568-3400. Atmosphere: Charming and intimate; not for very small children. Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday; 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Price Ranges: $4.50 to $9. Reservations: Probably advisable on Friday and Saturday evenings. Credit Cards: Visa, Master Charge. Special facilities: Easy parking in restaurant lot; carryout and cocktail menu; rooms for private parties available. Steps make it inaccessible to wheelchairs.

The background music is more likely to be "O Solo Mio" than "Aida," but if an evening at La Scala doesn't offer you grand opera, it does provide Italian food worth singing about.

On Silver Hill Road in Suitland, it's easier to spot the fast food Italian places than La Scala, sets slightly back from the road in an old white frame house. But you wouldn't want to miss it -- it serves some of the best Italian food available in Prince George's County.

La Scala reminded us of neighborhood restaurants we had been to in Rome and Orvieto -- small, apparently family-run, offering deliciously simply food that might be an extension of the family's table.

In other words, this is an italian Italian restaurant, not Italian-American. No hamburgers on the menu. No onion rings. Not even pizza. No dish is terribly elaborate. You are offered the kind of food you might enjoy in home of an Italian friend, if you're lucky enough to have one with a grandmother in the kitchen.

The antipasto is large and fresh. The pasta is homemade and melts in your mouth. The Marinara sauce is authoritatively seasoned but subtly blended from long simmering.La Scala offers a range of dishes, including the usual cannellonis and parmigianas, but also a number of authentic dishes you won't find on many so-called "Italian" menus, like tortellini in brodo, Calamari, homemade sausages and braciole.

La Scala is something of a diamond in the rough. The kitchen may be out of the entree you want; the service tends to be rough and ready, and seated where we were, we could hear shouting in the kitchen. But that all added to the color of the evening. It is, after all, the food that counts.

We arrived on a Sunday evening with four hungry kids in tow and were seated right away in the dimly lit dining room. An older couple at a nearby table were entertaining three grandsons. The setting is pretty; A brick fireplace dominates the room and stained glass windows catch the light from a beautiful brass chandelier. But the place is tiny. If your family is larger than four or five, you might call ahead to make sure a large table is possible.

We decided to skip the appetizer, which was a mistake, both because we missed out on a great looking anitpasto, and because we then had to wait for our dinners without even bread or crackers to nibble on, which made the girls impatient.

Although La Scala has no children's menu, it will serve half portions for kids. Discovering that their favorite ravioli was not available, our younger daughters settled for half orders of spaghetti and meatballs, $2.25 each. Our 13-year-old and her friend ordered pasticcio di lasagne, $5.50, a delicious rendering rich ricotta and bechamel sauce.

Veal parmigiana, $7, was my choice. Veal in a restaurant can range from ground and breaded patties to milk-fed plume de veau, so a veal dish makes something of a statement about what a restaurant is trying to achieve. The parmigiana was of good quality; it was a large serving, tender and well cooked. Served with spaghetti, it was a fine entree.

My husband ordered one of the chef's pasta specialties, a fettucine with cream, ham and mushrooms, $6. He enjoyed it so much that he has been pricing pasta machines lately. We also had two orders of good garlic bread, 60 cents each.

Dessert time provided another pleasant surprise. At La Scala you can finish your dinner zuppa inglese, zabaglione or coffee with sambuca, the delightful Italian anise-flavored liqueur. But our waiter said La Scala's tortone was the "best in town," so we ordered four tortones and one zabglione, all $1.50 each.

The waiter had not misled us. The tortone was extraordinarily rich and creamy, a far cry from the frozen blocks of cream put before you in many Italian restaurants.

We thought the tortones alone was worth the trip to La Scala, although happily, it offers more than one good reason to dine there. The bill for our family of five, including tax and tip, was $46.15.