Atmosphere: A cheerful carry-out.

Price Range: Cheap; almost all dishes are under $3, although you can splurge with something called a "Paru's only" and taste practically everything on the menu for $5.

Hours: Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Closed Sunday.

Credit Cards: None, but personal checks accepted.

Reservations: None.

yspecial Facilities: Parking can usually be found on the street; accesible to patrons in wheelchairs. No booster or high chairs.

While I was waiting for our dinner at the Paru's counter recently, a woman came up asked for her carry-out order. The man behind the counter handed over two big brown bags of food and the woman gave him $2. My mouth dropped open when he handed her change.

The fact that you can eat on small change is only one of the appeals of Paru's, a vegetarian-Indian restaurant in the Dupont Circle area.

The food is good, and cheap, but there is an additional pleasure in going there, the pleasure of seeing another old saw refuted: that vegetarian food is bland and limited in its range. At Paru's, the food is both powerfully spicy, and interestingly different from dish to dish. We should add a warning here that the fire of some of the dishes may scorch small children's and some adults' palates. However, milder versions of curries are available.

Our family's several trips to Paru's have always included some culinary magic to sing about. Our 4-year-old son continues to be awed by the crispy, two-foot-long "pancake" of rice and lentils which is wrapped around a potato curry -- it is the restaurant's most popular entree and is called masala dosa. With it for, $1.95, comes a coconut chutney, and a tangy, soupy sauce (sambar) made with tamarind juice, lentils and various spices.

Not long ago we went to Paru's and my husband became intrigued with the pongal, $1.75, a mash of rice and lentil spiced with black pepper, cumin, ginger and cashew nuts. I was delighted with a large bowl of creamy soup for 70 cents with big chunks of broccoli and boldly seasoned with cinnamon.

Paru's also does well with its samosa, a light pastry stuffed with potato curry, and served with the sambar sauce for 60 cents, and parotta, a puffy wheat bread served with two of the four vegetable curries made up each day.

There are no alcoholic beverages, but in addition to the standard soda and coffee, there is Indian tea, mango juice and lassi, an exotic drink made with yogurt, sugar and rosewater.

Paru's is a small and plain little shop near Connecticut Avenue with decoration limited to a few wilting plants in the window and a map of the subcontinent of India on the wall. Despite that, the clientele is international and the service cheerful -- if sometimes a bit stumbling because of the language differences.

The restaurant has only four or five small tables, meals are picked up at the counter and carried back to the tables, and it is hoped that diners will clear their own tables after eating. Most do.

Dinner is ordered after checking a menu posted on a bulletin board at the counter. Among the items are seven Idian desserts, all 80 cents, which are as unusual as the main dishes. For example, a halva that looks like pink cream of wheat and despite its gooeyness is quite good, or laddu, a hard little ball of delicacies including nuts and raisins mixed in a sugar syrup and seasoned with cardamon. My son's favorite, and ours too, is gulab jamun, a warm doughy ball made from milk and flour and drenched in honey.

But of course in these days of inflation, the sweetest part of a place like Paru's is the price. For a recent feast of pongal, two samosas, a large bowl of soup, two parottas and two curries and three root beers, we paid $10.25.