There's a reason why fairgoers go back, year after year, for the mini doughnuts, the pork chops-on-a-stick, the Pronto Pups and corn dogs, the cheese curds, the Dairy Building malts, the French fries and the chocolate chip cookies.

They're State Fair classics, as indelible a component as the CHS Miracle of Birth Center, the grandstand and the seed art exhibition.

But there's more to the fairgrounds than turkey legs and all-you-can-drink milk. In my role as a Star Tribune restaurant critic, I've devoted my time at the fair to assessing deep-fried Nut Goodies, cheese-laden (and Sriracha-splashed) funnel cakes, deep-fried Cheddar cheese dipped in, yes, crushed Cocoa Puffs and other wonders, on a constant quest for the ingenious and the delicious.

As I transition to a different coverage area, I'm taking this opportunity to look back at some of the foods that have perennially landed on my must-eat list. They're the items that signify — to me, anyway — what's great about the Great Minnesota Get-Together.

For those not attending this year's fair, there's always next year. If you are going, have fun, follow the CDC's COVID-19 safety guidelines and consider the following 15 suggestions:

Elotes at Tejas Express

It's impossible to imagine a visit to the fairgrounds without a pilgrimage to the Corn Roast, where fairgoers gobble up several hundred thousand cobs of butter-glazed, Minnesota-raised sweet corn. It's also difficult to pass by this State Fair essential, where chef Mark Haugen turns out all manner of swoon-inducing delights (guajillo chile- and chile de Arbol-marinated shrimp tacos, anyone?), including a wood-grilled sweet corn that's finished, Mexican-style, with chile-infused mayonnaise, Cotija cheese, hot sauce and tons of fresh lime.

The Garden, north wall

Grilled peaches at the Produce Exchange

This antidote to all things deep-fried takes full advantage of perfect timing. In a delicious bit of good fortune, the Great Minnesota Get-Together coincides with peach season. "We are using organic Sweet Dream peaches, and my grower hooked us up real good, so expect great things," said co-owner Kevin Hannigan. Inhale them the old-fashioned way, with outlandish chomps that lead to juice running down your chin. Or, discover what happens when the heat of the grill unlocks even more of their sweet, fragrant nature, and herb-filled goat cheese and a drizzle of honey become pitch-perfect finishing touches. Truly, "wow" just about covers it. Also coming off the grill this year? A smallish supply of Honey Royale nectarines, "Which I believe to be maybe the overall greatest piece of stone fruit we've ever served," said Hannigan.

Carnes Av. and Underwood St.

Onion rings at Danielson's & Daughters

Deep fryers stay busy all over the fairgrounds — two excellent choices outside of the fried-food-freak-show box include the Perfect Pickle (Dan Patch Av. and Liggett St.) and Fried Green Tomatoes (Dan Patch Av. and Cooper St.) — but the standout is this tiny, family-owned stand, which has been making magic with sweet yellow onions, a pancake-like batter and hot oil since 1956.

Food Building, south exterior

Walleye cakes at Giggles' Campfire Grill

Twenty years ago, at his log cabinlike outpost on the fairgrounds' northern reaches, Tim "Giggles" Weiss debuted what would prove to be an enduring, blue ribbon-worthy hit: hand-formed, panko-coated, pan-fried cakes, made with a tantalizing blend of salmon, wild rice and house-smoked Canadian walleye. It was a made-from-scratch formula that set a fairgrounds standard that was (and in many ways, still is) in short supply.

Lee Av. and Cooper St. at the North Woods

Scones with peaches at French Meadow Bakery & Cafe

It's fun to observe the skilled staffers at the fairgrounds' best bakery, working away in the showy, watch-them-bake kitchen. But it's even better to tear into their output. Specifically, these biscuit-like scones, so flaky and golden, which are split and filled with scads of dreamily ripe peaches and a just-right cream cheese topping. Is it breakfast? Is it breakfast all day? Is it dessert? It's all of the above.

Carnes Av. and Underwood St.

