WHAT IF I TOLD YOU you didn’t need to go to the State Fair of Texas to devour the foods from hell. Enter the gates, passing by the monolith of Big Tex, you will encounter a wagon-red doughnut. What is it? Is it cherry-flavored? Nope. Is it from the darkest deepest pit of the earth? Nope! The flavor of this shockingly red doughnut is the immolated-by-sugar taste of Big Red soda. The “Big Red Chicken Bread” hosts a fried chicken wing, perched over it like a demon in that famous Henry Fuseli painting. Instead of cataract-laden eyes of the Fallen One, it has sunglasses.
The foods of the State Fair of Texas are terrors. There are a few that stand out — an exploded taco inside a bag of Doritos is just genius — and then there are ... the others. One of the worst things I’ve personally eaten in my life here on planet Earth is the 2010 finalist of fried beer with yellow cheese sauce. It was a pretzel ravioli filled with weirdly warm — not hot — beer and a stagnant pool of cheese for dipping. It was disturbing to the bone. To repeat: There are many good things at the State Fair (what kind of evil creature wouldn't enjoy a good funnel cake?), then there are true horrors.
In the name of fried beer: The best way to eat batshit, breaded goods is to not eat at the state fair at all. The local joints — our long-standing bars and comfort food haunts — know what you want. Need a hot dog doused in chili? Find a local joint instead of the fair. Wild About Harry's has hot dogs topped with anything your nostalgia can dream up. Angry Dog has a chili dog that induces vision quests (multiple quests per hot dog). Our neighborhood spots need you to stay open, it turns out. Here are some ideas for how to eat like a raving, lunatic monster during the weirdest fried holiday of the year.
Begin with an appetizer of chicken-fried bacon at Street’s Fine Chicken. In a tangle of crunchy and salt, it shows up in porky ribbons. It comes with gravy because the best condiment is creamy, loaded-with-pepper gravy. If achieving the right crunch from fried breading is magic, Street’s is David damn Copperfield.
You can make your own food fair in East Dallas: Across the street from La Popular Tamale House, where doughy steam warms your body while you eat breakfast tacos, the better-than-Arby’s-roast-beef-chain Top Round is serving a hulking bloody mary. A cheeseburger slider is skewered in the drink, buttressed by tater tots. Pickletopia, the neighbor with the best name, provides acidic supplements: a habanero carrot, horseradish pickle, okra and green beans.
Disappear to a fried-palooza at the Holy Grail in Plano. The Holy Grail is a beautiful and dim joint for the lonely. The woods are painted as dark as our jaded souls. You can disappear in booths with tall backs at the Holy Grail. Through Oct. 20, the bar’s serving fair-style goods like deep-fried and candied bacon with maple-infused whipped cream, a fried peanut butter cheesecake and a Monte Cristo sandwich with brisket and peach preserves.
The classics are better outside the fair walls: Get a Frito pie at Slow Bone, for the love of all that is holy, and a late-night corny dog — jalapeños stud the batter; crunchy, dense and hot as a roaring fire — at Lakewood Landing. If you're thinking about leaving for Fort Worth: Heim Barbecue has a corn dog and macaroni and cheese with enough creamy viscosity to slow an incoming asteroid.
Forget the doughnut in Big Red icing for a minute: The chicken and waffle at Brick & Bones in Deep Ellum is brined, herb-bright chicken armored in crunch.
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The best October holiday in the universe has nothing to do with the State Fair of Texas: Halloween is the GOAT. The desserts at the state fair are one of the rings of hell written about by Italian poets. A better way to celebrate hellish-good chocolate is at Kate Weiser’s spot in Trinity Groves: Where else can you get a chocolate skull?
You’re probably still craving fried casing around a meat. Haystack’s chicken-fried burger is better than anything you’ll buy with tickets. It’s cloaked in a cream gravy — zapped by smoke from the bacon, then cooled from jalapeños. That’s all that tops the fried burger, and that’s all it needs. Like the fair, there are no micro greens, there are definitely no fruits or vegetables.
It’s the best type of fried indulgence: The kind where you’re eating local, as fresh as you can, without sacrificing comfort. And, of course, there is plenty of parking.