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All the Best Eats at the San Diego County Fair

Food critic Troy Johnson joins a panel of judges to pick the winner of the 2024 Fairtastic Food Competition
San Diego County Fair, 2024
Photo Credit: Emily Heft

For podcasts like Happy Half Hour, events like the fair are basically our Christmas. Yeah, we love the rides, the activations, the camaraderie, the merriment. But to be totally honest, we’re here for the food. 

Dip us in corn batter and fry us. Dust some powdered sugar on our heads. Load us up with fatty, drippy, sloppy, sweet and salty goods. This episode, food critic Troy Johnson and the crew hit up the San Diego County Fair, and they brought along Z90.3’s Rick Morton to yuk it up while they test the Fairtastic Food Competition finalists. We also asked Lori Sutherland, who owns fair favorite Tasti Chips, to weigh in.

But first, here are some basic facts about San Diego’s biggest annual party: It’s the county’s longest running event, established in 1880 in National City, though it has been held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds since 1936. It has nearly 100 food booths, 80 rides, and it re-debuts with a new theme each year. 

This year’s theme is “Let’s Go Retro!” which focuses on all things nostalgia. In that vein, guests can also use their tickets to access the Toyota Summer Concert Series for anyone with a same-day pass as an upcoming show—highlighted acts this year include Little Big Town, Ludacris, and, for a blast back into the present, Yung Gravy.

But back to the food. For fair foodies, every year conjures up the same question: What’s your plan, what are you going to eat? Troy’s plan requires strategically hitting certain food groups at certain points in your eating journey to optimize digestion, so you can then eat more food. 

We brought in some friends to judge, like we do every year, and whittled it down to 18 finalists after trying each submission.

Photo Credit: Emily Heft

The winner? Only one vendor can come out on top every year, and even though the competition is really to highlight the variety of mom-and-pop makers, we have to crown someone the best. The 2024 Fairtastic Food Competition winner is the Disco Pop Shake from TJ’s Ice Cream, which was entered in the “sweet” category.

Here are the other five winners by category:

  • THEME — Savory: Spam Fries by Boba King
  • NEW — Sweet: Cap’n Crunch Berry Chicken Sandwich by Biggy’s
  • NEW – Savory: Hot Honey Funnel Cake Chicken Sandwich by Funnel Cakes by Chicken Charlie’s
  • WOW – Sweet: Surfing USA Party Shake by Fruit Caboose
  • WOW – Savory: Spicy Korean Corn Dog by West Coast Weenies.

And the People’s Choice, selected by our Taster’s Panel was the Candied Bacon-Wrapped Pork Belly Bites by Bacon A Fair. We’ll see you at the fair and next week on HHH.

By Jackie Bryant

Jackie is San Diego Magazine's content strategist. Prior to that, she was its managing editor. Before her SDM career, she was a long-time freelance journalist covering cannabis, food/restaurants, travel, labor, wine, spirits, arts & culture, design, and other topics. Her work has been selected twice for Best American Travel Writing, and she has won a variety of national and local awards for her writing and reporting.

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