San Diego County Fair: It’s Like Deja-vu, All Over Again

It’s that same time of the year again: fair season. San Diego County Fair officially starts on June 11 running until July 5 at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

The theme of this year’s fair is Taste the Fun with guest food-lebrities the likes of Guy Fieri (June 19). Since my full time-job is in journalism, I had the opportunity to attend their media party and try the food. I’ve attended a few times in the past. It’s been several years since I’ve been to the San Diego Fair. Nothing much has changed over the years except the name in 2002 when the name changed from the Del Mar Fair. I catch myself calling it the Del Mar Fair still. It will always be the Del Mar Fair to me but I guess changing it to the San Diego County Fair encompasses the entire region. Makes sense since according to Wikipedia,it was the fifth largest fair in the country in 2007 with an average of 50,000 people passing through every day. In 2009, it broke attendance records with 1.3 million people. Impressive.

"Taste the Fun"
When you first enter the grounds, there is an archway of two chefs just in case you forgot or didn’t know what the theme was. It’s pretty hard to see the words “Taste the Fun” with all the food images scattered about.

Since this was a media party, there were no kids running into you with sticky hands from cotton candy. Instead, grownups with alcohol. A good thing the rides were closed.

Fair mascots
As for the theme, Taste the Fun, they had several fair mascots running around during the party wearing chefs hats asking you to try their imaginary food. There was also a booth of people doing food cooking challenges ala Top Chef.

The food itself is regular fair offerings. A lot of deep-fried stuff. It’s only lately that I’m discovering that county fairs are trying to outdo themselves year after year regarding the outrageousness of the food — usually what can be deep-fried. This night did not disappoint.

Deep friend cheeseburger
They had the usual suspects: corn dogs, Australian battered potatoes, fish and chips, cheese curds, etc. And some new ones, at least to me: deep-fried hamburgers and pork chop on a stick. They didn’t have any to try at the party so I can’t report.

Chicken Charlies
Fried food heaven

What I did try fell into the realm of the Oil food group. Charlie Chickens was very popular, offering an array of deep-fried “delights:” frog legs, chicken, avocados, Twinkies and Pop Tarts. In addition, they advertise that it’s “totally fried.”

I tried the deep-fried Klondike ice cream bar. I was told to eat it before my grilled chicken kabob. I wasn’t ready for deep-fried ice cream and didn’t listen to him — I actually needed to eat something non-fried first before digging into an oil-packed dessert. I thought I was powering through the kabob fast but apparently not quite fast enough. Biting into the Klondike bar was a melty mess. They should have really named it a deep-fried milkshake.

Deep fried Klondike bar
The Klondike bar was still slightly chilled but melted the entire way through — there was no ice cream in sight. I suspect the Klondike bar was fried in the same batter as the rest of the food items because some bites were salty. I can’t imagine this being a refreshing dessert on a sweltering fair day. Give me a shave ice any day.

Heart Attack Cafe
Apparently in direct competition with Chicken Charlies is the Heart Attack Cafe. Look! A photo of a nurse with defibrillator paddles and a heart falling into a deep fryer! We must be at the right place. Some of the menu items: deep-fried butter in both garlic and cinnamon sugar flavor, chocolate covered bacon and the “Widow Maker” garlic fries (fried in oil with bacon drippings). While Charlie Chicken touted all their things are totally fried, Heart Attack Cafe’s mantra is “fortified with butter.” I’m actually surprised they didn’t make you sign a waiver at the time of purchase.

Tater Twisters
Another nosh of note was the Texas Tater Twisters available with or without a deep-fried hot dog in the middle. A bit difficult to eat but an interesting concept.

Churro "fries"
Surprisingly good were the churro “fries.” I don’t know how authentic they were, despite claims (see photo above). They came with a sweet cream cheese dipping sauce.

There were some non-fried foods for a healthier alternative — a little difficult to find amidst the tanks of oil. Aside from the grilled chicken kabob from Chicken Charlies, there were also various stations selling grilled corn and peppers. Most food items run under $10 but can quickly add up. The San Diego County Fair is offering a Taste the Fair pass every Tuesday where fairgoers can purchase sample-sized portions for only $2. A pretty good deal without overdosing on one item.

The San Diego County Fair starts up this Friday and is closed Mondays except for July 5. Happy fair season!

Related: Orange County Fair

21 thoughts on “San Diego County Fair: It’s Like Deja-vu, All Over Again

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  1. Pingback: Doug
  2. I love trying new food at the fair every year. I can’t wait. Sad about the klondike bar..I was thinking of trying that. I don’t remember the Heart attack cafe, is it new? Deep fried butter really doesn’t sound appealing to me..

  3. Mmm, those churros look good! I’m hoping to pop in and enter the cake competition on the 20th so I’ll have to give them a try!

  4. JennJenn–
    I think Paula Deen was behind the counter serving up the food.

    I haven’t been in recent years so I don’t know if Heart Attack Cafe is new or not.

    I’m sure you’ll pull in a few awards with your cake design. Good luck!

  5. @kirbie I don’t think the Heart Attack Cafe is new – I remember the paper mentioning that the chocolate-covered bacon was back again. So, I assume the same vendor sold it last year, although I don’t remember it.

    And, I still find myself calling it the Del Mar Fair. It’s a tough habit to break, especially since I’ve gone every year since I was a kid. And I love the fair — I just want to stuff my face with deep-fried food, drag my oil-bloated body around the house and garden buildings, and check out small farm animals, oddly talented children at the various entertainment stages, and the weird collections of crap people have (it’s in the hobby building).

    And did I mention the people watching? Really, this is like the OLYMPICS of people watching, especially when someone is trying to eat some gargantuan thing without getting messy. Anyway, I’m just looking forward to the fair – great preview, too!

  6. I’m going to the fair on Tuesday and I’m trying to figure out what “new” items I want to try. I didn’t try the chocolate covered bacon last year… I might do it this year. And what’s up with the deep fried butter? I can’t wrap my head around that one. Do they put it on other stuff or does it come by itself? Weird.

  7. You aroused my curiosity about the Heart Attack Cafe. I like the name. I sure wouldn’t mind going to that food fair once a year. If only San Diego were an hour’s drive from Montreal. Ah, can’t have it all. Those photos are hilarious.
    Glad you’re still blogging Darlene. I’ve been busy and haven’t been blogging much of late.

  8. OMG – the Australian battered potatoes are awesome! we couldn’t even finish it! Fried everything is pretty much Fair Food, eh! Ihaven’t been to the fair in 7 years and I still call it the Del Mar Fair even tho’ it’s the San Diego Fair now…I love looking at the collections and trying all kinds of junk food!

  9. Lorena–
    My body after the fair was definitely “oil-bloated” — I had to take a shower after the party.

    I expect you to report back on the deep-fried butter. Have fun at the fair on Tuesday!

    Thank you for visiting! I wish Montreal was an hour drive away from San Diego too.

    I have to mentally prepare to go to the fair. Parking alone causes me to panic. Passing by La Jolla and seeing fair parking for the fair is ridiculous! I hope you have a chance to visit again soon.

  10. Deep fried Oreos are my favorite deep fried fair food. Yum! But, as with all the fried fair food, never buy from a vendor that has some they made a half hour ago sitting under heat lamps for you. I wonder if the Klondike bars were just soft, not melty, right out of the fryer? I might have to try them if they’re at the fairs here this summer.

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