The allure of Tucson staple, Frank’s/Francisco’s De Noche, carries the same charm you’ll find from a peanut butter and jelly sandwich—two wonderful things, unique in nature yet seamlessly interwoven together.
Every morning Frank’s opens its doors, a traditional diner equipped with all the American-style fixings you’d crave: omelets, Chicken Fried Steak & Two Eggs, and the classic, super cheap "Early Bird Special," which includes two eggs, homefries or hashbrowns, biscuit, and a slice of toast or tortilla for under $3.
After a brief closing in the afternoon, the restaurant re-emerges into the evening as Francisco’s de Noche, a taqueria serving a number of beloved Mexican dishes such as tacos, enchiladas, and Tucson-loved Sonoran hot dogs.
It’s a "hole in the wall" restaurant in its truest form, treating hungry palates from morning to evening with a perfect blend of American and Mexican-style cuisine.
Legend has it that the restaurant initially sprang to the scene in the early ’70s, started by married couple Frank and Elizabeth. While the name, Frank’s, stuck around, the establishment closed, reopened, and traded owners for nearly a decade.
Finally, in 1982, Frank’s opened under current owner and Tucson native Mark Smith, who has been overseeing the restaurant for the past 38 years.
“I remember making biscuits the first morning that we opened,” Smith remembered. “I used to help wait tables back in the day. I definitely feel very privileged to be where we are now—I love this place.”
Watching Smith interact with guests at Frank’s/Francisco’s de Noche is similar to seeing a dear uncle meander from table to table at a family reunion. He shakes hands and cracks jokes with charismatic ease, effortlessly exchanging greetings in English and Spanish with both guests and employees alike.
To say he’s become something of a familiar face at this establishment would be a massive understatement. When Smith first opened Frank’s he was a college student and fledgling restaurateur. Now, after nearly four decades of service, it’s become a home away from home.
Over the years, Frank’s acquired a steady, communal following of loyal patrons (and reportedly a not-so-uncommon following of local Catalina High School students who'd ditch their first period to grab breakfast here).
In addition to customers, Frank’s also acquired a number of employees who have devoted decades of service — several second-generation employees, as well. Guests are quick to note Frank’s cozy, compact interior, quick and tasty diner options, and always friendly (yet sometimes sassy) service staff.
After nearly 20 years of running Frank’s, Smith was content with the order of operations but felt like it was missing something.
“I was born and raised in Tucson, not far at all from where Frank’s is located. I’m very familiar with Hispanic culture and I always wanted to have a taco stand,” Smith said.
In 2001, he had the spark of genius to add Francisco’s del Noche, and to offer Frank’s "fanatics" a Mexican-inspired dinner menu while maintaining the familiar and homey vibe that had already made Frank’s a popular spot for locals.
When crafting the menu, Smith leaned heavily on the Michoacana (a southwestern state in Mexico) heritage of his staff to create a unique approach to standard Mexican fare.
“Many of my employees have roots in the state of Michoacan, and so we wanted to adopt that into our new menu as well,” Smith said, referring directly to current manager Hector Torres.
This influence is visible in their popular Michoacan-style enchiladas, which utilize the guajillo chile pepper to provide a not-too-spicy and savory approach to a familiar dish. They also offer a smoky Red Guajillo Chile Salsa, a unique and welcome addition to their salsa bar.
Other popular items on Francisco's side of the menu include the Birria Soup, Flautas, Flan (which Smith lovingly refers to as “life-changing”), homemade tortillas, complimentary beans with each meal, and Caramelos—flour tortillas are usually preferred, but give their homemade corn tortillas a try, as well.
You can enjoy one of their daily specials, too.
When asked if Smith has any plans to make any new additions to this one-two punch establishment, he merely flashed a smile and said, “You wouldn’t change out a pitcher in the middle of a winning game.”
The sign out in the front of the restaurant, reading “Elegant Dining Elsewhere,” does hold true—this spot is not likely to add any mid-century modern decor or add fancy garnishings to their entrees.
However, if you’re looking to grab some stellar midtown Mexican food or a quick early morning breakfast (preferably before school starts) in a warm and friendly atmosphere, look no further.
Frank’s/Francisco’s de Noche is located at 3843 E. Pima St. Frank’s is open from 6 a.m. - 2 p.m Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. - 2 p.m. on Saturday, and 8 a.m. - 2 p.m. on Sunday.
Francisco’s de Noche is open from 5 - 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
For more information, visit franksrestaurant.com.