Home to many Michelin starred restaurants, San Sebastian is for most Spanish people the country´s foodie capital. But besides the pricey, best restaurants in San Sebastian, you will find tapas, or better said, pintxos. Friends, family, work mates, neighbours, tourists, everyone! enjoy pintxos in San Sebastian.
Pintxos are part of the daily food culture in San Sebastian (and the entire Basque country). You will find pintxos in hundreds of bars, and the good news is that they are not all the same. On the contrary, you will find lots of different alternatives to enjoy this small food portions.
With an increasing number of tourists arriving to San Sebastian every year, and with so many bars and tours to choose from, finding the best options for you may sometimes be a daunting experience. But worry not! Our local team has put together a list with some of the top bars to enjoy pintxos. Our list ranges from sophiscated to traditional and even fashion!
Let´s start with the basics first
We have put together this complete guide to enjoy pintxos in San Sebastian. We do not only cover the bar, address and recommended pintxo, but also some cultural aspects to ensure you feel at ease and take the most out of the experience.
The word pintxo comes from the Spanish pincho. Pincho is a cocktail stick and the verb is “pinchar” (to pierce). In basque language they have turned the word pincho (used to refer to tapas in some places in Northern Spain) into a pintxo. Ok, having introduced the word, we can now conclude a pintxo is a small food portion normally served with a slice of bread as a base, and a toothpick used to pierce a food delight: mushroom, chorizo, cod, cheeses, peppers…. The list could simply go for ever since in many occasions the pintxos combine ingredients.
There are many theories about the origin of the word tapas for food. In any case, a tapa is a cover. Imagine a glass of wine (probably sweet sherry) covered with a slice of bread on its top. Add some other ingredient to the bread and you have a tapa. So tapas were meant to cover with a slice of bread the glass. In the case of pintxos the bread is at the bottom and it was not meant to cover a glass. Traditionally (though this has changed a lot in recent year! Tapas were free: you received a tapas when you purchased the wine. This was not the case for pintxos though.
There are some other differences between tapas and pintxos. Tapas have evolved into food portions (raciones or half raciones) which are basically dishes meant to be shared. Pintxos remain more of an individual food portion for a person.
You may have found many tapas bars outside of Spain. The word tapas has become international and we have even seen bars offering Italian tapas! This has not yet happended with pintxos or pinchos from northern Spain.
The price of pintxos very much depend on their ingredients and preparation behind the recipe. You should also bear in mind that San Sebastian is expensive (at least for Spanish standards) and a pintxo in San Sebastian is far more expensive than a pintxo elsewhere.
Havins said that, you could expect somple pintxos to cost between 2 and 3 Euro.
Red wine will nearly always be Rioja (part of the Rioja wine region is from the Basque country and it is known as Rioja Alavesa) As for white wines, you should try txcoli. Txacoli is an acid wine that pairs very well with fish pintxos and which is only produced in the basque country. Don´t be surprised if you ask locals ask for a chato. This is a glass of wine. Chato means small.
As for beer, locals will ask for a zurito which in size equals half a caña (or a quarter of a pint)
The old town of San Sebastian is with no doubt the most famous district for pintxos. We believe you should go to the old town no matter how crowded it gets. And we will provide you with a complete list of pintxo bars in old San Sebastian to ensure you try the best pintxos out of the best bars.
Having said this, we believe it is more relaxing and you get to enjoy pintxos more in other areas of San Sebastian where more locals go. We refer to the Gros district (near the Zurriola beach and the Kursal), The “Centro” or the smartest district in San Sebastian – do not show up with your beach slippers and swimsuits please! Or the area near Ondarreta beach.
We will also provide the best bars to ensure you can discover all these fantastic districts and enjoy pintxos right there where locals go and where you are less likely to find only tourist faces.
The obvious question is “Are they worth it?” Pintxos tours are expensive and the obvious question is if it makes sense to enjoy one. We believe they do make sense if you can afford them. The local guides we have met and spoken to are incredibly knowledgeable and they take great pride of their origins and their passion for food and basque culture. We have enjoyed only one pintxos guided tour and food and drinks were excellent. Was it worth it? It was in this case. So if you can afford it we would recommend you join one but if your budget is a bit tight or you simply prefer to spend a larger proportion on a Michelin star restaurant or upgrade your accommodation, then make sure you dedicate a bit of time to the selection of bars and pintxos you will try.
