The Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL for short) returns this October 2023 for two weekends in a row, with lots of music, food, drinks, and general merriment. Festival attendees returning to the Austin music festival will be able to debate the lineup and figure out what they’ll see. As guests arrive from around the country to see Kendrick Lamar, the Food Fighters, Shania Twain, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Alanis Morissette, and others perform live, it’s worth thinking about how to maximize your dining and drinking enjoyment during those three full days at Zilker Park.
C3 Productions, the festival organizers, have tailored the food and drink offerings to suit the event over time — and it remains a much better food court than it needs to be. Naturally, Austin’s greatest hits — tacos, barbecue, beer, and burgers — feature heavily. Thankfully, the offerings also showcase local food and drink for weekend visitors, which certainly adds to the overall experience.
There are always annual tweaks and changes to ACL’s food and drink lineups, and this year is no exception. The morphing lineup has been more and more expansive in recent years. First-time festival vendors include Cuantos Tacos, seafood truck Huckleberry, farmers market stand-slash-shop Steamies Dumplings, Korean American wine restaurant Underdog, and New Texan restaurant/butcher shop Salt & Time. Out-of-towner Waco spot Hawk’s Hot Chicken is also cooking. Most notably, ACL mainstay Mighty Cone is not at the festival.
Along with the main ACL Food Court and the mini-ACL Eats satellite court, the festival is introducing a new sweets-dedicated section, ACL Sweets. Located near what was the Barton Springs stage and is now called the IHG Hotels & Resorts stage, first-timers include JP’s Pancake Company, Thai rolled ice cream truck Holla Mode, and Dallas-based Brazilian-style popsicle spot Picolé. In total, there are an impressive 50 food spots vendors on offer.
Below are Eater’s tips for navigating the festival, and picks for on-site dining, as well as selections for brunch, late-night, cocktails, and more outside of the grounds. The festival takes place from Friday, October 6 through Sunday, October 8, and then again from Friday, October 13 through Sunday, October 15, all at Zilker Park.
ACL Festival Tips
With all outdoor festivals, the best experiences result from advanced planning. Note the following food and drink-related rules and related things to know:
- Obviously, outside food and drink aren’t allowed.
- There’s a strict bag policy (clear bags no larger than 12 inches by 12 inches by 6 inches and/or regular bags that are not bigger than 6 inches by 9 inches and/or smaller bags with only one pocket. i.e. clutches and fanny packs).
- Empty wearable hydration packs with at most two pockets and plastic/metal/aluminum water bottles are allowed. No glass containers. Refill stations are available within the park.
- Stay hydrated!
- The weather predictions for the first ACL weekend have been all over the place, forecasting everything from very cold weather to what constitutes as fall temperatures for Austin (low 80s to 50s) to potential rain, so be prepared for anything (but also umbrellas are banned). Here’s hoping for pleasant temperatures at least. The second weekend includes potential rain, but also temperatures in the 80s to 60s. So prepare for heat during the daytime, chilly evenings, and wear layers.
- There are no COVID-related measures or requirements (but still, it’s worth getting that new vaccine).
- Picnic blankets are allowed. Coolers are not.
- To help with traffic flow during peak dining hours, the food court has a mini-satellite on the opposite end of the park. Detouring to this area is smart during the peak dinner hours of 6 to 7 pm.
- It’s also fair to expect restaurants along Barton Springs Road to sell to-go booze again this year (see below).
- For the first time, the general admission bars will serve cocktails.
- ACL is also introducing new new bars, the nonalcoholic bar Bar None with drinks created by bar wiz Robert Björn Taylor, and then the Barton Beach Club Tiki Bar.
- That solar eclipse is taking place during ACL’s second weekend on Saturday, October 14, which will be visible starting at around 10:24 a.m. with at nearly 89 percent visibility around 11:54 a.m., just after gates open for the festival at 11 a.m.
ACL Festival Grounds Eats
For those new to Austin’s food scene, the choices at the food court can be daunting, especially when lines get long during peak dinner hours. Here’s where to focus your dining during those food breaks to save some time. Eater didn’t receive finalized menus from the festival in time for this guide, so we’re making general suggestions for your lunch, dinner, and dessert picks over the weekend.
For lunch, head to Cuantos Tacos: The essential Austin food truck serves fantastic Mexico City-style tacos with fillings such as suadero (confit brisket), champinones (mushrooms), and carnitas (confit pork shoulder). Because the tacos are smaller, order up a bunch for a mix-and-match meal.
The Cavalier Party & Tots: The East Austin bar and restaurant’s ACL-only stall offers fun and easy bar bites, like hot dogs ranging from classic to kimchi-laden, and, yes, tater tots with roasted street corn.
For dinner, get Micklethwait Craft Meats: Because, yes, barbecue is essential during an Austin music festival. The smoked meats truck is a veteran of ACL Eats, expect vegeterian Frito pies, brisket sandwiches, and pulled pork mac and cheese, as well as a pastrami hot dog.
Huckleberry: The seafood truck’s first time at the festival will mean fresh items like Cajun-poached shrimp rolls, blackened fish tacos, and a refreshing watermelon salad.
Finally, for dessert, scope out Holla Mode: The Austin ice cream truck dishes up fun rolled Thai ice creams, a perfect way to cool off after a first day of music. The sticky rice mango one is a great pick.
