Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday.

Several months ago, when our family was down with colds, we chanced on the New China Restaurant for some soup. The hot and sour soup, a peppery broth filled with meat and vegetables, turned out to be such a satisfying tonic that we have been back several times since to sample other dishes from the extensive menu.

The New China is tucked away in an industrial area on South Pickett Street in Alexandria, just off Van Dorn Street. It shares space in a small shopping center with a first-rate butcher shop - open late every night - a Radio Shack and a soon-to-be-opened microcomputer store.

The New China dining room, decorated with carved wooden screens and Oriental art, is an intimate place warmed by unusual three-tiered lanterns that softly light the room in white, green and red.

On a recent evening several families and a few singles were dining there. While we studied the seven-page menu, which specializes in Mandarin and Szechuan dishes, our waiter brought our 2-year-old a Shirley Temple. The drink was decorated with a small paper fan, a diversion for him that we welcomed.

We finally settled on an appetizer of six meat dumplings, $2. Wonderful Beef, $4.95, and half a Peking Duck, $7.50, that did not have to be ordered in advance.

Since the dumplings take about 20 minutes to prepare, our waiter agreed to bring the other dishes first in order not to tax our son's limited staying power. The duck was brought to the table sliced, along with six steamed pancakes and a bowl of scallions. The dish is also accompanied with Hai-Hsien (or Hoi Sin) sauce, a sweet, pasty dip that is spread on the pancakes. The service this night was friendly, if a bit forgetful, and we had to wait several minutes for the sauce as well as an extra plate for our son. But once those difficulties were overcome, out little one especially enjoyed rolling the pancakes and eating them. The duck was good, but a bit fatty.

The Wonderful Beef was done quite well - shreds of beef with celery and bamboo shoots in a sweet and spicy sauce. The dumplings were equally well prepared; the mild steamed pastries filled with meat and vegetables were suitable for our son, while we dipped ours in a hot sauce of soy, vinegar, chili oil, ginger and scallions.

The evening was a pleasant one. Boosters and high chairs are available, and the staff does make an effort to ease children through their dinners.

New China tries to provide a wide variety of well-prepared appetizers, soups and main dishes, including more exotic entrees like shrimp with golden crisp rice, imported yellow fish, which the diner can order cooked in sweet and sour sauce or Szechuan style, and butterfly shrimp, wrapped in bacon, deep fried and served in sweet-and-sour sauce. There are also the old favorites of pepper beef, Moo Shi Pork and others. Most main dishes are about $5. Our dinner for the evening minus tip was $15.17.