On your mark

The essential guide to Austin's biggest food and wine festival — including insider tips

Essential guide to Austin's biggest food fest — including insider tips

Austin Food + Wine Festival
Don't go into the Austin Food & Wine Festival without a plan. Austin Food + Wine Festival/Facebook

You bought the tickets early and found a designated driver, but you are not quite finished preparing for the 2018 Austin Food & Wine Festival. Now you need to come up with a plan to make the most of it.

With bites from Austin’s best chefs, a dizzying array of drinks, and special appearances from some of the food world’s brightest stars, it’s almost too much to take in. Whether this is your first AFWF rodeo or you are a seasoned pro, these handy tips will help you maximize each delicious minute of the festival, taking place April 27-29.

What to eat
To ensure you get every last morsel, arrive early and hit the most popular stops at the Grand Tasting first. This is, of course, easier said than done. You can rely on newer restaurants like Pitchfork Pretty, Guild, and Aviary Wine & Kitchen to draw crowds, but sometimes AFWF can surprise. Year after year, Ranch 616 packs ‘em in with a perfect Frito pie.

From there, make your way to the Fire Pits. With only four stops on the schedule each day of the main fest, you’ll want to hit them all. Inevitably, there will be a line at each (especially for out-of-towners like Rodney Scott of South Carolina’s Rodney Scott’s BBQ and Billy Durney of Brooklyn's Hometown Bar-B-Que), but that’s okay. Use the time to chat up fellow revelers and gather intel for the next phase of your snack attack.

A big part of the Austin Food & Wine Festival is keeping your eyes and ears open in order to find the buzziest bite. Like schools of fish, swarms of hungry festival-goers will suddenly switch direction as word gets out that one of the chefs has a particularly delicious bite. To catch ‘em all, use the buddy system and send your S.O. to hit the Grand Tasting again. By then, they may be getting on your last nerve anyway.

If you are still feeling peckish, hit the various tents around the fest for a little lounge time and bites from chefs like Eden East’s Sonya Coté and San Antonio Iron Chef Jason Dady. If you scored the All-In Ticket, you’ll have access to Friday’s Grillin’ and Chillin’ with Tim Love and the always tasty Rock Your Taco competition on Saturday. (If you don't, we won’t judge if you ask your Lyft driver to circle by Whataburger.)

What to drink
Every booze brand you can think (okay, maybe not Zima) will be scattered around the grounds. Throw out those aged aphorisms like “beer before liquor, never been sicker" and instead schedule your libations around the increasing temperature. The festival starts at 11 am, so go with the heaviest beverages first before a sample of red wine feels like burning hot tar. There are plenty of great international choices from Washington State wines to Glenfiddich, but during the wine and whiskey round, don’t forget to give Texas spirits from Nine Banded and Balcones Distilling a try, too.

Then it is time for tequila and gin. Hendrick’s is presenting the World’s Most Utterly Inefficient Cocktail Bar, a three-story Rube Goldberg-type contraption that makes an essential Instagram story. There’s plenty of local flavor to be had during this round, from Desert Door Sotol (yes, we know it’s not tequila) to Dulce Vida.

Round off your day of decadence by doing things the proper Austin way, slowly sipping a beer or a crisp rosé. Celis, Hi Sign, and Circle Brewing will take care of the brews. Think pink at the Best of Napa or Château D’Esclans Whispering Angel booths.

And unless you want to be the Demogorgon from Stranger Things at the end of the weekend: hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. You might want to take off Monday as a backup plan.

What to wear
Yes, this is a festival, but we suggest you leave those fringed suede halters and ironic onesies at home. Unlike Coachella, where you just want to do right by Bey, comfort is key when you are gorging yourself on dozens of bites.

Start with building a solid foundation for a day of aimless wandering (not to mention the end of fest dance party with DJ Mel). Avoid sandals like Tevas or Birkenstocks (however comfy they might feel) in favor of good walking sneakers or worn-in flats. Crocs also work — just throw a few enameled pins on them and say they're Balenciaga.

For the rest of the outfit, think loose and carefree. Caftans, peasant tops, and tunics are all fine choices, as are oversized T-shirts and elastic-waist shorts. Light colors are a must for balmy afternoons. Food stains are a badge of honor.

Complete the look with a floppy straw hat or one of the cult dad caps from Outdoor Voices.

What to pack
A new policy this year only allows bags with one pocket smaller than 14” x 11” x 5” on the grounds, so don’t expect to get in wearing an overstuffed backpack. At the end of the day, you’ll be glad you don’t have to carry around all of the weight.

Pack your tote or pouch with a portable phone recharger, sunscreen, and lip balm, but it wouldn’t hurt to carry a portable apothecary. We recommend allergy meds, a few capsules for headaches, and — of course — a good antacid.

Who to see
At 11:30 am on Saturday, you will face a difficult choice of either seeing an appearance with culinary legend Lidia Bastianich or learning how to pair wine with breakfast from Whole Foods Market global beverage buyer Devon Broglie. At 2:30, head to the Tasting Tent to hear why Helen’s Wines owner Helen Johannsen is "Serious About Rosé." (Aren’t we all, Helen?) In between, meet Girl & the Goat chef Stephanie Izard, who will be signing copies of her cookbook, Gather & Graze.

On Sunday, chef and cooking show star Nyesha J. Arrington will lead a cooking demo on "Finding the Perfect Cure" and Chopped judge Amanda Freitag will ask "Parles-vous Français?" at 2 pm. Skip out a little early to catch the tail end of Broglie’s joint Taste Like a Pro session with Austin wine guru June Rodil in the Meet the Maker tent, also starting at 2 pm.