As some of you may remember, a few weeks ago I read a powerful book about the atrocities of factory farming and the benefits of a vegetarian diet and decided to abstain from eating meat for a while. This isn’t necessarily a permanent change and I’m not labeling myself as a full-fledged vegetarian – I just simply made a personal decision to be more mindful about where my food comes from. I’m super proud of myself for trying to be a more conscientious and responsible citizen of the world, but I also chose the worst possible time to inact this lifestyle change!
Why, you say? Well, dear friends, this past weekend was Weekend 1 of Austin City Limits Music Festival – three fun-filled days of live music, sunshine and debauchery, and easily one of my favorite weekends of the year. Every year, my ACL weekend consists of enjoying live music, incurring credit card debt from $9 Bud Lite Tall Boys and without fail, gorging on delicious, decadent FOOD.
It’s common knowledge that music festivals spend a lot of time (and money) curating lineups of diverse talent to play their stages, but one of the greatest features of ACL is Austin Eats – a showcase of some of Austin’s best restaurants, eateries and food trucks that are a vast departure from the corny dogs and funnel cakes you’d normally find at a concert of sporting event concession stand. Every year, each Austin Eats vendor creates a small menu of tasty, reasonably priced dishes that are quick and easy for festival patrons to eat on-the-go, and since attendees spend 8 or 9 hours at ACL each day, it’s not uncommon to grab meals or snacks 2 or 3 times a day from this Holy Grail of an outdoor food court.
This was my first time experiencing a meat-free ACL and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but Austin has always been a vegetarian-friendly, health-conscious city, so I knew there would probably be plenty of options for me to choose from. Since Weekend 2 of the festival starts tomorrow, I thought I’d share some of my favorite vegetarian menu items for anyone interested. (Of note, I also included some meals I enjoyed outside of the festival this weekend in case you’re visiting Austin for the first time and wanted some additional recommendations.
And lest we forget, always stay hydrated. I’m proud to say, no animals were harmed in the production of the copious amounts of alcohol I drank this past weekend.
For starters, ACL could not have kicked off at a more opportune time because coincidentally – the first day of ACL just happened to be National Taco Day! What better way to celebrate than with some of Austin’s best breakfast tacos? My friends and I stopped by Tamale House East, a friendly neighborhood haunt that specializes in super cheap, but flavorful breakfast tacos among other tasty Mexican fare. Hidden behind some warehouses and train tracks east of I-35, Tamale House is a diamond in the rough – even Anthony Bourdain stopped by a few months ago!
I decided on two, no frills potato, egg and cheese breakfast tacos with tomato topped with smoky Tamale House salsa. Of course, the tacos were accompanied by a refreshing mimosa to cleanse the palate. A breakfast of champions if I’ve ever seen one.
BONUS: While at Tamale House, we spotted the infamous Taco Cannon! For those of you living under rocks, the Taco Cannon made its debut at Fun Fun Fun Fest last year – a hydraulic, multi-chamber t-shirt cannon like apparatus that propels tacos into crowds of rowdy festival-goers. The Taco Cannon was a smash hit at last year’s Fun Fun Fun Fest – but for whatever reason, last year’s taco vendor Torchy’s Tacos decided to opt out and create their own device for their own promotional purposes. According to the Austin Business Journal, in light of this treason, Transmission Events decided to take their business elsewhere for this year’s Fun Fun Fun and I’m glad Tamale House agreed to supply the ammunition. This taco arms race is getting out of control!
After enjoying our lunch-time breakfast, we headed to Day 1 of the festival. After reliving some high school memories during Jimmy Eat World’s set and crushing on Houndmouth’s female keyboard player, we decided to refuel. The second meal of National Taco Day was coincidentally, another taco. Ironically, said taco was from the treacherous Torchy’s Tacos. Though I’d choose Tamale House in a Taco Cannon shoot out any day, Torchy’s is still an Austin mainstay that turns out pretty decent tacos. I decided on the Magic Shroom – a loaded, portabello taco on a flour tortilla that filled me up in time for Vampire Weekend.
On Day 2, I decided to branch out of my taco comfort zone and try some different delicacies. We started the day off with spirited chick rockers HAIM and laidback Swedish trio Junip, and my first meal of the day was of the Mediterranean persuasion. Tino’s Greek Cafe is known for their mouthwatering gyros, tabouli and falafel – so for meal one, I went with a hearty falafel wrap on warm pita with lettuce, tomato and tangy tzatziki sauce. Saturday afternoon featured some of my favorite musical acts – Grimes, Portugal. The Man, Passion Pit and Kendrick Lamar and as you can imagine, one works up quite an appetite after an electrifying Kendrick Lamar set – so my late night snack was an avocado and black bean torta from hip, modern Mexican restaurant La Condesa.
