STOpen Sunday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday until 10:30 p.m. Reservations advised for Sunday evenings. Accepts credit cards. Front steps make wheelchair access difficult. Parking on street or in county parking lot around the corner.

For three years now our family has gone to the China Garden for a farewell dinner before our daughter, 11, leaves for camp. Chinese is her favorite cuisine, and China Garden is our favorite place to have it.

China Garden looks like it's going to be expensive, but it isn't. It has a pleasant foyer lined with blow-ups of rave reviews from restaurant critics. There are two dining rooms that have real wood paneling and are decorated with Chinese watercolor landscapes. The tables are covered with two tablecloths - white over red. The maitre d' is dressed in a suit and tie and is very professional.

The service, from the minute we sit down, is always attentive.

China Garden earned accolades from critics for its original and unusual dishes. They have a Authentic Chinese Dinner for $7.95 that includes some of them. With our children in tow, we generally order more run-of-the-mill dishes so we can all share. China Garden never disappoints, even in the egg roll and fried rice department. For $5.75 per person, these items and more are included in a special dinner that offers soup, appetizer, entree and dessert. Last year we could order dinner for three and have enough for four of us. This year everyone wanted something special and appetites have grown, so we didn't try it.

My husband and I stayed with the dinner menu, but our children ordered a la carte. We all started with soup, three Won Ton, one Chinese vegetable, for 80 cents. The Won Ton was a pleasant enough soup but the vegetable soup turned out to be a richer dish. The broth had more flavor and was filled with crunchy water chestnuts, Chinese pea pods, mushrooms and lots of other Chinese vegetables. None of the vegetables was water-logged; each had texture and taste.

Next, three of us had egg roll. On the dinner, my husband and I got one egg roll each. A la carte, our daughter got two rolls, for $1.70. She finished it all and announced it was the best she'd ever had. It wasn't as crisp as my husband and I like it, but it was filled with delicious bits of shrimp, meat and vegetables. Our son, 9, ordered spareribs, $3.75. He got half a dozen ribs, all meaty, de-fatted and well seasoned. The ribs may have been served as an appetizer, but he treated them as his main course.

Since this was our daughter's farewell dinner, she insisted she wanted both fried rice, at $2.95, and sweet and sour pork, at $4.25, and she talked her brother into sharing those dishes. This turned out to be a mistake of sorts. A huge platter of fried rice was served, but each individual dish was accompanied by a small bowl of fried rice. We took a lot of fried rice home in a take-out pack.

The sweet and sour pork was quite good. The batter on the pork wasn't overly thick and the sauce wasn't overly sweet.

My husband and I had ordered shrimp in lobster sauce and Char Shu Ding. The shrimp were large and succulent and the sauce had a strong scent of garlic and scallions. We had never tried Char Shu Ding before; China Garden's version had chunks of pork with carrots, almonds, water chestnuts, celery and other vegetables. Everything was cut to the same size, making the dish preety as well as tasty.

We weren't able to finish all the shrimp and Char Shu Ding. The waiter cheerfully packed it up with the fried rice and gave it to use to take home. We had a terrific lunch the next day.

Our bill, which included a half carafe of white wine for $4, came to $29.75.

China Garden Restaurant, 4711 Montgomery La., Bethesda; 657-4665. Open Sunday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday until 10:30 p.m. Reservations advised for Sunday evenings. Accepts credit cards. Front steps make wheelchair access difficult. Parking on street or in county parking lot around the corner.