Maybe your idea of mealtime doesn't involve thousands of sweaty, perambulating, none-too-svelte, foreign-to-you bodies, rank with fryer grease, B.O., street debris, stale beer, and that singular sticky funk that accumulates on little kids' hands after cotton candy, mini donuts, a few back-of-the hand nose wipes, a trip to the bathroom, and an almost-puke-inducing Ferris Wheel ride.
Maybe waiting in line for 43 minutes for an unidentifiable flip-flop-shaped glob of protein covered in old fryer grease for the low, low price of nine dollars isn't your bag.
Maybe paying $13 of your hard-won ducats before tasting a single grain of cinnamon sugar is an affront to everything your penny-wise and practical, sturdy and stoic Nordic ancestors have taught you.
The reasons to love the Great Minnesota Get Together— the llama costume contest, the church diners, Priscilla the monkey woman— are many. The reasons to hate it are potentially greater still (see above).
So if you've got a mad hankering for a sizzling tub of meat beneath dough, but you're not willing to put up with the drama, here are 11 spots doing food better than the fair, or at least providing an air-conditioned and civilized place to eat something damn close.
Happy fair season, people. It's almost halfway over.
If you like: Tom Thumb Mini Donuts
Try: Chef Shack Indian Spiced Mini Donuts
These are so famous they're by now almost better known than the original, and it's never a bad idea to revisit Chef Shack for their twist on the standard mini-donut. Indian spices are applied with the faintest whiff, the merest dust, almost more of an idea than an application. But this departure makes all the difference, like French fries with, rather than without, salt. You'll never look at Tom Thumb and his fey little feather cap the same way again.
If you like: Corn dogs
Try: Uncle Franky's
For this classic, it's best to visit the specialists. Uncle Franky's and The Wienery have long enjoyed a friendly rivalry over who does dogs best. Both are cluttered, beloved dives where expertly prepared hot tube meats are served in a setting reminiscent of your weird uncle Gus' living room. Corn dogs here are Vienna Beef classics at their base. And if it's State Fair kitsch you're looking for, check out the oversized stuffed Scooby Doo presiding over things.
If you like: Sweet Martha's Cookies
Try: Rustica Bakery
Yeah, OK, they're not served hot in bucket-sized portions, and if that's what you're after, you know where to go. But the minimalist superiority of a Rustica chocolate chipper — thin, crisp-chewy, buttery, striated with fine chocolate in every spiritual bite — is proof you don't need hyperbole or schmaltz to be great. And if you're the type who just can't quit, they come in half-dozen packages, for that cloak-of-night splurge by the light of the fridge.
If you like: Cheese curds
State Fair curds are rarely more "ooh" than squeak, so instead try Brooks High Battered food truck's take on the iconic Midwestern obsession. Here, they use local Redhead creamery curds, which employ grassfed milk for the creamiest, most unctuous baseline. The gauzy carapace is provided by batter made from the finest local brews. This is a bespoke curd, what Calvin Klein man briefs are to the 10- pack from K-Mart. You won't want to go back. Find them at Bauhaus Brew Labs and other food truck venues.
If you like: Fried pickles
Try: Pat's Tap
This Really Bad Invention requires an equally ostentatious backdrop to properly enjoy, and if eschewing carnie tomfoolery, Pat's Tap gets the idea. Go to this "skee-club" to enjoy fulsome spears of brine varnished in a golden coat of greazy crunch. Served with none other than a side of ranch, it's all appropriately uncultured, just how you want it.
If you like: The sweet corn roast
Try: elote from Tinto Cocina y Cantina
The fact that nobody has set up an elote stand next to the Sweet Corn Roast and started raking in five-dollar bills by the trolley load is a real mind-bender. If buttered sweet corn is good, then mayonnaised, cheesed-up, spiced sweet corn is the difference between the giant slide and that crappy, crumbling, plastic, backyard Walmart set you inherited from the neighbor, with the one step broken and the kids are always tripping and busting their lip. Just get some elote, will you?
If you like: Dairy Building milkshakes
Try: Frostbites from Nighthawks
The dairy building has been attempting to go mod with its otherwise classic malts and shakes by adding of-this-moment frippery like salted caramel and puff corn. We're not knocking that, and we understand they're even good, but Landon Schoenefeld has had a handle on stoner food a little longer than the 4-H ers, let's just say. Try Nighthawks Frostbites, in flavors like pecan, salted caramel, and blondie bar that makes the Dairy Barn version look like dried oregano vs. the dank.
If you like: Fresh French Fries
Try: The Wienery
You're already a discerning customer who accepts no substitutes for hand-cut-to-order, medium-sliced, skin-on Russet potato French Fries. The Wienery provides this, like a rabbit out of a hat, before your very eyes, a whole potato per order. Plus, you can consume the double magic trick of getting it, plus a dog, and a pop, all for $6.
If you like: 1919 Root Beer
Try: Tree Fort Soda
Think you're a locavore, a Minnesota booster, a proud native, a bonafide, T-shirt wearing MN-Nicer? Then put your money where your root beer hole is and split your sarsaparilla loyalties with Tree Fort Soda, where local 18-year-old made good Eva Duckler might just be the next name in big beer. She hand makes and bottles her own brew using her own recipes involving honey, sarsaparilla, vanilla, cinnamon, and spearmint and absolutely no artificial crapola.
If you like: it all
Try : Haute Dish on a Stick
The most playfully Midwestern of all local restaurants decides not to take the State Fair doldrums (all restaurants suffer during fair season) sitting down. Instead, they take on your notion of "on a stick" and shove it up a corn dog's you-know what. Feast on the likes of fried avocado, grilled sweetbreads, "foiley pops," and a handmade Dilly, much of it served skewered, minus the traffic and outrageous parking fees. After all, popsicle sticks are practically free, so what's all the fuss? One night only, Thursday, September 3, 5 p.m.
If you like: Getting down and dirty
Try: Loews Hotel
How deep does your love of fair food run? Deep enough to book a room, and do the things grown-ups who care for each other very, very much like to do? If so, know that Loews is offering a "State Fair amenity" to room reservers throughout Labor Day, where for $30 you'll get chocolate-covered smoked pancetta on a stick, Minnesota sugar cookie on a stick, strawberry-lemonade cotton candy on a stick, a stack of chocolate chip cookies, truffled popcorn, and sweet and spicy bar nuts. Now, pull up the covers, forget all about those nasty fairgrounds, and do whatever it is you gotta do.