Musically, check out Kendrick Lamar, Maggie Rogers, Little Simz (weekend one), and Ethel Cain (weekend two).
For lunch, try Steamies Dumplings: Chinese dumplings make for an excellent lunch, and the farmers market stand-slash-cafe-slash-shop serves up some of the best iterations in Austin. There will be pork/cabbage, chicken/shiitake mushroom, and vegan potstickers, as well as a smashed cucumber salad.
Sticking to this daytime pocket-foods theme, go for Mmmpanadas: The frozen retail food company offers vegetarian and meat empanadas for a quick meal. The hatch green chicken one is great.
At dinner time, pick up food from Salt & Time: The New Texan restaurant with a focus on meats (since it also has a whole butcher shop component) has been getting into the festival food game recently. There will be a beef-pork sausage, wagyu smash burger, and beef fat fries.
Tiny Pies: Yes, the bakery doles out great sweets, but the savory options work for a filling dinner, especially when the flavors are only available at the festival. The hand pies lineup include chicken pot pie, brisket jalapeno, and pizza pocket, plus there’s a cheddar sausage wrap.
End the day with desserts from JP’S Pancake Company: The little pancakes in cups from the food truck work very well for those rushing to get good spots for the headliners this day. You can’t go wrong with its classic with white chocolate chip pancakes, raspberries, and a raspberry glaze.
Musically, check out Foo Fighters, Shania Twain (weekend one), the 1975 (weekend two), Alanis Morissette, Noah Kahan, Tove Lo, Rina Sawayama, Tegan and Sara (weekend two), Jessie Ware, and Ben Kweller.
For that midday lunch meal, stop by Nervous Charlie’s: The bagel slingers will offer all-day sandwiches made with its everything bagels: turkey club, bacon/egg/cheese, and avocado/egg/cheese.
Lambas Indian Kitchen: The South Asian ACL staple stall will serve up its excellent vegetable samosas with mango chutney.
For supper, try Underdog: This will be the new Korean American wine restaurant’s first time at ACL and they’re going casual with their fried chicken wings served with cucumber kimchi. Plus there will be seasoned fries with gochujang ketchup.
Mama Fried: This food truck from new-school barbecue truck LeRoy & Lewis is all about loaded fries with, yes, smoked meats options like the chopped beef, as well as its corn dog.
And for the last day of the festival, end with dessert from Mister Softee: Nothing beats the ever-so-classic chocolate dip cone with vanilla soft serve.
Musically, check out Odesza, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Niall Horan, M83 (weekend two), Little Simz (weekend two), the Walkmen (weekend one), the Breeders, Suki Waterhouse, and Jane Leo (weekend one).
ACL’s Barton Springs Beer Hall is curated by Houston brewery Karbach Brewing Co., but let’s go Central Texas and order Twisted X’s McConauhaze hazy IPA, Pinthouse’s Electric Jellyfish hazy IPA, Austin Eastcider’s tropical punch, and Independence’s Native Texan pilsner. Expect the tent to be very crowded the late Saturday, October 7 as people watch the UT Austin versus Oklahoma football game.
This is the first time that ACL is serving actual mixed drinks in the general area. A good bet is the Tito’s Vodka sparkling lemonade.
Wines (alas, there are probably no Texas options)
Because the CL’s Wine Grove is curated by Texas-based canned wine company Brÿt. There are its two two Italian wines, the sparkling rosé and the sparkling white.
Others & Nonalcoholic
Topo Chico: The company will be selling its strawberry-guava hard seltzer during the festival.
Lemonade: The Come and Take It Stand is offering freshly-squeezed lemonade at the park.
High Brew Coffee: 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.
Rambler Sparkling Water: The Texas-based fizzy water company will probably offer its signature plain water as well as flavored ones.
Thanks to takeout cocktails getting legalized last year, many restaurants and bars along Barton Springs Road and nearby often set up stands catering to passersby going into and leaving the festival. This includes forthcoming restaurant Zoé Tong, which will be serving a short modern Chinese menu of skewers, sticky ribs, chilled sesame noodles, lychee sake slushies, and more.
On the other side of the park, the South Austin location of seafood spot Salt Traders is opening a pop-up bar serving to-go frozen margaritas, beers, and seltzers.
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.
Outside of the ACL Festival Grounds
Other Austin Essentials
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.
- Where to Eat at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport
- The 38 Best Restaurants in Austin
- The Hottest Restaurants in Austin Right Now
- The Essential Barbecue Spots
- Essential Food Trucks
- Must-Eat Tacos in Austin
- Austin’s Essential Brunches
- Austin's Amazing Queso Spots
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.
- Vital Breakfast Spots To Know in Austin
- Essential Austin Breakfast Tacos
- Austin's Outstanding Bakeries: Where to Pick Up Baked Goods
- Excellent Coffee Shops in Austin
- Where to Find Enjoyable Breakfast Sandwiches in Austin
Hydration is important, but so is booze, and Austin has all kinds of cocktails, beer, and happy hours to keep you going.
- The Eater Austin Cocktail Heatmap
- The Essential Austin Cocktail Bars
- Austin’s Most Versatile Bars
- Happy Hours for Cheap Eats and Drinks in Austin
- Austin Craft Beer Destinations
- Austin's Iconic Dive Bars
- Fine Wine Spots in Austin to Sip and Savor
- Where to Drink Frozen Booze Right Now
- Excellent Margaritas in Austin
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.