Crunchy hot Cheetos caramel apples. Deep fried Oreos. Hot Cheetos baked potato. Fruity Pebbles shrimp po’ boy. Bacon-wrapped turkey legs. Cinnamon maple bacon bombs.
Yes, the Orange County Fair has returned, and with it, outrageous culinary concoctions guaranteed to dazzle your taste buds while sending your daily calorie count through the roof.
You can dine reasonably healthy at the fair if you pick your food stands carefully, but why play it safe when you can savor the decadent only-at-the-fair foods you’d otherwise never think of eating?
My first stop at the fair this year was to see what new crazy concoctions Chicken Charlie has created. The man who perfected the art of deep frying practically anything always has something novel in store for adventurous fairgoers, and this year is no exception.
In addition to fried hummus (hummus coated with flour and seasonings, served in a pocket of pita bread and topped with sliced tomatoes and a sauce made of plain whole yogurt with tahini sauce) and his signature fried Oreos and fried Klondike Bar, Charlie has a new calorie-laden entrée: A buffalo chicken chimichanga, which consists of a tortilla containing mac & cheese, bacon and buffalo chicken, fried and topped off with buffalo ranch and a layer of flamin’ hot Cheetos.
In previous years, I survived Charlie’s Krispy Krème triple decker cheeseburger with donuts serving as the bun, and his Krispy Kreme ice cream chicken sandwich with a chuck of vanilla ice cream placed atop the warm chicken, with donuts keeping the mixture together (messy but delicious), so I had to try the chimichanga.
As I placed my order, the girl at the counter said it would take a few minutes to make. Given everything stuffed inside the tortilla, that made sense. When the chimichanga was ready, she carefully carried it to me. As I grabbed the paper container, I noted the weight of the chimichanga. It could easily double as a door stop. Cut in half, it was huge, with a thick layer of bright red flamin’ hot Cheetos on the top of each half.
I carried it to a nearby table and pondered the best way to tackle this beast. I picked up one half, opened my mouth as wide as I could, and took a giant bite, smearing Cheetos on my face. I took another bite, and another.
The mixture of mac & cheese with the chicken and bacon was decadent and indulgent, and darn satisfying. It was like having three courses at once. The chimichanga was also filling. I devoured as much as I could, but decided to save room for dessert and reluctantly disposed of the last few bites.
I am a longtime Reese’s peanut butter cup fan, so the fried peanut butter cup at a nearby stand caught my eye. It was a big cup, and came on a stick coated with powdered sugar. I let it cool for a minute so I did not encounter a molten lava center.
It was gooey good, but not the ah-ha moment my taste buds hoped for. There is a difference between regular and big cup, but it’s hard to quibble when you’re dining at the fair.
There are so many new dishes this year that it’s impossible to sample them all. Some that caught my attention: Brisket mac ‘n’ cheese sandwich, cinnamon maple bacon bombs, Fruity Pebbles shrimp po’ boy, tacos vampiros, Green Acres fire burger with ghost-pepper cheese and jalapeños, and several tater tots dishes including tots topped with pulled pork and cheese, and tots with garlic, parmesan, truffle oil and parsley.
Naturally I have favorite food stands that I tend to gravitate to each year. Bacon-A-Fair has my go-to snack: truffle bacon gouda fries. The cheese is aged gouda, and where else can you get truffle oil to go with your bacon?
I also love Tasti Chips, which is celebrating 45 years in business. These chips come hot out of the fryer and are more addicting than McDonald’s fries. You can get various toppings for the chips, but I prefer them simply salted.
New this year at the OC Fair is a “Grazing for Savings” promotion. Save money on value menus being offered this year at most food vendors, which feature budget-friendly $7.19, $8.19 and $9.19 options.
And every Thursday between noon and 4 p.m. is the $3 Taste of Fair Food promotion. Get a sampling of food and treats for only $3 each. Not every food stand participates, and the sample usually represents a signature item, but for $15 you can get five different samples and have a filling lunch.
Another of my favorite things to do at the OC Fair is visit the wine pavilion and taste award-winning wines. Vintners from throughout California enter their wines in the annual OC Fair wine competition, hosted by the OC Wine Society.
The judges are winemakers and other knowledgeable oenophiles who taste hundreds of wines in a blind tasting held several weeks prior to the start of the fair. The winners are available to taste in the wine pavilion on a rotating basis, meaning that wines you taste one day may not be there the next. More than 50 wines at a time are available for tasting, 2 tastes for $3.
I always find interesting wines I want to buy, so I take photos of the labels to make it easier to find the wines online.
For more information, visit OCFair.com.
For a list of the 2019 award-winning wines, visit OCWS.org.