:Open every day from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. (3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights). Parking on street. Accessible by wheelchair. American Express, Diner's Club. Reservations not necessary.

It was one of those evenings with much to be resolved in short order: My wife was unthrilled by the prospect of rustling up dinner, I didn't feel like dressing up for any grand public appearance and the two kids were fast wilting from hunger. The solution to these problems, we can now report, could be found, even on a Saturday evening, at a small oasis known as Nicky's Steak 'N' Place on Wisconsin Avenue NW.

We were referred there not by a connoisseur of local restaurants, but by a voice from the back seat of the car, blurting out something to the effect of "There's one, over there." The menu was lodged in a sidewalk pylon. The bill of fare passed the qualifying round on first reading, since it offered great variety at no great financial suffering.

So in we went, past a little nook with pinball machines, under some unlit Christmas tree lights, into an inviting area of tables beneath hanging plants and 1977-model Tiffany lamps. A pleasant fellow whose name would turn out to be Nigel was swift with teh necessary warm-up equipment of menus, cokes and drafts.

The general attire was decidedly informal and the clientele included a sufficient but inoffensive number of children, most of whom were either back in that game nook or digging into the you-make-it salad bar. The makings at the salad bar included chick peas, onions, beets, bean salad, macaroni, carrots and, would you believe, a bunch of bananas. My family scouts reported that of four dressings, the house blend was the best.

Now back to that menu: There's something for even the most finicky. For starters, the offerings include soup (80 cents) and melon in season (75 cents). There's a long list of omelettes from $2.65 to "Name Your Own" at $3.50. The burger chart is lengthy, too, with the basic model at $1.95 to pizza burger $2.35, bacon burger $2.45, chili burger $2.55, or the "Name Your Own" for $2.75.

Still other options include sandwiches (BLT, $1.65; roast beef on sesame seed roll, $1.85; club, $1.95; Reuben, $1.95; or meatball sub, $1.95); chili dogs at $2.25 and fish and chips, $2.85.

Reading along smartly, we noted beef brochett ($4.95), sirloin ($6.95), spaghetti ($2.75), ravioli ($2.80), lasagna ($2.95) as well s our ultimate and rewarding selections. From a veritable directory of Pizzas (from $3 to $4.75), our 10-year-old son chose a pepperoni and sausage model, which was large enough for all of us to ratify his thumbs-up rating.

Our 7-year-old daughter, somewhat boggled by these options, stuck to an old favorite, chicken in the basket ($3.50) and was neither disappointed nor shorted. My wife was pleased with eggs benefict and hollandaise sauce ($2.95). I fared well with veal parmigiana ($3.25).

We skipped dessert (cheese cake, 95 cents, pastries, $1.95). While the parents' coffee was cooling, the children returned from a field tour with a report on "the other side" of Nicky's.

Through a doorway, there's an entire room with a gimmick of its own: One of those outsized TV screens on which sports look so good.

Our total bill was $18.68 plus tip.

As we might have deduced, Nicky's isn't exactly a secret in the neighborhood. In fact, every time we mention the place now, somebody pipes up that his or her family ate there regularly when they lived nearby. At least