Frozen cider pop at Minnesota Apples

A fantastic taste of Minnesota — specifically, White Bear Lake — and a most-delicious beat-the-heat instrument. It's the refreshing, essence-of-apples cider from Pine Tree Apple Orchard, frozen; think "Popsicle," minus the ubiquitous fairgrounds stick.

Agriculture Horticulture Building, west side

Chicken in the Waffle at Blue Barn

There are plenty of reasons to make this center of culinary creativity a must-visit destination (the sweet corn-Gorgonzola fritters, for starters), but this witty and tasty invention — Cajun-accented fried chicken tenders stuffed into a waffle cone and blanketed in a peppery pork sausage gravy — ranks right at the top.

West End Market

Vanilla ice cream at Nitro Ice Cream

There are so many top-notch ice creams on the fairgrounds — witness the sweet corn ice cream at Blue Moon Dine-in Theater (Carnes Av. and Chambers St.) and the honey ice cream at Minnesota Honey Producers (Agriculture Horticulture Building). But for pure craftsmanship, nothing tops this ultra-luscious treat, which is made on-site in an appropriately carnivalesque setting.

Food Building, northeast corner

Cream puffs at Fresh Cream Puffs

An exercise in the virtue of simplicity. Picture this: a hamburger bun-sized dollop of delicate, egg-enriched pâte à choux (baked, miraculously, in a cramped, shoebox-scaled kitchen) and filled with an over-the-top pillow of freshly whipped cream. What a treat.

Dan Patch Av. and Liggett St.

Mediterranean lemonade at Holy Land

This slushie-like air conditioner in a cup, flecked with zillions of fragrant bits of finely chopped mint, is one of the fair's most restorative libations. A close runner-up? The festive, spirits-free piña colada, served in a Thurston Howell III-esque hollowed-out pineapple, at Manny's Tortas (Food Building).

International Bazaar, southeast corner

Twisted Sister at Sausage Sister & Me

There's a lot to love at this fairgrounds innovator, but if I were forced to choose just one goody it would have to be the stand's bestseller, an astute remake of the Pronto Pup, where Parmesan-enriched breadstick dough is spiraled around a zippy Minnesota-made porketta sausage. Oh, and unlike the Pronto Pup, which is deep-fried, the great-looking Twisted Sister is baked.

Food Building, east wall

Smelt in a Boat at Walleye On-A-Stick

The fair should be about celebrating Minnesota's food traditions, right? That's why it was so great when this stand introduced these tiny, fragile Great Lakes fish — lightly breaded and expertly fried — back in 2007.

Food Building, southeast center

Heirloom Tomato and Sweet Corn BLT at Farmers Union Coffee Shop

This stunner of a BLT, which is the handiwork of former Birchwood Cafe chef Marshall Paulsen, is a sterling example of what more State Fair food options should be. Namely, an edible showcase of the expertise and ingenuity of Minnesota farmers, chefs and bakers. This year, Paulsen has added a Thai chile mayonnaise, a reflection of his work with Union Hmong Kitchen chef/owner Yia Vang.

Dan Patch Av. and Cooper St.

Mini cinnamon rolls at Cinnie Smiths

Sad news: Oklahoma Cinnamon Rolls, the popular purveyor of gigantic, icing-laden cinnamon rolls for nearly 40 years, will not be returning to the Food Building, following the death of owner Fred Willis earlier this year. For those who need to satisfy their craving for warm-from-the-oven morning rolls, these delightful, bite-size versions more than hit the spot.

Murphy Av. and Cooper St.

Cashew brittle at Thomasina's Cashew Brittle

Sure, a person can take home a bucket of Sweet Martha's chocolate chip cookies, but let's be real: They're best when consumed a few minutes after exiting one of the many gigantic ovens operated by Martha Rossini Olson's hardworking baking crew. A smarter State Fair edible souvenir is a bag (or three) of this fabulously buttery, melt-in-your-mouth candy, which follows a cherished family recipe.

Merchandise Mart, west section

Rick Nelson • @RickNelsonStrib