Hunan Pavilion

Beauregard Square (faces Beauregard Street)

6303 Little River Turnpike

Alexandria

642-3073

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, with weekday luncheon buffet from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Noon to 11 p.m. Saturday and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday.

Prices: Lunch $4.50 to $5.50, buffet $6.25. Dinner appetizers and soups $1 to $5.25, entrees $5.50 to $18.95.

Credit Cards: All major credit cards accepted. Nonsmoking areas available.

I had planned to check out Hunan Pavilion when it opened four years ago, but somehow I never did. Well, this is a case of better late than never, because Hunan Pavilion is a neighborhood Chinese restaurant worth visiting.

Not only does it have the usual array of Hunan, Szechuan and Beijing styles, which are generally well prepared with some distinctive sauces, but there are also about 30 Northern Mandarin dishes to give your Chinese dining experience an added dimension.

The setting for all of this is an airy, attractive, medium-sized room with a mirrored wall, a bank of colorful silk flowers, and carved wooden chairs with red brocade seat cushions placed around maroon and pink clothed tables.

An order of Peking duck, priced here at a below-average $17.95, makes a good starter for three or four diners to share. Pieces of moist, rich duck meat and fairly crisp skin arrive on a platter and are expertly rolled by the staff into the soft crepes with scallions and plum sauce.

There are some decent choices from the regular appetizer list as well. The spring rolls had a flavorful, shredded vegetable stuffing with a little meat, and the teriyaki beef strips, threaded on bamboo skewers, arrived tasty and tender accompanied by a small sterno fire pot to finish off the cooking process.

The steamed dumplings (six for $3.50) boasted a good, gingery ground pork filling in pleasantly chewy wrappers.

As for the soups, neither the timid hot and sour nor the ketchup-enhanced house special was very compelling.

But if you flip to the back of the menu you'll find a delicious Northern Mandarin-style soup, described as "combination noodle" ($6.25), that seems to be a favorite with many diners here. The earthy chicken stock chock-full of wheat noodles is bolstered with hot pepper oil and garnished with baby shrimp, pork, mushrooms, and carrots. This is intended to be a main course although it can be shared (and the degree of spiciness can be adjusted upon request).

A frequent weekend special that I'd recommend is a whole pompano ($12.95) bathed in a hot chili sauce (it also comes in a non-spicy version with ginger and scallions). The fish is quite delicate in flavor so the sauce is best used judiciously.

Some other dishes worthy of consideration: rainbow scallops ($9.50) with a delightful brown sauce that adds more depth than the customary white variety; a skillful rendition of General Tso's crisp chicken nuggets ($9.50) enhanced by a sweet/sour glaze; and the Hunan Pavilion lamb with scallions ($8.95) that was fine except for the generous number of whole black peppercorns.

The complimentary mini-sherbet topped with a fortune cookie makes a pleasant finish.

In addition to the food, Hunan Pavilion offers an attractive dining spot with a personable, professional staff. Don't wait as long as I did to try it.