RANKED: The Best Not-New Foods at the Minnesota State Fair

These are Jason’s favorite all-time, classic foods at the Minnesota State Fair—the ones we go back for year after year

Photo by Jason DeRusha

I ran into chef Thomas Boemer at the State Fair standing by Baba’s Hummus and Scenic 61, near Little Farm Hands, and we were talking about State Fair classics. The things most of us eat, while peppering in a new food here or there. It is a funny thing—the new food gets all the hype and coverage and lines, while most of us really want the classic, old foods.

I told Thomas (Revival Smoked Meats and Fried Chicken) that I wrote about this once and no one cared. I told him I’d try again—so here goes. I’ve ranked my favorite not-new State Fair foods. What are your favorites? Put ’em in the comments.

  1. Fresh French Fries: Minnesota potatoes—fried at low, then mid, then hot temperatures—give the ideal combo of creamy and crunchy. My star every year.
  2. Cider Freeze at Minnesota Apples in the Ag/Horticulture Building: Simple and perfect—a freeze pop of frozen apple cider from an orchard in White Bear Lake.
  3. Turkey Sandwich from Turkey-To-Go: I don’t know what they marinate that turkey in to get it so juicy and flavorful, but that and the squishy bun are awesome.
  4. Cheese Curds from Mouth Trap: Fresh squeaky cheese, freshly fried—doesn’t get better
  5. Sweet Martha’s Cookies: Don’t get all foodie on me about these cookies—they taste like the Fair and they’re magic out of the oven.
  6. Chicken in the Waffle at Blue Barn: This is the newest entrant on the “classic” list, and I’d also put those Pop Rock-laden French toast bites and the Blue Cheese & Corn Fritters with chimichurri on my list.
  7. Corn Roast: I’m a late convert to the corn roast. It always felt silly to me—you can get sweet corn anywhere. Not this sweet corn. It’s a special hybrid grown by Untiedt’s farms just for Brad Ribar and his Fair stand. It’s more sweet, more juicy, more everything.
  8. About a Foot-Long Hot Dog: It’s one of the best hot dogs in the state, and I’ve had a lot of hot dogs.
  9. BBQ Brisket Sandwich and Hot Link at RC’s BBQ: One of the best pitmasters in the country. I love Charlie Torgerson’s stand. Cold beer, clever ideas, great stuff.
  10. Piña Colada (in a real pineapple) at Manny’s Tortas in the Food Building: Manny’s always there. I love this guy, and this is cool, refreshing, and delicious.
  11. Steak Sandwich at Butcher Boys near the Grandstand: Maybe it’s the giant plume of smoke coming from the trailer that gets me. This sandwich is a go-to for my family every year.
  12. Duck Bacon Wontons at Giggles: Yes, you love the walleye cakes (for good reason), but I adore those duck wontons. Great beer garden here, too!
  13. Pork Mole Tamale at Tejas Express: Maybe the most underrated stand from a culinary perspective at the Fair. The tamale has such incredible flavor, I can’t resist.
  14. Cashew Nut Roll at Colonial Nut Rolls: I used to bring these home from the Fair for my wife when I first started reporting out there in 2003. There’s something about the freshly made roll and that creamy nougat that does it for me.
  15. (Tie) Garlic Fries and Onion Rings at Ball Park Cafe: Yes, you’ll stink all day, but yes, you’ll love the taste of those garlic fries going down. I love the onion rings, and the beer selection here is where serious beer drinkers hang at the Fair.
  16. Deep Fried Pickles at Preferred Pickle: It’s fun to see the deep-fried pickle appear as an appetizer in local restaurants. These guys do it right. The combo of salty and crunchy just works.
  17. Deep Fried Pepper Rings at the Big Pepper: It’s fun, it’s fried, it’s sold out of a giant green pepper. Come on.
  18. Pronto Pups: Corn dogs are for losers. Get a pancake-wrapped dog that you only find at the Fair.
  19. Gizmo Sandwich at Carl’s Gizmo (Machinery Hill): This reminds me of my time in the Quad Cities—loose meat sandwich, like a MaidRite, jammed with flavor, topped with cheese. It’s a classic for me.