My 5 favorite foods at the Minnesota State Fair

August 30, 2021
Stacy holding a cardboard dish heaped with potato chips
Ready to enjoy my spiral cut chips from Sonny's Fair Food at the 2018 Minnesota State Fair

Due to the rise of the delta variant and the Minnesota State Fair's lack of a vaccination requirement or mask mandate, many people are skipping the 2021 fair.  Mike and I chose to attend—we're fully vaccinated, and we skipped mass transit and limited our time indoors.  We wore KN95 masks indoors at all times and during the vast majority of our time outdoors.  If you do choose to attend the fair, please take appropriate precautions.  The Minnesota State Fair's current health guidelines are available here.

I go to the Minnesota State Fair for many reasons: nostalgia, the live entertainment, the livestock, the educational exhibits, the display cases full of prizewinning knitwear. 

But mostly, it's about the food.  Some people delight in trying new foods and checking out different vendors, but over the past several years, I've learned that I prefer to stick to my favorites.  I even like to eat my favorite foods in a particular order, timed to (mostly) not result in a stomach ache and to keep me going through twelve-plus hours on my feet.  

For me, the ideal fair foods are desserts and fried stuff.  There are 364 other days every year for fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy products that have not been battered and deep-fried.  I am not looking for a gourmet experience, or something novel, or something "healthy"—I want to revel in the glories of sugar and fat. 

I've found that most fairgoers have very strong opinions about the best fair food.  My sister Rachel swears that Tom Thumb mini donuts put the competition to shame, while Mike is obsessed with the Holy Land's fresh mint  lemonade slushy.  This is my personal and highly subjective list of the best foods at the Minnesota State Fair, and yes, there is one and only one place where you should order cheese curds.

Hand holding a plastic cup filled with chocolate soft serve

1. Chocolate malt, Dairy Goodness Bar

The Minnesota State Fair is the only place where I find it totally acceptable to start my day with a chocolate malt.  The soft serve at the Dairy Goodness Bar is extra-creamy with just the right touch of chocolate.  I've never been able to detect any malt powder, so I suspect the "malts" are really just soft serve in a cup.  However, I prefer them over the cones since you can eat them at a more leisurely pace on a hot day.

Dairy Building, south wall

Plastic bucket filled with deep fried cheese curds

2. Battered deep-fried cheese curds, Mouth Trap Cheese Curds

Deep-fried cheese curds are a staple at fairs and bars across the Midwest, but I've never tasted better ones than at the Mouth Trap.  First, they're battered rather than breaded, which gives the outer layer a crisp, airy quality that contrasts nicely with the chewy density of the melted cheese.  The cheese curds themselves are very fresh (they're delivered daily from the creamery), and you get your fried curds seconds after they emerge from the deep fryer. 

Don't be dissuaded by the long line—the ordering process is extremely efficient.  And splurge on the value bucket.

Food Building, center section

Hand holding cardboard bowl filled with coffee soft serve topped with chocolate dust and garnished with a toasted marshmallow and Oreo cookies

3. Smoked soft serve ice cream, Blue Moon Dine-In Theater

How do you smoke soft serve?  You don't—the ingredients are infused with smoke before they're frozen, for a soft serve with a complex, savory flavor.  I love the cold brew coffee flavor, which is made with cold-smoked Arabica beans and topped with chocolate espresso dust, a toasted marshmallow, and Oreos.  While it's definitely a dessert, the smoked soft serve doesn't have the sugar overload of so many fair treats, making it a refreshing mid-day palate cleanser.

Northeast corner of Carnes Avenue and Chambers Street

Hand holding cardboard dish heaped with spiral cut deep fried potato chips

4. Spiral-cut chips, Sonny's Fair Food

These are almost worth ordering solely for the joy of watching a staffer spiral cut five potatoes with a power drill, fry them up, and serve the resulting mound of chips to you in a comically small cardboard tray.  However, these chips are also incredibly tasty—think of what a freshly-baked loaf of bread tastes like compared to the pre-sliced loaves at the supermarket, and then you have an inkling of what freshly-fried potato chips taste like compared to the pre-made variety.  There's a condiment bar with a variety of seasonings you can sprinkle on your chips, but I think they're best appreciated with a simple dusting of sea salt.

Food Building, northwest section

Three balls of battered deep fried cookie dough on a bamboo skewer

5. Deep-fried cookie dough on-a-stick, Sonny's Fair Food

I know, I know.  There are nearly 300 food vendors at the fair, and two of my picks are from the same spot?  But Sonny's deep-fried cookie dough on-a-stick is truly the pinnacle of the Minnesota State Fair food experience: three golf-ball sized chunks of chocolate chip cookie dough threaded onto a skewer, battered, deep-fried, and dusted with powdered sugar.  Finishing my day with this masterpiece guarantees that I will leave the fairgrounds feeling well and truly satiated for an entire year.

Food Building, northwest section

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