From staples like deep-fried Oreos to new creations like Mega Dogs and Unicorn Apples, fairgoers of all ages and culinary palettes have an abundance of choices for the next three days.

The Santa Barbara County Fair runs through Sunday at the Santa Maria Fairpark. 

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A customer tries a drink and popcorn at the Santa Barbara County Fair on Thursday.

"The fair is a place where people can escape their daily grind," said Nathan Marcus, a third-generation fair food concessionaire. "At home, almost every family eats the same thing week in and week out. But when the fair comes to town, it's a judgment-free zone. You can stuff your face with a two-pound cheeseburger or eat hot dogs all day."

The family business began with his grandparents, who left Chicago for California 69 years ago. A former personal trainer and aspiring pre-med student, Marcus left college after the death of a longtime business partner left a hole in the company's operational structure.

Now, he tours fairs across California and the southwestern U.S., selling mega dogs, a deep-fried, two-foot-long corn dog that weighs more than two pounds; thousands of gallons of fresh-squeezed lemonade; bacon-wrapped hot dogs and three-quarter pound sausages. 

Marcus said this year marks the company's third stop and debut of their Grand Burgers — half-pound gourmet Angus cheeseburgers — at the County Fair.

"You've got some great food here you can't get anywhere else," he said.

Solvang residents Kylie and Josiah Truxel said they came to the fair expecting to eat "artery-clogging" food. They found their answer in Marcus' brick of fries — a three-pound hunk of fried curly fries topped with chili and cheese.

"Pretty much everything drew us to it," Josiah said. "We were craving the cheese and decided on it."

Employing both an outside-in and middle-out eating strategy, the pair hoped to devour the brick before wandering the rest of the fairgrounds.

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Food cooks Thursday at Oven-Baked Pizza during the Santa Barbara County Fair.

At the Sugar Bear Treats booth in the carnival, Luz Salazar served up traditional delights like funnel cake and corn dogs, alongside new creations Unicorn Fluff and Unicorn Apples.

Holdovers from the San Diego County Fair, Salazar said the white chocolate and fondant Unicorn Apples have been a big seller so far.

"People like the variety," she said. "Our apples are really different. Not everyone makes gourmet apples. Most people typically make the traditional ones with peanuts and caramel."

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Luz Salazar serves up a Unicorn Apple at the Sugar Bear Treats booth during the Santa Barbara County Fair on Thursday. 

Ricos Manjares Mosita manager Fernando Soto said his family chose to bring their Sinaloan-style Mexicano food to the fair to offer alternatives to the traditionally deep-fried fare.

"It's a little different," he said of the aguas frescas, fruit cups, tacos and burritos they offer. "You come into the fair with an expectation of eating fried foods or something traditionally American. Now that you're seeing a larger Latino community come to the fair, you get a lot more variety."

Based out of Whittier, the family tours fairs across California and Arizona, including an annual stop during Santa Barbara's Old Spanish Days festival.

"Food transcends everything," Soto said.

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga



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