Hours: Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Friday, 7 a.m. to 3 a.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 a.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for brunch dinner to 2 a.m.

Atmosphere: Polished comfort.

Price range: Sandwiches from $2.40 to $4.75. Dinner specials up to $15. Most items under $5.

Credit cards: American Express, MasterCard, Carte Blanche, Visa.

Reservations: No.

Special features: Down two flights of steps; no high chairs; booster seats; Georgetown parking problems.

Can a non-student family find happiness at a restaurant known for its college crowd? We wondered as we descended the steps to the Tombs on a recent weeknight.

The answers came early and easily as we were seated at a comfortable table right in the middle of a room filled with young and old.

The stretch of 36th Street near Georgetown University's main campus is a small venture into capitalism. Three restaurants (all owned by the same person), a grocer and a clothier supply the neighborhood and the city.

The Tombs is beneath a gourmet Washington institution, the 1789 restaurant, and many of the day's specials are underground bargains well worth the steps.

The room is noisy but not raucous -- a perfect setting for a family dinber or a private table conversation.

We were not willing to wait 30 minutes for pizza, but we had some doubts as the aromatic display of thick-crusted creations passed our table.

Our son began with chicken rice soup ($1.70), one of the day's homemade specials. A large bowl was filled with sizable pieces of vegetables in a hearty broth. He selected the hamburger special platter ($4.20), which featured a double-size patty, perfectly broild. First-rate greaseless steak fries and a creamy bowl of cole slaw accompanied the hamburger. The portion size surprised him; next time, I think, he would settle for a regular-size burger.

Our daughter quickly chose the French onion soup ($1.92). Our waiter, worried about the selection, tried to discourage it because the soup itself and the bowl were burning hot. A 6-year-old French onion soup fanatic responded, "My daddy will cool it," however. The soup's wonderful, hearty stock was topped with thick crusted cheese and filled with thin onion pieces.

Her dinner proved just as successful.The spare ribs ($4.95) came with a fresh ear of corn and fries. Only the ribs commanded her attention. They were covered with a pungent red sauce, but that did not deter her finger-licking feast on meaty bones.

The adults fared as well. I began with a cup of chili that was meaty and well seasoned but not overbearing. The open-faced roast beef sandwich ($4.35) was thin slices of freshly cut medium rare beef with a mildly seasoned, though perfectly consistent, gravy.

The bacon cheeseburger ($4.35), one of the night's specials, was perfectly grilled and topped with a lean, hickory-smoked bacon slice. Fries and slaw are part of the platter.

All items demonstrated the advantage of affiliation with the 1789 restaurant. Food purchases and preparation demonstrate the highest levels of skill.

For dessert the children shared a large bowl of strawberries ($2), which the waiter gladly split. They received the mountainous columns of whipped cream that accompained my hot fudge sundae ($2) and enjoyed the meal's ending as much as its beginning.

Our totally indulgent dinner for four ws $41.07 including tax and tip.

College food never tasted so good.