Hours: Monday through Saturday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Prices: Most entrees $3 to $4. Cards: Cash only

Lucia's is a terrific little place. But we underscore "little," for with its four tiny tables it barely qualifies as a restaurant. Yet the owners, a delightful couple working in a small kitchen in the rear, turn out some first-class Italian food, and at a very modest price.

To the casual eye, Lucia's looks like any other suburban carryout. Look into the freezer cases that line one wall, however, and you'll see the difference: aluminum containers of Italian dishes with hand-lettered labels, the products of that formidable back kitchen.

If you want to eat on the premises, those frozen dishes can be heated for you, or you can have the ready-to-eat daily special, listed on a blackboard. Look further, and notice trays of home-made meat pies, stromboli and sausage rolls on the counter. And take in the bread case in the corner. Some of those loaves are Italian bread baked in-house, and they're marvelous.

Although you won't see the same dishes at Lucia's all the time, here is a rundown of the items available the times we visited.

Minestrone soup, with a nicely meaty, peppery broth, is crammed with pasta and vegetables, and although it could use more in the way of garlic and herbs, it's a fine rendition. The casserole dishes fare beautifully when taken home and thawed. Lasagna, for example, is impeccable; the pasta is firm, the ricotta flavorful, the beef lean and rough-cut, the tomato sauce and mozzarella topping applied with restraint. Likewise, the ziti Bolognese remains admirably chewy, its sauce creamy and yet not too rich. The manicotti, too, is top-notch, as is the chicken cacciatore, the meat fresh and remarkably moist, the tomato sauce excellent, the accompanying spaghetti reasonably chewy. And that old standby spaghetti with meatballs is far above the ordinary, with a tasty meat mixture and a fine sauce that tastes like it's made with good olive oil.

Note that they make an excellent meat sauce that's sold in quart containers, with a lively, fresh-tasting tomato puree that coats pasta nicely, as well as a good pesto sauce with fresh basil and not too much cheese.

If there's a general fault with the dishes at Lucia's, it's a certain timidity in applying the flavoring, and the meat sauce is no exception. So you may want to do a little garlic-and-pepper doctoring at home. And don't overlook the excellent homemade sausage.

A couple of disappointments: eggplant parmigiana, which suffered from soggy breading, and stuffed pepper with bland filling consisting mainly of rice.

The pizza, made deep-dish style, is excellent, with an outstanding crust -- crisp at the bottom, beautifully chewy above, and not oily. With a bit more tomato in the topping and a bolder hand with the garlic and herbs, this pizza would be a championship contender. Speaking of finger foods, sausage rolls are excellent, with a light, flaky pastry surrounding some of that good Italian sausage along with onion and sweet pepper. But we found the similarly made stromboli not nearly as good.

The best way to enjoy Lucia's dishes is to stock your home freezer with them. Then, when you're ready for some Italian cooking, just thaw and heat the dishes and serve them with your favorite wine and salad.