What to eat and what to skip

To all the people who say I have their dream job, may I present this piece of evidence: a short list of foods from the 2022 Arizona State Fair, ranked from worst to best.

I have a dream job. Little Andi would be stunned by all the delicious things I ate while browsing the fairgrounds on McDowell Road during the opening weekend of the event. Vendors were there tossing funnel-shaped cakes topped with M&M’s and whipped cream. People fried oysters and served them on a stick. Others have set up a Mexican al pastor for roasting over open coals. Had fried cheesecake and Navajo fried bread topped with cheesesteak meat.

But part of my job is to guide you in the right direction and save you the wrath of bad fair food. These articles are not necessarily new, but they are the ones that have marked me the most. So, with that in mind, here’s a guide to the best and worst of the Arizona State Fair.

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5. Philly Cheesesteak Bread Fry

A TeePee Village Fry Bread Philly Cheesesteak Fried Bread is displayed at the Arizona State Fair in Phoenix on September 24, 2022.

I once spent a hundred dollars on a cheesesteak, and stood in line for hours for fried bread. Both were worth it, because when done right, these iconic dishes are downright ethereal. That’s what I had in mind when I approached the Tipi Village window for this never-before-seen Philly cheesesteak fried bread mashup. I wanted to love her, but that particular offer tragically fell through. With its gooey mound of gravy-like stuff instead of provolone or whiz, it was nothing like the best in Philadelphia. And with the thin, mushy texture of the dough, it didn’t really taste like fried bread either. Next time I’ll stick to the tried and true basics like the Indian taco, which looked pretty good when I saw another customer take it away.

Seller: Teepee Village.

Price: $18.

Verdict: Maybe just go to The Fry Bread House.

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4. M&M’s Whipped Cream Funnel Cake

A funnel cake with M&M's and a swirl of chocolate and vanilla ice cream from Texas Funnel Cake is displayed at the Arizona State Fair in Phoenix on September 24, 2022.

It’s the second time I’ve made this mistake, but how can I resist a sweet circle of deep-fried sugarpaste covered in a clownish assortment of candies and whipped cream? The M&M’s topping with chocolate and vanilla swirl was slightly less blatant than the All American Funnel Cake with berries and bavarian cream that destroyed me last year. But the essential problem remains. All those ingredients on top are not good to eat, because they collide with the soft dough and make it soggy. The funnel cake itself was perfectly fried, and if I ever come back for a third, I’ll just get it.

Seller: Texas Funnel Cakes.

Price: $19 with ice cream.

Verdict: Why am I doing this to myself?

3. Bacon Wrapped Turkey Thigh

Bacon A-Fair bacon wrapped turkey legs are displayed at the Arizona State Fair in Phoenix on September 24, 2022.

I’m lucky I could have gotten this one in before Rosh Hashanah started, because it would have been wrong in more ways than one. But kosher rules aside, wrapping an entire turkey leg in bacon is an interesting technique reminiscent of YouTube nonsense like “Epic Meal Time.” I thought we topped this trend five years ago, but I guess the State Fair is a time warp. Having been pulled straight from the fiery grill, the bacon was a little softer than I expected. And the turkey leg was a little overcooked. But otherwise not bad.

Seller: Bacon-A-Fair.

Price: $30.

Verdict: The State Fair says to the Ren Fair: “Hold my beer.”

2. Pastor Burrito

A Flacos Tacos burrito al pastor is displayed at the Arizona State Fair in Phoenix on September 24, 2022.

The state fair is filled with all kinds of smoky rotating meats, from huge barbecue pork butts to that glistening mound of Mexican al pastor. Laying on its side and revolving around a pit of hot coals, the trompo still had a lot of cooking to do before it was finished. So instead of being skimmed on a spit, my chilli glazed pork was removed from a container. The pork was still pretty good, not super juicy, but the flavors were there. The resulting burrito was very well constructed with delineated layers of beans and melted cottage cheese. The salsa was a little off, but passable. All in all, it was a decent burrito that I’d eat anywhere, not just at the fair.

Seller: Tacos from Flaco.

Price: $18.

Verdict: Don’t miss this one.

1. Lobster roll and lobster fries

A lobster roll (left) and lobster fries (right) from Piggly's Seafood are displayed at the Arizona State Fair in Phoenix on September 24, 2022.

It’s lobster roll mania in Arizona these days, with everything from hip gastropubs to local fast-food chains offering their version of the Maine specialty. Piggly’s Seafood serves it along with other seafaring delights like lobster nachos and oysters on a stick. Being the desert rat that I am, I can’t say I’m a lobster roll purist. But the one I had this weekend was surprisingly delicious, with a perfect buttery hot dog bun that hit the pan for a quick crisp. The lobster was cut into small pieces rather than large chunks of fat, but the texture was nice and crispy and the chipotle sauce gave it a spicy, creamy flavor. I also had lobster fries, and although they were a bit soft, I still enjoyed the seafood mix on top. Not bad, Piggly’s. Not bad.

Seller: Piggly Seafood.

Price: $29 each.

Verdict: This is my Maine pressure.

Arizona State Fair 2022

When: Sept. 23-Oct. 30 (Thursday to Sunday).

Where: 1826 W. McDowell Road, Phoenix.

Admission: $15 for ages 8 and up, free for children 7 and under.

Details: 602-252-6771, azstatefair.com.

Contact journalist Andi Berlin at [email protected] Follow her on Facebook @andiberlin, Instagram @andiberlin or Twitter @andiberlin.

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