You can eat very well at the Oktoberfest - if you know what to order.
Yes, you can eat well at the Oktoberfest. Both despite but also because of the huge amounts of food that are served there. Despite, as it obviously is a challenge to serve thousands at the same time, because as grilled meat that needs hours of preparation is always available in the desired state.
Preferred as a whole
In general, it’s a good idea to stick with meat that is grilled as a whole, i.e. chicken, ducks, geese, veal, ox, pork and veal knuckles, as regular restaurants are usually not able to offer those at an excellent quality due to how much time they need on the grill. The most popular of those dished is grilled chicken.
Pork sausages with Sauerkraut (Schweinswürstl) are also a very classic and rather cheap option, however, you’ll get good quality Schweinswürstl practically everywhere while you probably aren’t offered grilled Oxen on a daily basis.
Cold dishes (Brotzeit)
Actually, the famous Oktoberfest chicken isn’t the most traditional fare there is. In the first decades of Oktoberfest history, when you didn’t visit the Oktoberfest to dine but simply ate there because you were already there, people would primarily eat bread and cheese. Still today, simple cold dishes, the so-called Brotzeiten (“Bread times”) are still very popular – be it as starters or entrees.
Popular cold dishes are headcheese (Presssack), sausages, salted radish (Radi), pickles (Essiggurken), sausage salad (Wurstsalat), cold pork roast and spread cheese (Obatzter). All tents offer mixed platters of cold dishes (Brotzeitbrettl). Some of them even include chicken or duck. Cheaper offerings are often dominated by radish.
Sweets and desserts
Many sweet dishes are actually served as main dishes and not desserts in Bavaria, especially Kaiserschmarrn, which is cut-up, caramelized pancake and is usually eaten with apple puree or stewed plums. Of course, you can also eat your Kaiserschmarrn as a desert. Other classic offerings are varieties of sweet dumplings (Dampnudel, Rohrnudel, Germknödel or Marillenknödel), battered fried apple rings (Apfelkücherl) or apple strudel (Apfelstrudel). You may also want to try Auszogne or Bavesen, which are fried dough pastries or Topfenstrudel.
At the booths
In the Wirtsbudenstraße, the tent street, you’ll see many simple wooden booths, Brotzeitstandl, which are pretty similar to each other. They sell cold sausages, fish rolls (Fischsemmel), cheese, Bavarian meatloaf (Leberkas) and Schnitzel rolls. Additionally, all the small tents sell some of their foods at their counters. Feel free to buy your chicken, ducks or fish on a stick at a booth and eat it in one of the beer gardens, as you’re allowed to bring your own food in Bavarian beer gardens in general. You're only required to pay your beer there.
In general, food offered at booths outside the tents is significantly cheaper than in the tents. This is also true for the bread booths at each entrance to the beer gardens. By the way, the city of Munich leases those booths to persons in need.
Too expensive or not recommended
Unfortunately, most food at the Oktoberfest is quite expensive. As already mentioned, you may accept the higher price for chicken ducks or oxen as you’ll have a hard time getting those at such good quality. However, also food that you can expect to get at any random restaurant is still way more expensive than you’re used to.
Especially fried foods like Schnitzel are often 50% more expensive than in a regular restaurant. As they’re also pretty unusual for a beer tent, you can almost always expect to see a tourist sitting in front of a Schnitzel. Pork roast, Schweinsbraten, is often even more overpriced and can be found on practically any menu of Bavarian restaurants.
To learn what dished you can get at which tents and how much they are, check the menus of the Oktoberfest tents.