You don’t have to attend a three-day musical festival to feel the familiar Sunday hangover slash excuse to go to brunch and drink more, and just because the government shut down, it doesn’t mean that Sunday Funday has to stop. The weather was gorgeous on Sunday, probably the most beautiful we’ve had this year – so my friends and I unanimously decided on an outdoor patio to pre-game our final day of ACL. Hands down one of my favorite new spots in Austin is Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden – complete with 105 taps and an unbelievable selection of exotic sausage, bratwurst and meats, this place is a must for newbies. Plus, Banger’s resides in the heart of Rainey street, an adorable neighborhood of local bars outside of downtown. On nice days, families bring their dogs, polka bands grace the outdoor stage and friends eat, drink and be merry – for the super devoted, Banger’s will even pay for your tattoo if you agree to permanently mark your person with their logo that combines a beer stein, sausage and cowboy boot. I had my understandable misgivings about the brunch selection since the Banger’s menu is known for its pig roasts, venison and sausage. But to my pleasant surprise – there were great vegetarian options to choose from as well. Per my waitress’ recommendation, I went with the Veggie Benny – a poached egg on an English muffin topped with avocado, fresh tomato and crunchy chipotle-dusted shoestring potatoes.
BONUS: Though popular for their selection of beer, Banger’s features one of the best brunch cocktails in Austin – The Manmosa – one liter of bubbly orange juice goodness that guarantees the haziest day drunken delirium and/or restful afternoon nap. Naturally, my party of five decided to end the weekend like Grown Men – So cheers to the Manmosa and Cheers to Men! (They were so heavy, I could barely hold up my stein glass)
Not gonna lie, heading to the festival after that feast was pretty rough – we were all uncomfortably full, but also blissfully content and filled with champagne-induced day dreams. But we all rallied like the Grown Men we are and embarked on the final day of ACL. Some of the best music was on Sunday – reliving high school again through Chris Carrabba’s new band, Twin Forks and chilling through folk songwriters The Lone Bellow – it turned into quite a beautiful afternoon. Later that afternoon, Divine Fits, The National and Tame Impala melted our faces off and before finishing off the night with Phoenix and super group Atoms for Peace, I decided on Indian cuisine for my ACL Last Supper. I went with a spicy Chana Masala wrap from Lambas Royal Indian Food, which was packed with tender chickpeas and flavor. I know this photo looks kinda gross, but the Chana Masala wrap was one of my favorite eats of the weekend.
Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention booze. After all, you can’t spell alcohol without ACL – so I’d be negligent if I didn’t talk about how to stay (de)hydrated during ACL. The aforementioned $9 Bud Lite Tall Boys were certainly a daily staple, but there were certainly other ways to add variety to your alcohol intake. ACL is pretty strict about what you can and can’t bring into the park, so pocket shots are a godsend. These miniature packets of whiskey, rum and vodka can be easily concealed in a purse, backpack or cargo short, so my friends and I stocked up on them for the weekend. You can buy them from most local liquor stores and they mix super smoothly with refreshing Sweet Leaf Tea.
Also, if your taste in beer is a little more refined than Bud Lite or Budweiser – right next to the Austin Eats food court, ACL housed a shaded oasis flowing with craft beer and huge projection screens that were showing the weekend football games. The Barton Springs Beer Hall had eight brews on tap for the same price as the canned Tall Boys sold around the park, so my crew alternated between craft and domestic. The craft beer obviously tasted better and the Beer Hall provided a welcome break from the relentless UV rays, but the Tall Boys were also easier to carry, harder to spill and more accessible since they were sold at multiple booths around the festival grounds. At some points, the Beer Hall was almost as popular as some of the ACL stages – especially during that soul-crushing Cowboys Broncos 99-point game on Sunday afternoon. *Shudders*
Well, I hope that preview was sufficient for anyone planning on attending Round 2 of ACL this upcoming weekend. I’m still detoxing from last week’s shenanigans, so I’m planning on staying in – but it is only Thursday. Looking ahead, I’m not sure if meat will be in my future or not. But I can confidently say that this past weekend’s experiment showed me that I can still partake in delicious cuisine and destroy my liver without diluting my overall ACL experience.
For you Weekend 2 Attendees – Have fun and be safe. And most importantly, eat, drink and be merry!