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Two men eat Biscoff cookie covered cheesecake slices on sticks. The man on the left has a bite in his mouth and looks at the man on the right, who stares directly into the camera with the cake held under his open mouth.
We drag Graham Elliot (right) and Felipe Armenta (left) into State Fair mania.

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Graham Elliot and Felipe Armenta’s Ultimate Food Guide to the State Fair of Texas

The celebrity chef and his business partner opened several new spots in Fort Worth. Their next challenge is judging our fair food.

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.

Bring a pair of people who are serious about food to the State Fair of Texas and what you’re going to get are evaluations that are a lot deeper than the average person’s take on deep-fried bites. That’s exactly why we asked Graham Elliot and Felipe Armenta of Far Out Hospitality Group in Fort Worth — the guys behind Le Margot and F1 Smokehouse, with numerous new restaurants on the way — to join Eater Dallas at the fairgrounds to evaluate Big Tex Choice Award winners (and flops) for 2024.

Deep-Fried Pho

A smiling woman hands a cardboard boat of food to a man across a concession stand at a fair. A second man stands behind them. They are all smiling.
Two men stand at a state fair concession stand counter, eating food from cardboard boats. They look down with serious faces as they eat. A camera lens is visible in the right side of the frame.
Deep fried pho, fashioned into an eggroll or burrito shape, is cut in half with both sides nestled into paper. To the right and in a line is a container of broth for dipping, siraccha, and hosin sauce.

The two picked this as their favorite savory food of the day — no surprise for the hands-down Big Tex Choice Awards in the Best Taste — Savory category.

“I think the idea of taking something like pho, that a lot of people don’t even know how to pronounce, but making it accessible by offering it deep fried is indicative of the State Fair’s vibe,” Elliot says. “It’s almost the gateway drug for people to be exposed to Vietnamese cuisine and really enjoy it — and hopefully get into the real stuff.”

“It’s unique and packs a lot of flavor,” Armenta says of the deep-fried pho. “It makes sense because it’s a hand-held food you can eat walking around.”

As for creator Michelle Le’s father’s pho — the inspiration for the fried version — Elliot says, “I thought that broth was incredible,” comparing it to a consomme that comes with the fried version for dipping, and is so transparent you could read through it.


An older Black woman in a cowboy hat talks to two men holding boot-shaped transparent glasses of a bright red drink garnished with fruit. They all stand in front of a concession stand at the state fair.
Celebrity chef Graham Elliot stands in front of a fair game with loads of colorful stuffed animals. He’s dressed all in black and waves a cowboy hat with his right hand. In his left, he holds a red drink in a clear plastic boot.
A man pours a red beverage into a clear plastic glass shaped like a cowboy boot that is filled with ice.

The duo met Ruth Hauntz, the 89-year-old reigning queen of the fair, and Elliot says he could spend all day listening to her stories.

“Refreshing!” Armenta declares her entry, a berry lemonade. “I like that it's not too sweet.”

“I think the fact that they had cucumber and mint in there — that alone is awesome. Throwing in the cherries and different berries is great. If this were carbonated somehow, it would be that much more refreshing,” Elliot says. “That bubbly effervescence when it’s 140 degrees would kick it up.”

Bourbon Banana Caramel Sopapillas

A woman in a bright yellow t-shirt is blurred in the background as she scoops marscapone on top of a cardboard boat filled with sopapillas.
Celebrity chef Graham Elliot looks serious as he uses a fork and knife to eat a dessert at the state fair. Another man is half in the frame to his right, also looking serious.
Two men in black t-shirts stand across a stainless steel counter with a food hall full of state fair food behind them, looking serious. They’re listening to another man in the front right of the frame speak. A woman in the front left also looks at him with a smile on her face.

“I think this is amazing. My favorite is the story behind [the dish] and how it captures the experience of the State Fair of Texas,” Elliot says of the Big Tex Choice Award winner for Most Creative. “The sopapilla with Mexican influence, the foster from New Orleans and Louisiana, that’s so cool.”

Armenta’s face lit up with delight when he took the first bite of this dish. “It reminded me of childhood,” Armenta says. “It’s breakfast and brunch-y on steroids. And the tiny dehydrated mascarpone was a great touch.”

Biscoff Delight

Graham Elliot takes a photo of a dessert on a stick with his iPhone. To the left, a man looks forward, ignoring the scene.
A man holds up a cheesecake on a stick and squirts a brown liquid on it while wearing black globes.
A man with a lot of tattoos on his arm holds up a slice of cheesecake on a stick with a bite taken out of it. It’s covered in caramel syrup and broken up Biscoff cookie bits. Under it sits a box that the dessert goes on.

