Open for lunch Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m., dinner Monday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5 p.m.-midnight. Open Sundays 11 a.m.-10 p.m. BankAmericard, Master Charge, and American Express Cards accepted. No reservations. Phone 521-2565.

Cafe Italia, near Crystal City in Arlington, is the kind of Italian restaurant where Rocky would feel right at home. It even has some nice south Philly touches, like fairy lights dotted among the hanging baskets of coleus. Best of all the food is excellent and this, along with the informal atmosphere and moderate prices, makes it a fine place for family dining.

The restaurant might be called the country cousin of Portofino, located just across the street. Angelo and Aida Mele own the two establishments and the same fine service is availabale at both. But while you'll find pizza and spaghetti served on red-chrtofino, you'll find pizza nd spaghetti served on red-checked oil cloth over at Cafe Italia.

The menu is simple but inviting - spaghetti with either susages or meatballs for $3.25; eggplant or veal parmigiana and chicken cacciatore, all at $3.75; calamari with spaghetti, $3.75; plus a whole raft of pizzas including pizza rustica. Most of the latter run from $5 to $7 for a whole. And you can have your choice of a thick or thin crust. The dinners come with salad and bread and butter.

There is no children's menu. But since our boys requested ravioli, the waiter suggested they split an order. He also divided the salad which came with it into little bowls - just enough foreach of them. If your children have diverging tastes, it is possible to get a $1.50 side order of the pasta dishes, which is enough to fill most children.

The ravioli, by the way, was excellent - the pasta tender and covered with a full-bodied tomato sauce.

My husband chose the spaghetti with sausages. The pasta came with two fat links, hot and spicy, covered with tomato sauce.

I tried the house speciality - calzone di carne, $2.50, billed as "folded fresh dough filled with ground beef, ham, fresh vegetables, cheese and black pepper." I turned off my mental calorie counter and ate the whole thing.

Cafe Italia's salads are simple - greenery, dressed with, not drowned in, oil and vinegar.

For dessert we couldn't resist the spumoni and canoli, 95 cents each. To finish off our feast my husband and I each had a capuccino, at $1.25, from the enormous brass espresso machine that dominates one corner of the restaurant. To the consternation of the Meles, who ordered it from Italy, it sounds like the Concorde when it's in operation. But it delighted the children and delivered a good cup of coffee for us.

Our bill, including a 75-cent glass of wine for me and iced tea and cokes for the rest of the family, came to $18.22 without tip.