The Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL for short) returns this October 2022 for two weekends in a row, with lots of music, food, drinks, and general merriment.
In 2021, the return of the music festival was preceded by multiple COVID-related questions: Should they have the fest? Are masks required? Will everyone get sick? Will there be a food court at all? Thankfully, the event returned that year without much fuss or drama, setting the table for a less anxious festival now. This year’s official health policy is succinct: no required vaccine proofs or negative test results. The festival asks people who don’t feel well to stay at home, and, for those who are still unvaccinated, it points to CDC recommendations to wear a mask.
This leaves festival attendees returning to the Austin music festival to debate the lineup (we’ll ask here why Rosalía and Gorillaz are in Texas the same week but not playing the fest, why, ACL, why?). As guests arrive from around the country to see Kacey Musgraves, SZA, Phoenix, Lil Nas X, the Chicks, 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. Some big names have not returned this year, including taco chain Tacodeli and Torchy’s, as well as Tamale Addiction and Easy Tiger. As replacements, the slate has become slightly more expansive, with newcomers like bao/noodle specialists Bao’d Up, new-school barbecue truck’s LeRoy & Lewis’s fry truck Mama Fried, upscale German biergarten Koko’s Bavarian (which has C3 connections), old-guard Southern comfort fare from Hoover’s Cooking, burgers and po’ boys from the Cavalier, and North Loop bagel and sandwich faves Nervous Charlie’s. And the whole not local, Portland’s Voodoo Doughnut also joins the rooster. In total, there are an impressive 39 food and drink 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 7 through Sunday, October 9, and then again from Friday, October 14 through Sunday, October 16, 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 4.5 inches by 5.5 inches or smaller with only one pocket).
- 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.
- It’ll be hot during the daytime and chilly at night, so dress appropriately and wear layers. There are also chances of rain during the second weekend of ACL and remember that umbrellas are not allowed on the grounds.
- There are no COVID-related measures or requirements.
- Picnic blankets are allowed. Coolers are not.
- Smoking and vaping are prohibited.
- To help with traffic flow during peak dining hours, the food court has a mini-satellite on the opposite end of the park, with eight vendors available. 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.
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.
For lunch, try Chi’lantro / Korean Fried Chicken Sliders (two for $9): Chi’lantro is a massive Austin hit, and this sandwich will be crunchy, spicy, fried, and portable — a winning combination. A tofu option is also available, as are the local chain’s popular kimchi fries.
De Nada / Blue Corn Tortilla Quesadillas With Cheese and Choices of Mushrooms, Black Beans, or Carnitas (two for $15): The Mexican restaurant offshoot of New Orleans-ish diner Sawyer & Co. is a simple but high-quality taco and margarita option in the Govalle area, and now the festival. The ACL menu prioritizes handheld convenience by providing quesadillas to share, with three protein options to choose from including two vegetarian options. An easy win.
For dinner, try Mighty Cone / Chicken or Avocado Hot & Crunchy Cone ($15 to $17): 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 food hit, and rightfully so: it’s perfect festival food. A shrimp version of the cone ($17) is a nice pescatarian option.
Mama Fried / Chopped Beef Nacho Fries ($16): Given that this truck is a new-ish project from the much-accoladed barbecue team of Leroy & Lewis, the prospect of this particular dish is alluring. The fries are served with queso (of course), jalapenos, and pico de gallo. Other items at this indulgent truck include garlic parmesan ranch fries ($10, and vegetarian) and foot-long corn dogs ($9).
Musically, check out Gabriels (weekend one only, they also recently opened for Harry Styles during his Austin residency), Wet Leg (weekend two only), Jazmine Sullivan, Carly Rae Jepsen (weekend one only), Phoenix (weekend two only), SZA, and the Chicks.
For lunch, try Four Brothers Venezuelan Food / Arepas ($10) or Empanadas ($7): This popular truck on Rainey Street makes a very fulfilling arepa (a corn flatbread stuffed with pulled pork and cheddar, and topped with garlic sauce.) The mini-Austin-chain is also bringing crunchy chicken and beef empanadas, and a vegan rice bowl with plantains, black beans, and avocado. Far more interesting than the standard festival fare of burgers and sandwiches.
Lamba’s Royal Indian Foods/ Chana Masala or Samosas ($12) - The favorite farmers market Indian stall is another nice typical festival fare alternative. While it’ll also have a lamb curry and a chicken tikka masala wrap, we’re partial to the chana masala and samosa snacks on the menu, both of which are vegetarian-friendly.
At dinner time, grab Micklethwait Craft Meats / Anything ($14 to $17): Whether opting for the oak-smoked brisket sandwich, the Tex-Mex sausage roll, or the vegetarian Frito pie (with potential brisket or pork add-ons), the barbecue truck from pitmaster Tom Micklethwait can do no wrong. Consider having more than one meal here, or sharing a pair of items with a pal. It’s perhaps the best stand in the park. A vegan option for the Frito pie is available.
Nacho Daddy / Veggie Nachos ($12) or Buffalo Cauliflower ($10): San Antonio chef Jason Dady loves tailgating and festival cooking, so he’s a natural fit for ACL. Along with the chicken wings he featured last year, this year’s stand has two vegetarian options for those seeking meatless options. The nachos are black bean-based, with pico, salsa verde, and roasted peppers.
