“Gastronomic superstardom comes as second nature to the people of Spain’s northern Basque Country, where even the local tapas – known as pintxos – are like art on a plate.”

“There may be bigger and better-known culinary hotspots, but few cities are as food crazy as San Sebastián (known as Donostia in the Basque language)…offering everything from multi Michelin starred restaurants to magnificent Pintxo (Basque tapas) and stunning seafood…the nueva Covina vasca (new Basque cuisine) movement emerged here in the 1970s…eating well here is not all about multi-course tasting menus and haute cuisine.  One of the city’s quintessential experiences is bar crawling around the Parte Vieja, filling up on pintxos…these 1 plate wonders are a central feature of the city’s culinary landscape and are enjoyed as much by socialising locals as visiting tourists.”  (Lonely Planet, Food Trails 2016)

One of the many vibrant (sometimes chaotic!) Pintxos bars around Sans Sebastian.  The popular bars sometimes have queues at the door – unlike Tapas Bars in many other places in Spain, many of these bars do open earlier – often at 7.30 or 8 pm.  More photos & text tomorrow – 10 pm here Wed night😴

Pintxo Bars

One of the most popular things to do in Sans Sebastian is a Pintxo Bar crawl.  One of my first questions to the owners of our SS B&B was “what’s the difference between Tapas & Pintxo” – the answer was “Pintxo is more gourmet and originated from 

One of our favourite Basque books…I’m on the Rd so will add simple recipes (especially those that might appeal to children) once we get home to our bookshelf.

Some of the Pintxos Bars we tried in Parte Vieja (centre of SS & all within easy walking distance of each other):

(recommended to us by a Spanish/Australian friend who has visited SS many times + B&B owner)

Bar Zeruko – a long queue on the night we went (wasn’t so bad the next night)…some traditional Pintxos (done well) but mostly experimental combinations – our view was that these “innovations” had varying success eg. Grilled prawns with what tasted like a v sweet berry sauce you might put on ice cream.  When we were there (Oct 2016), it was a hugely popular bar especially with groups of tourists from all over the world (all ages groups). It was a fascinating evening & once we had a seat we decided not to move on as quickly as other nights…there was a large selection and range of pintxos so really something for all tastes.  Be prepared for a food frenzy at the start of the evening!…they opened the doors at 7.30 pm.
Bar Nestor – lots of fun and extremely popular + a range of pintxos

Taberna Ttun Ttun

Ganbara – we had a light lunch here 1 day…loved their mushroom pintxos

Bar Munto – old world/traditional decor & food

Goiz Argi – specialty is their garlicky prawns

Txepetxa – beautifully fresh anchovy pintxos based on centuries old traditions

La Cuchara De San Telmo – a small bar that serves great pintxos – many you can order off menu.  Very fresh ingredients and delicious combinations & flavours.

La Vina (just down from La Cuchara) – a older style family run place (opened in 1959) that’s popular with both locals & tourists.  Many traditional favourites including seafood pintxos done very well!  Their specialty dessert is a local cheesecake recipe (tarta de queso).

Some of the Cafes we tried for breakfast &/or morning coffee

Cafe Santana – we went there a few times for breakfast & a couple of light lunches (pintxos…we liked their simple combinations tomato/cheese;  various meats with peppers etc;  mushrooms;  local crab);  they also have a homemade apple tarts “tarta racion” with lots of apple & a v light pastry (€4) & with coffee at €2 it was easy to see why so many locals seem to go there!  It was a 10 min walk from centre of SS.  There’s an shaded outdoor space with regular tables too…a nice change from some of the stools around many of the Pintxos bars although of course that’s fun/social too!

Botanika – near the river.  Another popular breakfast/brunch/lunch spot with a leafy outdoor space.  We heard that it’s open in the evenings too.

If you love visiting the local Market like we do go to Mercado De La Bretxa – not far from centre of SS…some of the specialty foods of the Basque region include their peppers (guindilla); cheeses (idizabal);  a range of local ham (jamon) and cured sausages (chistorras).

