Open for dinner from 5:30 until 11 weekdays and until midnight weekends. Parking free at the corner lot refunded at the restaurant. All credit cards accepted. Reservations needed most nights and especially on the weekends.

El Caribe is nothing new to the residents of the Adams-Morgan area of the city or to the Spanish-speaking people of the metropolitan area who frequent this small restaurant with its special South American and Spanish dishes.

But to those unfamiliar with El Caribe, especially those tired of the sterile "formula" restaurants so common in the suburbs, this small, unusual restaurant will be a welcome experience.

El Caribe i one of those rare restaurants offering both good food and informality.

The dishes offered are those felt to be representative to twelve different South American countries and Spain. There's even one Mexican dish (enchilada de pollo).

There's paelia from Spain, port with bananas from Equador and beef tongue from Peru. Most entrees average around $5.50 and include side orders of black beans and rice.

One our family's recent visit there, we all shared an appetizer of cevhiche de pescado, a Peruvian fish with lemon and onion served on a bed of lettuce. Our children enjoyed the mild taste of the filler of sole. (We didn't tell them the fish was raw.) We also shared, and enjoyed, an appetizer of gambas al ajillo - delicious dish from Spain featuring jumbo shrimp in garlic butter.

For our main courses, my husband chose the hunter's style rabbit, billed on the menu as "an all-time favorite throughout all of Latin America." The entree came to the table piping hot in its own casserole - several pieces of rabbit in a wonderful, brown, spicy sauce.

For the children, we ordered the pollo cazuela, a Spanish dish consisting of sauteed chicken, ham and sausage served in a delicately flavored sauce. This one entree, which was priced at $3.95, was plenty for our two children, aged five and eight. Out waiter was pleased to bring an extra plate so that the children could share the entree. They really enjoyed the dist. Even our usually picky five-year-old sopped up the remainder of his sauce with his bread crust.

For my entree, I chose the fritadas conllapingachos, a dish from Equador with pork, fried ripe bananas, fried green bananas and a tropical fruit called ayuca. This entree, which was priced at $4.95, also came in its own casserole. I found the dish to be an unusual and pleasant combination of textures and tastes.

With our meal, my husband and I enjoyed a half bottle of "Brillante White" wine.

We passed up dessert, but had we had room, we would have ordered the house specialty of brazo gitano, a Spanish cake filled with chocolate cream.

Our bill, including the wine, came to $23.90 plus taxes and tip.

he clientele at El Caribe ranges from casually dressed families to elegantly attired businessmen, but whatever the dress, informality is definitely the tone. Waiters and customers visit congenially and often join in to sing with the guitarist who performs there most nights.