Hours: Weekdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. for lunch; 4 to 11 p.m. for dinner. On Saturdays, dinner hours only. Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Atmosphere: Cowboy country.

Price range: $6.95 to $13.95.

Reservations: Needed for large groups.

Credit cards: American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Carte Blanche.

Special features: Highchairs and booster seats. Accessible to handicapped. Children's menu. Parking lot.

We forget about places and restaurants that are off the beaten track. That is certainly true in Old Town Alexandria, which we tend to think of solely in terms of King Street. Kristo's Charcoal House almost sheepishly sits right off the George Washington Parkway on Montgomery Street.

Kristo's is managed by the same family that founded it in 1959. Customers are greeted immediately and children are entertained by the assortment of Wild West memorabilia, including two larger-than-life murals of cowpoke legend.

Checkered tablecloths, fresh flowers and faint music create a permanent homestead feeling. And even though there are two large dining rooms, there still is an overall neighborly attitude.

Our timing was perfect. A special reduced-price prime rib dinner was available. There was no reduction in size, but there was a $3 savings. Unfortunately, Kristo's does not have this special every month--but the children's menu, with its $3.95 prime rib dinner, is a constant feature.

Our first visit to Kristo's was an expensive outing, as our diet-ravaged bodies demanded the largest cuts of beef available ($13.95). But we were pleasantly surprised by the high quality of meat. And the portion size made the next day's lunch a super treat.

The largest cuts will easily feed three hungry children or an adult with an offspring for an assistant.

On our next visit we expanded our repertoire beyond steak fare, but still concentrated on grilled items. Although there are fish choices, the menu tends mostly to meat and potatoes. All dinners include salad and potato.

The Conestoga wagon salad bar provides a variety of tastes, from vegetable delights to lettuce toppings any cowpoke would be pleased to see. There is a full platter of light and dark rye slices and even a bowl of first-class rye croutons.

Our daughter's prime rib from the children's menu ($3.95) was cooked to a medium doneness as ordered, but she might have been happier with the larger cut, as her appetite seemed to increase with each bite.

Our son's prime rib was the regular $9.50 slice available for $6.95. The perfectly prepared beef makes it a popular selection even at its normal price. Tastily seasoned and served with french fries, the dinner is perfect for adult or adolescent.

My husband turned down steaks and prime rib in favor of an item restaurants often forget: lamb chops. His three freshly cut double-loin chops ($9.95) were a perfect medium rare. Like the beef dishes, they were first-rate.

The regular-sized sirloin steak ($7.25) was just the right portion for me. Maybe the best treat was the accompanying non-greasy onion rings, which quickly were stolen from my plate.

A few desserts are available, but we were just as happy with a spoonful of mints, which gave just the right amount of sweetness after such a satisfying and complete dinner.

There still are hidden pleasures beyond Alexandria's King Street, and Kristo's is a genuine rediscovery. For beers, sodas, dinner, tax and tip, our evening for four totaled $39.52.