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ACL 2019: How to Eat and Drink Well During the Austin Music Festival

Eater offers meal suggestions for each day at the Zilker Park festival grounds, and a rundown of what to eat and drink around town as well

ACL Music Festival in 2018
ACL Music Festival in 2018
Charles Reagan Hackleman

The Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL for short) aims to continue its tradition of kicking off the city’s fall event season in an all-consuming manner for the 18th year. After all this time, organizing company C3 now have the mix of outdoor comfort foods down to a science, diligently providing great dining variety to festival-goers. Frankly, it’s a better food court than it needs to be. Naturally, Austin’s greatest hits — tacos, barbecue, and burgers — feature heavily.

As over 60,000 guests arrive from around the state and country to see Lizzo, Cardi B, The Cure, and Billie Eilish perform live, it’s worth thinking about how to maximize your sustenance dollars during those three full days at Zilker Park.

There are always annual tweaks, updates, and improvements to ACL’s food, drink, and shopping lineups and setups. Below are Eater’s tips for navigating the festival, picks for on-site dining, as well as selections for brunch, late-night, cocktails, and more outside of the grounds.

The Changes

The beer hall at ACL Music Festival
The beer hall at ACL Music Festival
ACL/Facebook

Talking Food, Drink, and Music: For those needing a break from the music, ACL now features a Bonus Tracks stage featuring podcast/talk-style programming from Goop, NPR Music, and KUTX, as well as a food-centered portion hosted by Bon Appétit editor-at-large, recent Austin transplant Andrew Knowlton, who is also involved with the Carpenter Hotel. His guests include Philadelphia pizza guru Joe Beddia, Veronica and Miguel Garza of Austin’s Siete Family Foods, Bunkhouse founder Liz Lambert, and New York Times cooking columnist Alison Roman, along with some surprise additional guests.

Brats in the Beer Tent: In a first for the beer tent, there’s a food vendor. Scholz Garten (now run by the former Frank team) will serve up bratwurst ($9), chili cheese dogs ($8), and pretzels with beer cheese ($8) to accompany those brews.

Beer Selection: Houston-based (and Anheuser-Busch-owned) brewery Karbach Brewing Company dominates the taps at this year’s beer hall, pouring on eight of the hall’s 18 taps. There are also two Austin Eastciders selections, national favorites like Bell’s Two Hearted IPA and Elysian Space Dust IPA, and local selections from Pinthouse Pizza (Electric Jellyfish IPA) and Celis Brewery (White.)

Wine Lounge Selection: The ACL Wine Lounge returns with a very similar menu. Frosé is again on tap, as are a number of by-the-glass selections from Spain’s Campo Viejo, California’s Kenwood, and New Zealand’s Brancott Estate. Glass prices range from $9 to $16. Sparkling, unfortunately, is only available by the bottle this year.

Topo Chico’s (Still) Everywhere: 20-ounce bottles of Topo Chico (now owned by Coca-Cola North America) will be available at beverage stands for $4. There’s also a Topo Chico “mocktail” stand (closest to the Homeaway stage) for Topo-based non-alcoholic concoctions.

ACL Festival Grounds Eats

Kimchi fries from Chi’lantro at ACL 2018
Kimchi fries from Chi’lantro at ACL 2018
Katrina Barber

For those new to Austin’s food scene, the choices at the food court can be daunting, especially when lines tend to get really long during peak hours. To save some time, here’s where to focus your stomachs during those food breaks.

Friday

For lunch, try Chi’lantro / Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich (two for $9): Chi’lantro is a massive Austin hit, and this sandwich will be crunchy, spicy, fried, and portable — a winning combination.

or

Try Mmmpanadas / Spinach-and-Mushroom Empanada ($8): The empanada purveyor has plenty of meaty options, but the spinach-and-mushroom is one of its best recipes. These empanadas are oversized — one makes a meal. For carnivores, the green chili chicken is also a smart order.

For dinner, try Mighty Cone / Chicken and Avocado Hot & Crunchy Cone ($13): The cone that started it all — originally a food stand from now-gone restaurant Hudson’s On The Bend — just keeps on coming back due to popular demand. This was ACL’s first viral hit, and rightfully so: it’s perfect festival food. (Rock band The Killers and rapper Jay Z were fans of the food item during a previous ACL.)

or

Try Chispas / Carne Asada, Butternut Squash, or Al Pastor Tacos ($9 to $10): San Antonio favorite and Iron Chef competitor Jason Dady is a chef who loves events, which is why grabbing tacos at his festival stand should be an easy victory. For ACL, he’s offering up three different taco orders, or a basket of Cool Ranch Doritos nachos ($8) if you’d like to go down in junk food flames.

