Open every day from 11:30 to 2 a.m. Street parking. Accessible by wheelchair. American Express, BankAmericard, Master Charge. Reservations not necessary, but advised for "all-you-can-eat" buffet nights.

The sign in the doorway said, "No torn or dirty clothing, tank tops, bare feet" - but to our relief it was silent on the question of disheveled and potentially rambunctious children. We had three in this instance, but they proved no threat whatsoever for the Dancing Crab on Wisconsin Avenue NW.

Indeed, the salty motif inside is peppered with busy youngsters reveling in the informality. Where else could they scrunch into booths with seats made out of logs, tables covered in brown wrapping paper and stacks of matching paper towels within grabbing range? That's how crabs and other things of the water should be eaten, and that's why this place is a good port in any hunger storm.

My son, 10, and I were delighted with our fried Louisiana shrimp, at $5.95. They were crisp, large double-winners surrounded by thin French fries and a cup of cole slaw. My daughter's friend, 7, had sampled crabs before and on the advice of an accomdating waitress, the crab order (size and number) was correctly estimated at three medium crabs, which cost $3. In addition, the waitress gave a short refresher course on how to undo the crab and what to discard. Mostly, you hit it with a wooden mallet, which a 7-year-old certainly doesn't mind doing.

The seafood showstopper of the evening was my wife's selection - Alaskan king crab legs with drawn butter, at $5.95. These legs must have belonged to mighty tall creatures - Each was about 9 or 10 inches long and filled with soft white meat. With such a delicacy, who needs lobsters?

Understandably, the offerings at the Dancing Crab vary with the season and the catch. They include cherrystone clams (6 for $1.75, a dozen for $3.25), shrimps, oysters and lobsters. On Tuesdays through Saturdays from 7 to 11 p.m., all-you-can-eat feast, at $7.95, feature buffets of spiced shrimp, oysters, clams, corn, slaw, fries and a shucker named Dave.

For non-seafood people, there are a few offerings. My daughter, 7, for example, had a huge bowl of hearty chilli at $1.25. There are sandwiches from $1.65 to $2.75, corn on the cob for 50 cents and assorted cold plates priced from $2.25 to $5.95. For dessert, the children had generous slices of chocolate layer cake at 60 cents.

For families, the particular appeal of the Dancing Crab is the freedom children have to roam and gawk. There's a large tank of tropical fish (not to be eaten) who, as a child from another table informed us, coexist with a lively frog.

Prompt delivery of cokes and draft beers in mugs and waitress advisories on the length of time it takes for various dishes are also most helpful. The total bill was $29.25 plus tip.