Pintxos in San Sebastián: the essence of Basque cuisine
San Sebastian’s locals love going from bar to bar to sample the pintxos on offer, and it’s something you should definitely do during your visit to the Gipuzkoan capital. The international fame of this culinary tradition is no mere stroke of luck, and what was once just a slice of bread topped with something or other is now a veritable haute cuisine experience. Pintxos in San Sebastián are all about passion, flavour and character. They are a heavenly feast for the senses in miniature, and you’ll be hard pushed to resist.
The north of Spain may be famous for its rich gastronomy, but pintxos are celebrated in their own right. There’s something for all tastes: big, small, cold, hot, seafood, game, and more. While it’s hard to say which are the best, suffice it to say there’s no shortage of places to sample this miniature haute cuisine.
An insider’s guide to pintxos in San Sebastián
The reputation of San Sebastián’s pintxos precedes them, but as with everything, it’s best to learn a bit about them beforehand. If you’re bent on finding cheap pintxos in San Sebastián, you’re in the wrong place, but the pintxo experience here is totally worth it. We recommend doing a crawl of some of the most popular bars, as well as sampling the traditional local cuisine in sit-down restaurants.
Parte Vieja, Centro and Gros have some of the most renowned pintxos in town. Plan ahead and you can enjoy pintxo-pote night when bars offer a pintxo and beverage at a special price. It’s a great way to keep your budget in check.
If you want to enjoy pintxos like a local, take note: cold options are usually on the bar and it’s normal practice to help yourself; if you want something hot, order from the bar staff. Unlike other towns and cities with a tapas culture, when going for pintxos in San Sebastián it’s best to stop in at a few different places. Local custom is to have a drink and a pintxo in each bar (to make sure you don’t miss any of the specialities on offer) and, if you’re out with a group of friends, to buy rounds.
The best bars and pintxos in San Sebastián
San Sebastián has an extraordinary number of pintxo bars, though some of the most popular options are concentrated in just three neighbourhoods. So, if you’re short on time, stick to Gros, Parte Vieja and Centro for some of the most authentic culinary experiences.
Pintxos in Gros: Bergara
Looking onto Playa de la Zurriola, with the Kursaal on one side and Monte Ulía on the other, Gros is one of the most dynamic and lively neighbourhoods in San Sebastián. Going for pintxos in Gros is all about succumbing to the charms of the surf atmosphere. The streets and plazas in this neighbourhood are jam-packed full of places to awaken your senses with a tasty haute-cuisine bite.
Holding its own among some of the most cutting-edge establishments is Bergara (Calle General Artetxe, 8). Its txalupa, udaberri and itxato are among the most popular and celebrated pintxos in town. Pair with some of the many wines and cavas on offer.
Pintxos in Parte Vieja
Every street, plaza and corner of this neighbourhoods smells of pintxos. Sitting at the foot of Monte Urgull, this is a place where tradition meets novelty, and the gastronomy is no different. Here are some essential stops on any culinary tour of San Sebastián’s old town:
La Cuchara de San Telmo (31 de Agosto, 28)
Neither the hidden location nor the prices will deter anyone keen to try what’s on offer in La Cuchara de San Telmo. This renowned pintxo bar can claim to be one of few such establishments where the tasty morsels aren’t displayed on the bar. Don’t leave without trying the beef cheek stewed in red wine, Montfort foie gras fried with apple compote, or the risotto.
Borda Berri (Fermín Calbeton, 12)
A clear bartop isn’t the only thing that La Cuchara de San Telmo and Borda Berri have in common. Both of them offer top-quality pintxos. The decoration in Borda Berri is a clear signal of intent, and large letters outside announce ‘Aki se guisa’, which roughly translates as ‘Food cooked here’. And is it ever! Tomato stuffed with bonito, risotto of Idiazabal cheese, pork kebab… It’s hard to choose.
Ganbarra (San Jerónimo, 19)
This family-run bar has been going for more than 25 years and is one of the most popular in the old town. Its speciality? Mushrooms and puff pastries, though the crab tartlet, croquettes and anchovies aren’t half bad either. It’s quite the experience.
Txalupa (Fermín Calbeton, 3)
Though relatively undiscovered , the culinary know-how of Txalupa is getting a name for itself. The decor and show kitchen create the ideal atmosphere for savouring some pintxos that won’t disappoint. Try the octopus or the cod tacos.
Pintxos in Centro
Cross the Boulevard and take a delightful stroll through the Área Romántica before landing in the centre of town, where a multitude of pintxo bars lining pedestrianised streets happily compete with those in Gros and Parte Vieja. La Espiga (San Marcial, 48) is one of them. Some of its most popular creations are the stuffed peppers, Getaria anchovies and the tortillas.
If you’ve worked up an appetite in the Basque Country, what better way to revitalise than with a few pintxos in San Sebastián!