There is a lot to love about Spain. Picturesque little alleys teetering with elegant little balconies, grandiose, towering cathedrals, sun kissed golden beaches, the vibrant culture and people, the perfect mix of old and new….it never fails to impress me. But if you had to throw all of this into a mere 25 square miles of land and present it in the most perfect, beautiful way possible, you get San Sebastián.
San Sebastián cultural epicenter, and heart and soul of the Basque country. It is all and everything I love about Spain. It just also so happens to be one of the food meccas of the world, touting three 3-Michelin star restaurants as well as 16 total stars, and dozens of the best pintxos bars in the world. And thus, San Sebastian captured my heart…and my stomach.
Unfortunately, I only was able to spend one day and night in San Sebastián….my biggest regret from my recent summer Europe trip. And yes, I spent every minute of it gorging myself in gluttonous revelry. With the help of our AirBnb host (who happened to be a fellow food enthusiast, but really there is probably not a single person in San Sebastián who isn’t), we were able to knock out some of the best pintxo bars in old town – the Parte Vieja neighborhood.
Pronounced as “peenchos”, pintxos are the Basque equivalent of tapas. They are often served as bites in portions for one or two people. If you wanted a larger serving to share between 4-5 people, you would order raciones. One of the greatest experiences of eating pintxos is the sheer atmosphere in being in a loud, busy pintxo bar, rubbing elbows with locals. Although pintxo bar crawling can be quite overwhelming and hectic, it is the best way to soak up the local Basque culture and enjoy some the best cuisine in the country. Many of the bar hosts are used to working with tourists, so don’t be afraid to walk up, point to what you want, as well as ask for recommendations.
Here’s a guide to some of my favorite pintxos bars I visited in the main Parte Vieja neighborhood, and recommended by our local host. Don’t forget to try some Txakoli, a local sparkling, dry white wine poured from as high as possible!
5. Bar Ganbara
Very traditional selection of pintxos, but excels in seafood and their famous wild mushrooms. Relatively higher priced, but good quality. Great wine list.
Highlights: Hongos a la plancha (Wild Mushrooms with egg yolk), anything seafood
4. La Viña
Had a few pintxos here, but the cheesecake just takes…well, the cake. If the most creamiest, beautifully rich cheesecake and perfect, divine flan had a baby, then this is the result. I will admit I came here 3 times in the 24 hours I was in San Sebastián here…including breakfast.
3. Borda Berri
Borda Berri has been a longstanding favorite in the neighborhood, and famous for their melt-in-your-mouth beef cheeks. Definitely a must-stop.
Highlights: Carrilleras (braised veal cheeks), Mushroom Risotto
2. Sirimiri Atari Akademy
Very modern take on pintxos, serving up some interesting fusions as well as traditional. Easier to sit down in with larger area in the back. Also, excellent cocktails and wine is an huge plus.
Highlights: Slow cooked ribs, Solomillo, Everything else
1. Atari Gastroteka
My absolute favorite pintxos bar…and I am definitely not the only one who feels that way. One of the most popular pintxos bar, it can get VERY crowded here, especially if you don’t have a reservation for a table. Come here early, claim a table by the bar and start grabbing some pintxos!
Highlights: Braised beef cheeks, Pulpo a la plancha (THE best octopus I’ve ever had…and this is coming from someone who isn’t a fan of octopus)
Honorable mention: Akerbeltz
Nice little gem of a dive bar with craft beer…which is surprisingly to find in Spain!