Fair Food Scramble 2019: Best Food at the Sonoma County Fair

Move over moco loco and shove off funnel cakes, because the undisputed must-have eats at this year’s Sonoma County Fair (August 1-11) are the Meat Lover’s Fries from Stuffie’s Char-Broiler.

Move over moco loco and shove off funnel cakes, because the undisputed must-have eats at this year’s Sonoma County Fair (August 1-11) are the Meat Lover’s Fries from Stuffie’s Char-Broiler.

In a unanimous vote, five Santa Rosa Junior College Culinary students this week named the meat-topped fries as the hands-down favorite after trying nearly a dozen new dishes. With highly-educated palates, the students were selected to cast a fresh light on the annual stuff-your-face-silly event. The goal: To find the ultimate culinary delight from among dozens of this year’s fair food vendors.

Stefan Rubin eats up a chicken wing on the opening day of the Sonoma County Fair in Santa Rosa on Thursday, August 1, 2019. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

Over three excruciatingly delicious hours Thursday, melty cheese was dripped, rice was strewn and forks were poked willy-nilly into plates of food ranging from jerk chicken and hibiscus juice to teriyaki ribs and Flamin’ Hot Cheeto-covered french fries. Spending a total of $196, the team was focused on “new to the fair” foods that piqued their interest.

Nothing was able to stand up to the meat-topped fries, according to the exacting expectations of the students.

“With these fries, everyone’s at the party,” said Neal Wilson, 34, of Santa Rosa on the opening day of the fair.

“You have chicken, beef, pork and sausage,” he said of the book-sized box of crispy french fries, topped with chopped meat, a drizzle of gravy and a dollop of sour cream.

“For $11 that’s so worth it. They’re justing banging,” Wilson said.

Churro fights break out at the Sonoma County Fair 2019. Heather Irwin/PD

Nora Meas, 20, of Santa Rosa agreed, saying, “They’re meaty, but not too meaty. It’s got a great sauce and just a great mouth-feel.”

They assessed whether the oil was fresh in the fryers (on some yes, others, not so much); whether there was enough teriyaki sauce on the Maui Wowie ribs; or whether the Flaming Hot Cheetos should have been dusted atop the canned nacho cheese fries rather than scattered on top. Dusting won.

Coming in a close second to the fries was newcomer Reggae Rasta, with a plate of jerk chicken, plantains, rice and salad.

“I love the sauce,” said Jessica Crumpton, 33, of Santa Rosa. “

Coming in third, was a hollowed-out pineapple with ribs, rice and coleslaw from Ricardo’s Hawaiian Feast. The group loved the sticky ribs and bold flavor. The weight and waste of the half pineapple was concerning, however.

“I got stuck on the pineapple,” said Stefan Rubin, 35, Santa Rosa. “I would change it up and put more teriyaki sauce on the rice,” he said. The group agreed that the compostable pineapple bowl was eco-friendly.

Here are some other fair food hits and misses:

Flamin’ Hot Cheeto Fries (Garlicky’s Crazy Fries): “You could make that for $2 at Seven-11 with nachos,” said Wilson.

Jalapeño Cheddar Curly Fries (The Giant Curly Fry): “It’s all about like being at the movie theater with that nacho sauce. It’s not great (cold) but it will feed a lot of people,” said Rubin. “But you gotta eat them hot because they went from warm to not warm pretty fast.”

Loco Moco (Ricardo’s Hawaiian Feast): “It’s not bad. It’s just not good,” Crumpton said.

Al Pastor Queso Fresco Salad (Pepe’s): “I want to put cinnamon and sugar on the tortilla bowl,” said Samara Ibarra, 42, of Santa Rosa.

Crepes with strawberry gelato at the Sonoma County Fair. Heather Irwin/PD

Crepes (Crepes, Waffles and Beignets): Strawberry gelato, whipped cream and sugar.

– Churros (Churro Cart): When not using them as swords, the crew loved the crispy texture and fillings that included Oreo cookie, strawberry and caramel.

Ever practical about food waste, the culinary students had a few ideas for their fair food leftovers.

“California Nachos with beans, Flamin’ Hot Cheeto dust, rice, jalapeños and cheddar sauce,” said Wilson.

“I’d do Fair Latkes. I’d shred the leftover potatoes and make potato pancakes with shredded meat and cheese sauce,” said Crumpton.