Maybe it’s walking the expanses of the fairgrounds on a brisk autumn day or the fact that the smell of fried food emanates from every direction. Whatever the reason, here is the ultimate truth of the State Fair of Texas: If you go, you will get hungry. It may be immediately: flooding through the gates may trigger a Pavlovian response broken only by your first bite of something paid for in coupons. Or it may strike after you’ve rode the Ferris wheel a few times and attempted to win a giant stuffed Despicable Me minion. Either way, you’re going to find yourself scanning booth after booth of vendors shoving sticks of fried food into fairgoers’ fingers.
Every food blog in Texas has waxed poetic on the grease-soaked, deep-fried options available for consumption in the shadow of Big Tex. But where does that leave you? Maybe you’re a vegetarian … or even a vegan. Or maybe you’re just a simple soul looking for a snack that doesn’t require a side of Alka-Seltzer. Fortunately, we live in changing times, and even the State Fair of Texas now acknowledges that people who don’t eat meat are a thing. So go forth, brave hearts: There are options for you yet—and miraculously, some are even grease- (and guilt-) free.
FRUIT (V). I’m sure you’re rolling your eyes that I would choose to lead this list with something so obviously healthy, but fruit is the best. Not only is it refreshing, vitamin-packed, and vegan, it’s basically like eating candy that’s good for you. Head to Fruteria in the Tower Building. Their Mango on a Stick is exactly what it sounds like—except much prettier. Lush strips of soft yellow fruit arrayed like the petals of a tulip make this the most beautiful food option available at the fair. If you’d rather sip your sugar, consider grabbing a fruit drink, available in flavors such as melon, limonade, tamarindo, watermelon, pineapple, and horchata. And if you once gave yourself a mango allergy by consuming too many delicious mangoes (a true story about me), I recommend a cup of fresh non-mango fruit (honeydew, jicama, watermelon, coconut, pineapple, and lime juice).
HUMMUS (V). If you’re vegan, you’ve probably been to restaurants where literally the only thing on the entire menu that happens to be vegan is the hummus. BW’s Famous Ribs (Tower Building) knows that in order to please the complicated herbivore, good hummus is a must. The chickpea treat is available in classic and roasted red pepper varieties, and is served with carrots, celery, and pita for dipping.
SALAD. The Greek salad at It’s All Greek to Me (Tower Building) is the real deal. It comes layered with lush lettuce, juicy tomatoes, and fresh tomatoes. Add a topping of croutons, feta cheese, and olives, and you have a salad that holds its own, no main course required.
BREAKFAST TACOS. BW’s Famous Fried Ribs (Tower Building) strikes again. (Who’d have thought that a place touting fame for selling fried ribs would be so veg-friendly?) These tacos are stuffed full of potato, cheese, egg, and—of course—freshly made salsa.
ROASTED CORN (V). Nothing says “autumn” like roasted corn. Plus, it’s a great walk-and-eat food. Pick up a freshly roasted ear from Darn Good Corn (the Midway) and munch while you peruse the spectacles, sights, and sounds of the fair. If you’re vegan, make sure you ask the vendor to withhold the butter.
SKILLET VEGETARIAN BURRITO. Visit Texas Skillet (the Midway) for a burrito loaded with potatoes, bell peppers, and onions. Made fresh on an iron skillet, this tortilla-wrapped treat is the kind of snack that will sustain you for the rest of your State Fair wanderings.
VEGGIE CORNY DOG. Much ado was made when Fletcher’s unveiled this vegetarian version of its famous corny dog and for good reason. Not only is their meat-free alternate delicious, but it’s satisfying proof that times really do change and even companies that have sold hotdogs at the State Fair since the ’40s will cater to vegetarians, if there are enough of us. This celebrated soy-based ‘dog comes encased in Fletcher’s traditional cornmeal batter (which, sadly, isn’t vegan—yet).
BLACK-EYED PEA SOUP (V). The black-eyed pea soup (at Bailey’s Deli at the Tower Building) is made with vegetable stock and filled with celery, peas, jalapeños, and onion. It’s a warm, spicy treat for a chilly night-walk around the fair, no lamb blood required. It comes with cornbread, which I cannot confirm is vegan, so please proceed with caution.
ROASTED NUTS (V). So sweet, so simple, and one of my very favorite protein-packed carnival munchies. Get yourself some of these addictive cinnamon- and sugar-kissed treats at BW’s Famous Fried Ribs (Tower Building).
FRIED STUFF. OK, OK. I’m not pretending this stuff is healthy. Also, it’s definitely not vegan (the breading is made with milk wash, according to the owner). So think of this section as a bonus. But if you really want to indulge in some fried stuff at the fair, BW’s Famous Fried Ribs (Tower Building) has a few things that might suit you: namely, fried jalapeno chips, fried pickles, and fried okra. Each comes with ranch or barbecue sauce for dipping. Your non-veg friends are going to try to steal some from you. Don’t let them.