The creator of Big Tex Choice Awards Best Taste — Sweet winner, Stephen El Gidi, has an Instagram-worthy product on his hands, so he built an Instagram wall in his booth.

“Another winner,” Armenta declares. “It’s so simple but so great with textures and flavors that are well-balanced.”

Elliot agrees. “With state fairs, you can get really silly,” he says. “Obviously the Biscoff won, but when we looked at his full menu, we were asking each other what we’d get. Every single one was something we’d like to try.”

Loaded Fries Pizza

Celebrity chef Graham Elliot takes a bite out of a pizza, with cheese pulling back to his mouth. Two other men stand behind him, looking on appreciatively.
A man’s hand holds a shaker and shakes seasoning onto a pizza covered with cheddar cheese and bacon bits.
A man’s hand holds a slice of pizza that he’s pulling away from a full pie below. The cheese on it stretches as he separates it.

“I feel like this is true fat boy food,” Elliot says. “Like you’re sitting on a couch at 2 a.m., maybe you’ve been smoking, and you’re watching Netflix and turn to your friend and say, ‘Dude, you know what I could eat right now? Pizza. I want ranch too. What about bacon? And dude, fries.’ This is something that someone created that’s indulgent. Even the dough was great, the crust was perfect.”

Armenta adds: “It’s the best of both worlds: potato skins meets pizza. Ooey-gooey, crispy, and savory.”

Sweet Encanto

A woman helps celebrity chef Graham Elliot as he tries to get a hold of a dessert at the state fair. They both stand behind the counter at a taco stand at the state fair.
Two men look very happy after taking a bite of a dessert at the state fair. They stand behind a concession counter, with a sign for a taco shop and a drawing of a sugar skull behind them.
A dessert at the state fair sits in a box with red checked paper. It is a wafer loaded with slices of peaches, kiwi, and strawberry on cream and sprinkled with coconut.

“Light, refreshing, and not over the top sweet,” Armenta says.

“Great ingredients, and the fact that they’re bringing the wafers in from Bogota? I’ve never had that before. I thought it might get chewy, but it gives that crunch and dissolves. The acidity in the fruit is...” Elliot trails off with a mesmerized shake of his head. “It's sweet, but not indulgent.”

“It’s a great palette cleanser after eating a bunch of fair food,” Armenta says.

The guys picked this as their favorite sweet bite and suggested it was good enough to be on a chef’s tasting menu.

Fernie’s Fried Cherry Pie in the Sky

A man holds a plastic plate with a fried pie and a container of Blue Bell ice cream that’s topped with whipped cream. A frozen cherry sits on the side.
Two men talk to an older woman who stands in between them. The man on the right holds a plate with a fried pie and ice cream on it.
Two men stand behind an orange counter inside at a state fair concession line. They’re marveling at a serving of fried pie with ice cream. A woman’s arms are visible in the foreground, as she gestures broadly.

Fernie’s Funnel Cakes is now run by her daughters, Christi Erpillo and Johanna McKee, and it was only fair funnel cakes stand for decades. “One, it’s got an amazing name,” Elliot says with a laugh. “Two, it’s got the Americana pulling on your heartstrings. Anything cherry pie and the ladies’ story about their mother Fernie and her funnel cakes — it’s beautiful, and I love when there’s a story behind things.”

“It’s one of the simpler dishes, but it’s classic,” Armenta says.

“With those cherries, they’re the nice tart ones and the crust it's in is almost a cobbler that uses salted butter. The sweet and salty, I thought that was great,” Elliot adds.

Turkey Ribs!

Two men stand on the customer side of an outdoor concession stand, breaking apart a piece of fried meat. A third man stands behind the counter, watching them with a smile. Two women are visible in the background, smiling.
A man breaks apart a piece of deep fried turkey that’s in a cardboard boat with blue checked paper. Another man’s right hand sits in the frame.

“I had no idea what a turkey rib was,” Elliot says with a laugh. “Turns out its the clavicle or collarbone of the turkey. I had no idea it was going to have that much meat on it.”

“This was very different,” Armenta says. “It wasn’t my favorite out of what we had today, but it is clever to do something no one has heard of.”

“The other thing is it's fried,” Elliot adds. “When I hear ribs, I’m immediately thinking smoked and glazed. If I waited in line and then found out what it was, I might think it was misleading. But I love the Thanksgiving twist with the cranberry and gravy dipping sauces.”

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