Saturday, 20 August 2016

The Best Pintxo Bars in San Sebastian

Like a pig in mud.

That’s exactly how I felt when I visited San Sebastian on holiday a couple of weeks ago.

In fact, I think I’ve found my land of milk and honey, my utopia, my spirit city (is that a thing?).

This mesmerising city in the Basque region of Spain combines incredible food, banging booze, sweeping vistas and stonking city beaches like no other place I’ve ever visited.

We spent a week trawling the city’s pintxo bars and barely made a dent into the seemingly hundreds of awesome places to eat.

In most bars we visited there were pre-prepared pintxos (the Basque equivalent of a tapa) on the counter ready to eat. However the best things we ate were those from the blackboard which were cooked to order. We’d order a couple of pintxos (around €2 - 5 ) in each gaff and wash it down with a beer or a glass of wine (around €2) before moving onto the next place.

Yes, this was the ultimate pub crawl with a killer snack at each stop.

With a little help from Google Translate and plenty of tips from Soliciting Flavours, Bar 44, London Eater and @J4yno we feasted like kings.

Below are my highlights from our trip, starting with my favourites first. The majority of places can be found in the narrow lanes of the Old Town but some are located in the city centre and the Gros district.

La Cuchara de San Telmo
Calle 31 de Agosto (hidden up side street)

This inconspicuous bar is well worth seeking out for the quality of its cooking. A crisp and yielding roasted veal sweetbread was twanged with garlic thyme.

Pork belly with super-crisp crackling and unctuous flesh had been roasted in beer.

Razor clams and the plumpest of clams combined brilliantly with a bursting creamy burrata and a potent garlic butter sauce. 

A gloriously soft veal cheek long-stewed in Rioja sat on a uber-smooth chickpea puree.

Borda Berri
Calle Fermin Calbeton, 12

Borda Berri is another bar renowned for its pintxos which are exclusively cooked to order. The cheesiest and creamiest of Idiazabal sheep’s cheese risottos was made with orzo pasta.

Rare tuna fillet was served in a velvety, spicy tomato sauce. 

An uber-yielding veal cheek was served with a vibrant tomato sauce.

Bar Nestor
Calle Pescaderia 11

If you want to snag a place at bar at the dinky Bar Nestor then you need to have your wits about you. We rocked up at 12.45pm in order to get a perch for when they opened at 1pm.

However, we still missed out on a slice of their legendary tortilla. They make two a day and there’s only 16 slices available of each, so you need to get there super early to put your name down on the list.

The food we managed to eat, the only three other dishes Nestor serve, was still frigging awesome.

Meaty tomatoes were served with flakes of sea salt and the best of olive oils. It was devastatingly simple and devastatingly delicious. 

Piquant padron peppers were fried in top drawer oil and topped with sea salt. 

Finally, a sizzling hunk of aged Galician txuleta (beef steak) was complex in flavour with yellow melting fat. 

Bar Haizea
Aldamar Kalea, 8

This super-characterful corner bar is a favourite of Elena Arzak. A perfectly grilled langoustine was bathed in a flavour-packed shellfish bisque.

Crispy balls contained a supremely smooth and well balanced salt cod and prawn filling. 

Mild and creamy brie was coated in a light batter with crispy leeks and a sticky balsamic reduction. 

San Jeronimo Kalea, 19

It’s all about the sauteed wild mushrooms at this pintxo bar. Bowls of mushrooms adorn the counter and at over €20 a plate they’re most certainly a luxury. Porcinis, chanterelles and an intense black fungus were seasoned beautifully and served with a runny egg yolk. 

La Vina
Calle del Treinta y Uno de Agosta, 3

La Vina’s legendary cheesecake is probably the best I’ve ever eaten - super light and super creamy with a lightly smokey exterior. Wow. 

A Fuego Negro
Calle 31 de Agosto, 31

This modernist pintxo bar is another cracker. Makcobe with txips saw an uber-juicy, flavour-packed kobe beef patty in a tangy tomato sauce bun served with crisps. 

A soft, crunchy and creamy risotto of sheep’s cheese and cuttlefish was also fabulous. 

Bar Itturioz
Calle San Martin, 30

Delightfully caramelised foie gras was served with richness balancing apple sauce. 

Light crumbled morcilla was joined by a runny as heck slow cooked egg. 

A slice of tortilla (we didn’t actually eat a bad slice anywhere) still had a good wobble to it. 

La Cepa
Calle 31 de Agosto, 7

First rate jamón ibérico de bellota was sliced with precision. The melting fat and vivid red flesh were full of flavour. 

