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Cocoa Cabana is the fair’s best-kept sweet spot

DEL MAR — Fried food, adventurous rides, unique exhibits, eclectic concerts and crazy contests define the San Diego County Fair.

But for those who can sometimes experience sensory overload, a sweet escape to literally rise above it all has been created.

Cocoa Cabana is a tropical speakeasy offering candy-inspired craft cocktails, appetizers and desserts that complement this year’s theme, “How Sweet it Is.”

A secret location at the Del Mar Fairgrounds has been transformed into Cocoa Cabana, a tropical speakeasy offering private seating areas and candy-inspired craft cocktails, appetizers and desserts to complement this year’s theme, “How Sweet It Is.” Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

The private getaway opens Thursday through Saturday at 5 p.m. and closes at 10 p.m. Thursday and 11 p.m. Friday, although expanded hours are being considered.

For the password, which changes daily, ask any bartender or find the golden pineapple at the Pineapple Express Airlines counter, sited in an undisclosed location.

From there, “flight attendants” will escort you to the speakeasy, where private cabanas offer a unique view of the fairgrounds and its surroundings.

Specialty cocktails include a s’mores crunch, made with bourbon and Kahlua, served in a chocolate- and graham-cracker-rimmed glass and topped with a toasted marshmallow, and the coconut moon martini, made with coconut rum, vanilla vodka and coconut cream and topped with toasted coconut.

Also featured, and not as spicy as it sounds, is the seaside salty dog, a combination of vodka, muddled jalapeño and fresh pink grapefruit juice served in a glass rimmed with jalapeño lime sea salt created by speakeasy bartender Tonya Youhanna.

Beer, wine and other cocktails are also available.

The Cocoa Cabana food menu offers avocado toast, honey-chipotle-glazed satay with chocolate mole and charred pineapple salsa, cocoa-rubbed crispy pork belly with a Kahlua glaze and vegetable spring rolls.

Desserts include chocolate espresso latte cake, a mini-cupcake sampler, a pineapple lime macadamia nut “woo” bar and a frozen cheesecake bar.

Johna Nilson, owner of Vista-based So Rich! Chocolate, will be on hand to pair her handmade confections with craft beers and distilled spirits.

Admission to Cocoa Cabana is free. Cocktails prices range from $8 to $15.

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