With more than 200 food stands and 70 foods on a stick, deciding what to eat and drink at the Iowa State Fair is one of the best (and most delicious) problems you can have. We’re here to help with our new list of Best Iowa State Fair Food and Drink, as voted by locals. From Pickle Dawgs to buckets of cookies, we’ve got everything for your foodie bucket list.
Pork Chop on a Stick
As the #1 pork producing state in the union, this dish perfectly encapsulates everything about the Iowa State Fair. Star of every obligatory, sleeves-rolled-up, political State Fair photo op, this flavorful, no frills offering delights in its simplicity and packs a protein punch that will help you rationalize all the other carbs and sugar on this list.
Find it at: Iowa Pork Producers Association – NE of Ag Building on Grand Avenue; Rock Island West of Pavilion
Pro tip: It’s hipster cousin, Pork Belly on a Stick, is a decadent change of pace, and can be found at the same vendors.
If you go to a fair and don’t get the corndog, were you really there? What’s left to say about this deep fried, foot-long symbol of deep-fried Americana? Something about a corndog at the fair just hits different.
Find it at: Turn around. There’s probably a corn dog stand right behind you.
Pro tip: Low key, the best thing we had at last year’s fair was the corn brat. A corndog brat hybrid? It works, and it’s next level. Find it at: Jada Concessions – North side of Grand Avenue, South of Susan Knapp; SW of Livestock Pavilion on Rock Island Avenue.
Bauder’s Ice Cream Bar
There is no shortage of options to satisfy your sweet tooth at the fair. A funnel cake? You do you, but you can quench that craving at any street fair. For an experience authentic to the Iowa State Fair, try Bauder’s Peppermint Bars; mouth-watering hunks of frozen peppermint ice cream sandwiched between layers of hot fudge and a crushed Oreo crust. There’s an “I scream” pun here to be made, but we’re busy wiping the drool off our keyboard.
Find it at: Bauder’s Ice Cream – SW side of Ag building
This bucket (or cup) of warm, fresh-out-of-oven mini chocolate chip cookie is so popular that the fair often sells them at different weekends throughout the year to sellout crowds. This crowd-pleaser is the cookie equivalent of a Marvel movie; everybody loves them and keeps coming back for more. Instead of staying for the end credits, you’re staying for the glass of cold milk.
Find it at: Barksdale’s Cookies – West of Grand Stand
Pickle wraps – or Iowa sushi as we like to call them – are a staple of every Iowa potluck ever. Here, they get the State Fair treatment; a whole dill pickle is wrapped in regular or spicy cream cheese, wrapped in ham or pastrami, and deep fried. This year, they introduce the new Dawghouse Reuben Sandwich, which we’ve sampled and can recommend with a full heart and full stomach.
Find it at: Dawghouse Concessions – North side of walk, on triangle
State Fair Lemonade
Much like the corndog, something about the State Fair transforms this otherwise everyday refreshment into something decidedly more delicious. Maybe it’s the copious amounts of sugar. Or the souvenir cup. Either way, we’re beyond counting calories at this point, so go ahead and supersize it.
Find it at: Just about everywhere.
Hot Beef Sundae
If your idea of dessert involves an extra helping of savory carbs rather than sweets, the hot beef sundae is here for you. Two scoops of mashed potatoes are smothered with tender roast beef and gravy, a sprinkling of shredded cheddar, cheese, and a red cherry tomato on top. Sundae Funday, indeed.
Find it at: Beef Promotions of Iowa – SE corner of Walnut Square
Super Chill Beer
This frosty beverage looks at Coors Light’s color activated cold labels and says, “hold my beer.” Chilled to a cool 27 degrees, but kept from freezing or turning slushy, it’s available in crowd pleasing favorites such as Coors, Miller, Bud, Busch, and Michelob. There’s no better way to beat the August heat than a cold beer (or two) that is about 70 degrees colder than the temperature outside.
