Atmosphere: Down-to-earth.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., Monday through Friday; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Price range: $1.55 to $10.50.

Credit cards: None. Cash or check only.

Reservations: Not accepted.

Special facilities: Accessible to wheelchairs; street parking only; no booster or highchairs.

With a seating capacity of 17, Chik'n Bucket is about three notches above a hole in the wall. I'd passed by the restaurant many times and assumed that it was a greasy spoon. Others knew better. The co-owners of this tiny restaurant -- cousins by marriage -- and the assorted relatives who help out behind the counter have been serving fried chicken and other down-home food for 22 years, and figure they've cooked a million pieces of chicken -- mostly to take out.

We learned the hard way why the have so many repeat customers. Tired, hungry and eager to get in front of the television one night, we picked up eight pieces of chicken to go ($6.05 -- roughly 75 cents a piece) because they were only three of us at home. How could we know it would taste so good that we would argue about which two people would get three pieces each?

We haven't made that mistake since because we overorder; Howie's chicken tastes so good cold the next day. And of course if you eat it there, you can keep reordering -- just allow 15 minutes for them to fry it.

There's nothing particularly exotic about Howie's chicken recipe. It's just that they've learned how to cook it so that the outside is crisp and not greasy, and the inside remains moist. I assumed it was precooked, but they assured me that this is never done.

The other secret to the success is that they buy good meat. The attention they devote to meat shopping is particularly evident with the barbecued ribs they've just introduced -- the leanest, meatiest country-style ribs I've eaten in Washington.

There may be people in the world who like their rib meat falling off the bone, but I like first-rate meat that hasn't been cooked to death, and that's what Howie provides. You get four ribs with the $4.95 dinner, six or seven if you order a half-rack ($5.50) and 13 if you order a rack ($10.50).

The cold-cut sandwiches (which we didn't try are popular, and Howie also serves a lot of pizza, which we found merely okay -- certainly not in the same league with the ribs and chicken. The only seafood dinner we tried was the crab cake, which was well below average -- it was full of filler -- but the matchstick french fries that came with it were quite nice. Howie can fry.

Howie's is a perfectly nice spot for a family dinner out, but if you'd just as soon sit at home soaking in a hot tub, remember: the restaurant has several delivery people working from 4 o'clock until midnight Monday through Friday, covering the area from MacArthur Boulevard to 16th Street, from P Street to Chevy Chase Circle.