Food & Drink

We ranked all the new NC State Fair foods, from the best to the, um, interesting

In fairness to fair food, we made you this way.

The culinary spectacle that is the North Carolina State Fair is sure to fulfill even the wildest deep-fried fantasies. Fatty and fried, salty and crisp, not to mention stuffed, all can be found in the corridors of vendors at the fair.

On Monday, fair organizers held the annual media tasting of new fair foods. For the News & Observer to assess this very specific category of eating, foods have been ranked on taste, texture and how they rate on the “Fair-ometer,” a just-now made-up metric that measures Fair-ocity, or the creative spirit of fair food.

Before we dive into the list, this year’s most adventurous creation, the Red Velvet Cheese Enchilada Funnel Cake was a disappointing no-show.

Here’s our rankings from Best to “No, thanks.”

1. The Chickenator by Chef’s D’Lites

Where to find it: Located on the north side of the waterfall, near the Sam Rand Grandstand.

Doughnuts as a bun? How quaint, says The Chickenator, a fried chicken sandwich, topped with pepper jack cheese, a spicy sauce and bacon, lovingly yet firmly caressed by two cinnamon rolls. In the sweet and savory dance of this sandwich, the heat of the pepper jack cheese is the note that keeps it from swinging too far one way or the other.

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The Chickenator by Chef’s D’Lites. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

2. Roasted Pumpkin Spice Corn by Douglas Farms

Where to find it: Located on the north side of the waterfall, near the Sam Rand Grandstand, right next to The Chickenator.

This one’s for the pumpkin spice haters out there. Somehow corn on the cob, on a stick, rolled in sweet butter and sprinkled with brown sugar and pumpkin pie spices is not an abomination. One nameless reporter was compelled to dance.

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Roasted pumpkin spice corn from Douglas Farms. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

3. Pineapple Dole Whip by Tropical Delights

Where to find it: Located right next to the Waterfall Music Stage.

This sweet phenomenon has finally made it to the fair and delivers a brightness that cuts through everything else like a ray of sunshine through a deep fried fog. This dessert was the winner of the Media Preview event.

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The Pineapple Dole Whip by Tropical Delights. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

4. Campfire on a Stick by Hot Chix Hotcakes & Chicken

Where to find it: Located on the north side of Kiddieland, heading toward Gate 11.

All the satisfaction of a S’mores, but your clothes won’t smell like smoke. This stack of mini pancakes and soft marshmallow is drizzled with chocolate sauce and graham cracker crumbs.

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Campfire on a stick from Hot Chix Hotcakes & Chicken. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

5. Pimento Cheese Crab Balls by Waypoint Oyster Bar

Where to find it: Located between the Expo Center and the Waterfall Music Stage.

Generous on the crab and oozing with full-on molten pimento cheese, these crab balls reach the very pinnacle of the fried arts.

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Pimento cheese crab ball from Waypoint Oyster Bar. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

6. Stuffed Cubano Baguette by La Farm Bakery

Where to find it: Located by the NC Pottery Exhibit, near Gate 1.

Since this comes from La Farm Bakery, maybe there should be a separate category for fancy fair food. But fancy or not, La Farm embraced the spirit of the fair and stuffed a solid Cuban sandwich inside a perfect baguette.

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The stuffed Cubano baguette from La Farm Bakery. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

7. Loaded Lamb Nachos by Neomonde

Where to find it: Located near the tram ticket booth, near Kiddieland.

Using sturdy pita chips, this refreshing take on nachos won’t make you miss the guacamole.

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Loaded lamb nachos from Neomonde. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

8 Crack-n-Cheese Stuffed Turkey Leg by Hickory Tree BBQ

Where to find it: Located just outside the west end of the Education Building.

Smoked turkey legs are a dime a dozen at the State Fair, but one happens to be stuffed with mac and cheese, barbecue sauce and turkey cracklings. Think of this turkey leg as a bread bowl.

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Crack-n-Cheese stuffed turkey leg from Hickory Tree BBQ. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

9. Korean BBQ Pork Belly Eggroll by Woody’s Wing Wagon

Where to find it: Located by the entrance to the Sam Rand Grandstand.

Tangy and sweet, this eggroll triumphs where other creative eggrolls have fallen short. (Looking at you Thanksgiving Dinner and Shrimp and Grits).

