12 must-try food items at the Sonoma County Fair
As the gates were flung open for the 79th annual Sonoma County Fair on Friday, a hearty, hungry troupe of food fanatics raced to as many of the 60-plus food vendors as $250 and two hours would allow.
Chosen from a pool of dozens of entrants for their commitment to caloric martyrdom and courage in the face of odd and unusual fried foods, a team of six BiteClub readers launched on an indulgent culinary mission: Grab corn dogs, fries, tacos, burgers, funnel cakes and other deliciousness as fast as possible, pile all the food on a single picnic table, grab a fork and get down to business.
“This is a fantasy come true,” said Laurie Trainor of Santa Rosa, a recent Los Angeles transplant and first-time Sonoma County fair attendee.
The fair is more than just food, of course. The first day of the event drew thousands for a festival of rides, floral displays, crafts, music, agriculture and animals. But let’s be real: Lots of folks come to eat, and they’re not looking for salad.
After an hour of eating and eating and eating and, for a change of pace, more eating, the Fair Food Scramble team came to a consensus of what visitors absolutely must put on their hit list of must-eats at this year’s fair.
“It’s the fair on a stick,” said Healdsburg resident Diedre Francis of the winning lobster dog ($10). The batter-fried seafood-sicle from Sharky’s Fish Fry on Magnolia Street is drizzled with a lemon aioli, adding to its caloric decadence. Foodie Jim May of Santa Rosa offered praise, saying, “it has a fresh, clean flavor.” Others found it “unusual” and “well-cooked.”
But the lobster dog wasn’t a unanimous winner.
Coming in a close second was local newcomer Nuevo Sazon’s Torta Ahogada ($11). The “drowned” sandwich is a specialty of Jalisco made by dipping a baguette into a tomato- based sauce and piling it with carnitas and onions. Located next to the Shade Area stage, Sazon is a first-time local entrant run by a small family, so give them the benefit of a few extra minutes if things are busy.
“This sandwich beats the lobster,” said Santa Rosan Robb Sarmento. “It just pops with spices. It’s a Seabiscuit,” he said of the underdog favorite. Brad Calkins, the executive director of the Santa Rosa Convention and Visitors Bureau, gave “Honorable Mention” to Nuevo Sazon’s lengua taco ($2.50).
Though many of the larger food vendors are from other parts of the country, a number of local purveyors have been added this year.
Thai Time, which has a brick and mortar restaurant in downtown Santa Rosa, is debuting at the fair, with fresh, light Thai flavors of pumpkin chicken curry ($9) and sticky rice with mango ($5), along with pork with basil and Thai ice tea.
The mostly local Mexican Village was a favorite for simple, fresh dishes like pozole ($11) at Old Mexico, and Pepe’s Marisco’s Ceviche ($10) and fish taco ($3.75). Jorge Alcazar of Santa Rosa’s Frozen Art makes his debut at the fair with a variety of freshly made ice cream and palate-cleansing fruit paletas. Chili pineapple is a favorite ($4).
If you’re all about the fried and battered, you’re covered. Dirty Greek Fries ($7) at The Sleek Greek are doused with feta and tzatziki. A twist on the usual corn dog? Jalapeño corn dogs from Big Jim’s Dawg House that “packed a kick” according to Scrambler John Hendrickson of Santa Rosa. Other breakout winners: Maple bacon funnel cakes ($10, Pennsylvania Dutch Funnel Cakes) and deep-fried cheese on a stick (described by one eater as “molten lava on a stick”) from Monster Grill ($6.50).