Photo below – we had a couple of special breakfast/brunch meals (see above) but over our week we mostly went to a low key cafe (popular with locals – mostly business people)…I did get tired of coffee & croissant for breakfast (other choices were basically more pastries + eggs a couple of different ways) so when in Barcelona for a week (next post to be done) we stayed in a place with a kitchenette & prepared our own.

we enjoyed:

Restaurante Ni Neu – a short walk from the centre of SS (near the seaside).  They had a great/well priced lunch menu when we were there…seaviews from the courtyard but on the October day we were there it was cool & wet so we decided on an inside table.  Delicious seafood specialties, elegant interior, friendly/welcoming staff with some English + mid range prices particularly at lunchtime session which goes through until the late afternoon.

Photo above from Restaurante Ni Neu
– Tony also loved his beef dish & both were served with a side of vegetables;  everything was fresh, delicious and well presented.  See dessert pic below too…

One we would like to try (recommended by Lonely Planet):

Bodegon Alejandro

Again in Parte Vieja so an easy walk from centre of SS.  A well known restaurant that has been in the family for generations.  “Managed by Andoni Luis Aduriz, the superstar chef-patron of Mugaritz, the world’s sixth best restaurant…the menu here is more down to earth, chef Inaxio Valverde cooks a very popular Basque seafood.” http://www.bodegonalejandro.com (Lonely Planet Food Trails ’16) 

Cooking Classes – from 2005 we’ve regularly included cooking courses in our travels (they were a fun & v social thing to do…see Sienna post) but over the last few years we’ve noticed that many of the courses are now comparatively expensive.  We’ve done so many absolutely fabulous cooking classes in Asia – a common stopover for us to/from Australia (I have a cousin based in Thailand).  These Asian cooking classes/experiences have combined market tours + cooking demo/lesson usually with a beautiful lunch or dinner after;  so now we baulk at paying so much in Europe.  However, it could be worth doing if that’s something you’re happy to pay big $s for &/or you’re a young chef wanting to learn more?   With all the wonderful food books/resources around now we are very selective about the classes we go t0 now.  Lonely Planet recommends http://www.sansebastianfood.com (Food Trails 2016) – we might consider that if we visit SS again.

Other places to visit:

Many people who love food also enjoy History, Art & Architecture (if anything like me!) so the San Telmo Museoa is right in the centre of SS.  Ask for the English audio and view the film in the beautiful “theatre” (was the original Cloister).  The Museum is worth a visit just to see how the Architect has combined the old with the new (see photo below).  I didn’t go to the Museum restaurant (can be seen in the photo) but there’s a lovely cafe on the other side of this courtyard – they serve lovely light lunches, coffee etc. as well as their own homemade apple tart which was delicious.  

Lonely Planet also recommends the Getaria coastal village (25 km west of SS) “renowned for its seafood restaurants and txakoli wine”…this sparkling wine is produced in the nearby hills and, with its low alcohol content and crisp dry flavour, makes an ideal accompaniment for pintxos.”  Also the restaurant here “Elkano” – “thrilling diners since 1964…recently earned its first Michelin star.”  (Lonely Planet Food Trails ’16)…maybe next time in SS for us!

Where to stay:

Lonely Planet suggests “Pension Aida” or “Pension Amaiur” – might be worth looking at other traveller reviews too?  Our “B&B” (actually more like a Pension as breakfast wasn’t included in room rate) was overpriced so we wouldn’t recommend it highly even though the location was right near the centre of the old town area.   Of course, SS is a very popular destination and because of that the prices are generally a lot higher than other parts of Spain.  It’s a small city so if your Spanish is ok & your happy to take public transport &/or hire a pushbike,  I’m sure there might be some better priced B&Bs/Pensions/small hotels a few Kms from the centre if you’re on a budget or like us, want to make the most of your €s