2106 18th St. NW. 265-2540.

Hours: Mondays through Fridays, noon to 2:30 p.m. and 6 to 11 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, 6 to 11 p.m.

Atmosphere: A small room with big possibilities for those who enjoy -- or have yet to try -- West African cuisine.

Price Range: Most of the entrees are in the $4.75 to $5.75 range.

Credit Cards: Master Charge, Visa.

Reservations: A good idea, especially on weekends.

Special Facilities: Accessible by wheelchair. Seating for tots can be worked out, although this is more a place for kids old enough to sit tall and experiment. Street parking if you cruise and swoop.

Only once have our children tried the African specialties of the new BaoBab restaurant, but already they have come away with a warm spot for this cuisine -- running from the tips of their tongues to their watery eyes.

It's hot, all right, the kind of slow burn that clears your sinuses and makes you sit up straight. But when you're talking about lamb, peanut butter sauce and chicken, children are willing to take a little jolt now and then.

We hadn't made reservations on this Friday evening, and were lucky to land the last open wedge in this elbow-to-elbow room of maybe a dozen tables. The chatter and the canned music were competing for volume, but when everybody's talking, no one's left to notice anyway.

The surroundings are simple but jolly -- baskets along the ceiling, ferns and philodendron in straw pots serving as a divider, large straw fans on the walls (and at tableside, too, on this warmish evening) and thin bamboo fencing two stories high.

From our ladder-back chairs with the rush seats, we could make closeup reviews of the food right away, from the servings at the tables to each side of us.

With a pair of colas and a most generous "small carafe of rose, we worked out a set of four selections from the 11 entrees, all at or below $6.75 and served on thick wooden frisbees.

Seizing quickly on a sure-fire winner, our 12-year-old son staked out Le Maffe, $4.25, lamb served with an upside-down, bowl-shaped mound of rice and peanut butter sauce. After an initial brief statement of approval, whatever else our son was about to say was lost in a breath-taking blaze. When speech was restored, he commented that it was like drinking a glass of Tabasco. But in time the throat numbs and the lamb can be savored.

"Chicken with vegetable," $5.50, is a bland way to describe a decidedly unbland dish chosen by our 10-year-old daughter. The vegetable was zucchini, and the chicken was in a sauce even hotter than the one that seared her sibling. Her lunge for water was spectacularly swift; recovery took a little longer. The answer from then on was to fish the chicken out of the sauce.

Speaking of fishing, the Grille Mopti, $4.75, also known as blue fish, was not all that spicy, according to my wife's report. It was carefully grilled and flavorful enough to stand on its own merits.

The brochette, $4.75, that was set before me was a zinger of a shishkebab that went over all too well with my partners, thus leaving me stuck with the stick, as it were.

At the suggestion of our waitress, the children tried one of the desserts: Les Baignets, $1. Unlike anything else we'd tasted here, it was just plain dull, a kind of sweet-nothing-of-a pancake floating in a facsimile of evaporated milk.

One doesn't go to restaurants for just desserts, however, and next time the ending may be happier. The bill was plesant enough: $27.81 plus tip. That's another reason our hot tip on hot food for adventuresome families of fire-eaters is the friendly new BaoBab in Adams-Morgan.