Hours: 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday; 4 p.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday. Atmosphere: A crab house is a crab house. Price range: $2.95 for a hamburger to $19.95 for stuffed lobster tail. Children's menu, $2.95 to $3.95. Reservations: Not necessary. Credit cards: Visa and Mastercharge. Special facilities: Metered parking in public lot at corner of Georgia Avenue and Dale Drive, a few doors from the restaurant; accessible to handicapped if single curb can be negotiated; boosters and high chairs available.

Lucy Van Pelt, Charlie Brown's fussbudget companion in the Peanuts comic strip, has made her reputation out of crabbiness. You could say the same thing about the Imperial Crab and Seafood House, on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring, which offers some of the best crab dishes around. In our experience, it serves some of the best shrimp, too.

The Imperial Crab House has no eye appeal, either inside or out. This makes it a prime contender for families who like to find unlikely looking spots that serve really good food.

If you are like most parents, you will be pleased to observe that you may bring in untidy children in jeans without raising eyebrows, and spills are hardly a problem in a place that uses oilcloth and wrapping paper for table coverings.

So relax and enjoy. There are several ways to do it. If you're a purist, you can order steamed, spiced hard-shell crabs by the dozen, and crack, point and pick your way through dinner.Imperial sells small, medium and large crabs at prices which vary with the daily market rate. The advantage of this is that children learn that they must work for their daily bread. The disadvantage is that you will probably wind up doing most of the cracking and picking for them, and parents have been known to starve that way.

The night we were there, large crabs were selling for $25 a dozen. Call the Crab House after 4 p.m. to find out about sizes and prices available that day. We decided to take the easy way out and sample other parts of the menu.

It is no secret that seafood prices have gone out of sight; to economize, don't overlook the wide choice of seafood sandwiches, accompanied by potato salad or cole slaw, for prices ranging from $3.95 to $5.95. Appetizers and soups are of high quality, and a cheaper dinner can be put together by combining some of those items. Full dinners come with a choice of vegetables or salads and hot rolls and butter.

Our younger daughters ordered fried shrimp, $3.95, and fried scallops, $3.95, from the children's menu. The shrimp looked especially enticing -- huge butter-fried pieces with a golden crust. The smaller sea scallops were perfectly cooked and delicious. Cole slaw and steak fries accompany the children's servings.

Our older daughter ordered a dozen spiced shrimp, $7, from the appetizer menu, and a garden salad to go with it. The shrimp were succulent, well-seasoned, and perfectly steamed. They could not have been better.

My husband and I felt that if we were unwilling to work hard for our crabs, we still wanted to eat them. I ordered backfin crab cakes, $11.95, and he sampled the restaurant's namesake, Imperial crab, also $11.95. Both were wonderful, because they were mostly crab and because the delicate flavor of the crab was not overwhelmed by other ingredients.

ythe Imperial Crab was lightly seasoned, as it should be, moist inside and lightly crusted on top. The crab cakes, which can be ordered broiled instead of fried, had very little filler in them. They were mostly sweet, delicious chunks of crab. What a lovely way to go.

Perfectly stuffed as we were with crab, dessert seemed out of the question. It had not escaped our daughters' attention, however, that there were chocolate sundaes on the menu. We ordered one for each of them. In large goblets, chocolate ice cream came smothered with whipped cream and slathered with chocolate sauce.

Even Lucy would have gone away happy.