We will split our recommendations in fish, meat and vegetarian pintxos to ease your decision making
-Gabara (C (San Jeronimo) . Probably the best fish cake in town.
-Tamboril: Pepper stuffed with cod. Simply excellent. (C/ Pescadería 2)
Martinez: always crowded. We love its cod pintxos. C& 31 de Agosto, 13
-Txpepetxa.(Arrandegi 5( This is the place to enjoy anchovies (anchovies are one of the top specialities in the Basque country and neighbouring Cantabria)
– Nestor. Traditional Our favorite omelette. Calle Arrandegui 11
– Gandarias: A classical which has even opened a gourmet shop. Our favorite here is their potato salad.
– Borda Berri (C Fermin Calbeton 12 ) Great risotto tapas and mushrrom. Idiazabal cheese pintxos are great here too.
Foie is the most popular meat pintxo in San Sebastian and you will be able to find it at many different bars.
– La Cuchara de San Telmo. This is one of the most popular pintxo bars in San Sebasrtian. Our favorite pinto here is the Foie with apple jam
– Sport. Fermin Calbeton 10. Probably San Sebastian´s most famous bar for foie.
If you would like to try new, less traditional pintxos, there are some bars that specialise in creative pintxos. The chefs try to bring to small portion versions some techniques and ideas captured from the Michelin restaurants.
–Zeruko. (C Pescadería 10) Fantatic bar with many options which differ from the most traditional pintxos. An excellent contrast with the more traditional bars.
–A Fuego Negro. C 31 de Agosto 31) One of the most creative bars in San Sebastian. It has become increasingly popular in recent years.
If you are tight on your budget but you are hungry you should aim to street Embeltran and enjoy one of these bars (or all of them since they are very close to each other!) Giroki, Juantxo and Danena. These 3 bars are perfect in case you bring along hungry teenagers!
You will have read this somewhere else. La tarta de queso (chesse cake) at La Viña has gained this reputation. It is really tasty and since everybody talks about it is a shame not to try it… if you have space in your stomach!
What is so special about the cheese cake in San Sebastian at La Viña? it is very creamy, that is for sure, and tasty too! People simply love it and many restaurants all over the world try to copy the recipe. The cake weights around 2 kilograms and is sold for 45€. La Viña has served this cake for the last 28 years but internet has made it viral and it has become kind of an icon. The cake does not look specially apealing from the outside. One could argue it is almost burnt. Once cut it looks creamy and well, it does not last for long on any dish. If you are in San Sebastian you should try it… and get a selfie with it. Well, tasty it first just in case one of your friends eats it all while you try to get the perfect picture. Is the cheese cake in San Sebastian really the best one in the world? We can only say it is really good. The rest is simply a question of taste!
This district is the most fashionable district in San Sebastian.
There are many cultural attractions which means artists and spectators alike populate these bars when shows or exhibitions end.
–La Bodega donostierra. C General artexe 8. This is an excellent option if you would like to enjoy a sit-down pintxo dinner (if you are lucky enough to grab one of the tables available) C / Peña y Goñi 13
Bergara: This bar has received many awards and it is specially well-known thanks to the txalupa (a boat in basque language) pintxo. It consists of mushrooms, prawn and cheese.
Ezkurra in Miracruz street 17. This bars offers the most popular potato salad in San Sebastian.
Hidalgo 56, in Paseo Colon 56. Lots of awards and specially famous for its oysters and blood-saussage pintxo.
Zabaleta (Zabaleta 51) this is a place that has not changed much, simple and authentic.
This is the most luxurious district in San Sebastian and where you will be able to find some of the most expensive shops. Most bars are near the Buen Pastor church. Among our favorites we should mention the Casa Vallés. This bar is meant to be the place where the famous Gilda pintxo was born. (anchovy with pepper and an olive). Some other bars worth trying include: Zazpi, Alustizia, La Espiga.
Ondarreta is located next to la Concha (west of San Sebastian) and is the closest beach to the famous Peines del Viento. If you decide to walk all they way to Ondarreta or the Peines del Viento and you feel it is time to enjoy pintxos the following bars are excellent options to ensure you will not be disappointed: Vinoteca Bernadirna, Drinka. Trikuharri, Merar-Mera