We knew Texas Ribs was the real deal when we sat down and saw large containers of hot and mild sauce and a roll of paper towels sitting right on the table. And it just got better from there.

Located in the Smallwood Village Shopping Center in Waldorf, Texas Ribs is worth the trip. It's a relaxed place--on a recent day, men in work shirts sat in one booth and two moms with a couple of children sat in another. The servers are friendly and relaxed (when asked how long she had been working there, one waitress replied, "Too long").

Proprietor Keith Sager can be found chatting with an older couple in the smoking section, or clearing tables, seating customers or fixing drinks behind the bar. The seating is mostly booths, with cowboy art and several televisions showing Keno or sports. This would be a good spot to catch a televised ballgame.

Customers coming and going give the place a busy feel. There's an active bar with a good crowd on a Friday night. They have 14 beers on tap, served in several sizes: regular (10 oz.), Texas (20 oz.) or Duke (32 oz.). There's nothing phony or affected about Texas Ribs. It's just good food. The only problem is deciding what to order.

Keith's brother, Danny, started Texas Ribs. Three or four locations have opened and closed over the years. Right now, there's the one in Waldorf, one in Clinton and another on Route 2 up in Arnold.

At Texas Ribs, pit-smoked ribs are king. Full slab ($19.95), half slab ($10.50), or baby back ($14.95), they're all good. The ribs are hand-rubbed with spices and slow cooked in special wood smokers. They are tender and delicious, and the meat just falls off the bones. Ribs come with fresh, crisp coleslaw, barbecue beans and Texas toast. All the side dishes are made fresh on the premises.

Ribs may be king, but there is nothing shabby about the burgers. We ordered a Big Texas Burger with cheese ($5.95) that was thick and juicy on a fresh kaiser roll with wonderful freshly cut french fries, slaw and pickle. The sliced or pulled beef sandwiches are also good.

They've got Texas Chili Mac ($6.50) and old-fashioned chili ($3.95). The Texas version weighs two pounds and includes noodles, pinto beans, cheese, onions and jalapeno peppers, and it comes with Texas toast. The old-fashioned version is wonderfully spicy and includes two kinds of beans, cheese and onions.

If you can't decide what to order, there are a couple of sampler platters that offer a taste of several items. Sampler Number Two ($7.95) is a combination of two pit-smoked ribs and your choice of a quarter pit-smoked chicken or a pork chop, served with barbecue beans, Texas toast and potato salad or coleslaw. It's a lot of food. Sampler Number One ($10.95) has all of the same plus sliced or pulled beef or pork. You'd better be really hungry before trying this one.

Texas Ribs has a carryout next door offering fast and easy pickup. When you get down to the bone, Texas Ribs offers a great meal at decent prices.

Texas Ribs

* Address: Smallwood Village Shopping Center, off St. Charles Parkway, Waldorf. 301-843-9403; Carryout, 301-843-8400.

* Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner, 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Carryout open daily 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

* Prices: Sandwiches $3.75 to $7.95. Entrees $4.25 to $20.95. Menu for children under 12, $1.95 to $4.95. Visa and MasterCard accepted.

* Best-kept secret: The Sager brothers quietly spend a lot of time and money supporting community activities, such as softball teams, bowling leagues and other projects.

Want to spread the word about another Southern Maryland restaurant? Send e-mail to yoodm@washpost.com or mail to: The Washington Post, Restaurant Reviews, 100 N. Oak Ave., La Plata, Md. 20646.

CAPTION: Hulda Scoles, head waitress at Texas Ribs in Waldorf, presents the restaurant's signature dish: pit-smoked ribs, which come full slab, half slab, or baby back.

CAPTION: Texas Ribs has 14 beers on tap in three sizes: regular (10 oz.), Texas (20 oz.) or Duke (32 oz.).