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Franklin Inn's Mexican fare worth drive into North Hills suburbs

| Wednesday, March 23, 2016, 4:30 p.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
The dining room at Franklin Inn Mexican Restaurant in Franklin Park on Tuesday, March 15, 2016.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Fruit infused tequilas at the bar at Franklin Inn Mexican Restaurant in Franklin Park on Tuesday, March 15, 2016.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Patron converse at the bar at Franklin Inn Mexican Restaurant in Franklin Park on Tuesday, March 15, 2016.

Nestled in the North Hills is a restaurant worth the drive into the suburbs, Franklin Inn.

Although it's gone through several iterations since it was first established as an eatery years ago, the Cibula family has made it well-known as a Mexican restaurant — and one of the area's best.

If the giant margaritas aren't enough to get you to celebrate this family-run business, the giant parking lot will. Packed to the brim, always, Franklin Inn seats a moderate number of guests in the small, colorful and thematically decorated space — and a seemingly endless amount of guests around the massive bar, making it a perfect spot for a happy hour.

The weekday happy hour runs from 4 to 6 p.m. and offers a generous $2 off 16-ounce margaritas and $4 off 32-ounce margaritas. The tangy tequila drinks are served in mason jars and transferred by the guests into salt-rimmed margarita glasses. House flavors include strawberry, banana and mango and can include infused tequilas (pineapple, jalapeno and cherry, for examples) or top-shelf tequilas for an upcharge.

If tequila is too much for you, choose from a number of craft beers (half-off drafts during happy hour), wine or a mojito. To help soak up some of that booze, the selection of appetizers are half off during happy hour.

Because we snagged a table right in the middle of happy hour, we took full advantage of the appetizer specials. Our waitress recommended the Black Bean Dip and the Char-Grilled Chorizo. The Chorizo is made especially for Franklin Inn and is served like a hot dog or sausage, split down the middle with honey mustard dipping sauce and warm flour tortillas.

The Black Bean Dip is a medley of beans mixed with a smoky chipotle pepper sauce. The dip is topped with feta cheese and a lemon sour cream and is perfectly scoopable with tortilla chips or tortillas — or by the forkful. Just the right hints of smoky flavor, with the tang of feta and creamy texture of beans and sour cream, it was, by far, one of the highlights of the meal.

We indulged in the complimentary chips and salsa — the first basket is free — and paired them with a side of creamy guacamole.

The Cheese Cilantro appetizer isn't available every day, but we lucked out. Think bar mozzarella sticks with Mexican flare. They were thin and square, similar to a hash brown patty, and fried to a golden color with chopped cilantro sprinkled in the breading and the Monterey Jack cheese hot and stringy, just the way it should be. Best of all, they were served with a generous helping of tomatillo salsa for dipping.

Another highlight, the daily prepared empanadas were served piping hot and lightly fried. We chose the sweet and spicy ground-pork preparation — chicken was another option. They were unreal. We ordered only two and should most definitely have ordered four. Next time …

To round out our first course, we opted for the traditional Mexican Tamale. The cornhusk-steamed corn dough was wrapped around a spicy chicken filling and served with shredded lettuce and salsa. The soft dough melded into the filling, creating a melt-in-your-mouth effect. The pork filling from the empanadas would have been even more delicious.

Lastly, we created our own quesadilla. A small or large quesadilla begins with cheese and gets additions based on the guest's choices. They can select the meat (we went with steak), veggies (we stayed simple and just chose green chiles) and a sauce (tomatillo … naturally). The cheese was oozing out every side of the quesadilla, as it should, and the slices of steak were hearty enough that it could have been considered a meal on its own.

Next, we powered through entrees.

If you're a fajita lover, you can create your own concoction, selecting your meat, veggies and sauces. There are lighter fare options available, too, including options for vegetarians and gluten-free folks.

The specialty Taco Salad looked majestic served inside a fried shell and sprinkled with shredded cheese.

We glossed over house specialties such as Seafood Enchiladas, Chorizo Burrito and Hot Wing Tacos because the genius people at Franklin Inn have put together what they call a Mini Combination — two or three little versions of Mexican favorites served with your choice of two sides. Some of the house specialties are in the lineup, so you can try several of them at once. Like I said, genius.

As hard as it might be to choose a side salad as one of your two sides, do it, because you can get the house-made cilantro lime vinaigrette dressing to drown the lettuce.

We couldn't eat everything, so we'll have to go back to try the Aztec Chile and the incredible-looking wings (not really Mexican, but who cares!). And we'll definitely be partaking in dessert. One order of sopapillas and one order of flan, please!

Well done, Cibula family, for getting me out of the city limits and getting me hooked on your brand of Mexican fare.

Amanda McFadden is one of the food-savvy ladies of eatPGH.com, who contribute a weekly Dining Out column to the Tribune-Review.

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