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The highs and lows of San Diego County Fair food

Some edibles are meant to be huge, colorful, fried, or wrapped in bacon

Caramel crack fries demonstrate the worst of fair food. - Image by Mike Madriaga
Caramel crack fries demonstrate the worst of fair food.

Last week, I found myself at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, feeling dizzy. Funny thing is, I hadn’t even made it on any of the rides yet. What addled me were the sights and smells of food vendors lining the fair’s main drag.

The Big Beef, straight out of a Flintstones cartoon

As a fair first timer, I walked in having heard rumors about fair food: that you can find any kind of normal food deep fried or wrapped in bacon. What I wasn’t prepared for was the huge, brightly colored tents that vendors use to call attention to such indulgences. Standing two stories tall, these booths create canyons of color, to hawk food served in clownishly huge portions. I’m not sure which is bigger, the bacon-wrapped turkey legs being sold by one vendor, or the photo of bacon wrapped turkey legs advertising them. Other vendors don’t settle for photographs: I spotted a giant, inflatable corn on the cob; a six-foot-tall ice cream cone; and at a place called Biggy’s Meat Market, a larger-than-life model of big Flintstones-looking hunk of meat on a bone.

At the fair, a chocolate and strawberry fried Twinkie seems quaintly simple.

When I approached that booth, they did have huge chunks of beef on a large rib bone. My takeaway was that at the San Diego County Fair you may opt for the style of decadence of your choice, whether you fancy yourself more a Fred Flintstone or Henry the Eighth type.

At one of several booths representing a brand called Chicken Charlie’s, options included ramen burritos, and a pile of shrimp served in a hollowed out pineapple. But I wanted to keep my first taste of fair food simple, classic even. So I ordered a deep-fried Twinkie, drizzled with both chocolate and strawberry syrups. Without naming too many names about the lesser things I tried, this little five-dollar morsel was the best fair food I would eat all day.

The garlicky curly fries

Gleefully I will share my least favorite dish, if only to illustrate the dangers of this junk food arms race. For that we go back to Biggy’s, the larger-than-life purveyor of the aforementioned Big Rib, also known for serving a huge bouquet of garlicky curly fries.

Like most fair vendors, Biggy's Meat Market uses loud photos and giant food models to attract attention

I could have, should have opted for Biggy’s flaming hot Cheeto’s dusted fries, but instead I sacrificed my palate and good sense to try the $8 order of so-called caramel crack fries. It’s a basket of French fries, drizzled with caramel and sprinkled with cinnamon, then topped with whipped cream and (in keeping with the Flintstones theme) a handful of Fruity Pebbles.

Bacon wrapped turkey legs cook on a grill at the fair.

What possessed me to try this abomination I may never know. What possessed Biggy’s to create it will forever be a greater mystery. I suspect everyone who leaves the San Diego County Fair does so clutching their bellies, but those of us who topped an assortment of fried foods, ice cream, and meats with caramel coated fried potatoes most of all.

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Caramel crack fries demonstrate the worst of fair food. - Image by Mike Madriaga
Caramel crack fries demonstrate the worst of fair food.

Last week, I found myself at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, feeling dizzy. Funny thing is, I hadn’t even made it on any of the rides yet. What addled me were the sights and smells of food vendors lining the fair’s main drag.

The Big Beef, straight out of a Flintstones cartoon

As a fair first timer, I walked in having heard rumors about fair food: that you can find any kind of normal food deep fried or wrapped in bacon. What I wasn’t prepared for was the huge, brightly colored tents that vendors use to call attention to such indulgences. Standing two stories tall, these booths create canyons of color, to hawk food served in clownishly huge portions. I’m not sure which is bigger, the bacon-wrapped turkey legs being sold by one vendor, or the photo of bacon wrapped turkey legs advertising them. Other vendors don’t settle for photographs: I spotted a giant, inflatable corn on the cob; a six-foot-tall ice cream cone; and at a place called Biggy’s Meat Market, a larger-than-life model of big Flintstones-looking hunk of meat on a bone.

At the fair, a chocolate and strawberry fried Twinkie seems quaintly simple.

When I approached that booth, they did have huge chunks of beef on a large rib bone. My takeaway was that at the San Diego County Fair you may opt for the style of decadence of your choice, whether you fancy yourself more a Fred Flintstone or Henry the Eighth type.

At one of several booths representing a brand called Chicken Charlie’s, options included ramen burritos, and a pile of shrimp served in a hollowed out pineapple. But I wanted to keep my first taste of fair food simple, classic even. So I ordered a deep-fried Twinkie, drizzled with both chocolate and strawberry syrups. Without naming too many names about the lesser things I tried, this little five-dollar morsel was the best fair food I would eat all day.

The garlicky curly fries

Gleefully I will share my least favorite dish, if only to illustrate the dangers of this junk food arms race. For that we go back to Biggy’s, the larger-than-life purveyor of the aforementioned Big Rib, also known for serving a huge bouquet of garlicky curly fries.

Like most fair vendors, Biggy's Meat Market uses loud photos and giant food models to attract attention

I could have, should have opted for Biggy’s flaming hot Cheeto’s dusted fries, but instead I sacrificed my palate and good sense to try the $8 order of so-called caramel crack fries. It’s a basket of French fries, drizzled with caramel and sprinkled with cinnamon, then topped with whipped cream and (in keeping with the Flintstones theme) a handful of Fruity Pebbles.

Bacon wrapped turkey legs cook on a grill at the fair.

What possessed me to try this abomination I may never know. What possessed Biggy’s to create it will forever be a greater mystery. I suspect everyone who leaves the San Diego County Fair does so clutching their bellies, but those of us who topped an assortment of fried foods, ice cream, and meats with caramel coated fried potatoes most of all.

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