Bar Sport
Fermin Calbeton, 10

A sweet white crab meat filled crepe was draped by a deep brown meat flavoured sauce. 

A mini veal steak was nicely crusted and served with golden chips. 

Casa Vallés
Calle de los Reyes Católicos, 10

Most of the pintxos we ate at Vallés weren’t hugely memorable but it’s got a buzzing atmosphere with hanging hams and discarded paper napkins scattered across the floor.

We had a lovely plate of jamón ibérico de bellota.

Croquetas were also commendable. 

Bar Alex
Calle Larramendi, 10

A well crusted piece of sirloin was joined by a meaty mushroom sauce. 

Thinly sliced foie gras was served with a tropical mango puree and an onion chutney. Both balanced the richness of the dish well. 

Bar Zazpi
Calle San Marcial, 7

Tender txuleta pieces were served with a curiously delicious beef powder and a red pepper puree. 


Every Thursday evening from 7pm in the Gros part of town, young people throng the streets for Pintxo-Pote. During these happy hours, a number of bars offer up a pintxo and a beer for the bargain price of €2. Whilst the pintxos vary in quality, these were our highlights.

Ipotx (San Frantzisko Kalea, 42) - my life will now be defined as (BBC and ABC - Before Battered Croqueta and After Battered Croqueta). A giant golden battered ball was filled with beefy bechamel. They were seriously filthy and seriously tasty. 

El Pincel
 (Segundo Izpizua Kalea, 2) - ham and vegetable pie was capped with proper golden pastry.

La Guinda (Zabaleta Kalea, 55) - a mini medium-cooked hamburger was served in a home baked bun.

Paco Bueno

Calle Mayor, 6

Plump prawns served in crisp batter are the pintxo of choice in this place. 

Bar Martinez
Calle 31 de Agosto, 9

The red peppers stuffed with tarragon fragranced tuna mayonnaise are another tip from Elena Arzak. They didn’t look much on the eye but they tasted great. 

Le Mejillonera
Calle del Puerto, 15

The busiest of all the pintxo bars we visited. You can order a litre of beer to wash down their specialities of mussels and patatas bravas. Cubes of soft potato (they could have been crisper) were drenched in garlicky aioli and fiery brava sauce. 

Calle 31 de Agosto, 19

A heaped plate of fried guindilla peppers were delicately piquant. 

We didn’t just eat pintxos in San Sebastian. Here are the other highlights:

The Loaf Bakery

Zurríola Hiribidea, 18

This brilliant seafront bakery and coffee shop wouldn’t look out of place in Dalston. Excellent coffee (they do Aeropress as well as cold brew) washed down a cherry and custard filled tart and spiced apricot cheesecake (amongst other things). 

Pasteleria Otaegui
Narrika Kalea, 15

The Pantxineta from this bakery combined flaky puff pastry filled with light custard and a topping of crunchy toasted almonds. 

Santa Lucia Chocolateria

Portu Kalea, 6

Santa Lucia has an old fashioned greasy spoon cafe vibe. Crisp, grease-free churros were served with a cup of lava-like not too sweet chocolate sauce. 

Boulevard Gelateria

It’s €2,10 for a groaning cup or cone of first rate gelato. After a clutch of pintxos it’s the ideal way to round off a meal. 

Guipuzkoa Plaza, 14

Bideluze serve a selection of breakfast pintxos. We enjoyed a roll filled with grilled jamon, melted cheese and mushrooms as well as a toasted sandwich with jamon, melted cheese and creamy spinach flecked ricotta.

So there you go, San Sebastian is frigging incredible. I'm already planning another trip.

The Details:

Accommodation - We stayed at Pension Bule, located in the Old Town of San Sebastian.
Flights - We flew from Bristol airport to Bilbao with Easyjet. Coaches from Bilbao airport to San Sebastian run every half hour and cost €17.10.


  1. Fantastic post. Looks amazing.

    I'm hungry.

  2. We're planning on a visit next month - ferry to Santander, then drive up to Roscoff for ferry back.
    We'd thought a day & night in San Seb would be enough - it seems we need to start re-planning.
    Great blog, as always. Props.

    1. @Anthony - Glad you like the blog! I reckon two lunches and two dinners would get you through the highlights. But... you could always just go back another time. Have an awesome trip. Ed

  3. I tried repeatedly to post a link to your blog on the Wales Online newspaper website in response to Jay Rayners criticism of Cardiff as a destination for eating , largely as I suspected there was little in depth research to his piece , unfortunately , despite there being many other links that one could use via Twitter on the page they would not allow the post through and I did point out I had no connection with you or the City .

    1. @s009159 - Thanks for the shout on Wales Online - much appreciated!