Many food vendors at the San Mateo County Fair have been mainstays of the annual event for decades and some for generations, serving up familiar and also creative dishes that in many cases can’t be found anywhere else.
“People like the food they remember as a kid, that they can only get or allow themselves to eat once a year,” said fair spokeswoman Pennie Rorex.
Fat Fanny’s Funnel Cakes, one of the longest-running vendors at the San Mateo County Fair, has not missed a year since 1995. Its top-seller is deep-fried funnel cake topped with fresh strawberries, cream and powdered sugar and for the first time this year, the menu features a version with Reese’s peanut butter sauce instead of strawberries. On a good day, Fat Fanny’s might sell 500 funnel cakes in San Mateo and as many as 2,000 at larger fairs such as the one in Fresno.
Co-owner Mary Mize initially did not enter the business to sell funnel cakes.
“We were doing Cajun food before we started doing this and years ago we were next to someone selling funnel cake and it just looked better,” she said. “It looked easier, not so many food items, but it’s actually not as easy as it looked.”
These days, Mize and her husband hit about seven to eight fairs a year.
“San Mateo is actually one of our favorites, the weather is always perfect here, the clientele is awesome and it’s just a really comfortable, relaxed fair,” she said. “Everyone’s having a good time.”
Hawaiian Teriyaki is new to the San Mateo this year, but is by no means new to the fair circuit.
Co-owner Kim Barr began the business with her husband in 1987 while they both had day jobs. Selling teriyaki dishes at fairs was something the couple initially did on their vacations until they saved up enough to do it full time.
“This was our fun, the fair circuit,” Barr said.
Today, the two take their business and two children to about 23 fairs a year. Their signature dish is the pineapple bowl, in which white rice and chicken topped with teriyaki sauce is served in a carved-out pineapple with chunks of the fruit on the side.
Bakersfield-based Noel’s Mexican Food is another family business and it was founded in 1978. Co-owners Brandy and Marco Arredondo, sixth generation owners, along with their children are on the road throughout the summer, bringing their take on Mexican food to communities throughout the state.
“We leave two days after school gets out, we do this every day and we get back two days before school starts,” Brandy Arredondo said.
The Arredondos of course are not the only family-owned business with such a schedule; some of them have been friends for years and their kids have grown up together.
“A lot of the people out here we consider our fair family,” she said. “When someone needs help we’re all here to help each other. Country Fair Cinnamon Rolls in the building, for example, we grew up with them and they have children so our children and their children are friends. It’s not just us having friends but the kids continue to grow up together.”
Noel’s is known for creative takes on Mexican classics such as fried avocado tacos and burritos with Flamin’ hot Cheetos or French fries.
Sharky’s is another San Mateo County Fair regular focusing on seafood. The business has twice been featured on the Cooking Channel and its top-sellers include fried calamari, fish and lobster fries. The latter is so popular that San Mateo fairgoers will consume about 80 pounds of lobster a day and the business also occasionally offers a lobster corn dog.
Co-owner Anya Delchoyde said San Mateo is one of her favorite locations in which to do business in part because of the weather.
“If it’s too hot it’s hard to sell fried food,” she said.
There are 20 food vendors at the fair and beyond Hawaiian Teriyaki, the new ones include Crepes and Pons Chinese Food.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102