53 new foods at the Minnesota State Fair, ranked from best to worst | Star Tribune
New Fair FoodNew Fair Food

53 new foods at the Minnesota State Fair, ranked from best to worst

The Minnesota State Fair's 2019 new foods roster includes the perennial mix of attention-seekers, potential gut bombs and trend-observant hopefuls. Our food critic, Rick Nelson, spent opening day at the fair, working his way through the entire list. He's ranked them from best to worst, so you can try the standouts and skip the rest.

  • Tacos Al Pastor

    Tacos Al Pastor

    Manny’s Tortas
    Food Building

    Now this is a taco: a porky, color-packed exercise in contrasts: spicy-cool and tender-chewy, all wrapped in a soft blue corn tortilla. Love the price, too. $5 Map it

  • Lemonade Apple

    Lemonade Apple

    The Produce Exchange
    Carnes Av. and Underwood St.

    Because that darling of the Minnesota apple world, the First Kiss, is still awaiting harvest, owners Sharon and Kevin Hannigan turned to New Zealand to introduce this newbie to lucky fairgoers. With its firm, juicy flesh and golden skin, this not-too-sugary, not-too-tart beauty makes for an ideal fairgrounds palate cleanser. $3 Map it

  • Kentikka Fried Chicken Sliders

    Kentikka Fried Chicken Sliders

    Hot Indian Foods
    International Bazaar

    Tender chicken thighs, sporting a crisp breaded coating, are dressed in a dreamy tomato-cream sauce (perfumed by smoked sweet paprika), topped with a cabbage-cucumber-cumin slaw and stuffed into first-rate slider buns. What’s not to love? Available through Aug. 27. $12 Map it

  • Hickory Grilled Texas Red Hot Sausage

    Hickory Grilled Texas Red Hot Sausage

    Tejas Express
    The Garden

    Superb. RJ’s Meats in Hudson, Wis. crafted a smoked mix of pork, beef and chiles that’s finished on the stand’s wood-burning grill. It’s sliced, ring-bologna-style, and served with sweet-corn/black bean succotash, pickled red onion relish and pops of whole-grain mustard. $10 Map it

  • Heirloom Tomato and Sweet Corn BLT with an Egg

    Heirloom Tomato and Sweet Corn BLT with an Egg

    Farmers Union Coffee Shop
    Dan Patch Av. and Cosgrove St.

    The only three words more powerful than “I love you” are “Add an egg,” right? How do you improve this seemingly unimproveable BLT? By inserting a fried egg into the proceedings, and letting its runny yolk spread across that bacon, tomato and sweet corn goodness. $13 Map it

  • Duck Drummies

    Duck Drummies

    Giggles’ Campfire Grill
    Lee Av. and Cooper St.

    Love these. Who needs chicken wings when there are duck drummies to relish? The dark meat, succulent and abundant, is enrobed in a crispy coating that’s appealingly fragile and well seasoned. Glorious with beer, and well worth the price. $8.75 Map it

  • Brisket Tacos

    Brisket Tacos

    Tejas Express
    The Garden

    Another hit from chef Mark Haugen. Brisket is slow-braised in ancho, guajillo and chipotle chiles until it achieves fall-apart (and wickedly slow-burn) status. Then out comes salty blue cheese, peppery arugula and tender (and gluten-free) corn tortillas from the talented La Perla folks in south Minneapolis. $10 Map it

  • Blueberry Key Lime Pie

    Blueberry Key Lime Pie

    Farmers Union Coffee Shop
    Dan Patch Av. and Cosgrove St.

    A fruitful partnership with the Birchwood Cafe yields the fair’s best new dessert. The restaurant infuses its sumptuous custard in its famous Key lime pie with tangy blueberries from Blue Fruit Farm in Winona, Minn. Honest-to-goodness whipped cream, too, from Stony Creek Dairy in Melrose, Minn. Don’t miss it. $8 Map it

  • Behl Puri

    Behl Puri

    Hot Indian Foods
    International Bazaar

    Chef Janene Holig relives her foray into Mumbai street foods with a gotta-have vegan snack. “It’s all the mouthfeels,” she said with a laugh, rattling off a Chex Mix-like toss of puffed rice, potatoes, roasted peanuts, flavorful tamarind chutney and an aromatic dried mango powder. Available through Aug. 27. $10 Map it

