How are you supposed to rate Terlitzky's? Compare it to a good delicatessen in New York? The owners of this amiable, slightly grubby restaurant seem to want the comparison: they cover the walls with autographed glossies of theater stars, just like the New York delis do, and with yellowed newspaper clippings telling how Nelson Rockefeller always bought his corned beef here and how close this Virginia deli is to the "real thing."

But this kind of comparison doesn't seem fair, because Terlitzky's isn't as good as the better delis in New York. In fact, most of the food we've tried from the gigantic menu is mediocre.

So let's forget the New York deli idea and just think about Terlitzky's as a pleasant neighborhood sandwich joint -- a place to hang out over potato skins and beer, a place to feed a hungry family for less than $40, a place you can relax in shorts. On those terms, Terlitzky's looks a lot better.

Let's get to the best things first: the potato skins, a frequent special, are terrific. For only $2.50 you get a huge serving, thick skins with a good quarter inch of potato, crisp and sizzling and ready to dunk in gobs of cool sour cream.

The plain pastrami sandwich also is excellent -- awfully thick for $3.25, nice and lean. (If you want it warm, though, you have to zap it in the microwave. What New York deli would do that?) And we really like the grilled Reuben here, especially because it's not slopped with thick Russian dressing, just lots of oozing cheese, crusty rye, sauerkraut and corned beef.

Terlitzky's also makes its own nourishing corned beef hash, fried with lots of onions and covered with two fried eggs. Don't eat here the night you're starting a diet.

But almost everything else we've tried has been ordinary. The sandwiches -- there are dozens -- are big and fat and really low-priced, but the fillings are disappointing -- overcooked roast beef, dense, pressed turkey breast, uninteresting wurst. The old-fashioned dishes that distinguish good delis aren't particularly good -- potato knishes, for example, taste like mashed potato patties and the lox often is tired and dry. And don't expect thick slabs of homemade cheesecake; the desserts are a bore. After 10 years in business, why can't Terlitzky's make better desserts?