Casa Maria

Seventh Street and Maine Avenue SW. 554-5302.

Hours: Mondays through Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Fridays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturdays from noon to 11 p.m.; Sundays from 3 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Atmosphere: Mexican food for all ages, in festive surroundings.

Price range: Many a kiddie dish for $1.75, with complete big-people's dinners in the $5.75-to-$7.95 category.

Credit cards: American Express, Master Charge, Visa.

Reservations: Not necessary.

Special falcilities: Accessible by wheelchair. Booster seats and high chairs available. Some street parking, but there's also free dinnr parking in the garage below.

When you change the name of a restaurant from Tia Maria (Aunt Maria) to Casa Maria (House of Maria), is that what you call auntie-disestablishmentrianism?

Well never mind, but that was the first change we noted since out last Family Out report on this dazzling waterfront hacienda a year ago. We'd changed our own act a little, too -- for joining our basic foursome this time were our kids' own Tia Mary and Tio Hal from New York.

The scene was exactly as we had remembered: You step smack into a Hollywood-goes-Mexican set, a kind of art-taco fiesta of six dining rooms and a lounge all around a charming entranceway.

Our unannounced arrival meant a wait of maybe four minutes befor the costumed waiterss led us past a friendly room with a fire and many books, copper hangings and old farm implements, down a simulate outdoor alley, through a huge tiled dining room to a jolly niche with a view of dock lights and boats on the channel.

But where were the strolling guitars, the violin and the horn that were part of the fun last time? They have turned into a singer, we were told, whose tonsils had just been removed.

To open, what else but margueritas? And where, the four adults wondered, were these made any larger or better? The stemmed glasses were a good 4 1/2 inches in diameter, the lime slices were fresh and the contents blended nearly to a sherbet.

As before, the menus contained mini-narratives on Mexican history and food. Only now, some of the tales about the Spaniards meeting the Indians had been rehashed in shorter takes.

More important to parents, the key words of last time, "Para Los Ninos" -- offerings for the under-12s -- now reads "Little Amigos." As for the price -- caramba! -- it has dropped from $2.50 per kie-dinner to $1.75. No wonder we spotted so many small ones there.

Remembering a happy encounter with a beef taco, out 9-year-old daughter volunteered for an encore. She wasn't disappointed. The children's portions are still remarkably generous and artfully arranged on large platters that include rice and beans.

The tacos aren't belly-burners, so kids who try them tend to like them. The less adventuresome can stick to a hanburger or fish and fries.

Our 11-year-old son decided to double his taco pleasure with the adult-size, two-beef-taco platter, $5.75. This and all the other enormous dishes come with soup or a large mixed green salad.

The salads beat out the soup, 4-to-1. But the fresh, thick meatball-and-vegetable soup I ordered won honorable mention five mentioners swiped most the of the five mentioners swiped most the main meatball.

The group then demolished a basket of tostadas that arrived with hot sauce and a thoughtful round of waters.

Aunt Mary chose Enchiladas de Salsa Verde, $6.45, whichinvolves two corn tortillas simmered in a sauce, stuffed with jack cheese and then given another long, hot simmer.

Uncle Hal had Steak Picado Fundido Ranchera, $6.95, which is many, many tiny pieces of steak sauteed to a scrumptious fare-thee-well in melted cheese, tomato, onion and pepper sauce.

My wife's idea of Mexican heaven arrived in the form of crab and shrimp enchiladas, $7.45. Stuffed tortillas were sauteed and baked in a casserole and topped with sour cream. Even better than last time, she reported.

When it comes to unfamiliar foods I'm often chicken-hearted, which accounts for my choice of Enchiladas de Pollo, $6.45. This any disciple of Col. Sanders could enjoy.

Even working as a team, we couldn't polish off Uncle's steak dish. But our thoughtful waitress had the leftovers put in a snazzy perro -bag -- a reheat-able aluminum-foil pan with a cardboard cover that tells you where it came from.

We couldn't muster a crew for dessert. Our reckoning for the works for six totaled $47.68 plus tip or, for the family of four, $28.25 -- a reasonable north-of-the-border tab, worthy of rousing hip, hip ole.