12 must-try food items at the Sonoma County Fair

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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).

“You can’t go to the fair without having some kind of corn dog,” Calkins said.

Of course, every year, vendors try to one-up each other with grease-tastic dishes that are usually more fun to laugh at than eat. This year’s “Oh, come on, seriously?” foods included Cap’n Crunch Chicken (chicken breast rolled in crushed cereal), macaroni and cheese-stuffed burgers, fried shark and bacon cotton candy.

Holding their stomachs and tossing the melted, soggy leftovers into the trash, May spoke for the group, saying, “Nothing was terrible, which was surprising.”

For more details on what to see and do at the fair, visit www.sonomacountyfair.org. The fair is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, except for Mondays, through Aug. 9. Horse races begin July 30.

For more photos, see the BiteClub version of this article here.

The Delicious Dozen at the Sonoma County Fair

1. Lobster Dog, Sharky’s Fish Fry

2. Torta Ahogada, Nuevo Sazon

3. Chili Pineapple Paleta (popsicle), Frozen Art

4. Fried bacon and cheese, Monster Grill

5. Dirty Greek Fries, Sleek Greek

6. Chips, salsa and ceviche, Pepe’s Mariscos

7. Pumpkin Curry with chicken, Thai Time Asian Bistro

8. Maple Bacon Funnel Cake, Pennsylvania Dutch Funnel Cakes

9. Jalapeno corn dog, Big Jim’s Dawg House

10. Fish Taco, Old Mexico

11. Ribs, Big Bubbas

12. Rocky Road Caramel Apple, DB Ventures

More Fair Food Scramble Results:

Best Restaurant Quality Food: Thai Time Asian Bistro, chicken pumpkin curry and sticky rice with mango

Best Way to Feed A Family: Pasta King’s Spaghetti Palace Polenta with Marinara

Best Way to Cool Off: Fruit popsicles from Frozen Art

Best Lemonade: Phil’s Lemonade

Best Spot to Cool Off and Eat Barbecue: Barbecue Spot at Sliders Gastropub

Best Sugar Rush: Corn husk wrapped Tamarind Candy at Angel’s Candy

Best Lemonade: Phil’s Fresh Squeezed

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