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Deep Fried Pho Leads the State Fair of Texas Food Winners

A covered cheesecake on a stick and an intense sopapilla are also winners

In a cardboard boat, an eggroll-looking food holds beef slices, noodles, and bean sprouts. Next to it are jalapenos, a slice of lime, and a sprig of cilantro. Two dipping options of broth and siracha and hosin sauce are to the left. Behind is a can of beer. State Fair of Texas
Courtney E. Smith is the editor of Eater Dallas. She's a journalist of 20 years who was born and raised in Texas, with bylines in Pitchfork, Wired, Esquire, Yahoo!, Salon, Refinery29, and more. When she's not writing about food, she co-hosts the podcast Songs My Ex Ruined.

Deep fried pho is the Big Tex Choice Award for Best Taste — Savory at the State Fair of Texas. And based on the judge’s reactions, it was no contest.

Of the celebrity judges for the 2023 awards, Richard Chamberlain of Chamberlain’s Steak & Chop House and baker Sumera Syed (Bake It ‘Til You Make It on Max and Holiday Baking Championship on the Food Network) are the two food experts — the rest are an array of local broadcast personalities, influencers including Zach and Tee, and Brad Baston, the co-founder of Karbach Brewing Company, who did the beer pairings for the dishes. Among the eight judges, five asked to hold on to the pho so they could keep eating it — a distinction no other savory bite managed.

A slice of cheesecake is covered in brown sauce and cookie crumbles. To the right is a bottle of beer. State Fair of Texas

The Best Taste — Sweet winner is Biscoff Delight. It seemed like a slam dunk from the celebrity judges’ reaction, with Syed proclaiming, “I want to bathe in this.” Chamberlain roundly praised it, despite being a self-proclaimed cheesecake hater, for incorporating crunch into the smooth cheesecake and for the lightness of the cheesecake.

Eater Dallas heard from the chef at Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer out of New York City, which recently opened a location in Victory Park, that he’d like to collaborate with the creator of this dish on one of the chain’s over-the-top milkshakes based on it.

Sopapillas sit on a red and white checked napkin, topped with bananas and caramel. A bottle of beer sits to the left. State Fair of Texas

And finally, the Most Creative winner is bourbon banana caramel sopapillas. The massive, sharable dish earned raves from Chamberlain, who compares it to Bananas Foster with a sopapilla and says, “This is incredible, this might be on Chamberlain’s menu at some point.”

The State Fair of Texas will open on Friday, September 29, and runs through Sunday, October 22.

Update: Monday, August 28, 2023: 7:55 a.m.: A correction was made to one of the shows Syed was featured on and Zach and Tee were added to the list of judges.