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San Clemente Journal

Franco’s Famous Mexican Kitchen and Cocktail Bar - A New Dining Option

Nov 28, 2023 07:50PM ● By Mary Colarik

Hugo Cervantes and Alison “Ali” Vollert.

by Mary Colarik,
There’s a new Mexican restaurant in the middle of town on South El Camino Real. Owners Gabe and Tori Franco have been enjoying a successful endeavor with Franco’s Famous Mexican Kitchen and Cocktail Bar in Laguna Hills since 2019 and decided San Clemente would be the perfect spot to open a second location. When The Local restaurant closed, they renovated, refurbished and revamped the space left empty. 

 Tori is a decorating whiz with an eye for clever detail. Although the restaurant’s interior is small, there are several comfortable booths and high-top tables giving the main dining area a cozy lounge feeling. Open front windows offer a view of the lively street and sidewalk scene, while a fresh breeze wafts through for a nice air flow. A welcoming patio space in the adjacent courtyard houses several tables nicely spaced for comfort and conversation. The bar is long with a bright display of tequila bottles and other libations. 

Originally the owners thought that this spot would offer mostly drinks and tapas, however the concept changed due to customers’ demands. Franco’s Famous featured a soft opening in late July, and in the last two and a half months the local community has been truly supportive, embracing the new dining spot. 

Gabe Franco hails from Jalisco Mexico, therefore inspired by his Mexican heritage, he has developed and fine-tuned his family’s Mexican recipes and homemade traditional sauces for the two restaurants. All the margaritas are ‘skinny’ as they make their own mix without added sugar. All the other specialty cocktails are handmade, including the Bloody Mary, vodka and the house Bloody Mary mix, and the Tequila Sunrise, made with 100% agave silver tequila. Gabe stops into the San Clemente restaurant regularly and works onsite every weekend. However, he and his wife decided to give Alison Vollert, “Ali” and her partner, Hugo an opportunity to run a restaurant. 
Recently Ali and I sat down to chat about the restaurant and its unique offerings in a town that has a plethora of Mexican restaurants from high end and fancy to drive thru places. 


Ali and Hugo met while working at the original Franco’s. Ali has a background in restaurant work, some of her duties included training the hostesses with Tori Franco while Hugo was busy tending bar. This delightful young couple are vivacious and outgoing. Their gregarious personalities have been attracting a great crowd of regulars, including a few customers who stop in every day for tacos, especially the delicious shrimp tacos. Ali told me that Gabe and Tori are like family to her and Hugo. She is the manager and Hugo is the bartender/manager in San Clemente. She said, “this is a wonderful opportunity for the two of us.” Ali and Hugo are so happy to be working in this “awesome community.” 

We perused the menus as she described some favorite crowd pleasers, including their “Taco Tuesday” menu-every Tuesday from 4pm to closing a choice of three crispy tacos, chicken, beef or potato- -$3 and drink specials, Mexican draft, $5, House wine, $7 and House margaritas, $8. Tuesday-Friday from 4 - 6pm there is a Happy Hour Menu with the highlighted drinks, plus well drinks, $6, five appetizers and Ensenada tacos, battered fish or grilled shrimp, $4. Sunday Brunch is offered from 10am - 3pm. The brunch menu is extensive, including entrees such as, Huevos Rancheros, Chorizo and Eggs, Chilaquiles, four different brunch burritos and bottomless mimosas (2-hour limit). 

The restaurant purchased the NFL package, so it’s great spot to hang out most of the day Sunday and cheer on your favorite football team. Additionally live music in the courtyard is offered, featuring local musicians Thursday evenings and during Sunday Brunch. 
If you enjoy authentic Mexican food with unique homemade flavors, there is surely something on the menu to please one’s palate. Favorites include all the tacos, enchiladas and chili rellenos, there is also a smash taco and a Tijuana dog on the menu. 

After we concluded the interview, I was invited to return with a friend for a variety of samples from the drink and food menu. We decided to dine outside as it was a pleasant evening. We started off with a basket of crunchy chips, that were not oily, served with fresh guacamole. Next, we ordered drinks. I chose a specialty cocktail, Yours Truly, made with mezcal, pineapple, house mix and bitters. My dining companion chose the Paloma, Nostros Blanco, fresh lime, grapefruit juice, grapefruit soda and simple syrup. Both drinks were delicious. We began our meal with two appetizers, Elote Callejero-a flavorful corn dip, consisting of fresh corn, cheese and cilantro crema. It was very tasty the fresh corn “popped” in our mouths. If you like an appetizer with a kick, try the bacon wrapped jalapenos. We decided to sample the shredded beef tacos, consisting of beef, cilantro, onion, salsa and guacamole and the grilled shrimp tacos. These tacos were simple and yummy. We ordered margaritas to accompany the tacos. I enjoyed the refreshing cucumber jalapeno margarita, and my friend had the house margarita. 
The atmosphere is so relaxing, and the food and drinks are filled with a great combination of interesting flavors.
Franco’s Famous Mexican Kitchen and Cocktail Bar is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 4- 9pm, Friday and Saturday hours are, 4 - 11pm, and Sundays, 10am - 3pm. No reservations, first come, first served. The restaurant is located at 207 S. El Camino Real, (949)218-4148. Stop in and say, “hello” to the dynamic duo, Ali and Hugo while they serve up drinks and entrees.
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