TURLOCK — At the heart of the Stanislaus County Fair are the competitions, the animals, the crafts.
Of course, a bit below the heart is the stomach, and each year fairgoers return to their favorite food booths, and maybe make some discoveries.
An unscientific sampling (we posted a question on Facebook) found that many folks list the traditional offerings among their must-haves: a linguiça sandwich from the Knights of Columbus, shish kebab from the Assyrian American Civic Club, a corn dog from any number of vendors.
Perhaps king of all fried fair fare is the funnel cake, a concoction of dough, oil and sugar, often topped by strawberries and whipped cream.
On Sunday, that was on the menu for the Estacio family from Turlock and Gustine.
"Heck yeah," said John Thomas of Atwater, who left the group in the corn dog line to get his funnel cake fix.
Michael Estacio did him one better, ordering a funnel cake that seemed to have a little bit of everything on it ice cream, syrup, whipped cream and fruit.
"I know how to do this," said Michael Estacio. Even 3-year-old Kiera got in on the treat.
"And this is not her first funnel cake," Estacio said. "We did this last year."
For those looking to branch out, there are several new offerings this year.
Lucky 7 Concessions offers a variety of fried food, including burgers, pizza rolls and peaches. Yes, peaches.
Jim Babelle of Hilmar, who is a farmer the rest of the year, was manning the stand Sunday.
The burger isn't just fried, it's a "Deep Fried 5 Alarm" burger. Babelle explained how it's made: The burger is fried, then jalapeños are added, then it's fried again, then cheese is added and then it's fried a third time. And, like much of the good fair food, it's on a stick.
The most popular dishes at Lucky 7, Babelle said, are the homemade chips with cheese and bacon, and the bacon-wrapped hot dog, again proving the adage that bacon makes everything better.
Although some could describe fair food as a dietitian's nightmare (and a Bee reporter actually took a dietitian out there one year), there are some healthier options. Corn on the cob is popular, and this year, a farmers market offers fruit bowls as well as whole fruit that spokeswoman Adrenna Alkhas said are going over well.
The Cupcake Lady, a local bakery-on-a-truck, has secured a spot, where children lined up for the popular "minion" cupcake, playing off the "Despicable Me" movie sequel. The No. 1 seller, according to the sign, remains the maple bacon that old adage at work again.
Of course, if you really want to stretch, you could stop by the New Orleans Cajun Cookin' booth. Jambalaya and seafood gumbo have been big sellers, but they also are promoting fried gator. No, it doesn't taste like chicken one booth employee said it's far superior.
One visitor trying gator for the first time liked it so much he returned twice.
If none of that appeals to you, there's always the tack one mom chose: Sitting at a table in the shade, she sipped on a Starbucks iced tea and unwrapped a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for her son.
Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2343. Follow her on Twitter, @pattyguerra.
MONDAY AT THE FAIR
Go nuts on Modesto Nuts night of the Stanislaus County Fair with the first 1,000 guests through the gates receiving gifts from the team.
WHAT TO DO: Check out JD Platt and his amazing animal athletes. Platt has more than a dozen dogs take part in his high-flying performances that showcase speed, agility and more.
HIGHLIGHTS: It's cavy day at the fair (that's guinea pigs to you and me) with junior cavy shows and showmanship events starting at 8 a.m. in the rabbit and poultry barn.
VARIETY FREE STAGE: 38 Special, 8:30 p.m.
ARENA: Destruction Derby I, 6:30 p.m., $12
CENTER STAGE: Black Rose, 5:30-7:45 p.m.; Tequila Mockingbird, 8-10:30 p.m.
COMMUNITY STAGE: Adonis Fiore, 6-7:30 p.m.; Modern Day Psychosis, 8-9:30 p.m.
XFINITY STAGE: JD Platt & K9 Kings, 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Cowgirl Rope Tricks Show, 7 p.m.; Lucky Starr, Cowgirl Stiltwalker, 5 p.m.
HOURS: Gates open at 5 p.m.; exhibit buildings close at 11 p.m.; carnival closes at midnight.
PARK 'N' RIDE: 4:30 p.m. to midnight; park and ride free from CSU, Stanislaus (Crowell Road off Monte Vista Avenue), or Pitman High School (Christoffersen Parkway). Shuttles run every 15 to 20 minutes.
WHERE: From Highway 99, exit at Fulkerth Road in Turlock and head east. For fairgrounds parking, turn right on Soderquist Road, or go past Soderquist for more parking; $4 per vehicle.
ADMISSION: $12 for adults, $5 for children 7 to 12 and seniors 65 and older, free for 6 and younger.
INFORMATION: www.stancofair.com, (209) 668-1333TODAY AT THE FAIR