Find it at: Steer and Stein – Grand Avenue (look for the huge 27 degree signage)
Pro tip: Feeling crafty? Hit up the Iowa Craft Beer Tent, West of the Jacobson building, for 48 taps of Iowa’s finest brews, and live music to boot.
Deep Fried Twinkie
Remember when deep fried candy bars were referenced as the pinnacle of fair food extravagance? Ah, simpler times. Now a veteran of the fair food scene, the deep fried twinkie has earned its stripes. Mix it up with a deep-fried brownie, deep fried cherry pie, or a fried Oreo. If they fry it, we’ll try it.
Find it at: Front side of Grandstand
Fried Cheese Curds
With apologies to the lactose intolerant, fried cheese curds are something that just about everyone can agree on. The only question is, are you a white cheddar or orange cheddar person? As long as the cheese has that gooey pull, we’re in. And these come from a Wisconsin vendor, so they’re practically obligated by law to be good.
Find it at: Hang Around Care – Camp 5 in Heritage Area
When you see someone walking around with a big paper plate of spiraled goodness, it’s one of two things: a funnel cake or grater taters. Homemade potato chips, sliced super thin, and fried up until super crispy, you can top them with cheese, bacon bits, jalapenos, or ranch. Motion to change the name to State Fair Nachos?
Find it at: TNT Concessions – West of Anne and Bill Riley Stage
Looking for something a bit lighter, but just as delicious as its fried brethren? Go for the pillowy soft bao buns; steamed buns with protein wrapped inside a sweet, white dough. Like a more fun version of a dumpling. New this year is the pork belly bao bun, with melt in your mouth pork belly, and some cucumber to add a little crunch.
Find it at: Saigonias Cuisine – NW side of Livestock Pavilion
For a full list of all the food vendors, click here.
The fair is all about extravagance and nothing says YOLO like the lobster roll at JR’s Southpork Ranch, which was the media darling and fan favorite of the fair last year. The $29 price tag didn’t deter nearly 5,000 fairgoers from lining up out the door to get their hands on the bulky, sweet lobster claw meat served in a buttered and toasted brioche bun. In fact, it was so popular that Manhattan Deli offered it for a limited time after the fair, for those who missed out.
Find it at: JR’s Southpork Ranch
Pro tip: If the $29 lobster roll is a bit rich for your blood, try this year’s Bacon BLT Roll, with sizzling bacon, crisp lettuce, fresh tomatoes and a secret sauce on the brioche roll. Clocking in at a more wallet friendly $15
Best Vegetarian Options
Mexican Grilled Corn on the Cob
Find it at: Moonlighting Concessions – North of Varied Industries Building, SW Corner of Livestock Pavilion
Caprese Salad on a Stick
Find it at: Ag Building and Cultural Center Courtyard
Find it at: Parlo Pizza – on the hill by Grandfather’s Barn
Deep Fried Veggies and Vegan Corndogs
Find it at: Veggie-Table – North of Varied Industries Building, West of Main Entrance
For more healthy options, find the whole list here.
New Fair Foods
Everyone looks forward to what crazy concoctions the State Fair will come up with each year, and this year there are some doozies. Here are what were voted the Top 3 New Foods to look out for this year.
OMG Chicken Sandwich
A chicken breast battered and covered in corn flakes, fried and served on a glazed donut, topped with bacon and maple syrup. We’ve already said enough.
Find it at: Grand Avenue, South of Susan Knapp Ampitheater
Pork Picnic in a Cup
A plastic cup is layered with pulled pork, baked beans, coleslaw, a drizzle of BBQ sauce, and garnished with brown sugar pork belly. Our childhood picnics weren’t like this, but we’re here for it.
Find it at: Iowa Pork Tent – Grand Avenue, East of Old Mill
Calling all carb lovers. An extra-large russet potato, layered with chopped brisket, pulled pork, bacon brisket mac and cheese, sour cream, and butter. Is this even legal? Can feed a family of four. Bring your stretchy pants.
Find it at: Rib Shack – South of Anne and Bill Riley Stage
Find a full list of all the new Iowa State Fair foods (with a helpful map), click here.