Strip malls can sometimes house pleasant restaurant surprises, such as House of Chang III. Located in Watkins Park Plaza in Upper Marlboro, the restaurant has been serving hearty Chinese dishes for more than 10 years.

We visited on a rainy Monday night when nothing could have felt better than sitting in a booth sipping hot tea. The service was rapid, the tea delivered in a steaming metal pot.

For appetizers, we went with the basics: Fat, fluffy egg rolls, nicely stuffed with shrimp and cabbage (two for $1.90) and succulent steamed dumplings, which arrived at the table with ginger-garlic soy sauce ($3.75). Hot mustard and duck sauce were on the table in large squeeze bottles. Such plenitude makes condiment-crazy people like us very happy.

For main courses, we tried the Sichuan Seafood Platter ($9.95), a plate heaped with scallops, pieces of lobster, shrimp and fresh broccoli chunks. General Tso's Chicken ($8.95) was golden brown, the long pieces of chicken adorned with snow peas. These two dishes had stars on the menu denoting "hot," however to our taste they were mild but very good. If you want truly spicy-hot, inform the waitress when she takes your order.

Our waitress explained in detail the differences among the various lo mein, fried rice, chow mein, egg foo young and yat ka mein dishes. Shrimp Egg Foo Young ($4.50 at lunch, $6.95 at dinner) was a huge egg concoction filled with large shrimp, served on a pedestal platter and bathed in brown gravy.

Carryout business was continual throughout the evening. According to a local resident, the lunch buffet is fantastic and "packed." Alcohol is served in the restaurant and prices on beers, American and Asian, are reasonable.

There's a small American food menu, perfect for kids after they finish with karate practice next door and from all reports the atmosphere is very kid-friendly.

House of Chang III, 64 Watkins Park Dr., Upper Marlboro, Md. 20772; call 301-390-7111. Appetizers, $1 to $8.25; lunch specials menu, $3.95 to $5.95; and full menu, $4.50 to $9.95. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 9:30 p.m.

CAPTION: Jay Chang, of House of Chang III, offers a shrimp and broccoli dish, left, and General Tso's Chicken, right.