  • Tipsy Pecan Tart

    Tipsy Pecan Tart

    Sara’s Tipsy Pie
    Food Building

    Thanksgiving in August. Owner Sara Hayden uses a butter-laden shortbread shell (from gluten-free Valley’s Own Bakehouse in Burnsville), doesn’t skimp on the all-important pecans, and refrains from making the filling toothache-sweet, a common pecan pie pitfall. $7 Map it

  • Snow Cap Mini Waffle Sundae

    Snow Cap Mini Waffle Sundae

    Hamline Church Dining Hall
    Dan Patch Av. and Underwood St.

    Simple pleasures, indeed. A small-scale waffle — tender, golden, malty, utterly delightful — gets a crown of ridiculously sumptuous cream cheese ice cream (from Izzy’s Ice Cream) and a drizzle of maple syrup. $6 Map it

  • Shrimp & Grits Fritters

    Shrimp & Grits Fritters

    Funky Grits
    Food Building

    Another innovative newcomer. Owner Jared Brewington is focusing on a single, gotta-have item: a trio of piping hot fritters redolent of a rich aged Cheddar. Shrimp? Not so much. Not that it matters, because the results are terrific; ditto the creamy aioli dipping sauce. Great price, and gluten-free. $5 Map it

  • Nashville Hot Chicken On-a-Stick

    Nashville Hot Chicken On-a-Stick

    The Blue Barn
    West End Market

    The Blue Barn continues its hot streak with this on-trend item. The chicken thighs are juicy, and a cornflake coating adds a pronounced crispiness. The heat — feisty for the fair, tame-ish for Tennessee — comes from chile-infused butter sauce, offset with brown sugar. $9.95 Map it

  • Lavender Lemonade

    Lavender Lemonade

    Farmers Union Coffee Shop
    Dan Patch Av. and Cosgrove St.

    Of all the new alcohol-free beverages on the fairgrounds, this one is the most vividly refreshing. The lavender — it’s more about a delicate color than an overpowering floral flavor — is cultivated in Vermillion by the Hmong American Farmers Association. The cocktail-like rosemary sprig is a smart, summery touch. $6 and $7.50 Map it

  • Jamm’in Brisket Grilled Cheese

    Jamm’in Brisket Grilled Cheese

    RC’s BBQ
    Dan Patch Av. and Liggett St.

    Grilled cheese and barbecue, a happy marriage. Thick-cut, butter-drenched bread is piled high with tender smoked brisket and Cheddar and pepper Jack cheeses. Spiced-up barbecue sauce and quietly sweet onion jam duke it out for flavor supremacy. Easily shareable. $10 Map it

  • Grilled Sota Sandwich

    Grilled Sota Sandwich

    Brim
    North End

    A clever retooling of the classic PB&J sandwich turns to a spread of peanuts and almonds, ground on the premises, along with a pert blueberry marmalade and sturdy gluten-free bread. To stay dairy-free, the sandwiches are toasted, in panini presses, using cinnamon-scented coconut oil. Inventive and delicious. $9 Map it

  • Dessa’s Night Drive Ice Cream

    Dessa’s Night Drive Ice Cream

    Hamline Church Dining Hall
    Dan Patch Av. and Underwood St.

    On paper, the particulars appear to be very kitchen-sink: cold brew coffee, cardamom, chocolate-covered espresso flakes and pops of toffee crunch. But in reality, they all come together in a beaut of an Izzy’s Ice Cream concoction that’s worthy of the Dessa moniker. $5.50 and $8 Map it

  • Breakfast Potato Skin

    Breakfast Potato Skin

    The Blue Barn
    West End Market

    Half of a hollowed-out, deep-fried potato is a vehicle for scrambled eggs, peppers, béarnaise and grilled beef cubes, a South Dakota tradition that has the temerity to step out at the Great Minnesota Get-Together (kidding, it’s great). Potato skins seem very TGI Fridays circa 1988, but they work here, too. $8.95 Map it

  • Vanilla Mint Chocolate & Cream pop

    Vanilla Mint Chocolate & Cream pop

    Jonny Pops
    West End Market

    A refreshing repast for a hot summer’s day, popping with cool mint and dipped in dark chocolate. Kind of perfect, right? $5 Map it

  • Turkish Pizza

    Turkish Pizza

    Blue Moon Dine-in Theater
    Carnes Av. and Chambers St.

