This is part 3 of the series on San Sebastian, Girona, and Barcelona, Spain. Other parts of this series (as they become available) can be found at this link.
One of the most famous must-try food experiences in the Basque region is to sample pintxos along the old street in San Sebastian.
The largest concentration of pintxos bars in San Sebastian resides in the old part of the city, a lovely historic series of blocks that takes you back into another time period. The cobblestone streets, quaint little shops, and pinxtos bars all add to the charm of the whole place.
Each pintxos bar has its own signature dishes. Certain pintxos bars are perennially busy and you may have to fight the crowds (which is part of the whole experience).
There’s no pressure on how many pintxos or drinks to order. You can stay for as long or as little as you like. However, for a neophyte, the unwritten rules may be a bit confusing. It took us a few visits before we started to get the hang of how to eat pintxos.
Most places already have plates of premade pintxos at the bar, displayed for people to see. At many places, getting those pintxos just involved moving your way through the crowd to the front where you fill up your plate with pintxos and then pay before bringing them back to your table.
Some places have made-to-order warm pintxos, which then involves asking the bar for a menu and placing your order with the person behind the bar. Thankfully, most everyone speaks English, which at least makes things a bit easier.
Below are three popular and excellent pintxos bars that we tried. There are plenty more, but these three are great and we enjoyed them immensely.
A Fuego Negro
This solid pintxos bar shows up on virtually every list of good pinxtos bars to visit. The irreverant funky interior decor plus their slightly more unique made-to-order pinxtos makes it a worthy place to visit.
Definitely try their signature MakCobe with txips (3,90e), a tiny slider made with Kobe beef which is really, really good.
Our favorite, surprisingly, was the vermouth-filled olives (8e), which were meaty, super flavorful, and delightfully fun with the aged (2008) vermouth splash.
Deep fried hake with a garlic and parsley sauce is another popular dish here, which was quite good (reminded us of the heavy batter used in British style fish & chips), though did not blow us away.
If you'd rather not jostle with the crowds, you can make a reservation for the tasting menu, which is 40€ per person.
A Fuegro Negro
31 de Agosto, 31
20003 Donostia-San Sebastián
Gandarias was our favorite pintxos bar because of the wide variety of really high quality pintxos that it offered. Alas, the whole world seemed to agree with us, so this place was always mobbed. Even in the middle of a thunderstorm (when we were able to easily get seats at other pintxos bars), this place was still healthily crowded - a true testament to its excellent pintxos.
We fell in love with their crab-filled uni pinxtos, which is a STEAL at 2 Euros each. We actually went back a few days later to eat more! Everything there was delicious, and they had a large variety of different kinds you could choose. Even the simply sliced jamon Iberico was excellent.
Aside from the pintxos (which are amazing), you can also eat at the restaurant, which offers traditional Basque dishes using fresh, local, and seasonal products. If you don't want to fight crowds at the crazy jam-packed pintxos bar area, you can make a reservation at the restaurant. We didn't have a chance to try it, but I think I would consider trying the restaurant the next time I come to San Sebastian.
31 de Agosto Kalea, 23
20003 Donostia-San Sebastián
[open seven days a week]
This pleasant pintxos bar has been around for over 70 years and is known for its stuffed peppers with tartar sauce and its fried squid. We easily found comfortable seats here during a rainstorm and enjoyed a number of pre-made pintxos, which are often different types of ingredients on a slice of bread (e.g., tuna spread, anchovies, jamon, etc).
C/ 31 de Agosto, 13 - bajo izq .
20003 Donostia-San Sebastián
[closed all Thursday and Friday mornings]
So, where to go?
The three pintxos bars I've named above are all excellent. If you only have time to go to one, I would recommend Gandarias for its wide variety and overall excellent quality of pintxos. It does get a bit crazy crowded. We managed it by eating outside, where we felt like we at least had a bit more space (though we occasionally had to deal with cigarette smoke).
This just scratches the surface. There are dozens of pintxos bars all along a few streets in the old town, and it would take weeks to try them all. Many pintxos bars have their own specialties and signature dishes, so it's worth doing a bit of research before eating at each one.
Below are the recommended pintxos that our hotel concierge shared with us. We didn't have time to try them all, but hopefully someday we can slowly make out way through all of them!
Pintxos Bars San Sebastian
SAN TELMO: crunchy octopus, Spanish omelet
LA VINA: cheesecake (torta de queso)
LA CEPA: jamon iberico, pimiento relleno (stuffed pepper)
MARTINEZ: stuffed pepper with tartar sauce, fried squid
LA CHUCARA DE SAN TELMO: foie with applesauce, cochinilo (suckling pig)
GANDARIAS: sirloin, beef cheeks, jamon iberico
A FUEGO NEGRO: MakCobe (kobe slider), fried hake
ATARI: slow cooked egg, hake w/ seasonal vegetables
SIRIMIRI: Iberico pork "secreto" with apple puree and fried leeks
ASTELENA 148: tuna with foie
TXEPETXA: Anchovies with spider-crab cream
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