Open 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day. Street parking if you cruise for a bit. Street-level dining room accessible by wheel chair but not spacious; other rooms involve narrow steps. American Express, BankAmericard, Bank of Virginia, Carte Blanche, Diners Club and Master Charge. Reservations unnecessary. .

Even the fiercest hometown pride of a native Washingtonian needs periodic fortification, which may explain my particular delight as our family drifted downtown M Street NW from Connecticut Avenue westward.

It was a pleasant stroll past eateries for all tastes from haute cuisine to not-so-haute. Add to that a bit of courtingera nostalgia and we were bound to drift into the Astor Restaurant again.

In what some would refer to as our salad days (even though I never eat the stuff), Jane and I were there among the cognoscenti who frequented the Astor for good cause. There, one could depend on a full menu of incredibly good values.

That, we felt sure, would be a memory quickly shattered today by some marked deterioration in service, decor or the Greek cooking. But right away, the warm greetings given all comers were reassuring. We were graciously ushered upstairs, around to the left, past the Athens West room, which features music and belly dancers from 8:30 p.m. on, to one of the many little dining clusters.

Then the astounding news: The wrinkly old menus have hardly been doctored in the decade or more since our last visit. Why has inflation never hit the Astor? Of the countless dishes offered, the most expensive was a New York sirloin complete dinner (soup, one vegetable, coffee or tea and rice pudding or jello), for $5.45. A la carte, it's $4.85.

Our walter either enjoys children or he's a polished actor. Lickety-split, he whistled back with the bread, cokes and beers. Incidentally, 75 cents here will get you a manhattan, whiskey sour, martini or old fashioned.

The menu has daily clip-on specials, from a printed list to a write-in platter, which on this evening was baked sweetbreads at $2.85 a la carte or $3.45 complete.

My wife chose the lead item on the Friday printed chart, braised lamb with artichokes, at $2.85, and selected a spinach-and-rice dish. You may order lamb every which way here, but the artichoke combination was a winner.

Our son, 10, was content with fried jumbo shrimp, French fries and cole slaw for $3.35. For our 8-year-old daughter, happiness was Italian spaghetti with meat sauce, for $1.95, and a side order of lettuce salad with oil and vinegar for 50 cents.

From the Friday list I picked sirloin of beef stroganoff with rice, for $2.25. They do it right. For an idea of some of the other offerings all below $3, there's pot roast, callmari plaki (that's squid), lamb kidneys, meat cake, cheese pie, coq au vin and on and on.

For dessert, our children reveled in baklawa. Our total bill was $16.64 plus tip, which helps to explain why the Astor enjoys such a brisk business. How it can be done at these prices remains a mystery and it's one we're prepared to let go unsolved.

The Astor Restaurant, 1813 M Street NW. Open 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day. Street parking if you cruise for a bit. Street-level dining room accessible by wheel chair but not spacious; other rooms involve narrow steps. American Express, Bank Americard, Bank of Virginia, Carte Blanche, Diners Club and Master Charge. Reservations unnecessary.