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Korean BBQ pork belly egg roll from Woody’s Wing Wagon. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

10. Candied Apple Hushpuppy by Ragin Cajun/Pumpkin Spice Hushpuppy by Old North State Kitchen

Where to find it: Ragin Cajun is by the grandstand for the demolition derby, Old North State Kitchen is by Gate 1.

Glazed with a Cheerwine or pumpkin spice icing, these hard fried fritters are light and sweet without being cloying.

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The candied apple hushpuppy with Cheerwine sugar glaze from Ragin Cajun. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

11. Choco Choco Cafe ice cream by NC State’s Howling Cow

Where to find it: Located by the entrance to The Marketplace and the grandstand for the demolition derby.

Howling Cow makes some of the most beloved ice cream in Raleigh, all from milk from NC State cows. This year at the front of those long lines, look for Choco Choco Cafe, a coffee ice cream, with bits of chocolate, a stream of caramel and coconut.

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N.C. State’s Howling Cow ice cream in Provost’s Choice and Cherry Brick Road. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

12. Garlic Cheese Curds by The Cheese Curd Shack

Where to find it: Located next to Circle C Racing Pigs, near Gate 9.

Deep fried balls of cheese aren’t any kind of breakthrough, but do you know what’s great? Deep fried balls of cheese.

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Garlic cheese curds from The Cheese Curd Shack. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

13. Jerk Chicken Rice Bowl by Cool Runnings Jamaican

Where to find it: Located near the Waterfall Music Stage.

From last year’s media day winner, a rice bowl of warmly flavored jerk chicken with mango salsa.

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The jerk chicken rice bowl from Cool Runnings Jamaican. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

14. Sloppy Mac Tater Skins by Chester’s Gator’s & Taters

Where to find it: Located by the Orville Terminus of the State Fair Flyer.

For something with the word “Sloppy” in the name, these are surprisingly well structured. The Fair-ometer appreciates anything that uses mac and cheese as a condiment.

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The sloppy mac tater skins from Chester’s Gators & Taters. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

15. Party Under the Sea by Party in a Pita

Where to find it: Located near the ticket office for the Sam Rand Grandstand.

This flavorful fried flounder on pita bread is a refreshing addition to the fair’s seafood offerings. It’s less of a party and more of a night in watching Netflix, but those are still good nights.

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The party under the sea from Party in a Pita. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

16. Deep -Fried Olives by Old Style Foods #1

Where to find it: Located by the guest relations booth, near the tram ticket booth.

Salt and crunch served on a stick, holding hands with their good friend Ranch.

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Deep fried olives from Old Style Foods #1. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

17. Cookie Dough Milkshake by Old Style Foods #2

Where to find it: Located by the tram ticket booth.

Fans of cookie dough will find a familiar favorite. Fair-miliar?

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The cookie dough milkshake from Old Style Foods #2. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

18. Reeses Donut by F&W Concessions

Where to find it: Located by the antique farm machinery, near the Marketplace.

A fine doughnut in the spirit of something you might find at Krispy Kreme. At the fair they can be served with ice cream and hot fudge, which the Fair-ometer likes.

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Reeses donut from F&W Concessions. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

19. The JoCo HoHo by Fat Boys BBQ

Where to find it: Located at the northwest corner of Kiddieland.

This on-a-stick entry will appeal to lovers of the venerable jalapeno popper. The JoCo HoHo is well fried, but bites can be inconsistent, mostly filled with cheese and occasional brisket. But what a name!

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The JoCo HoHo from Fat Boys BBQ. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

20. Baketo Pizza Pie by Baguettaboutit

Where to find it: In the Baguettaboutit food truck parked outside the Graham Building.

For those on the Keto diet, this pizza has a crust made of meat, but the pepperoni is the star.

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Baketo pizza pie from Baguettaboutit. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

21. The Sloppy Pig by Bubba’s Bacon

Where to find it: Located in Kiddieland.

Big points on the Fair-ometer here, for stacking buttery Texas Toast and covering it with sloppy Joe meat, queso sauce and a whole lot of bacon. But this is a structural nightmare that brings together three beloved things, but doesn’t improve upon them.

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The sloppy pig from Bubba’s Bacon. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

22. Fried Rum Balls by Gobblin’ Gourmet

Where to find it: Located by the Field of Dreams, near Dorton Arena and Gate 1.

A nicely fried doughnut-like pastry gives way to a surprisingly dense filling of coconut, nuts and pastry and a potentially too-subtle flavor of rum.

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Fried Rum Runner Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

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Drew Jackson writes about restaurants and dining for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun, covering the food scene in the Triangle and North Carolina.
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