Pima County Fair is back, and so is the food

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Hot Cheetos-infused soda.

Cotton candy tacos.

How about deep-fried butter?

These are just some of the funky culinary creations you’ll find at the Pima County Fair, which kicks off on Thursday, April 21, for the first time since 2019.

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“These foods will change your life,” said fair food vendor Dominic Palmieri, known as the “Midway Gourmet” for Ray Cammack Shows, the fair’s rides and midway concessions provider. 

Palmieri will oversee more than two dozen food concepts dishing up everything from smoked turkey legs and foot-long hot dogs to deep-fried Oreos and, yes, butter.

Here’s a user’s guide to help you navigate the fair, which runs through May 1 at the Pima County Fairgrounds, 11300 S. Houghton Rd. 

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Food, food, food

A staple to the Pima County Fair is the range of crazy, delicious food being made on-site from more than two dozen food concepts. 

Palmieri is behind some of the most interesting options at the fair, including Biggy’s, a staple of the Ray Cammack Shows Midway, the Phoenix-based company that provides the rides and food vendors for the Pima County Fair and dozens of other fairs and festivals in the country including the Arizona State Fair, Coachella and the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo.

“We have a great selection of new foods this year,” Palmieri said, including The Candy Factory and Nitro Treats.

“Biggy’s” is the place to be if you’re looking for some meat. 

“We got The Smoke Show,” said Palmieri. “Bacon-wrapped pork belly on a stick — a half-pound of giant pork belly cubes, marinated in rosemary, sage and garlic. Put them on a stick and wrap them with two feet of extra-thick, honey-smoked bacon.”

Or how about the Big Daddy Cheeto Cheese Corn Dog?

“There are no weenies here,” Palmieri joked. “Gourmet smoked sausage, a foot long. We dip it in our golden corn dog batter [and deep-fry it]. When it comes out, top it with hot melted Cheddar cheese, then ground up crunchy Flaming Hot Cheetos.”

“When you bite into it, you get the sweetness of the corn dog batter, the meaty gourmet sausage, then you get the creaminess of the cheese plus the crunchiness of the hot Cheetos,” he added. 

Then there’s the “Crunchy Flamin’ Hot Pickle,” thick, crinkle-cut dill pickle chips, crispy ice-cold, topped with melted cheddar cheese and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

“The quintessential blend of salt, fat and acid, three components your taste buds need to make them dance,” Palmieri said, describing how the acidity of the pickle, the fat from the cheese and the salt and crunch from the Cheetos create a perfect balance.

IMG_1840.jpeg

The Pima County Fair’s lime soda with Hot Cheetos. (Courtesy of Ray Cammack Shows)

If sweet is more your thing, head over to The Candy Factory, home of the “Hot Cheeto Float.” 

“Slice soda infused with Spicy Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, topped with whipped cream and more Cheetos,” Palmieri said, ticking off the ingredients. “It’s a sweet, great, refreshing float. You’ve never had anything like it.” 

The Candy Factory also has candy apples including a caramel apple topped with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

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Palmieri also spoke about a few other options at the fair that he doesn’t operate, including Nitro Treats and A Fried A Fair.

Nitro Treats is where you will find the “Dole Whip Taco.”

“Spring and summer,  brought to you by this carnival magic,” Palmieri said. “A giant wedge of juicy, sweet watermelon, the center is carved out and filled with pineapple dole whip ice cream, topped with Tajìn spice and a chamoy straw.” 

That’s not the only crazy taco. There’s also a Cotton Candy Taco.

The taco is a shell made of cotton candy, with a giant scoop of vanilla ice cream. The taco is topped with fruity pebbles, sprinkles and whipped cream.

The treat selection at “A Fried A Fair” is also something spectacular. It includes treats such as deep-fried cookie dough, deep-fried Oreos and deep-fried butter.

Deep-fried butter? Deep-fried butter. 

“It’s a one-ounce ball of butter, frozen and dipped in delicious golden batter,” Palmieri said. “It’s deep-fried; the butter melts. When you bite into it, the butter is warm, with Vermont maple syrup and a little sugar.”

Now that’s a treat.

“It will change your life,” Palmieri said. “And no, that doesn’t mean you will have to go see a cardiologist. It’s just that good.”

Crazy foods aren’t the only thing you can get at the fair.

“We work really hard in the RCS carnival midway to bring wild and wacky and also traditional fair foods for customers,” Palmieri said.

Traditional foods available include funnel cakes, corn dogs, barbecue, cotton candy, popcorn, drinks of all kinds and much more.

“Everything you put in your mouth will be absolutely delicious guaranteed,” Palmieri said.

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Strike up the bands 

The Pima County Fair includes so many ways you can enjoy the evening. One of those is the line of performers Pima County Fair has ready to go. 

“I feel we have a solid concert line up where I tried to find something for everyone, in Tucson’s diverse community,” said Launa Rabago, Pima County Fair entertainment, marketing and special events coordinator. 

“I had hoped to add an EDM aspect to the lineup this year, but budgets and timing were off,“ Rabago said.

Although there won’t be any EDM, the line of artists is pretty darn solid:

  • Pop singer Tai Verdes kicks things off on April 21.
  • Metalheads Anthrax, April 22.
  • Country singer Scotty McCreery, April 23.
  • Latin rap with the Fiesta Fuego featuring Baby Bash, McMagic and Frankie J, April 24.
  • 1970s disco/pop with Village People, April 25.
  • Cumbia rock with A.B. Quintanilla III Kumbia AllStarz, April 26.
  • Contemporary Christian pop with Crowder, April 27.
  • Rapper TI, April 28.
  • Eddie Van Halen’s son Wolfgang brings his rock band Mammoth MVH and Ayron Jones, April 29.
  • Country singer Easton Corbin, April 30.
  • Los Tucanes De Tijuana for some Mexican norteño and corrido, May 1. 

Admission to the concerts is free with paid fair admission — $10 for adults, $5 for kids 6 to 10 and for military and seniors, Rabago said.

The rides

The Pima County Fair is also equipped with plenty of different rides for plenty of different ages.

Some of the classics include Tea Cups, Crazy Coaster, Tilt-A-Whirl, Zipper and Bumper Cars for the kiddos, with more thrill-inducing rides including Zero Gravity, Konga, Endeavor, G Force, Insanity and Mach 1. For the ultimate thrill: The Titan, which will cost you 30 tickets to ride. 

“We have 57 carnival rides coming to the fair, with three new ones;  the Liberty Wheel, New York New York, and Winky the Whale,” Rabago said. 

The Liberty Wheel is your classic Ferris wheel, while New York, New York is a standing funhouse and obstacle course with the objective of making it to the exit. Winky the Whale is a slow-moving, round-about children’s ride where kids sit in whale-shaped cars.

Ride tickets are $1.25 apiece and the kiddie rides range from four to eight tickets. The more challenging rides are nine tickets and more.

What’s new?

Rabago said the fair has a new layout and “we are seeing quite a few new vendors … along with more seating.”

“We are so excited to bring this event back to our community. It’s been two long years and it’s almost here,” Rabago said.

Gates open at 3 p.m. on weekdays, and 11 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Parking is $5, cash only.


*El Inde Arizona is a news service of the University of Arizona School of Journalism. 


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