Inside all of us sits a culinary duality — the power to eat well and care for our bodies and the power to devour junk food with reckless abandonment. Both collided in my mind when I walked into the California Mid-State Fair on Monday afternoon.
In years past, when I heard the words “fair” it conjured visions of fried everything, and there was no hesitation to indulge. Unfortunately for my taste buds (fortunately for my body), I have started to learn how to say no to those temptations. Could it be maturity?
So this year, my third with food review duties at the fair, I decided to look at both sides of the spectrum and continue my healthier habits in a place where it feels impossible. Of course, I still tried a few treats that left me full of sugar — and regret. But it was ... uh ... all in the name of quality journalism.
So what are some of the top healthy and unhealthy options you can find at the Mid-State Fair? Here’s what I found:
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
On The Healthy Side
Grilled corn on the cob, The Corn Shuck, $5
Most research out there tells you if you want to be healthy, you need to stay away from processed foods. Grilled corn on the cob fresh out of the husk fits the bill. If you want to add a little extra flavor, and calories, you can top it with melted butter and spice it up with some garlic salt or chili pepper. You can find this stand near the main gate on the south side of Adelaide Hall.
BBQ wild pink salmon sandwich, The Hurricane Kitchen, $14
The Paso Robles-based Hurricane Kitchen food truck owned by Chef Richard Verhagen, located on the midway, offers nice upper-level lunch options for those looking to escape corn dogs and pizza. I tried the salmon sandwich, which offered a thick piece of fish covered with a Montreal spice rub and whiskey molasses glaze served on a brioche bun. Coleslaw was an option on the side, but I opted for the salad, a colorful spring mix of spinach and arugula with red peppers, cucumber and carrots topped with a raspberry vinaigrette. It didn’t blow my mind, but it was pretty good.
There are a few more places offering healthier food options around the fairgrounds. Jimmy’s Watering Hole, located near the Headliner Stage, has an assortment of salads and wraps ($11) to go along with staples like tri-tip and pulled pork. Island Grill, next to The Corn Shuck, has fish options like the Seared Ahi Bowl ($14), Ahi Mango Salad ($14) and the Grilled Wahoo Fish Bowl ($12). The Wine Shop & Bar next to Estrella Hall and The Market Place pavilion also has guilt-free choices.
On The Dark Side
Garlic fries, Garlicky’s, $10.25
Located on the midway, Garlicky’s lives up to its name by offering up options like garlic fries, pizza by the slice ($7.75), garlic dogs ($9.25) and garlic stuffed sausage ($11.75). I decided to try the garlic fries and was disappointed. Starting with the price: $10 is already a lot for a basket of fries, but now you want to tack on an extra 25 cents for good measure? Come on. They came topped with parmesan cheese and looked and smelled good, but the cold fries absent of any crunch weren’t very tasty.
Deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich, unnamed food truck, $8
A Las Vegas-based food truck with no name hides in the shadows near the Livestock Pavilion like a sketchy hustler. It’s here that you will find fuel for your sugar fix that you’ll want to keep from your friends and family — if you care about their arteries and blood-sugar levels. This mysterious truck is run by a couple of nice vendors and carries one of the sweetest treats at the Mid-State Fair: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that’s coated in Cap’n Crunch cereal, deep fried and then topped with bacon, banana slices, caramel sauce and powdered sugar. I’m not proud to say this, but it was amazing. I finished every bit — and I paid the price.
There are endless and delicious options around the grounds if you are looking to take advantage of a fair “cheat day.” Pismo Beach-based Old West Cinnamon Rolls serves a variety of sweet rolls ($5-$8) at two locations, one in Adelaide Hall and one near the Frontier Stage, and both have consistently long lines. For those hot fair days, Batch, the popular ice cream sandwich shop located in San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles, has a small set-up this year on the midway; and Udder D-Lite, near the Floriculture Building, serves Dole Whip ($6), a pineapple-flavored ice cream that has developed a cult following.
Sugar Coma Conclusion
At the end of the day, as I laid on a bench in the sun and took stock of my food choices while wondering if I had some antacid in the car, it was clear to see who won in this good-versus-evil food battle. Will I ever learn my lesson and kick the fried fair foods for good?
Only time will tell. (Spoiler: nope.)