The Award-Winning Food to Seek Out at Rodeo Houston 2023

Bun B of Trill Burger accepting the award for best classic fair food.

It’s rodeo season again! The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo runs from February 28 to March 19, delivering concerts, shows, rides, games and — most importantly — carnival food. From simple sausage-on-a-stick to Monte Cristo sandwiches encased in funnel cake batter, the carnival and rodeo food is diverse, indulgent, and often smoked or fried. There are so many options that picking out what to try can be challenging. Luckily, the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo invites food writers, media personalities, well-known chefs, TV anchors and influencers to help judge the Gold Buckle Foodie Awards, and as one of those judges this year, I’m here to tell you about the winners.

For the second year, the competition was held in The Ranch Saloon, an upscale and entertainment spot from Berg Hospitality,  the locally-known restaurant group that includes B&B Butchers, The Annie, Sofia Trattoria and more. Even though it’s a temporary establishment in a tent only operates during rodeo season, it impressively conveys the vibe of a fine-dining steakhouse thanks to hand-crafted furniture and decor, and elegant food and drinks.

That wasn’t the only well-known name in the house. Houston-based rapper Bun B — also owner of Trill Burgers, which is soon to become a brick-and-mortar restaurant at 3607 South Shepherd in the former James Coney Island spot — was among the competitors, and won top honors in the Best Classic Fair Food category. Trill Burgers may have had a boost from having a famous owner, but the burgers, with properly smashed patties, the edges of which sported a slightly crisped texture, legitimately held their own in the competition.

Online voting for the competition began in January, narrowing each category down to the top three, meaning there are even more delicious and imaginative options than what’s listed here to find at the rodeo. Read on for the award-winning dishes and where to find each.

Pickle Pizza on a Stick from Swain's Pizza on a Stick.
Pickle Pizza on a Stick from Swain’s Pizza on a Stick. Photo by Ryan Baker.

The 2023 Gold Buckle Foodie Award Winners

Best Fried Food

  • 1st: Deep Fried Cookie Dough – The Original Minneapple Pie – CD202
  • 2nd: Deep Fried Lasagna Roll – Southern Fried Saloon – CD204
  • 3rd: The Original Chicken Tender Basket – Holmes Smokehouse – RP60

Best Food-On-a-Stick

  • 1st: Pickle Pizza on a Stick – Swain’s Pizza on a Stick – J505
  • 2nd: Apple Pie Candy Apple – Munch-oes Bakery – E6119
  • 3rd: Big K-Dog – Asian Streetness – AR604

Best Classic Fair Food

  • 1st: OG Trill Burgers – RP130
  • 2nd: Southern Fried Chicken Wings – Southern Fried Saloon – CD204
  • 3rd: Ribeye Sandwich – Spring Country Kitchen – J506
Deep Fried BLT from Texas-Sized Pizza, Burgers & Chili Shack at the Gold Buckle Foodie Awards.
Deep Fried BLT from Texas-Sized Pizza, Burgers & Chili Shack at the Gold Buckle Foodie Awards. Photo by Ryan Baker.

Most Creative Food

  • 1st: Deep Fried BLT – Texas Sized Pizza/Burger & Chili Shack RP35
  • 2nd place Tie – Un-PHO-gettable Burger – Asian Streetness -AR604, and Rattlesnake Corn Dog – Pioneer Wagon – CD205

Best New Flavor

  • 1st: Brad’s BBQ Sundae – Saltgrass Steak House – L0063
  • 2nd: Viet Taco – Asian Streetness – AR604
  • 3rd: Loaded Pork Belly Fries – Blue Ribbon Grill – RP45

Deep Fried Bread Pudding from Cajun Cowboy at the Gold Buckle Foodie Awards.


  • 1st: Deep Fried Bread Pudding – Cajun Cowboy – RP55
  • 2nd: S’mores Pie – Finer Diner – RP47
  • 3rd: The Ultimate Minneapple Pie – The Original Minneaple Pie – CD202
Events like these are not possible without the support of the volunteers and committee members.
Events like these are not possible without the support of the friendly volunteers and committee members. Photo by Ryan Baker.

In being a returning judge, there were high expectations for the food, and all of the vendors delivered. The Deep Fried Bread Pudding, by Cajun Cowboy was a favorite around the table. Soft, sweet and sticky, the dessert was difficult to stop eating, even after 11 dishes. I will personally be returning to try more from Pizza on a Stick and the Deep Fried Lasagna Roll from Southern Fried Saloon, both of which proved gimmicky food can still be delicious. Pickle-topped pizza was a growing trend in 2022, and can be hit-or-miss. That being said, Pizza on a Stick’s take was bright, balanced and very cheesy, and nearly every aspect of the lasagna roll, from the Italian sausage to the sauce had a distinct flavor.

A big thank you to all of the fantastic hosts, volunteers and vendors, who worked so diligently to make this event possible, as well as every aspect of the Houston Rodeo. To further explore all that the Rodeo has to offer, including where to find all of the delicious delicacies, download the RODEOHOUSTON app.

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