Whether one is a Hot Luck veteran or newbie, it's wise to have a plan. The festival is so jam-packed with music, drink, and food that it is next to impossible to take it all in. But don’t worry, we have some insider tips to help you make the most of every minute.
From buzzy bands to can’t-miss treats from cult chefs, the below recommendations will help anyone glide through the dozens of attractions from May 23-26. If you haven’t made the commitment, jump on it now. Though the all-inclusive Whole Enchilada pass has sold out, there’s still a precious few tickets left to the food events and nighttime shows.
What to eat
The two welcome parties — The Giddy Up at Mohawk on May 23 (only available to Whole Enchilada pass holders) and Hi, How Are You? at Franklin Barbecue on May 24 — have relatively small food lineups, so it’s easy to visit every chef. But the two marquee tastings require a little more legwork.
Al Fuego, the live-fire cooking spectacular, held on May 25 at Wild Onion Ranch, will feature bites from some of the buzziest chefs in the nation, not to mention an all-star cast of bold-faced names from Austin. There’s more than 20 morsels to choose from, so arrive close to the 7 pm start for maximum gluttony.
In the past, the meatiest morsels proved to be the most popular, so make a beeline to Suerte’s booth for tacos de barbacoa; Cured for a chicken stuffed chicken wing (Whoa! Chicken inception!); and Fat Rice for beef cheek rendang. And make sure to visit out-of-towners like Saba, Ox, Kismet, and Bullard for a quick tour of America’s most notable restaurants.
Save the desserts for last, but don’t wait too long to savor. Philip Speer's masa-and-lard whoopie pie for Comedor and the smoked bacon and spiced chocolate fountain from Tatsu-Ya’s Tatsu Aikawa will likely draw a crowd.
Put the pedal to the metal the morning of May 26, when Coupe de Grille races into the Austin Speed Shop. Christina Tosi from Milk Bar will be dishing out cereal milk ice cream with a toppings bar. With the temperature expected to be in the 90s, it will undeniably be a big draw.
There are only 13 bites, so big eaters can try them all. Smaller appetites might have to make some difficult choices. Theodore Rex’s meatballs in vin jaune sauce and Turkey & the Wolf’s McHashbrowns with caviar are essential nibbles before the food coma sets in.
What to drink
It may be tempting to stick with beer at the Hot Luck food events, but filling up on suds is a rookie mistake. Instead, hit one of the pop-ups from the visiting booze brands.
Fernet will be at Hi, How Are You, Al Fuego, and Coupe de Grille, and is a smart choice because it is a legendary digestif. Wines of Germany will be bringing a barbecue-friendly portfolio to the first two of those events, including two specially curated to pair with dishes from Pitchfork Pretty’s Max Snyder and Hotel Ella’s Austin Rocconi.
Cool off during the Al Fuego with 14 Hands Winery, who will be offering a summertime essential — frosé. Or stop by Washington State Wines for its PNW Chill Zone activation featuring frozen wine cones, a fish toss game, a decked-out kiddie pool, and even tattoos.
Who to see
From the fest's first year, Hot Luck has paid as much attention to the nighttime live music shows as the early evening tastings. Of course, who one should see is largely a matter of taste, but a chance to dance off some of those calories is always appreciated.
The hottest ticket on May 23 is likely to be Texas troubadour Robert Ellis’ set at Mohawk, but that it only available to Whole Enchilada pass holders. Those looking for an a la carte party, should head to Antone’s for sure-to-be raucous show from Naughty Professor and New Breed Brass Band.
On May 24, our top pick is Sunflower Bean at Barracuda, if only because the New York trio makes us feel much hipper than Maroon 5 keyboardist PJ Morton or jam band stalwarts Leftover Salmon. Plus, they sound like the Sundays, giving Hot Luck attendees a breezy break before the weekend’s volume gets turned up the next day.
Anyone who wore ringer tees in the ‘90s will no doubt flock to see indie icons Archers of Loaf at Mohawk on May 25, especially because show snacks will be provided by Home Slice Pizza. But local El Tule always turns it up — and tickets for their Barracuda show are only $10.
There’s only one choice on May 26, but it's a good one. Country punk pioneers Lucero will end the festival on a high note with a show at Mohawk featuring bites from Dean’s One Trick Pony.