still life of plump, juicy shrimp marinated in a curried vinaigrette, carefully positioned on avocado sections. Surpassed only by delices d'emmental ($2.40), sticks of Swiss cheese breaded in fresh crumbs and oregano, deep fried until the insides melt as you cut through the crust. Accompanied by an unnecessary tomato suauce, the fried cheese is best savored all by itself.

Timberlake's needs maturing, to be sure, though it already deserves applause for its triumphant appetizers, hamburgers and roast beef. And it deserves special attention for reviving the authentic french fry.