Atmosphere: Old-fashioned raw bar. Plain but pleasant.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; noon to 9 p.m., Sunday.

Price range: Appetizers, around $5; platters, $7 to $16.

Reservations: None. Get there early and line up. Service is fast.

Credit Cards: None. Cash only.

Special facilities: Parking on side streets. High chairs for kids. Accessible to handicapped, but watch out for the crowds.

What makes a restaurant good?

I recently went behind the scenes at Crisfield's early one morning to find out.

There was Ernie Loy, as stooped and grizzled as some of the fisherman who haul in the oysters at the little bay town of Crisfield on Maryland's Eastern Shore. He was taking big quahog clams from a huge, net bag and shucking them to put into the thick white chowder he has stirred up daily for the 35 years he's been chief cook at Crisfield's.

Loy already had made up the day's rations of spicy hot sauce and creamy-crunchy tartar sauce. George Nash and Huck Winne -- "Been here longer than we can remember," said one -- were lading the sauces into hundreds of small paper cups: "For the day's carry-outs."

Ned Toms has been there a long time, too. He was standing further down the counter, shucking ocean-side Chincoteague oysters into a green plastic tub for oyster stew, another specialty of the house.

When asked how many oysters he shucked a day, Toms replied: "[I] don't count 'em. You know by the end of the day, though. Your hands tell you."

Owner Lillian Landis, her red hair set off by a green suit, was sitting behind the cash register, taking phone calls with one hand, getting the books ready for the day's business with the other and beaming all the while at having just become a great-grandmother.

Crisfield's for years has won awards for its excellent food; every night some 40 or 50 people line up to wait for seats. They're not coming for the decor. A couple of coats of beige paint may have been slapped on every few years to tidy up the cinderblock and brick walls, perhaps, but the tile floor and notched ceiling certainly have been there since the 1930s.

Landis said she gets almost all the fish and seafood served at Crisfield's delivered fresh daily, Tuesday through Saturday: "We buy on Saturday so we'll run out by Sunday night, since we're closed on Mondays."

"Only the shrimp [are frozen] and they're frozen right on the boats when they're caught," Landis said. A box of shrimp doesn't sit in the freezer at Crisfield's for longer than a week.

"Oh yes, the lobster tails are frozen," Landis added. Crisfield's uses only the cold-water tails, which are about twice as costly as warm-water tails. The cold-water tails have a solid texture and taste much like Maine lobster. The warm-water tails are spongy.

All the crabmeat used at Crisfield's is fresh, high-quality -- and expensive -- backfin.

"We make all our own coleslaw," said Landis, who showed me a plastic bin of large, green cabbages being shredded for the day's slaw.

What about those crisp, shoestring french fries most families love? A truck pulled up at the restaurant and unloaded 100-pound boxes of big brown Idahos, headed straight for the peeler and shoestring machine in the kitchen.

Ottenberg's Bakery already had made its daily delivery of the oversized Kaiser rolls it bakes specially for Crisfield's. "Any rolls left over at the end of the day we grind up for bread crumbs," said Landis. "We use them for our baked stuffed shrimp."

Landis claims she invented this excellent and popular dish years ago, shortly after which it started showing up on other menus around town.

Here are some other "secrets" that distinguish Crisfield's fine food from that served at many area restaurants:

"We use only vegetable oil for frying, not animal fat which so many places use," said Landis. Vegetable oil, although more expensive, does not turn rancid as animal fat may do.

"We use the same name-brand ingredients -- such as mayonnaise and salad dressing -- that you would use at home, never the restaurant supply-house versions, which are cheaper and of lesser quality and taste."

"We never freeze anything left over at the end of the day that wasn't used." The staff takes home the few leftovers.

Another point: the owner is there every business day. She knows what's being served in front and what's happening out back.

And according to her staff, she's tops.

"This is the only restaurant I know where the staff gets to eat as well as the customers," one waitress told me.

During my visit, another waitress was in the kitchen stirring up a huge cast-iron pot of creamed chipped beef for the staff's lunch. They get tired of seafood, so every Friday we fix up something special, like roast or meat loaf," she told me.

"We're like family here."

Crisfield's has not expanded or opened other branches because, Landis said, "I don't believe you can get any bigger than we are and still serve the same quality food."

She has been approached by dozens of entrepreneurs from all over the country. "They all want to make me a millionaire by franchising our name," he said. "That's all you need to ruin it.

"As hard as I have worked to build this place, I wouldn't want to lose it."