Wednesday 3 May 2017

San Sebastián Pintxos Bar Crawl.

There are plenty of good online guides to the best pintxos bars in San Sebastián, my favourite is The Hola Foodie Guide. This was my go-to research tool on those bars we hadn't visited over previous trips to the Basque country. This post is more of a travelogue of our three nights in the city in which we try to eat in as many bars we could. One thing I must mention is that these places are absolutely rammed over the weekend. It helps if you have a plan or a map, research the best dishes, know what you might want and if there are a few of you, make a team. It's like a military operation! Two of us order, well mainly my friend Karen who has a real talent for catching the bar staff's eye in a queue of three deep at the bar. Once you have their attention, they won't forget you and you're in. Our other 'team' was in charge of getting tables or standing space. This is more tricky than it might appear. In La Cuchara de San Telmo they had to literally fight off two little old ladies who just started moving their plates away and barging them out of the way! The timid will be stomped on in this town and you will starve!
On our first night we went over to the Gros area and stopped off for Oysters on the way at
Kata 4. This was recommended to me by my mate Neil who makes the Best Pies in Britain.
A light and modern bar with waitress service, the oyster menu alone is extensive. We chose Galician and Asturian. There are other pintxos and raciones too, the black squid ink croquetas were superb.
Over the bridge into Gros proper we finally find...
Bar Bergara.
This modern bar is one of our favourites of the weekend, the staff were friendly and the food was all excellent. I had an Udaberri a courgette and crayfish tart, txalupa (mushroom and prawns) and foie risotto. My god this was good but everything looked great. The Anchovy Tortilla was a game changer. I could have stayed here all night but we had to move on.
Hidalgo 56 was another busy bar but we squeezed into some standing space. The Mushroom Ravioli was overly sweet and the famous 'Volcan'. Morcilla and egg yolk was just ok. Other stuff was better, foie and 4 cheese tart(?), and spider crab mousse was lovely.
In Bodega Donostiarra a merry group of elderly ladies gifted us a table and half a bottle of wine which of course we happily accepted. The Galician Octopus was no good here, overly dry and tired but the Russian Salad was lovely and creamy.
Day 2 and Zeruko is known as one of the more modern bars with inventive pintxos. A long taster menu and wine in the day had taken it's toll but we all rallied with some excellent dishes here. Grilled Cod comes on a little smoking grill and is lovely. We also enjoyed the steamed Anguila Ahumada and the Hamburguesa de Txipi  (Squid Hamburger with black ink sponge cake). This had a small blob of green on it, I presumed it was pea but it was actually wasabi which my friend hadn't told me about. I thought my head was going to explode as I had eaten it in one go. That'll learn me.
Bar Txepetxa specializes in anchovies, we enjoyed anchovy and crayfish on toast and anchovy and sea urchin on toast.

Ganbara seemed even busier than the rest of the places but yet again by some miracle we managed to order food and get some precious table space outside. We got crab tarts (pastel de txangurro) and some raciones. The famous wild mushrooms (setas temporada) are good.
We see a plate of fresh peas go out and decide to share a portion. The bill came and they were €34! This seemed quite funny at the time, they were lovely peas but be warned raciones are much larger and pricier than pintxos!
We went off piste to Atari as we were all craving the lovely Cream Cheese Ice Cream they do there. I think we may have even had a couple of cheeky croquetas too.

La Cuchara de San Telmo  was a big favourite from our last trip. At almost 9pm on a Saturday night, this would take up all of our teams powers. This place is a like a small corridor with a thousand people in there all wanting serving at once. It's amazing how they do it and how the tiny kitchen sends out such brilliant food.
We all insisted on Mushroom Risotto again (two of which went missing so there was a long delay whilst we waited). It is worth the wait though, it's just superb, orzo in a liquid earthy broth. I have the excellent fatty soft Carrillera de Ternera again too. I see some amazing looking Suckling Pig coming out but we just cannot order anything else here, it's insane. Plus our other 'team' are fighting off a couple of old battle-axes who tried to start a coup d'état over the precious table corner we have.

Txuleta does good steak and tuna belly pintxos. We even got a table in this busy traditional bar and guarded it with our lives. Lastly Sirimiri Gastroleku which I think is the Atari test kitchen. Our luck lasts and we sit outside on a table with the best view in town. You can get waitress service here. I ate some beautiful lamb and some other stuff I've now forgotten. Good cocktails end our pintxos crawl in style.

Places we missed on this trip.
Bar Antonio, Bar Sport, La Cueva, A Fuego Negro, Borda Berri, Gandarias (we've been to the latter three a few times before) and Betti Jai Berria. Bar Nestor does amazing steaks and tortilla but the timing never worked out with our nights out (you have to order your steaks at a specific time). We were also keen on eating at our Hotel Niza but never managed to get a table at the time they were serving pinxos!
These were how these bars were for us on the nights we visited, there are so many variables though, I don't think there is a 'best bar' as such, it's how it is on the night and what you order. These bars are best enjoyed with friends and booze rather than ticking them off like a train spotter. It's good to make a plan but be prepared to be flexible too.
I suspect that you could visit any bar at random (including those I've not mentioned) and you'd eat very well. This is the beauty of San Sebastián. The general standard is so good that poor places couldn't survive. This is what makes it an absolute must for a food lover. I feel as though we just scratched the surface and want to return for longer next time.


  1. Sounds awright then :) - yes, you do have to come for longer!
    My son has the good luck to live there and the bad luck to be on a student is hard. Being Donosti though, they do manage to have their own ranking on the various Univ cafeterias

  2. Fantastic post! I am going for my birthday in September and I cannot wait! Thanks for all the tips, I am sure I will be referring back to your post a lot! Sam x

    1. Thanks Sam, have a great time & let us know how you get on! Bacon x