Saturday

Burger and fries from Dean’s One Trick Pony
Burger and fries from Dean’s One Trick Pony
Dean’s One Trick Pony/Facebook

During lunch, scope out Tacodeli / Sirloin “Fajita” or Frijolero Portobello Tacos ($5 to $6): Tacodeli arrives at ACL to fulfill the city’s endless desire of new-school tacos with its signature frontera fundido taco (essentially chicken or steak with jack cheese glaze, onions, and poblanos.) Don’t sleep on the excellent portobello taco with refried beans and rajas, either. (There are also beef nachos here for $11.)

or

Dean’s One Trick Pony / Pony Boy Burger ($9) or Beyond Burger ($15): You knew someone was going to do it. The trendy meatless Beyond Burger makes an appearance at the Line Austin Hotel restaurant’s stand, complete with vegan queso, caramelized onions, basil, and a gluten-free bun. It’s junk food, but not exactly. For guests with conventional burger cravings, the restaurant’s go-to Pony Boy beef burger with queso, tomato, pickles, and charred onion mayo is also an option.

At dinner time, grab Micklethwait Craft Meats / Anything ($10 to $12): Whether opting for the oak-smoked brisket sandwich, the cool-smoked chicken salad, or the vegetarian Frito pie, the barbecue truck can do no wrong. Consider having more than one meal here, or sharing a pair of items with a pal.

or

Tamale Addiction / Mix and Match (Two for $10): Tamales are a nice middle ground between healthy eats and junk food — it’s rich and savory, but sharing an order with a friend turns it into a nice hearty snack rather than a solo over-order. Favorites here are the spinach with caramelized onion and the bean and goat cheese, but meat lovers can also opt for the chicken mole and/or tomatillo pork.

Sunday

Tacos from Torchy’s Tacos at ACL 2018
Tacos from Torchy’s Tacos at ACL 2018
Katrina Barber

For that midday lunch meal, head to Shawarma Point / Beef and Lamb Gyro ($10) or Falafel Wrap ($10): This Red River District trailer is a popular pre- and post-live music spot, and for good reason. Start Sunday in hangover recovery mode with a hearty gyro, or opt for lighter fare with a falafel wrap. Either should get you through the first half of the day without much need for snacking.

or

Peached Tortilla / Tacos (Two for $10): Peached Tortilla’s origin as a food truck means that it has tacos down to a science with a Southern-Asian flair, full of brisket, Korean steak, and (the best order) crunchy fish options on offer during the festival. An easy lunch victory.

For that final dinner of the festival, try Torchy’s Tacos / Washingtonian or Trailer Park Taco ($8): For out of towners, here’s the skinny on Torchy’s: the tacos are rather oversized, the ingredients are plentiful, and the focus is on fun and gluttony rather than authenticity. With this in mind, grab a Washingtonian (smoked pulled pork, grilled onions, jack cheese, pickle, and avocado) or Trailer Park (fried chicken, green chile, pico de gallo, and poblano sauce) for a Sunday finale gut bomb. You’re going to be back at work tomorrow, so why not?

or

Lamba’s Indian Kitchen / Vegetable Samosas (Two for $9) or Tumeric Rice Bowl with Curried Chickpeas ($9): If you’re trying to end on a healthy note, Lamba’s has it covered. Veggie samosas with mango chutney or a chickpea rice bowl should be filling while allowing you to still dance to Robyn or Lizzo to your heart’s content.

Drinks

Coffee from High Brew ($4): These portable coffees are ubiquitous in Austin for a reason. Fuel your rally to the finish with a can — the double espresso is the most balanced of the selections, with less sugar than flavored offerings.

IPA Beers from Bell’s Brewery and Pinthouse Pizza and Witbier from Celis Brewery ($9 each): The IPAs from Bell’s (Two Hearted) and Pinthouse (Electric Jellyfish) are preferred options at the beer tent, with the Celis White as a good lower-ABV option. The solid if not spectacular Pilsner Urquell is the best option at the bars around the park.

Food Near Zilker Park

For those looking to escape the festival grounds for a bit, check out Eater's vetted list of food and drink options right near Zilker Park, It covers migas, barbecue, cocktail bars, ramen, and everything in between.

ACL Festival Tips

With all outdoor festivals, the best experiences result from advance planning. Note the following food and drink-related rules:

  • Only empty plastic or aluminum water bottles are permitted (no glass). Refill stations are available within the park.
  • Outside food and drink are not permitted.
  • Large backpacks are no longer permitted for security reasons. Small drawstring-type bags and tote bags are allowed.
  • Picnic blankets are allowed. Coolers are not.

Outside of the ACL Festival Grounds

Other Austin Essentials

Franklin Barbecue’s barbecue
Franklin Barbecue’s barbecue
Bill Addison/E

Eater’s comprehensive city guide is a cheat sheet of sorts for newbies to town. Looking for more options? Here are a few more maps and guides that may be of interest.

Breakfast

Veracruz All Natural’s migas taco
Veracruz All Natural’s migas taco
Nadia Chaudhury/EATX

The first meal of the day is very important to get you prepared for all the standing, dancing, and drinking that is ahead of you at ACL. Fuel up.

Drinking

Nickel City
Nickel City
Robert J. Lerma/EATX

Hydration is important, but so is booze, and Austin has all kinds of cocktails, beer, and happy hours to keep you going.

Late-Night Food

Embrace the fact that you're probably going to stay up really late (or really early, depending on how you look at it). Might as well take in some food during those waking hours.

Zilker Park

2100 Barton Springs Road, Austin, Texas 78746
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