Gorge West, Young Man

Will Jacka's fine-dining concept thrive in Glendale? I hope so. For the moment, it's still a west-side story without an ending.

Bitz-ee Mama's Restaurant, 7023 North 58th Avenue, Glendale, 931-0562. Hours: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, Tuesday through Saturday, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Breakfast and Lunch, Monday, 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.

A longtime neighborhood fixture, Bitz-ee Mama's inspires the kind of customer and employee loyalty that restaurant owners dream about. As we entered the restaurant, a Wisconsin couple on their way out let us know that we were making a smart dining choice: "The Mexican food's the best in town," they reported without any prompting. When we asked our waitress what she recommended, she thought a moment before replying, "Anything Italian." In fact, she confided that she decided to work at the restaurant because "I ate here all the time, anyway."

It certainly can't be the decor that's been responsible for Bitz-ee Mama's long run. The look is pure coffee shop: orange and brown vinyl booths, with paper-napkin holders on the table, baskets of artificial plants on the wall, and a display case with gum, cigarettes and candy bars by the cash register. You have about as much chance finding ethnic-design flair at Bitz-ee Mama's as you do finding snow on top of Squaw Peak.

However, the all-American setting shouldn't blind you to the fact that some of the ethnic fare is quite tasty, at prices that are just as easy to swallow.

The kitchen seems to put most of its efforts into the Mexican dishes. As you might expect in a place where the dinner crowd arrives about 4:30, there's nothing remotely adventurous about the fare--look for the usual Sonoran taco, enchilada, burro, tamale and chimichanga staples. Don't expect much in the way of south-of-the-border chile heat, either. You could feed just about anything here to a newborn with perfect confidence.

You can munch on the chips and salsa with perfect confidence, too. That's because the salsa is thick with chunks of tomato and scallions, and the chips are crunchily fresh.

That freshness spills over into the entrees, as well. The hefty, three-way chimichanga is marvelous, a light, flaky, right-out-of-the-fryer beauty packed with beans, red chile beef and green chile beef, topped with guacamole, sour cream and cheese. Serious eaters only need apply. Enchiladas are equally scrumptious, if the beef model I sampled is any indication.

The red burro is a two-hander, thick with tender beef in a red sauce that makes up in character what it lacks in bite. Chicken flautas, too, are first-rate, crispy, deep-fried corn tortillas stuffed with hunks of poultry and garnished with cheese and guacamole. Rice and beans, meanwhile, do the job they're supposed to do--fill the space on the combo plate and in your belly.

Not everything shines. The tamale is disappointing--it's light on flavor. Nor do the tacos and tostadas rise above routine.

The Italian dinners were reasonably effective, but that's about all the praise I can muster. Actually, I'm surprised I can work up even that much enthusiasm, considering the dreadful chicken-noodle soup or insipid iceberg lettuce salad that precedes them. Eggplant parmigiana is the best pick, thickly layered and covered with lots of bubbling cheese. Someone forgot to add beef to the otherwise-hearty wedge of lasagna. The baked ziti is filling and forgettable.

At dessert time, the menu urges diners to "try our variety of pies. Close to home-made." This didn't exactly seem like a ringing endorsement, so we opted for the "made to order" apple supreme, a deep-fried tortilla crammed with apples and caramel sauce, dusted with cinnamon and served with ice cream. It's probably what put the Wisconsin couple in such a good mood.

Bitz-ee Mama's has had its fingers on the pulse of neighborhood taste for a long time. West-side newcomers on the prowl for upscale alternatives had better get used to it.

Jacka's
Back Alley Grille:
Oysters Rockefeller
$11.95
Roast duck
18.95
Rack of lamb
22.95
Cioppino
29.95

Bitz-ee Mama's Restaurant:
Red burro
$4.50
Three-way chimichanga
4.75
Tostada, tamale combo
5.75
Apple supreme
2.95

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