Is there anything more indicative of summer in Minnesota than the State Fair? Long touted as one of the nation’s best, the fair provides dozens of reasons to go. Although witnessing princesses carved in butter, checking out farm animals up close, and seeing world-class live bands at a fraction of the usual ticket price are all big draws, regular fair-goers know the real reason to attend involves only three words: Deep. Fried. Food. Classics such as Sweet Martha’s cookies, the all-you-can-drink milk stands, and giant turkey legs need no introduction, but if you’re going this year, make sure to enjoy some of these new food selections. You might regret it later, but that’s part of the tradition.
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Best high-low mashup: Duck bacon wontons
Location: Giggles' Campfire Grill at the southeast corner of Lee Avenue & Cooper Street at The North Woods Head straight to Giggle’s for the duck bacon wontons, easily the most delicious and accessible way to package duck in finger-food form. The deep-fried crescent-shaped wontons are stuffed with duck bacon, grilled sweet corn, and cream cheese, and served with dipping sauce (as if you even need it at this point). There is everything to love about this inspired combo.
Most Anthony Bourdain: Swine & Spuds
Location: Swine & Spuds in the Warner Coliseum, northeast corner If there isn’t enough carnage for you in the duck bacon wontons or Memphis totchos, there is only one place to head: Swine & Spuds, a new purveyor destined to become a classic with their eponymous dish. Here’s the lowdown: bacon-wrapped pork belly and mashed potato croquettes served on a skewer, topped with a choice of home-style gravy, Korean bulgogi barbecue sauce, or sweet chili sauce. Go for it.
Biggest diet buster: The Bacon Fluffernutter
Location: The Sandwich Stop on the west side of Clough Street, between Carnes & Judson Avenues Better than a cronut and way tastier than those unicorn coffees from Starbucks is what is sure to be this year’s new craze: the Bacon Fluffernutter. Brimming with a bacon, peanut butter, and marshmallow cream filling, this artery-clogger is encased in a grilled cinnamon bun and dusted with powdered sugar for good measure. A little bit savory and a little bit sweet, this is one not to be missed.
Unhealthiest makeover: Cheesy nacho corn on the cob
Location: Texas Steak Out on the west side of Underwood Street, between Lee & Randall Avenues Sweet corn with lime and elote has gone hand in hand with the Mexico City travel craze and seems to be everywhere these days, but you won’t find that here. Instead, the State Fair has gone a more plebeian route with their ears of corn, roasting them then coating them with crushed Doritos and melty nacho cheese. Even if you’re not a fan of vegetables, there’s a high chance you’ll find something to like about this one.
Best throwback: Bowl o' Dough
Location: Blue Moon Dine-In Theater on the northeast corner of Carnes Avenue & Chambers Street If you’re anything like me, nothing was better when you were a kid than sneaking as much cookie dough as possible when Mom went into a baking frenzy. Now I can indulge once in awhile and the Bowl o' Dough is the way to do it. Coming in four incredible flavors -- brownie batter swirl, European cookie butter, lemon ricotta cheesecake with blueberries, and the OG favorite gluten-free chocolate chip cookie dough -- and served with a side of sea salt-flavored ice milk, this is a thoughtful blast from the past that is worth sampling.
Fastest upper: Maple cream nitro cold-press coffee
Location: Farmers Union Coffee Shop on the north side of Dan Patch Avenue, between Cooper & Cosgrove Streets If you’ve made it this far, chances are pretty good you’re feeling a little sluggish from all the fat and sugar. What better way to perk up than some high-octane cold brew coffee? The Farmers Union is offering a real gem that incorporates locally sourced heavy cream and maple syrup and infuses the coffee with nitrogen for an extra energy blast. Give it a shot when you’re lagging, and you’re sure to roar through the rest of the day with ease.
Most hipster: Deep-fried avocado
Location: O'Gara's at the Fair at the southwest corner of Dan Patch Avenue & Cosgrove Street Want something trendy to go with your Dorito-swathed corn? Look no further than the deep-fried avocado, the most obscene foray into fatty goodness we’ve seen yet. There’s no way you’re walking in a sweat-filled field surrounded by 20,000 people without having at least a few libations along the way, so make sure to soak up that booze with something sinful and satisfying like these little beauties. And if the fry and the avocado aren't enough for you, it also comes with a side of chipotle ranch sauce for dipping.
Most frou-frou: Slow-roasted pork mole tamale
Location: Tejas Express in the Garden, north wall I’m sure there are some of you looking at the above list and thinking: “But what about me? I want a little class in my fair food. Give me something to eat with a fork.” Well, friends, have no fear: For the true foodie, Tejas Express has come through with a slow-roasted pork mole tamale that will knock your socks off. They take a fresh corn tamale, stuff it with slow-roasted pork, cover it in mole coloradito sauce, and black bean pineapple relish, and serve it with a smile.
Most obscene mashup: The Pizzarito
Location: Green Mill on the east side of Cooper Street between Randall & Wright Avenues, at Family Fair at Baldwin Park Food at the State Fair is nothing if not thoroughly unnecessary, so this year the Green Mill decided to take it to the limit with the Pizzarito, which is exactly what it sounds like: a flour tortilla overflowing with pepperoni, Italian sausage, risotto, mozzarella, and marinara, coated with garlic butter, Parmesan, and Italian spices, baked and served with a side of marinara. If you want to go over the top, this one’s most definitely for you.
Best Elvis tribute: Memphis totchos
Location: Snack House in the Warner Coliseum, south concourse Pour one out for Elvis, the OG of snack connoisseurs, at the Snack House by ordering a set (or three) of the Memphis totchos. It’s a bowl of perfectly fried tater tots surrounded in sliced bananas and sautéed bacon, covered in a melty peanut sauce. A little savory, a little sweet, a whole lot of goodness, it certainly has us “All Shook Up.”
Most high maintenance: Spicy Thai noodles
Location: Oodles of Noodles in the Food Building, east wall There’s always one person in a group who has, with or without any fault of their own, very specific dietary needs. Whether you’re accommodating a vegetarian, dairy-free or gluten-free diner (or all three), look no further than Oodles of Noodles in the Food Building. Its new dish features a red curry rice noodle dish cooked in coconut milk with a host of culturally authentic produce (such as hard-to-find galangal) that will put a smile on the face of the most delicate constitutions.
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Becki Iverson is an overstimulated millennial with multifarious passions she somehow finds time to catalog at her blog, Compendium. Follow her on Instagram @beckiiverson for snapshots of how her brain operates, or Facebook for a shortcut to her long-form musings.