For many, the county fair is a distant, deep-fried memory, bound to childhood or hometowns left behind after moving to D.C. Reviving that memory can be difficult in a city packed with small plates rather than funnel cakes. But when the need for fried candy bars and meat on a stick calls, county fairs are there to help.
For the next few weeks, Washingtonians can satisfy their fair food cravings with one big dietary splurge before summer officially ends. The usual edible suspects will be in attendance, including funnel cakes, gyros, skewered meats, and popcorn, but a few fairs stand out from the crowd with beer gardens, footlong calorie bombs, popular local food trucks, and specific dishes that have acquired a fanatic following.
D.C. diners can skip town and make the most of county fair food season at these stops.
Date: Aug. 17-21
Location: Thomas Jefferson Community Center
Celebrating its 40th year, this is the closest fair option for district eaters and arguably has the best food lineup. Hit the Royal Creamery and Coffee booth for pizza cones, stuffed with sausage, pepperoni, and cheese in a dough cone. Give the Tornado Sundae a whirl, which tops ice cream with funnel cake mix, whipped cream, and chocolate. Other standout options include Tailgater Toby BBQ Cafe, which slathers mac and cheese with eaters' choice of barbecue meat, jalapeños, and crumbled potato chips. Ben's Chili Bowl will also be serving up its famous half-smoke.
Date: Aug. 12-20
Location: 501 Perry Pkwy, Gaithersburg, Md.
While the food vendor list is extensive, there's an undeniable love for cheese at the 62-acre fairgrounds. In fact, an entire booth and set of events are dedicated to cheese. Among the gooey highlights: An annual "cutting" of a 500-pound block of Wisconsin cheddar, the Maryland Cheese Guild's homemade cheese contest, and the amateur cheese carving competition, where participants have 30 minutes to transform a two-pound block of cheddar into art.
While eaters may not be able to eat the sculptures, they can hit The Big Cheese for its famous grilled cheese sandwiches for sale. Lovers of deep-fried foods will also enjoy cheese nuggets, fried cheese on a stick, or the fried mac and cheese from popular food truck CapMac. General admission to this cheesehead haven is $10.
Location: 10624 Dumfries Rd., Manassas, Va.
This county fair is the largest in Virginia with an equally huge selection of food attractions. Among the options is Mama's Donut Bites, the sweet tooth food truck specializing in sugary mini doughnuts. While Mama's does roll into D.C. occasionally, it's far more prevalent in Northern Virginia--and a perfect snack to nibble on during events like the demolition derby. Entrance into this fair will cost eaters $10.
Dates: Sept. 16-24
Location: 797 E Patrick St., Frederick, Md.
What was once a cattle show in 1822 has now become one of Maryland's oldest and packed fairs. Eaters with an extra large appetite may want to conquer the footlong mozzarella stick, while others will follow throngs of admirers to Hemp's Meats, a family-owned company that's been in business for 164 years. Frequent fairgoers tend to get either Hemp's roast pit beef or pulled beef barbecue sandwich with a side of fries and creamy cole slaw ($11). Wash everything down with a local Flying Dog brew in the fair's buzzing beer garden. Entrance will cost attendees $8.