We felt rather smug once we arrived at the Grecian Flame. After all, we had run interference through a two-block-long line of folks waiting to get into the shopping center's real draw: a seafood house. And we were sure, once we were seated and had glanced at our Greek menu, that they weren't going to do any better than we for price or quality. What's more, we got to wait for our meal in soft chairs and air-conditioned comfort, a luxury worth any price on a hot, sultry night. Actually, the price turned out to be a very reasonable $21.95 (including wine) for three of us.

Like a lot of Greek restaurants in the area, the Grecian Flame is family-run - by a couple named Markoboulos who moved their restaurant business to Fairfax about eight months ago. Tony is the manager-maitre d' while his wife Pata is the chef. The night we were there a family friend had been commandeered to wait tables, all of which added to the friendly atmosphere of the place. Half the diners seemed to know either Markoboulos or his friend. The resulting camaraderie helped make the place seem like a taverna, despite the stained glass and half-timbered decor (more Gothic than Greek) foisted on it by shopping center kitsch.

But never mind the decro - we came to eat and our appetites were keen. Even our 3-year-old was hungry. After downing a soft drink, he decided teo have an order of pastitsio ($4.45), a kiddie-pleaser made of baked macaroni with ground sirloin, topped with a sort of cheese-and-egg custard. My husband and I took care of our thirsts first, ordering a half bottle of retsina, the tangy resin-spiked white wine of Greece that is strangely refreshing in the heat.

Then we went on to an appetizer, which we shared. Being curious, we chose the saganaki flambe ($2.45), which is casseri cheese sauteed in butter. There's also an egg in there somewhere because the whole thing is rather like a very cheesy omelette. We liked it.

Also available as appetizers are the old standbys, taramosalata ($1.75) dolmadakia ($1.65) and feta cheese and egg pastries, called tirophitakia ($1.35), and platters of both hot and cold appetizers ($2.95 and $3.95, respectively).

For the entree my husband chose something called arni giouvetsi. At $5.35, it featured chunks of lamb in a cinnamon-flavored tomato sauce with spaghetti on the side. His enthusiasm for his discovery was matched by his hunger, and I got only a taste before he'd cleaned his plate.

I chose the chef's special, baked red snapper ($6.50), a generous hunk of fresh fish sauced with a tomato concoction similar to the one on my husband's lamb. A few carrots and potatoes were snuggled up to the fish, and the whole thing was delicious. A nice salad with feta cheese came with the entrees.

Our son was the only one to order dessert - a very adventurous strawberry gelatin that came with his dinner. I ordered coffee, and as our little one was now squirming and crawling under the table, we decided to retreat.

But we'd like to return and try the spanakopita ($4.45), the domades avgolemono (also $4.45) the moussaka (same price) an other Greek goodies. The Grecian Flame

10744 Lee Hwy., Fairfax, 385-8848.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Monday through Friday. Open Saturday 5 to 11 p.m. Closed Sundays.

Atmosphere: Shopping Center Gothic rather Grecian, except for the Zorba-type music that is piped in.

Price Range: Moderately priced.Meals run from $3.05 (for smelts, which we didn't try) to $7.95 for the non-Greek New York sirloin. Most Greek specialities are in the $4.50 to $6.00 range for dinner. Lunches are somewhat less expensive.

Credit Cards: Major credit cards accepted.

Reservations: None needed.

Special Facilities: Parking available in shopping center lot. Booster Seats and high chairs for young customers.