    Soft, puffy naan, its edges blackened in a wood-burning oven, gets liberally topped with minced beef in a cumin-forward tomato sauce. A pile-on of fresh finishes follows, including a cucumber salad and a sweet splash of pomegranate molasses. Would it be easier to eat if it were rolled, burrito-style? Probably. $9 Map it

  • The Hot Hen

    The Hot Hen

    RC’s BBQ
    Dan Patch Av. and Liggett St.

    It’s a pile of barbecue-seasoned potato chips garnished with a first-rate version of pulled Buffalo chicken, pickled jalapeños and a few punchy variations on blue cheese, and it deserves to be a staple at Super Bowl parties from coast to coast. $8 Map it

  • Polish sausage

    Polish sausage

    iPierogi
    Food Building

    A textbook version of the genre, expertly grilled and smothered in a not-too-pungent sauerkraut. The wisely chosen ciabatta-style roll stands up to the demands placed upon it. $8 Map it

  • Pebbles & Bam Bam Waffles

    Pebbles & Bam Bam Waffles

    Nordic Waffles
    West End Market

    Tender waffles are transformed into sandwiches filled with all kinds of harmonious ingredients. Instead of Nutella, owner Stine Aasland reaches for Reese’s Pieces (chocolate and peanut butter, that eternally appealing pairing) and crisp Fruity Pebbles cereal, a combination that will delight kids of all ages. $8 Map it

  • Handmade Ice Cream Sandwiches

    Handmade Ice Cream Sandwiches

    Thelma’s Handmade Ice Cream Sandwiches
    Judson Ave. and Underwood St.

    This Iowa import is a welcome State Fair addition, hawking a variety of soft, buttery cookies (including a gluten-free Snickerdoodle) that are paired with a long list of flavorful ice creams. $5 Map it

  • Gram’s Sin-A-Buns

    Gram’s Sin-A-Buns

    iCandy Sugar Shoppe
    Cooper St. and Dan Patch Av.

    Yes, an on-a-stick version of gooey, warm-from-the-oven sticky buns. This iteration, an homage to the baking skills of Marilyn Hultgren of Willmar, Minn., is imbued with a robust cinnamon wallop. They’re sweet enough without the addition of frosting or maple syrup, but go ahead, you’re at the fair. $7 Map it

  • Feta Bites

    Feta Bites

    Dino’s Gyros
    Carnes Av. and Nelson St.

    An improved-upon version of the cream cheese wonton, and semi-irresistible. Delicate and crisp on the outside, with a creamy feta interior. It’s a stretch to label the olive-flecked dipping sauce a “tapenade,” but the results still work. Great price, too. $5.50 Map it

  • Carnitas Taco Cone

    Carnitas Taco Cone

    San Felipe Tacos
    Food Building

    Pork butt, redolent of ginger and sesame, gets a final sear on the grill, crisping and caramelizing its edges. It’s layered with queso fresco, cabbage and sour cream in a cone-shaped deep-fried tortilla. A novelty, certainly (it resembles a big — albeit porky — ice cream cone) and a tasty one. $10 Map it

  • Bada Bing Sandwich

    Bada Bing Sandwich

    The Sandwich Shop
    Clough St. and Carnes Av.

    Forget wacky, deep-fried or on-a-stick. Instead, focus on portable comfort food and the winning nature of familiar Italian ingredients: cold-cut-style ham and salami, mozzarella, fresh basil and a lively balsamic vinaigrette (if only the tomatoes weren’t so cottony), folded into a flatbread and toasted golden brown. $9 Map it

  • Stuffed Cabbage Roll

    Stuffed Cabbage Roll

    iPierogi
    Food Building

    A just-like-Mom’s classic, with cabbage leaves tightly wrapped around a mellow ground pork-rice mix and served in an uncomplicated tomato sauce. $8 Map it

