Dalts -- the name begs for an explanation. One version I heard is that the name is a hybrid of the restaurant's corporate hometown, Dallas. Another version, stated with apparent seriousness by a Dalts hostess, is that the restaurant's namesake is a small, ram-like animal, one of which is mounted on a wall in the restaurant.

So, what is Dalts?

Dalts is a classy, '80s interpretation of yesteryear's malt shop on Main Street -- the corner drugstore of the '50s revived with a flair. Outside, the boxy white building sparkles with decorative tile accents in high-gloss black and gold; inside, old-fashioned white and black tiles cover the floor of the spacious, open eating area.

Not content with one image, however, Dalts also includes a dinerlike counter at the back complete with swivel stools, and a friendly neighborhood-bar sort of area off to one side under a variety of neon soft drink signs. A few stuffed hunting trophies stare from dark walls.

But before you get glassy-eyed from all the visual stimulation and general hubbub that surrounds you, take a look at the eight-page menu.

Like the decor, the menu capitalizes on both nostalgia and trendiness, running the gamut from pot roast to pasta. Given the range and variety, much of the food is surprisingly good.

The most frequent criticism on a recent visit was that the food was overcooked. That included a disappointingly thin and dry hamburger; a barbecue combo of brisket and ribs that was somewhat revived by a tasty sauce, and an assortment of pleasant but slightly oversteamed vegetables served as an appetizer.

One nostalgic item that has not improved with time is the hot open-face roast beef sandwich. The tough slices of beef were awash in a glutinous gravy. The mashed potatoes -- advertised as homemade -- served with the sandwich were too smooth and creamy for my taste.

On the other hand, the kitchen does a commendable Philadelphia cheese steak sandwich -- juicy slices of beef, griddle-fried with onions and topped with a cheese sauce on a long sandwich roll.

Other good choices would be the spicy chili with ground meat and beans served with a moist wedge of corn bread, or the sizzling beef and chicken fajitas served with hot flour tortillas, various sauces and chunky guacamole.

The charbroiled filet of orange roughy was perfectly done and sweet from a honey and soy sauce marinade.

Less exciting but still all right were the chicken parmesan, the combination chicken and refried bean nachos and the chicken fingers.

Salads are attractive and generally good. There is a nice mixture of greens and sprouts in the house salad. Also satisfying is a delicate shrimp and snow pea salad served with a light dressing in a just-ripe papaya half.

At Dalts, the simple "coke and fries" of yesterday have been upgraded and expanded. The drink possibilities are mind-boggling. Besides Coca-Cola and eight other soft drinks, you can get fruit blends in flings or in icy, intensely flavored smoothies, which were delicious. There are also hot drinks, cream drinks, milkshakes and malts, the last especially good and poured from the traditional stainless steel container at your table. Eighteen beers -- mostly imported -- are listed on the wall. As for the french fries, at Dalts they come with their skins on, sprinkled with a peppery seasoned salt -- a big hit at our table.

The desserts are heavy on ice cream -- a pleasing mud pie, and floats, sundaes, sodas and fried ice cream. There are also a rich chocolate malt cake and an undistinguished blueberry cobbler with a gummy crust.

Dalts can't be beat for variety. The extensive menu may strain the kitchen at times, but the often good food and lighthearted atmosphere make Dalts an appealing, fun place to stop for meals or snacks.