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An Honest Ranking of the 10 State Fair of Texas Food Finalists

We ate them all so you don’t have to, but you still can if you want to

A slice of cheesecake is covered in brown sauce and cookie crumbles. To the right is a bottle of beer.
Biscoff Delight, this years pick for Best Taste — Sweet.
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.

Eating every new food in the Big Tex Choice Awards each year is challenging. First of all, it’s a lot of food. Second, it can get pricey. Third, just tracking down the booths where each of these dishes are served is a full-day project.

Everyone wants to eat the winners, which this year include Best Taste – Savory winner Deep Fried Pho by Michelle Le, Best Taste – Sweet Biscoff Delight by Stephen El Gidi, and Most Creative winner Bourbon Banana Caramel Sopapillas by Cody & Lauren Hays. But among the other finalists, what should you try?

We break down our rankings of the finalists in this year’s battle to be the most outstanding new food at the State Fair of Texas below — and our number one was not tops for the celebrity judges on this year’s panel.

Not ranked: Biscoff Delight

It’s a winner, but we are not ranking it because the vendor ran out before we grabbed one. If you remember the Peanut Butter Paradise from last year, you may already know the vendors were worried about sourcing enough honeybuns to make the dish and meet demand. Will this vendor face the same issue with Biscoff cookies? Don’t leave it to chance if this is the one thing you want to try at the fair. Go early, both in the fair season and the day, to ensure you get it.

9. Loaded Fries Pizza

The way some of the Big Tex finalists are described is so far from what they are that it is striking. This one is the prime example this year. It reads like you’ll get a slice of pizza with loaded fries. What you get is a slice of pizza that tastes like it has a baked potato on top of it. Given the texture of its crust, that’s a lot of carbs in your mouth all at once. It requires a beer, water, or something with more heft than lemonade to help wash it down. While it tastes fun, it was more of a take one bite for the novelty, and that’s enough moment.

8. Fernie’s Fried Cherry Pie in the Sky

Despite this ranking, this is a fine fried cherry pie. One of the celebrity judges knocked the crust, but they were wrong. This has a yummy crust with nice flourishes. It’s a perfect, tiny, hand-held pie with a nicely decorated cup of ice cream. It’s worth having for a classic fair food moment. But it is less creative than the other entries.

7. Trail-Ade

The sole drink in this year’s lineup, a mix of fruit-flavored lemonade and cucumbers, is also good. It lacks any particular flavor punch, however. It’s just a cold drink in a boot-shaped cup, and you’d do just as well by grabbing an old-fashioned lemonade.

6. Deep Fried Cheesy Crab Tater Bites

This is a fun bite. Mixing crab meat and shredded potato into a tater tot-like dish works beautifully. The Cajun spices are lovely. But it’s drowning in too much of the cheesy Cajun sauce. If the dish’s composition were a little more even, it would have done better on our ranking and in the finals this year.

5. Sweet Encanto

This tasted so much better than it sounded. The fresh fruit this vendor used was at the perfect ripeness. The sweetened condensed milk and caramel dulce de leche didn’t overpower the fruit. The main problem with it is that the wafer is tasteless and also not an easy to maneuver vehicle for the heft of the toppings it’s carrying. If the vendors had fixed that, they would have had a winner.

4. Bourbon Banana Caramel Sopapillas

This sharable dessert took home the Most Creative award, and it was tops among the sweet options. It comes in a large, sharable serving and is rich and decadent. Celebrity judge Richard Chamberlain described it as “Bananas Foster with a sopapilla,” which pretty well nails it. If there is a fair food one should take their time with and savor, this is that food. Also, have water on hand — it’s really sweet.

3. OX’cellent Soul Roll

This is one big bite in a tiny package. Some celebrity judges complained that they would have liked to see more of the simmered beef oxtail in this eggroll-style dish, and after looking at it, that’s an easy request to understand. However, the beef is so rich and flavorful that more of it would be overpowering. What needs to happen is a thinner layer of fried dough between the spring roll wrapper and the meat. The garlic chili sauce it’s served with is excellent, while the hush puppy was utterly tasteless.

2. Deep Fried Pho

This dish was a clear winner for the celebrity judges, and it was easy to understand why after taking a bite. This was easily the most complex of the finalists, savory or sweet. It also closely captured the taste of actual pho, thanks to its broth for dipping. All the spice one desires can be added with sriracha and jalapenos, which come with the pho rolls. The only reason it’s not in first place on this list is because the serving we got was not fresh out of the fryer. It was a little cold and oily despite sitting under heat lamps. We strongly recommend only eating this fair food when it’s freshly prepared.

A deep fried turkey rib is coated with sauce and served in a boat with fries. Two dips sit to the left, and a can of beer sits behind.
Our pick for the don’t miss food at this year’s State Fair of Texas are the Turkey Ribs.
State Fair of Texas

And in first place — Turkey Ribs

To great surprise, this was the bite we were still thinking about and wanting more of hours later, well after tasting day at the fairgrounds was over. The turkey in this was so moist, and the fried crust was evocative of chicken fried steak. We had it holiday style, with giblet gravy and the “secret salsa recipe,” which is a variation on cranberry sauce that is clearly canned but jazzed up enough to be delicious. Then we fantasized about it all night despite being full after sampling these dishes. In a shocking twist, the turkey was unforgettable.

The State Fair of Texas opens on Friday, September 29 and will run through Sunday, October 22, 2023.