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"Life Is Too Short to Eat Bad Food": That's the motto of Mike's Golden Crust, a west-side, BYOB Greek-Italian restaurant that I enjoyed on a review a couple of years ago. Since then, the place has grown so popular that Mike had to find larger digs. A recent visit to the new spot showed me he hasn't lost his touch. Without question, this is one of the best cheap ethnic joints in the Valley.

Actually, it's too good-looking to be called a "joint." There are several rooms and alcoves, which furnish charm and intimacy. An overhead trellis is twined with greenery, and attractive dried flower arrangements line whitewashed walls. But the food is even more attractive. The key is freshness: Mike makes his own breads, pastas and desserts. When you factor in cost--almost everything on the menu is under nine bucks--it almost doesn't pay to eat at home. Appetizers will take care of a case of the munchies, but you really don't need them. The hefty main dishes all come with homemade, right-out-of-the-oven focaccia and a decent salad. If you must have a preliminary nibble, try the cheese puffs, nine deep-fried balls stuffed with cheese. The calamari will also pleasantly take the edge off an appetite. But the entrees are where Mike really shines. You can't go wrong with golden-crusted baked ziti. How many ziti dishes can you get in this town for $6.95 that come with saut‚ed pancetta, asparagus and peas, creamy with ricotta and Parmesan cheeses? Mike whips up his own spaghetti, linguini, fettuccine and angel hair, and offers them about ten different ways. The pescatore version, simmered in garlic, shallots and olive oil, features three big shrimp, a couple of scallops and a ladleful of calamari. The pasta putanesca is my favorite, and not just because the tab's a measly $7.45. It's thick with prosciutto, capers and olives, in a light marinara sauce. Along with pasta, Mike specializes in chicken. I have no idea how he makes money on the chicken Myconos. For $8.45, you get a saut‚ed chicken breast smothered with sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, fresh tomatoes and feta cheese, seasoned with a zesty, oregano-based sauce. The chicken Vesuviana is almost as good: saut‚ed chicken chunks layered with eggplant and topped with mozzarella. Don't forget the Greek touch. The hearty moussaka brings layers of pasta, eggplant and cinnamon-scented lamb, interspersed with sun-dried tomatoes and feta, then coated with a b‚chamel sauce and baked. Yes, it's as good as it sounds. Mike will take care of you if you have simpler tastes, too. The pizza is a delight, and the toppings first-rate. The Greek Isles pizza comes with shrimp, calamari, scallops, clams and four cheeses--two Greek and two Italian. And the subs will transport you back to the old neighborhood. Not only is the bread superb--a thick, round Italian loaf--but so are the sandwich ingredients. The Glendalian, for example, is stuffed full of tender beef, grilled scallions and pepper, mushrooms, avocados and melted cheese. Wow. Desserts show no letup. The tiramisu can hold its own against others twice as expensive. Eclairs, Boston cream pie and the white-chocolate champagne cake go way beyond the usual level of cheap restaurant sweets. Mike's Golden Crust is at 15820 North 35th Avenue. Reservations are a good idea. Call 938-3383.

 
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