By the time Dallas developers made plans to open their version of the State Fair in 1886 — to promote state agriculture with competitive exhibitions of livestock along with displays of farming equipment and various products — the Bayou City of Houston had attempted and failed to capture the state’s attention for more than a few years.
Coincidentally, in April the following year, Fort Worth’s interest in fairs and expositions came by way of another group of developers, headed by iconic figure William Madison “Gooseneck” McDonald and six other businessmen: B.B. Johnson, S.W. Woodard, Z.C. Brooks, J.D. Johnson, T.W. Wilbourne and John Milledge. The Colored Lone Star State Fair was chartered in April 1887 and was quite impressive, especially considering it was organized a mere 20 years or so after African Americans were emancipated in Texas.
Sadly, Fort Worth’s bid to launch such an event was no more successful than Houston’s. However, over the past 137 years, the State Fair of Texas has remained close by — and grown significantly since the days of its storied past. What began as two rival amusement parks — Texas State Fair and Dallas Exposition — soon combined after disputes from the founders subsided. Today, visitors meander through Fair Park, navigating ranks of fried food vendors, midway games and thrilling rides.
Although the fair has changed over the years to be more inclusive of attractions, vendors and visitors alike, one thing that remains consistent is the expectation that you’ll find some of the best and most creative food and drink options during the extravagant affair. Each year, millions descend onto the fairgrounds for three weeks in September and October — and one of the most popular activities remains tasting each of the iconic fair foods.
But now, you do not have to wait until the leaves begin to change colors to enjoy these treats; some of your favorite fair foods can be purchased year-round. Funnel cakes, corn dogs, snow cones, and turkey legs are just a few examples of items that don’t require you to buy tickets or pay parking fees to enjoy them. Check out this list of Tarrant County food and beverage businesses you can support if you’re in the mood for food with State Fair flair.
Funnel Cakes & More, 2430 North Davis Dr., Arlington
As the name implies, this place has a well-rounded menu that offers many of your favorite fair foods in one stop. Deep-fried Oreos in funnel cake batter, or Snickers and PBJ dusted with powdered sugar and whipped cream, are at your fingertips. If your tastes are more geared towards savory, try their bacon-wrapped hot dogs or double bacon cheeseburgers.
Kinsley’s Ice Cream & Funnel Cake Parlor, 2101 Altamesa Blvd., Suite 101, Fort Worth
The entire menu is homemade, from decadent ice cream flavors to funnel cakes. With creative “Southern-inspired” flavors such as (pecan) praline or Big Red as well as traditional chocolate and vanilla, you can add more fun to the deep-fried treat by adding toppings such as Fruity Pebbles, Strawberry Cheesecake and more. According to the restaurant’s Instagram, owner Tamika Willis-Mitchell named this local spot after daughter Kinsley, who was born with Down syndrome, as a reminder that she can do anything in life that she puts her mind to. Fort Worth Foodies have given shout-outs to this spot several times.
Ice Me Out Snowcones, 4001 Sycamore School Road, Fort Worth
They had me at a “hollowed-out pineapple stuffed with juicy flavored snow cones.” A recent highlight for this yummy spot on Instagram @BigDawg.TV, kicked off a lot of social media attention for the small, family-owned business. Because of this, coupled with the outstanding flavors, wait times on a busy day can be up to 45 minutes. Book them for private events or call ahead and ask to arrange a curbside pick-up.
Funky Monkey Shaved Ice, several locations in Aledo, Granbury and Weatherford
This popular local chain has gourmet flavors that you must read to believe as well as an eclectic assortment of regular and sugar-free options. Bahama Mama, Almond Joy and Cake Batter flavors are menu options.
Two Hands Seoul Fresh Corn Dogs, 4800 S. Hulen St., Suite 2135, Fort Worth
Korean-style corn dogs are fast becoming a strong contender in the category of batter-dipped sausages. This chain started in Los Angeles and has spread across the country and into Tarrant County. Combos boast half sausage and mozzarella, or cheddar-covered with crispy potato cubes or plant-based sausage options.
Kincaid’s Hamburgers, several locations in Fort Worth, Southlake, and Arlington
Long time local fave, Kincaid’s doesn’t just do burgers right. The corn dogs are good, too! Charles Kincaid’s Grocery and Market originally opened in 1946 in Fort Worth. Almost 20 years later the grocer started making hamburgers on a small griddle. Today, the menu has expanded to include an assortment of burgers, hot dogs and corn dogs.
Smoke-a-holics BBQ, 1417 Evans Ave, Fort Worth
Yes. Another Smoke-a-holics reference. Trust me, I tried not to… but they just happen to have a phenomenon called “stuffed turkey legs” available on Tuesdays. You can get your leg doused in cheesy macaroni, dressing or dirty rice and sausage. Check their social media or websites for when legs are available.
Thrills Turkey Legs, 1904 Baird Farm Road, Arlington
This spot offers the “Plain Jane” leg, which is like the turkey legs sold at the State Fair, but the stuffed variations are out of this world. If you’re down to try something new and looking for a huge array of either stuffed turkey legs or shrimp, then check out this Arlington establishment. The menu includes decadent shrimp and lobster, etouffee or shrimp alfredo as well.
Honorable mention: Frito pie
Hickory Stick BBQ, 900 E Enon Ave, Fort Worth
Not only is this one of my all-time favorite places to grab barbecue, but they also make some spectacular Frito pies — with brisket, of course. No fair or carnival is complete without a nod to this historic dish that dates to the 1940s in Texas. A bed of Frito chips, traditionally layered with chili, cheese and onions can be easily altered to include your favorite proteins. What Hickory Stick does with this dish is outstanding and deserves praise, as do their many other Texas favorites.
Deah Mitchell writes about more than food. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.