Atmosphere: Friendly and informal.
Price range: Dinners from $3.95 to $16. Sunday buffet at bargain basement prices - $2.50 for children, $4.85 for adults.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to midnight on Fridays; noon to midnight Saturdays; 3 to 11 p.m. Sundays, with buffet ending at 8 p.m.
Credit Cards: American Express, Master Charge, Visa, Diners Club.
Special Facilities: Free parking. Accessible by wheelchair.
Reservations: Not necessary except on weekends.
"Sunday family buffet, all you can eat at reasonable prices," the ad had said. Within half an hour, we had plastic lets drapped around our necks and were sipping rum potions and Shirley Temples in the Luau Room of the Diamond head Restaurant in Bethesda.
This cheerful establishment has everything but Dorothy Lamour in her sarong in the way of South Seas atmosphere - rooms are divided with little grass, hut-type walls and roofs, pastel-colored waters flow from fountains and the ceilings are "starlit." In deference to the Yuletide season, strings of lights and evergreens are mixed in among the palms.
Few children can resist all this, but the best part for them is the paper fans stuck in the liquid refreshments, and the mugs they can take home if they can talk their parents into buying the right drinks. And our youngest daughter now has dangling from her bed post more than a dozen leis, most abandoned by grownup diners.
Despite the Polynesian trappings, the food is mostly Northern Chinese, or to be precise, Sze Chuan. The advertising for the buffet lived up to its claims - no one cared how many times we had refills, and our bill for everything, including drinks, tip and leis, came to what must have been for the proprietor an unprofitable $22.80.
While my husband and I pondered the list of drinks, which ranged in potency from volcany to subdued and had names like Beachcomber, $1.95, and Waikiki Passion, $1.25, the girls inspected the buffet.
Four main dishes, which are varied from week to week but always include one each of chicken, pork, beef and shrimp, were offered, as well as soup, fried-rice and egg rolls.
Our children loaded up on the rice and the egg rolls, taking roughly a teaspoon of the other offerings. They liked the idea of limitless egg rolls and each had three. This was a puny showing compared to a 14-year-old boy who, according to Alfred, the manager, ate 16 at one sitting recently.
The Peking shrimp with bamboo shoots and broccoli was satisfying , but the beef with peppers and tomatoes suffered from stewing over a pan of hot water for a couple of hours. (The egg rolls also go soggy but this clearly is no obstacle to true aficionados.)
The sweet and sour pork was a good sticky concoction of meat, pineapple and maraschino cherries. The addition of the cheries was imaginative and colorful, but I prefer them in my Waikiki Passions.
I thought the best dish was the Kan Pao chicken, a fiery singer made with chicken, obviously, onions and peanuts. My husband bit into a hot peper and went into a frenzy. Nevertheless, in combination with the other blander dishes, the Kang Pao (pronounced pow) made the real more interesting.
Teas was served, and ice cream and fortune cookies were part of the package.
Since we were among the last to arrive for the buffet, things were winding down. We had to remind the young waiters that we had no plates, napkins, etc. Once prodded, they were willing and polite.
The Diamond Head serves regular dinners, too, including spicy Yu Shang pork for $4.95, Sze Chuan vegetables for $5.95 and chicken Teriyaki for $4.95. The highest priced item is the Peking duck, $16, but it can feed from two to four people.
American and continental dishes include steaks and seafood. If you're feeling ostentatious, order the cognac-soaked lobster or king crab, which the management will set on fire for you at tableside.
Despite the delectable delights of the regular menu, we'll save our Alohas for the Sunday Luau.