Soaring gasoline, food and housing costs pushed Washington area consumer prices up another 1.6 percent during April and May, but the increase was lower than the national average.

The gasoline-price surge and its rippling impact on other costs were blamed yesterday by government economists and industry spokesmen for increased costs of some foods, cars and other goods. But increases here were less than the 2.4 percent average increase across the country and the 1.9 percent price rise recorded for the area in February and March.

Price increases in the Washington area during the last 12 months, which averaged 11.2 percent, were still higher than the 10.8 percent average increase for the nation.

A Safeway Stores spokesman said yesterday that rising transportation costs contributed to the area's 8 percent increase in beef prices and a 25.5 percent increase in fresh fruit costs.

Energy costs also were blamed for a 3.2 percent rise in costs for restaurant meals. In a separate study, the National Restaurant Association said wholesale costs for restaurants increased 15.3 percent during the first five months this year, compared to 12.1 percent for supermarkets because restaurants buy proportionately more beef and veal, a restaurant association spokesman said.

Several used car dealers here said that demand for older cars that use cheaper regular gasoline helped drive up the cost of used cars.

Transportation costs increased 3.8 percent over the previous two-month period, mainly because of gasoline price increases. Apparel went up 2.1 percent; housing, which includes mortgage interest, fuel oil and rent, increased eight-tenths of one percent, and food and beverages increased 2.1 percent, according to the Labor Department.

Prices for forzen foods, carbonated drinks and cheeses also rose during the two-months period.

"Food prices have slowed down to some degree," said Labor Department economist Jesse Thomas. "Beef continues to increase" because of smaller cattle herds. Fresh fruit increased "quite a bit" but its rise was partly offset by declines in prices of fresh vegetables, poultry and eggs, Thomas said. Pork prices also dropped.

In other categories, prices rose less than 1 percent for prescription drugs, medical equipment and newspapers and declined slightly for textile home furnishings, electricity and natural gas.

According to the government figures the amount of goods a Washington area resident could buy for $100 in 1967 now cost $216. In February-March period those same goods cost $212.60.

In comparison, in April and May prices rose 3 percent in Baltimore, 2.6 percent in Seattle, 3.1 percent in San Diego, 1.7 percent in Chicago, 3.5 percent in Los Angeles and 1.9 percent in northeast Pennsylvania, the Labor Department said. CAPTION: Graph, Percent Change in the Consumer Price Index, The Washington Post