The Orange County Fair is back, which means it’s time for me to once again eat my way through the crazy and creative culinary concoctions found only at the fair.
Nearly 100 food venders are scattered around the fairgrounds, which means there is something for everyone. On a diet? Not at the OC Fair. Diets go out the window when bacon-wrapped turkey legs go in your mouth.
You can find traditional carnival treats like cotton candy, or unconventional ones like cotton candy ice cream tacos. Go healthy with a shrimp pineapple bowl or corn on the cob, or go extreme with fried butter or buffalo chicken mac n cheese served in a waffle cone.
I have dined on outlandish entrees at previous fairs, including a triple decker cheeseburger with crispy crème donuts as buns courtesy of Chicken Charlie’s, whose food stands always have a heaping helping of “only at the fair” delicacies. But that’s the point—this is stuff you’d normally never consume, so attend the fair guilt free and have fun.
That was my goal on opening day of the OC Fair: have fun with food.
I started my culinary journey at Biggy’s, who always has something new to try among his usual favorites. This year, it’s the Cap’n Crunch chicken sandwich: a fried chicken sandwich with Cap’n Crunch cereal on top, with a raspberry sauce drizzle.
Good concept, but the execution needs work. The chicken was fine, but the sprinkle of cereal didn’t add much pizazz, and the sauce made eating it a sticky mess. For $16.50 I was hoping for something a little more satisfying, a little more—biggy.
I sipped on my $6 Pepsi and walked to the other side of the fairgrounds to the always reliable Bacon-a-Fair booth, where everything comes with bacon.
I’ve had their deep fried cheesy bacon bombs (so good), but this time I ordered the garlic butter bacon fries cooked in oil and bacon fat.
Decadent? Yes indeed, and for $13 I was happy with my decision.
I went back last Thursday for Taste of the Fair. On Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., every food booth offers the taste of one of their items for $4. My goal was to sample five items for a total cost of $20—about half of what I spent on my first visit.
I began at Tasti Burgers, which had a mini burger offered that day for $4. Their regular burgers are good, but I was disappointed with the taste version. Basically a very small burger patty on a small bun, the patty was void of accompaniments including sauce. Even a pickle and small piece of lettuce would have dressed it up. I slathered some ketchup on the nearly-tasteless patty and ate it in three bites.
Next door was the Tasti Chips booth, always a favorite. Their $4 taste is a generous helping of truly tasty chips, warm and crispy yet with a soft center. I smiled as I consumed every last morsel of goodness.
Next was Chicken Charlie’s and an old standby: deep fried Oreos. For $4 you get two gorgeous fried cookies, gloriously melted inside puffed dough. It’s a can’t miss sweet treat.
A few feet away was the Chuckwagon booth, which always serves reliable barbecue favorites. Their $4 taste was a 3 oz. BBQ Pork Sundae, essentially a small mound of pork atop mashed potatoes. It was satisfying and a decent choice for $4.
Finally, to end my $4 foray into fair food, I tried the Fruity Pebble Dole Whip at the Nitro stand. This is a generous swirl of dole whip ice cream with plenty of Fruity Pebbles cereal on top. A tasty and refreshing end to my Taste of the Fair odyssey.
To burn calories I strolled through the exhibit halls, pausing in the culinary arts building to peruse the baking and canning contests, wishing they’d offer tastes of some of the cookies and cakes on display.
Yes I plan to go back for another Taste of the Fair excursion. On my list: Fried twinkie, pulled pork slider, Oreos & cream funnel cake, fried zucchini, and more Tasti Chips!
The OC Fair website has a section devoted to the many food purveyors at the fair: https://ocfair.com/oc-fair/things-to-do/food. On that page you can access a list of all of the $4 tastes offered on Thursdays.
Admission to the OC Fair is $12 general admission on Wednesdays & Thursdays, $14 general admission on Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays, $7 seniors 60+ and kids 6-12 Wednesdays-Sundays. Free for kids ages 5 and younger. Admission must be purchased in advance online. Parking is $10.
The OC Fair runs through Sunday, Aug. 14. Visit www.ocfair.com.