2313 Rochester Road, Franklin Park
412-366-4140 or www.franklininn.net
The Franklin Inn Mexican restaurant isn't the kind of place you happen upon by accident. It's located in a residential area, a bit off the beaten path. But it's worth the planning and the trip.
Owner John Cibula took over from his parents, who opened the Inn in 1978; at the time they offered standard American fare. By 1980, after the success of a few Mexican-themed nights, the south-of-the-border entrees became the restaurant's primary cuisine. "My parents started serving Mexican food in the Pittsburgh area before anyone else, I think," Cibula explains.
Cibula, along with his wife, Wendy -- "I'm a Slovak, she's an Italian" -- have continued the tradition, augmenting his parents' recipes with those they discovered on trips to Mexico.
The Inn's traditional Mexican fare is all homemade from fresh ingredients. The spicy chorizo sausage is made especially for them. "You can't get it anywhere else," Cibula boasts.
And while the chorizo burrito is among my favorites, for a quick bite, it's hard to resist the restaurant's signature spicy wings.
When the plate of plump wings arrives, you can smell the peppery sauce, even if you can't quite see it beneath the char. Grilled wings? Not exactly.
First, the wings are cooked in the fryer. After that, they're dipped in the homemade sauce, just like at any other wing joint. But before they hit your plate, the wings are slapped on an open-flame grill until charred to perfection.
"We've been doing them like this for about 20 years," says Cibula. "We just started experimenting with different preparations and discovered this one was really, really good."
On the first bite, you immediately get the char, plus tender chicken meat and a hint of the piquant sauce. But as you eat, the heat hits the back of your mouth, moves forward along the tongue and settles into your lips. It's not uncomfortably hot, but -- yeah, it's spicy. Cibula confirms that the wings are among the spiciest items on the menu.
"Some people like them really charred, and we'll do it to their liking. Also, some folks like them even hotter, so we dip them two or three times," says Cibula.
What if you want the wing and not so much heat? "We will cook them plain and offer the sauce on the side," Cibula says. "I don't think it's right, but we'll do it."