As someone generally known for eating healthy, my enthusiasm for the Minnesota State Fair is a bit surprising. In my seven years of living in the Twin Cities, I’ve fallen in love with the restaurants, unique vegetarian options (i.e. the first vegan butcher), and year-round farmer’s markets.
MN’s State Fair is the perfect cross over of this foodie culture and traditional fair food of fried anything on-a-stick. It’s worked well for them, with the largest average attendance per day nationwide of just under 200,000 visitors daily. I picture a hipster-dressed Minnesota state outline being like the mom from Mean Girls saying, “I’m not like a regular Fair, I’m a cool Fair.”
As we head into the final Fair weekend, here are my true and tried reviews of the vegetarian (and pescetarian) options you can’t miss and can afford to skip:
Start by downloading the MN State Fair App, it’ll make finding each location a cinch.
Everything at the Fair is shareable with the right attitude, but “appetizers” seemed so formal. My favorite thing to share- cheese curds. I’m sure you’ll cross paths with Mouse Trap cheese curds from the Food Building no matter what, so I’m going to recommend Miller’s Jalepeño Cheese Curds. These are located next to the giant slide (yes, this is how I give directions) and the jalepeño is baked IN the cheese curd, it’s not some sad seasoning. For the sake of your stomach, share with at least one person.
New food- Dino’s Feta Bites. Dino’s Gyros wowed me last year with their Sweet Greeks (in dessert section) so I was fired up about these. Unfortunately, I thought the cheese to dough ratio was lacking. The olive dipping sauce was fantastic, but dipping my coworker’s cheese curds into it was an upgrade all around.
Another staple- the Preferred Pickle’s fried pickles. I took one for the team and had my go-to of cajun pickles (left) and branched out with the gourmet pickles (right). Of course, I added hot sauce to both so I can’t speak to the level of intended kick. The gourmet pickles have cream cheese on the INSIDE, and are $2 more. IMO, once you dip it in ranch, that cream cheese is forgotten and is a lot harder to eat. Cajun keeps it’s place in my heart. While you’re in the area, please get fried olives.
New vendor and new food- Funky Grit’s Shrimp & Grits Fritters. I ran, not walked, to this booth in the Food Building, because it seemed right up my alley. It tasted like any kind of fritter, I wouldn’t have known shrimp was in there without the sign.
I didn’t think I’d be heading to a Funnel Cake’s stand, but the new Cheesy Sriracha Funnel Cake Bites were made for me and I couldn’t let them down. If you’re cheese curded-out, this is a great alternative. Sriracha flavor is just from the dipping sauce, so spice level is choose your own adventure.
Last on the app list, is my 2018 new food disappointment. Otherwise miracle worker, French Meadow, made BBQ cauliflower wings or “Earth Wings”, and I was first in line. Unfortunately, it was a lot more sauce than cauliflower and the price didn’t soften the blow. They didn’t go loud with them this year, so others may have agreed.
This is a 2018 new vendor and now a staple for me. Nordic Waffle’s Slammin Salmon is as great as it sounds- a waffle with smoked salmon, cream cheese, and green onions. There’s also lots of sweet flavors if you’re not ready for a savory waffle.
Another favorite, which could be easy to overlook with the popularity of normal corn on the cob, is Wood-Grilled Elote from Tejas Express in the beer garden. Pro tip: get a beergarita while you’re there, and thank me later.
Starting with a new favorite vendor and item! Kora‘s Cookie Dough is a stand alone stand on Dan Patch Ave. near O’Gara’s. I preferred this fried cookie dough (in wonton/eggroll wrappers on the left) to the breaded version in the Food Building (shown righ). More cookie dough flavor, less fried-ness. Both of them taste like cookies that were taken out once they were half-baked, which if it were up to me, would be how all cookies are served.
Sticking with cookies, Sweet Martha’s is a stop you can’t miss. Partially because they’re located all over the Fair, but mainly because not much can top a fresh out of the oven cookie. IMO: Skip the bucket because only the top half of the cookies are warm, and they’re not great in the hours or days following the Fair. Opt for a cone ($12) and you’ll still end up with more cookies than you ever thought you needed (though I can’t deny the photo op a bucket brings…so, you do you).
Moving from a classic to a new food that is my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE of the year- the grilled peach with herbed goat cheese and drizzled honey. This is from the Produce Exchange, so get a kombucha while you’re there and you’ll feel brand new.
Not a new item, but new for me, I tried the Ohio Buckeye’s (peanut butter fudge dipped in chocolate) and took the very unique route of opting for not fried. It was refreshing because it’s served cold and was super easy to share with my team. I also heard afterward the fried is amazing, so that’s now on my to-do list.
New item based on a classic: the mini donut latte from the Anchor Coffee House. In my opinion, this was way too sweet and left everyone who had it with a stomach ache…and the $10 price didn’t help soothe it.
To end on a high note, a 2018 new food that is still a favorite for me, Dino’s Sweet Greek’s. This is feta and ricotta wrapped in Phyllo dough, then drizzled with honey, powdered sugar, and perhaps crack.
There you have it. I’ll be the first to say I have a lot more respect for every new food and state fair list I’ve used after pulling this together. I hope this helps you branch out in your next visit to the fair or to reference when your hippie vegetarian cousin visits and wants to be included.
Let me know in the comments what you loved and where we can save our money!