Atmosphere: A dash of old salt, peppered with nostalgia.

Price range: From a $3.50 sandwich to the $5.75-$8.95 range and on up to lobsters at quoted prices. Kids' portions at half-price.

Hours: Every day from 11 a.m. to midnight: Fridays and Saturdays until 1 a.m.

Special facilties: Accessible by wheelchair. Booster seats available. Free parking lot.

Reservations: Not necessary, but call ahead couldn't hurt.

Credit cards: American Express, BankAmericard, Carte Blanche, Diner Club, Master Charge.

To the tourist unfamiliar with the maze of byways and dead-ends in Southwest Washington - or, for that matter, for anybody who hasn't been through that area in the last few minutes or so - it isn't easy finding John Mandis' Market Inn.

Still, intrepid natives have been doing it for decades, no matter where this eatery has shifted in the neighborhood. It helps to take along a compass, street map and maybe an off-duty usher from Arena Stage, but one really can persevere to 2nd and E streets SW.

According to our exhaustive research (which, as always, means what we read inside the restaurant's matchbook), this site is "in the heart of the wholesale market," even if the arteries serving it aren't all that active.

At any rate, you should discount the outdoor surroundings, for the real atmosphere is inside, where you'll find a heavy diet of prime, aged, homegrown memorabilia everywhere you look - a sort of hanging showcase of what we locals have heard referred to as "Ol' Wershinton."

Our 11-year-old son didn't even get past, the one-year-yard line in the front hall before he became engrossed in group photos of the 1930s Redskins and a dangling football signed by the team, includigng (wow!) Sam Baugh.

There was the question of which in a series of dining rooms we would choose. The one with the antique-auto theme, the boating room, the one with airplanes or maybe a spot near the tank of live lobsters. Live music, in yet another room, captured the swing votes in our quartet.

The artistic theme of the old pictures along the brick and dark-panel walls in this room was, wll, er, ladies with not much on, really. But what the heck, the kids were more interested in the piano and bass - especially when the duo played a sing-along medley of sure-fires including "Daisy, Daisy," "East Side, West Side" and "i'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter (Oh, Yeah!)."

All this, plus an outomatic ration of cheese and crackers with our soft drinks and sours, set us up smoothly for menu-mulling. Though the accent is on seafood, there is landfood, too, if you ever finish reading the full, 16-by-22-inch laminated chart they hand out.

The prices are by no means the lowest in town, but to our relief and delight the waitress remembered to share with us some news not noted on that chart - namely, that kids can get portions at half-price.

The offer didnt take with our son, however, who figured that his selection of fried jumbo shrimp might not be all that jumbo in a kiddie ration. As it turned out, he easily polished off the adult platter, with fries and salad, at $6.95.

Our 8-year-old daughter chose the child-sized order of barbecued ribs with fries and salad, for $3.40. Meaty they were, but she found the sauce too spicy. I had the same sauce on an order of chicken and ribs with baked potatoes, at $6.50, and thought it just fine.

That led to a familywide sauce-poll, in which my considered opinion took a narrow 3-to-1 licking. I did win an extra rib as a consolation prize, though.

The results of another survey, however, gave unanimous raves to my wife's order of sauteed Alaskan king crabmeat, with baked potato and salad, for $7.50.

In addition to crabs every-whichway - Norfolk, Newburg, au gratin, you name it - the Market Inn serves just about everything you find in the waters short of a rubber tire: Lobsters (prices quoted daily), scallops, oysters, clams, flounder, blue fish, halibut and fresh fish from the Chesapeake Bay.

The dinner special, in fact, included lobster tail, scallops, shrimp, fish filet, clam and oyster, all for $6.50.

But these and other goodies-of-the-sea would have to await anothe cruise, making way at this point for something called stuffed family of four in mellow mode, for $31.37 plus tip.