This time the fair food is its own reason.

The first Fair Food Fest, last fall at State Fair Park, was a best-we-can-do-right-now replacement for the COVID-canceled Central Washington State Fair — a deep-fried, sugar-dusted taste of normalcy at a time when we were all starved for it. This year’s version, which opened Thursday and goes through the weekend, is happening at a time when many aspects of life have essentially returned to normal. So what’s the appeal this time around?

It’s the food. It’s the roast turkey legs the size of baseball bats, the corn on the cob rolled in crushed Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, the jalapeno-cheddar corn dogs, the elephant ears and funnel cakes.

“I was getting gas earlier this morning,” State Fair Park President and CEO Kathy Kramer said at a pre-fest media event. “And I mentioned it, and this woman was literally screaming she was so excited.”

More than 4,000 vehicles came through the drive-through fest last fall. This year’s version will be set up in much the same way, with cars and trucks winding through a one-way smorgasbord of vendors, stopping at the ones they’d like to order from and skipping the others. The main difference is this year, because of easing COVID restrictions statewide, guests will be able to stay and eat on the fairgrounds.

“Who wouldn’t want to eat their fair food outside?” Kramer said. “So as you drive through the event, at the end of the route, you can park your car, get your fair food and sit out and have a picnic in a socially distanced picnic area and enjoy your fair food.”

That will only add to the fair ambience, said Kim Barr, whose family had run fair food stands at the Central Washington State Fair for 34 straight years before it was canceled last year. She’ll be running the Hawaiian teriyaki stand during this festival, as she was at last fall’s Fair Food Fest. Her stand was “slammed, in a really good way” during the last event. There’s just something about fair food that makes people feel good, she said.

“It is the feeling of being a kid again,” Barr said.