This piece is part of a series of articles submitted to The Local Tourist through a cooperation with a 400-level travel writing class at Purdue University.
By Cameron Buhrmaster
It’s one thirty in the morning on a Saturday, and the lines in front of campus area bars in West Lafayette are getting shorter and shorter. As people file out, the once bustling streets become a cold, ghost town.
But another line starts to form. Located at the corner of State and Pierce streets, tucked alongside a dimly lit street curb, sits Famous Franks food truck in all its glory.
This West Lafayette, Indiana, staple has been serving up the craziest, greasiest, most mouth-watering late-night food every weekend for nearly 25 years.
For many, this destination is just built into their weekend schedule and it is a tradition for most to take friends or family in town visiting. It’s a place where students and alumni alike gather for a classic favorite.
Known for their gargantuan modified “hot dog” creations, you can find any of your favorite foods somewhere in an item on their menu, from chicken fries to pulled pork, or even both on one sandwich.
If you love Chicago hot dog stands, this is the place for you and it might even surprise you with a weird combination you didn’t think you’d like but will love.
You really cannot find anything like this anywhere else and you’ll see why. Sizzling grills, workers screaming out orders, and the loud banter and laughs of all who gather around draw any curious newcomer in to see what the chaos is all about and bring back old friends every weekend.
The Beginnings of Famous Franks
AJ Farmer, son of owner Frank Farmer, and a current employee told me about some of the history of the truck and what makes it so special.
The idea started in 1997. “My parents actually started as a little vendor cart right in this very spot,” he said.
They served classic hot dog favorites such as Chicago dogs and chili cheese dogs. Eventually they upgraded to a trailer which could fit only about two people in it.
However, this was not going to cut it for the sheer size of the crowd that awaited them in the future and the kind of food that they would end up serving. Now they run a full-sized drivable food truck with a working kitchen.
The iconic Famous Franks logo on the side of the black truck can be seen in the same spot it started almost 25 years ago every Thursday through Saturday from 11p.m. to 2a.m.
The Food at Famous Franks
While the original started out with average ballpark hot dogs, they have evolved into some of the most interesting yet delicious creations. The Farmers attended Johnson Wales culinary school in Rhode Island.
The first time I went here and saw the menu I was overwhelmed and had no clue what to get. I simply decided to order the first item on the menu, a “Fat Boy,” which consists of Mozzarella Sticks, Chicken Fries, French Fries, cheese sauce, pizza sauce, and ranch.
The massive sandwich comes wrapped in piping hot tinfoil. The truck is packed all year round.
While it was probably enough food to last me for two days, I devoured it right then and there in front of the truck, as did everybody else. This tends to be the go-to item for most on their menu. I highly recommend it for those experiencing Famous Franks for the first time.
Just recently I tried the “Fat Texan,” which is basically a Philly cheesesteak sandwich with the addition of barbecue sauce and bacon. Once again, it far exceeded my expectations.
They even have a vegan option as well. All of their sandwiches run about $6.75 for their most popular sandwiches.
For the amount of food you are getting, this in my opinion is a very fair price. Sometimes leftovers are lunch the next day.
If these aren’t big enough, some may even venture out to order “The Boat,” which simply says, “everything we have on a hoagie, if you dare.” This is priced at a whopping $15. While I have never actually seen the beast, I can only imagine what a sandwich like this would be like…
The Experience at Famous Franks
While the food is undeniably some of the best you will find anywhere, part of what sets Frank’s apart from its competitors is the experience. The people, the efficiency, and the community surrounding Famous Franks really give all who visit a taste of the nigh life scene of West Lafayette.
People who go to Frank’s are hungry … like seriously hungry.
It’s late at night, sometimes six hours since dinner, and then you add people who have just left the bar and it makes for a very hungry crowd. For the kind of crowd they draw and the complexity and quality of the food they serve, I have never waited more than five minutes for my food.
“The sheer speed and quickness I see…most of the time when I’m working register, I’ll get the food before I can even muster up the change if they pay with cash,” said AJ.
The people working at Frank’s are always at the top of their game and understand the demands of the hungry public and have their craft down to a science. The kitchen is always buzzing with energy.
While they are always moving through orders very quickly, the workers at Frank’s are not afraid to stop and have a conversation and are staffed such that they have room to allow for this since they are so close with the community.
I arrived at about 1:30 in the morning to talk to AJ and he was more than happy to step outside the truck and talk to me. They are some of the friendliest staff considering the hours they work and the amount of work that they do. Workers joke around with the crowd and recognize familiar faces.
It’s just a fun place to be.
Famous Franks truly is a special place in the West Lafayette community and keeps locals, students, and even visitors coming back with their incredible creations. For everyone who has never been, it is a must try and a great reason to stop through West Lafayette, Indiana.
Famous Franks Hours
Famous Franks is open from 10:30pm to 3:30am Thursdays through Saturdays when Purdue University is in session. Find out more on their Facebook page.