  • Pierogies

    Pierogies

    iPierogi
    Food Building

    These homey rib-stickers are sold in two varieties: a potato-cheese combo garnished with smoky bacon and sweet caramelized onions (best), or ground pork with those same onions; there’s a mix-and-match version, too. $9 Map it

  • Non-dairy shakes

    Non-dairy shakes

    West End Creamery
    West End Market

    Soy-based ice cream — and soy milk — manage to re-create much of the creaminess of their dairy counterparts, hurrah. Try the new pumpkin spice-like flavor, “Golden Goddess.” Yikes, that price. $13 Map it

  • No Bologna Coney

    No Bologna Coney

    Mancini’s al Fresco
    Carnes Av. and Nelson St.

    In acreage riddled with hot dogs and brats, this mortadella-inspired pork sausage stands out, not only for its fatty, pistachio-peppered bite but also for its abundant olive salad topping. The one complaint is that the buttered and toasted bun doesn’t hold up to sausage’s heft. $6.75 Map it

  • Fresh strawberries with non-dairy whipped topping

    Fresh strawberries with non-dairy whipped topping

    Strawberries ‘n Crème
    Randall Ave. and Underwood St.

    Ripe, fragrant berries, stemmed, hulled and piled, parfait-style, into a cup, a little slice of late-summer heaven. Apologies to vegans everywhere, but this would be a stellar treat if the counterfeit whipped cream (not bad, it must be said) was the real thing. $7 and $9 Map it

  • Breakfast Sandwiches

    Breakfast Sandwiches

    Blue Ox Burger Bar
    Judson Ave. and Clough St.

    A riff on the Egg McMuffin (nothing wrong with mimicking the master, right?), these toasted English muffin sandwiches arrive hot off the grill and are filled with a fried egg, gooey American cheese and an impressive pile of nicely crispy bacon. The price is a smidgen on the high side. $6 Map it

  • Boozy Berries & ’Barb Trifle

    Boozy Berries & ’Barb Trifle

    The Hideaway Speakeasy
    Grandstand, upper level

    Paging the Ladies Who Lunch. It’s an elaborately layered confection of delicate vanilla-scented pound cake, tart lemon curd, a similarly tart rhubarb compote and a colorful splash of blueberry coulis, all enhanced by hints of a peach-scented, Minnesota-made white wine. Creative and elegant (with a price to match). $9 Map it

  • Al Pastor Waffles

    Al Pastor Waffles

    Nordic Waffles
    West End Market

    Imagine a taco masquerading as a folded-over waffle. Not bad, right? This version combines tender marinated pork with brightly acidic pineapple, sharp onion and cilantro. It might not be the fairgrounds’ most memorable al pastor, but it’s perfectly acceptable. $8 Map it

  • Warm Cheesecake Tart

    Warm Cheesecake Tart

    LuLu’s Public House
    West End Market

    The palm-size dessert hits all the right cheesecake marks, right down to the chocolate, strawberry and salted caramel toppings. But are overheated fairgoers clamoring for warm cheesecake? $6 Map it

  • Peppadew olives

    Peppadew olives

    Fried Fruit & Fried Olives
    South of the Grandstand

    Salty green olives, robed in crunchy, slightly sweet-hot Peppadew peppers and speared on-a-stick. This being the fair, there’s a battered and deep-fried version, but the unadulterated variation is better. $8 and $8.50 Map it

  • Peaches n’ Cream Nachos

    Peaches n’ Cream Nachos

    Bridgeman’s Ice Cream
    Judson Av. and Liggett St.

    Celebrate peach season with a few scoops of Peaches n’ Cream ice cream, a golden peach compote, a drizzle of honey and crushed pecans. The bed of cinnamon-dusted pita chips radiates afterthought vibes, and a nondairy (read: fake) whipped cream besmirches the proud Bridgeman’s legacy. $8 Map it

  • Mini Donut Latte

    Mini Donut Latte

    Anchor Coffee House
    Underwood St. and Carnes Av.

