San Sebastian is a top destination for gastronomy, and although it has eleven Michelin star restaurants, you don’t have to fork over big bucks or go fancy to enjoy amazing pintxos, the Basque country’s version of tapas.
How to Order Pintxos
For a more relaxed introduction, head to the pintxo bars earlier in the evening. You won’t have to push your way through to the bar, and you will actually be able to hear the bartender. But, once you have your bearings, be sure to experience pinxto bar hopping later in the evening, starting any time after 9 pm. The bars will be packed, and you’ll have to wait for food, but the atmosphere is phenomenal. While many of the bars have limited seating, several allow you to book tables ahead of time. You wouldn’t do this if you just anticipate having a couple of pintxos, but if you want to take it easy one night and just indulge in one place, this can be a great option. My favorite place to eat a pintxo dinner in one place is Atari Gastroteka.
Most pintxo bars have ready-made pintxos on the bar. The bartender gives you a plate and you fill your plate with items from the bar and then show it to the bartender who will calculate your bill. It can be really easy to get over-excited and fill up your plate at the first stop. Try to keep it to an item per person in order to be able to experience more places. Also, don’t let the ready-made pintxos distract you from the much better items that are made to order. Depending on the item and the restaurant, these menu items are often available in pintxo size (sometimes just a bite or two, sometimes several), media ración (about double the size of a pintxo), or full ración (a full serving, often enough for four people to have several bites).
A meal in Spain isn’t the same without a beverage. To order a drink with your meal, ask for a caña (small draft beer), vino tinto/blanco/rosado (red/white/rosé wine), or txacoli (a sparkling wine typical of the area).
Where to Eat Pintxos
There are countless spots to enjoy Pintxos in Old Town and beyond. Here are some of my top picks and what to order at each spot. But don’t limit yourself to any predetermined list; wander and try places as you see them, too.
Atari Gastroteka – The croquetas de bacalao (cod fritters) are always the perfect texture and have just a touch of green pepper for extra flavor.
Also try carrillera (beef cheek served with mashed potatoes), and pulpo (only available as a main dish, the grilled octopus is a splurge, but is so good).
Bodega Donostiarra – The ensaladilla (a Spanish-style potato salad with tuna) was recently awarded one of the best in the city.
Also try platillo (a typical plate of preserved tuna, guindilla pepper, olives and anchovies), made-to-order tortilla (Spanish omelette with a variety of options for fillings) and huge fresh salads.
Cuchara de San Telmo – With its crispy skin and tender, falling apart meat, the cochinillo de Salamanca asado is a perfect balance of textures.
Also try merluza or bacalao which is served with seasonal accompaniments and is always perfectly cooked.
Gandarias – While the more expensive bites of beef solomillo and txuleta are well known and very tasty here, the pork brocheta de lomo is a humble offering that delivers in flavor.
Also try brocheta de gambas, which is dressed in a traditional pepper and onion vinaigrette.
La Cepa – If you are looking for a single plate of food for a light meal, the brocheta de solomillo is a great option. The tender meat is accompanied by roasted peppers and french fries.
Lobo – The patatas con 3 Salsas is an interpretation of the traditional patatas bravas, offering a spicy tomato-based sauce, an aoili, and a smoky romesco sauce.
La Viña – Before you head out for the night, consider picking up a piece of the famous tarta de queso at La Viña. I have missed out on this sublime dessert more than once because they sold out before I ended my dinner.