Now that the Szechuan craze has been around so long, we have old-time Szechuan restaurants as well as new style, and this is the best of the former. And by now its shabby carpet on the front stairs has become a landmark. The dining rooms are traditional Chinese- American garish, with arched leather booths the most comfortable part. The menu is long and satisfyingly varied. Portions are gigantic, and service rangesfrom oily to indifferent. So what's great about it? The food. Here the jao tse -- called fried or steamed meat dumplings on the menu -- are a giant step above any others I have had: supple noodles with spicy aromatic meat filling. Bon bon chicken is fresh shredded meat with a thick, rich, reasonably spicy peanut sauce. Orange beef can be ordered crisp or not, and as a wonderful combination of textures, with a faint wash of hot- sweet orange glaze. Shrimps -- a hallmark of a good Chinese restaurants -- are plump and perfect. And duck is moist, crisp and decently free of fat.

You have your choice of heat level in potentially fiery dishes, and if you like, the waiter will bring your dishes in courses rather than all at once.

This is the kind of Chinese restaurant that reminds you why Szechuan food became such a trend in the first place. 615 I St. NW. 393-0130. L $4.25- $7.95, D $5.45-$13.95. L daily ex Sat, Sun, D daily. AE, MC, V. Res sugg. Full bar.