    The promised “mini-donut flavoring” in this traditional and not inexpensive latté (served hot or blissfully cold) wasn’t readily apparent, but the Tom Thumb mini-donut garnish was a sweet touch. $7 Map it

  • Lamb T-Bone Chops

    Lamb T-Bone Chops

    Holy Land
    International Bazaar

    This is the place to dig into a pair of grass-fed grilled lamb loins, nicely charred but somewhat bland. $6 Map it

  • Cookie Dough On-a-Stick

    Cookie Dough On-a-Stick

    Kora’s Cookie Dough
    Dan Patch Ave. between Cooper and Cosgrove

    The trend finally reaches the fair, in five flavors — chocolate chip, Monster, Reese’s peanut butter, Oreo fudge and vegan sugar cookie — served straight-up or embellished with chocolate, peanuts and other dodads. Grainy dough screams “sugar,” meaning it fits right into the fair. $5 Map it

  • Build-your-own hamburgers

    Build-your-own hamburgers

    Blue Ox Burger Bar
    Judson Ave. and Clough St.

    The patties — unadorned, or with American cheese and/or bacon — are fairly run-of-the-mill, the drab buns even more so. A selection of ordinary add-ons — shredded lettuce, tomato, onion — don’t do all that much to amp up the proceedings. Go the basket route with Tater Tots or (terrific) crinkle fries. $6 to $13 Map it

  • Wingwalker

    Wingwalker

    The Hangar
    North End

    Doughnut holes, ponderously doughy and tasting mostly of oil, demonstrate two bright spots: an enormous portion, and a trio of not-bad dipping sauces. But why not just stick with mini doughnuts? $9 Map it

  • Deep-Fried Dilly Dog

    Deep-Fried Dilly Dog

    Swine & Spuds
    Warner Coliseum

    This State Fair version of Turducken amusingly stuffs a bratwurst into a giant hollowed-out dill pickle, dips it in batter and dunks the whole shebang, corn dog-style, into the deep fryer. An acquired taste. $8 Map it

  • Tailspin

    Tailspin

    The Hangar
    North End

    A sloppy pile-on of seemingly incongruous ingredients. Two words: Don’t bother. $11 Map it

  • Irish Whiskey Boneless Wings

    Irish Whiskey Boneless Wings

    O’Gara’s at the Fair
    Dan Patch Av. and Cosgrove St.

    These nugget-size snacks bear an uncanny resemblance to the sweet-and-sour chicken found at any strip mall Chinese restaurant. Gluten-free. $8 Map it

  • Halo Cone

    Halo Cone

    Rainbow Ice Cream
    Grandstand, upper level

    The Hello Kitty of preposterous State Fair foods — comics-colored soft-serve ice cream, garnished with sprinkles and Gummi bears and served on a bed of cotton candy — will probably cause Instagram to crash while simultaneously providing lifetime employment for Minnesota’s dentists. $9 Map it

  • Deep-fried Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

    Deep-fried Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

    Kora’s Cookie Dough
    Dan Patch Ave. between Cooper and Cosgrove

    A novelty act, with semi-molten dough inside wonton wrappers and fried like egg rolls. Better to stumble onto an underbaked Sweet Martha’s cookie. $7 and $10 Map it

  • Cuban Fusion Fajita

    Cuban Fusion Fajita

    Juanita’s Fajitas
    Nelson St. south of the Grandstand

    Lift the basic elements of a Cubano, roll them into a flour tortilla, and yawn. $7 Map it

  • Cheesy Sriracha Funnel Cake Bites

    Cheesy Sriracha Funnel Cake Bites

    Funnel Cakes
    Dan Patch Av. and Nelson St.

    An overpriced, shimmering-with-grease gutbomb, with cheese. $8 Map it

  • Carolina Pit-Smoked Brisket Taco

    Carolina Pit-Smoked Brisket Taco

    Shanghaied Henri’s
    International Bazaar

    At a time when the fairgrounds are peppered with some seriously impressive tacos, along comes this limpid, ill-conceived embarrassment. In its defense, the price includes two tacos. $9 Map it

  • Birthday Batter Blast malt or sundae

    Birthday Batter Blast malt or sundae

    Dairy Goodness Bar
    Dairy Building

    Vanilla-centric soft-serve ice cream topped with rainbow sprinkles and Type 2 diabetes-inducing “cupcake bites,” whatever that is. $6 Map it