Atmosphere: Friendly, informal, simple. Hours: Monday through Saturday, noon to 10:30 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 10 p.m. Price Range: Main dishes $5.50 to $8.75. Reservations: Not necessary. Credit Cards: Visa, Master Charge. Special Facilities: Parking in front and in lot across the street.

Chesapeake Crab House, a fixture in Silver Spring for several decades, is like much in the area -- it's plain, unpretentious, even ragged around the edges. From the outside it looks like a diner. If you didn't know better, you'd see no reason to stop in.

But you'd miss two or three special seafood dishes worth stopping for.

The best is an original steamed clam dish that is almost a meal in itself. While elsewhere clams are steamed in a bit of water and served with their own juice, lemon and butter (usually margarine), the cherrystones or soft shells at the Crab House are spiced with a pungent mixture of oregano, tarragon and other aromatics, steamed in real butter and if you request it, come with sliced onions.

You know the butter is real because big bricks of it sit in the refrigerator case near the counter. The result is a fine, tasty dish.

Oysters are prepared the same way, equally successfully.

Crab cakes are another specialty of the Crab House. They are made as you might prepare them at home: chunky backfin meat, a bit of mayonnaise and egg, chopped fresh peppers, fresh parsley, onion and mustard with no bread filling whatsoever. The cakes are quickly fried so the inside is moist. Price: $8 for a platter that includes good french fries and cole slaw.

It makes no sense to order imperial crab, since the dish tastes and looks exactly like the crab cakes, which are a bit less expensive and smaller.

Of course, this is a crab house, and every table is covered with brown paper, on which sits a roll of paper towels and some nutcrackers. The crabs are steamed in a vat alongside the restaurant, and are ultra-spicy when it comes to red pepper. Customers in the know order a side dish of pure melted butter for dipping (40 cents and worth it).

A good side order is the house-made potato salad, smooth and homey.

Other dishes such as fried shrimp and fish are okay too, but none is prepared with purely fresh ingredients (other seafood is fresh frozen) nor as well as the clams and crab cakes.

You'll eat from paper plates at this friendly crab house, and abide a steady stream of customers at the carry-out counter. Walls are knotty pine and look like they could use a good hard scrub.

The only clue that the Crab House is Greek-owned is the fine baklava dessert, this one made from lots of walnuts and floating in a sugar-cinnamon sauce. A good finale at $1.25.

The Chesapeake Crab House has another restaurant at Walnut Hill Shopping Center in Gaithersburg.