Appetites: Food critics dish on their must-try food at the fair — and must-avoid

Minnesota State Fair
Visitors enter the main gate at the Minnesota State Fair.
Courtesy of Minnesota State Fair

As usual, there are dozens of new foods to tempt you when you go to the Minnesota State Fair. To help you decide, we asked food writers what they liked best, and least, on the fair’s first day.


James Norton is founder of The Heavy Table and food editor at the Growler magazine.

Jess Fleming reviews food and beer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

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Joy Summers is editor at Eater Twin Cities and a food writer for Minnesota Monthly.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What's your must-have, new food for this year's fair?

The Minnesota State Fair has unveiled its new food and vendor lineup.
Deep-fried dilly dog: Pickle stuffed with bratwurst, dipped in batter and deep-fried. Find it at Swine & Spuds in the Warner Coliseum, east side.
Courtesy of Minnesota State Fair

Joy Summers: My new fair food is one I didn't expect to find: an al pastor taco at Manny's Tortas inside the Food Building. It is a fresh taste of Mexico City, the tangy al pastor, these beautiful blue corn tortillas, fresh pineapple. It's spicy, it's savory, satisfying and all for only five bucks.

James Norton: There's a few things that really struck me but I guess if I had to highlight one thing, it was at Hot Indian foods in the Global Market. They're serving Bhel Puri, which is a kind of Indian subcontinent snack. It's a puffed-rice based dish. It's vegan, sort of a tamarind flavor going on as well. The texture is beautiful. The flavor is really earthy and deep.

Jess Fleming: I'm going totally conventional with the deep-fried dilly dog because it is a pickle stuffed with a bratwurst, battered and deep fried. It is fair food. It is on a stick. It's classic and it's good.

What did you regret the most — anything that was a little too out there or ridiculously expensive?

The Minnesota State Fair has unveiled its new food and vendor lineup.
Boozy berries and 'barb trifle
Courtesy of Minnesota State Fair

Fleming: My least favorite one was the boozy trifle from the Hideaway Speakeasy. It tastes gross. It's gelatinous in an awful way. And it's boozy in the worst way. Just the booze does not enhance the situation and it's teeny tiny and I think it's like nine bucks. So, avoid.

Summers: I could not get behind the deep-fried cookie dough. It was just a sugar-sugar bomb. It was too much.

Norton: I hate to rip a new vendor but I feel like the Blue Ox Burger Bar could really step it up. It was sort of a cafeteria-grade hamburger and in this environment, in this era, I think people want a little more beauty to it. So, hopefully next year they come back stronger.

What's the flavor of the fair this year?

The Minnesota State Fair has unveiled its new food and vendor lineup.
Cheesy Sriracha funnel cake bites.
Courtesy of Minnesota State Fair

Norton: I feel like there are more attempts, some of them very successful, at doing heat. Whether that's Sriracha, whether it's Nashville chicken, whether it's the Bhel Puri, I think we're seeing more and more spicy heat in food and I love it. I'm all for it.