Gusti's Restaurant, 1837 M St. NW. Open every day from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Free dinner parking across the street. Accessible by wheelchair, though there are some steps. American Express, Bank-Americard, Carte Blanche, Diners Club and Master Charge. Reservations not necessary.

Never mind that it had been a sidewalk buckler all day, or that it was now a muggy midsummer Sunday evening downtown. The pavement "garden" outside of Gusti's on M Street NW was humming with determined diners.

We should have remembered that Gusti's has been bustling with famished families ever since 1949, which is a lot of pasta ago.

But threatening skies were suggesting that the garden might as any minute be awash with wetted appetites, so the vote was 4 to 0 with no abstentions to go inside.

Gusti's indoors is cavernous - a maze of fine old brick walls, red tablecloths, candles and scattered diners of all ages. In here, too, the subdued lighting has a nice way of subduing children - with the exception of one new-born next to us who clearly wasn't going to be ordering from the menu.

Before exploring the many other pleasant rooms in which we weren't seated, we secured soft drinks, beers and copies of the outsized menus that are filled with Italian ideas (which are almost synonymous with calories).

For a prudent beginning, I reasoned, Brodetto di Pollo con Pastina, a chicken broth at $1.35, would be a not-so-fattening treat if you didn't spoon up the pastina. But every weight-watcher is bound to look away once in a while - and those little round things in the soup were just too tasty to ignore.

Our 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter managed to share a bowl with equal portions of gusto. My wife tried the French onion soup at $1.10 which, alas, had less body than a starved anchovy; it took a heavy dose of grated cheese just to weigh in at all.

Other lead-off candidates on the menu include clams on the half-shell at $2.50, jumbo shrimp at $3.25, prosciutto ham and melon at $2.85, antipasto at $3.95 or a special jumbo shrimp salad at $4.35.

Needless to say, there is spaghetti in its many ways, from $2.35 and $3.95; and yes, kids, there's pizza - from small and plain at $1.95 - our daughter's choice - to large with everything at $6.85.

Our son topped a small pizza with pepperoni, at $2.45. Based on appraisals from our two veteran pizza-poppers and some hard-won bites for parents, it's thumb up for Gusti's Pizza.

The other choices were difficult, for nearly everything sounded good: ravioli and meat balls at $4.15, beef burgundy with rice at $4.25, filet mignon at $7.75 and a wide range of offering in the $4 to $6 range.

The culinary biggies - at least based on the splashy play they win on the menu pages - seemed to be those done in something called "pizzaiola sauce." Of these, I ordered Medaglioni di Vitello (veal) with spaghetti, at $6.50. It turned out to be wall-to-wall stewed tomatoes with overcooked afterthoughts of veal.

My wife's Veal Parmigiana, at $5.50, proved a somewhat better dish. At least the cheese was able to camouflage a run-of-the-meal veal.

Oh, well, it was pizza that pretty much made Gusti's a popular name in its early years, anyway, and that tradition lives.

For desert, the children each snared an excellent chocolate mousse at $2 while my wife and I had coffee. Our total bill was $2.48 plus tip.