Musically, check out Samia, Sloppy Jane (weekend two only), Princess Nokia (weekend two only), Sofi Tukker, Aly and AJ (weekend one only), Death Cab for Cutie (weekend two only), Lil Nas X, the War on Drugs (weekend two only)
For that midday lunch meal, try Nervous Charlie’s / Bacon, Egg, and Cheese or Avocado, Egg, and Cheese Bagel ($13): The bagel shop has become a neighborhood favorite in North Loop by serving up an impressive rendition of traditional New York-style bagels. This new ACL food entrant is a welcome addition for early arrivals craving a big breakfast sandwich and should provide a hearty brunch at a reasonable cost for the start of your festival day. Note that a pastrami bagel sandwich ($16) is also available.
Taco Bronco / Pork Carnitas ($6) and Smoky Chicken Tinga ($6) Tacos: The tacos at Micklethwait’s other truck are nearly equal to the barbecue, and luckily, the sibling business is also serving at the festival, making it a safe bet. Both tacos are fantastic: the carnitas is garnished with tomatillo salsa, queso fresco, and green onion, while the chicken tinga has roasted peppers and onions, cilantro, and avocado salsa.
For supper, try Tiny Pies / Beef Taco or Chicken Pot Hand Pie ($12): The Austin bakery mini-chain is most well known for its desserts, but it has also developed a great menu of savory options. For the festival, it’ll roll out a beef taco (!) version with ground beef, black beans, corn, tomatoes, and cheddar jack cheese sauce served in a cheddar dough. There’s also a traditional chicken and mushroom pot pie with celery, carrots, and leeks. For people only wanting dessert, it’ll offer up apple, chocolate cream, and key lime pies ($8 to 11).
Kababeque / Tikka Sharwa or Falafel ($15): Tech workers in the Four Points area are fond of the halal Mediterranean menu, and both chicken tikka and falafel wraps topped with tzatziki and sumac will be available, providing a portable but filling option for your final bands of the weekend(s). Masala fries are also available for $7.
Musically, check out Muna (weekend one only), Spoon, Japanese Breakfast, Paramore, Kacey Musgraves, and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
While there are quite a few options throughout the weekends, visit Skull & Cakebones for vegan ice cream bars and chai lattes, Austin-born GoodPop for chocolate fudge popsicles and orange creamsicles, Portland chain with an Austin location Voodoo Doughnut for glazed, blueberry, and maple bacon doughnuts, and Austin chain Amy’s Ice Creams for root beer floats, cherry limeades, and ice cream in waffle cones.
Coors Banquet ($11) at the GA Bars: This bartender- and old-guard favorite is the best of a fairly limited offering. It’s mild and sweetish. The preferred choice.
Pinthouse Pizza’s Magical Pils ($12) at the Beer Hall: An unfiltered German Keller pils with some distinct herbal characteristics, this is far more complex that the average lager. And it’s with a 5.3 percent ABV.
Independence Brewing Company’s Native Texan ($12) at the Beer Hall: This local German Pilsner clocks in at 5.2 percent ABV, and is a refreshing yet flavorful choice for warm weather days. It’s a good balance of German malt and crispness.
Celis Brewery’s White ($12) at the Beer Hall - This classic Belgian witbier was first brewed by the Celis family in the 1960s, and (along with Shiner) added the concept of craft beer to modern Austin in the mid-90s. If you’ve had a Hoegaarden, this is a recipe developed there. It’s 4.9 percent ABV.
Pinthouse Pizza’s Electric Jellyfish ($15) at the Beer Hall: The king of Austin Hazy IPAs, this tropical and floral mainstay features half a dozen hop varietals including Citra, Simcoe, and Chinook hops. The ABV here is higher than our other picks at 6.5 percent, so plan accordingly.
Wines (alas, there are no Texas options)
Nomadica White ($15 per 250-milliliter pour) at the GA Bars: It’s nice to see a white wine showcased that isn’t a sugary oak bomb. This chardonnay sourced from throughout California is fermented in stainless steel and aged in neutral oak, leading to a crisp, lean interpretation that’s weather appropriate for ACL.
Gaslighter White and Rose ($15 per glass) at the GA Bars: While these wines are new offerings, the beverages are intriguing. A collaboration between ACL headliners the Chicks and Sonoma’s iconic Gundlach Bundschu, Gaslighter’s initial releases have won praise from Wine Spectator and the San Francisco Chronicle. A good celebrity wine? Leave it to the Chicks to pull off another surprise in a career full of them.
Catena Malbec ($14) at the Wine Lounge: Catena is a highly respected producer in Argentina. The signature malbec is a big, rich red wine with earthy red and black fruit flavors. If it’s 90 degrees outside, this wine is not the right call. If you catch a cooler day, though, or sip it during the evening shows, it’s a winner.
Others & Non-Alcoholic
Topo Chico and Vizzy hard seltzers ($12) at the Wine Lounge: Not much to say here except that if you like these hard seltzers, the GA bars will all carry them.
Lemonade ($8): The Come and Take It Stand is offering freshly-squeezed lemonade at the park with a strawberry-lemonade option, too.
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.
Waterloo Cherry Limeade or Lemon-Lime Sparkling Water ($4) at the GA Bars: Austin’s national fizzy water success story is back with two of its better flavors. A great option in between (or instead of) drink rounds.
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.