Toddle House

6306 Little River Turnpike,

Alexandria, 256-5705

Hours: Open 24 hours a day

Prices: $2.25 to $7.95

Cash or travelers checks only

No nonsmoking section

Corkie's

6833 Old Dominion Dr.,

McLean, 556-9648

Hours: 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Prices: $1 to $6.50.

Cards: Visa, MasterCard.

Nonsmoking area available.

I'm always on the lookout for good, simple and inexpensive breakfast spots where I can enjoy the food and either read the newspaper or watch the people, depending upon my mood. Here are two restaurants I've enjoyed recently.

At the 24-hour Toddle House, you get all of the wonderful sights and sounds of a quintessential diner -- the clatter of dishes, the sizzle from the grill, and a staff gliding purposefully behind the counter or among the dozen booths. The pace quickens during peak breakfast hours, which include the early mornings from 1:30 to 4:30.

Breakfast available round-the-clock is an important part of the business here, with half the menu devoted to omelets, waffles, bacon and eggs. (The rest of the menu consists of standard sandwiches, salads, and beef and chicken dishes.)

Visible behind the nine-stool counter, where all the cooking takes place, is an enormous mound of eggs, but they're only a fraction of the 3,600 eggs that are used on a typically busy weekend, said manager Abel Osman, whose store is one of nine metropolitan area Toddle House restaurants. (The only other Northern Virginia location is off Richmond Highway at 6209 Quander Rd.)

There's a weekday special of bacon and eggs for $1.99, but if you want a bigger breakfast, try the boneless steak with two eggs, hash browns and toast ($5.50), which is quite good. You can also have your eggs with a strip steak ($7.95), grilled chicken breast ($4.50) or a pair of pork chops ($5.39).

The Belgian-style waffles ($4.59) are nicely done with a crisp exterior and tender middle. Hash browns benefit from the same interplay of crisp and soft, with chopped onion boosting the flavor. Other items such as the sprightly sausage patty and gently poached eggs are good choices too. I would take a pass, however, on the doughy biscuits with paste-like gravy.

When a quiet, low-key breakfast is the object, Corkie's, with its casual yet attractive dining room, fits the bill. The tiled floors and weathered wood trim are softened by peach and salmon accents. Soothing classical music plays in the background.

Corkie Kirkham, who opened a dining room here 2 1/2 years ago to go with her catering business, features some innovative cooking at night. But for the first meal of the day, she keeps things nice and simple.

Choices range from grits to an exceptionally good eggs Benedict with a light, lemony hollandaise. Perhaps the best deal is the Sunday breakfast-brunch special ($6.50) of an omelet with any combination of nine fillings, plus a spinach salad with mushrooms and walnuts, a Danish, juice, and coffee or tea. (Egg beaters and a non-cholesterol cheese are available.)

Corned beef hash is a special worth looking for, and the pan-browned home fries enhance any egg dish.

After two recent visits, I have a couple of quibbles -- the French toast hadn't absorbed enough of the egg dip, and the young staff isn't always familiar with the menu or as attentive as it should be.

But all is forgiven when a delicious cup of cappuccino arrives to the strains of a Bach violin concerto. A perfectly civil way to begin the day.