Here's a rundown of the best San Sebastian pintxos bars I have visited in San Sebastian and the pintxos I didn't want to forget. Perhaps it can be a some inspiration for anyone who finds themselves in San Sebastian and hungry.
'El Listo' was started in 2008 and originally based on a list given to me by Elena, chef/patron of the 3 Michelin starred Arzak. We visited all of her suggestions, tried the recommended pintxos and made a few new discoveries of our own. Having just returned from my second trip to this Basque food Mecca I thought it would be churlish not to post an update.
Zona parte vieja (old town)
San Jeronimo 19
The txangurro tart (crab tart) is reputedly the main star, although we preferred the one at Bernardo Etxea. I loved the simply cooked cod’s roe, served cold and garnished with onions and parsley. We also had a lovely racione (a larger portion than a pintxo) of clams with baby artichokes that were stewed into soft submission and flavoured with clam juice.
La Viña (2013)
31 de Agosto 3
You have to come to La Viña and have one thing, at the very least, if you eat no other pintxos at all during your visit to San Sebastian. And that is the canutillo de queso. It is a cone made from brik pastry, filled with cream cheese and one anchovy fillet. It is cheesy, creamy, fishy, oily and crisp. It is also unexpectedly delectable. Like a delightfully savoury ice cream. If you are adventurous then try the patitas de cordero – lamb’s feet. These are quite special but not to everyone’s taste. The torta de queso is wonderful - sweet cream cheese custardy curds just bound together into a cake.
La Cuchara de San Telmo (2013)
31 de Agosto 28 trasera (junto a la entrada lateral de San Telmo)
This was one of our favourite bars on our first visit. We had mollejas (veal sweetbreads), foie gras, pulpo, txiperron (baby squid), oreja (pig’s ear)…in fact everything we ordered from the short menu was delicious.
On returning in 2013 the carrillera (ox cheek), foie gras a la plancha and risotto with goat’s cheese were still wonderful, but the service was less impressive.
Txepetxa (2013) – known for excellent anchovies
The anchovies come with a wide selection of unusual partners. You can find anchovies topped with sea urchin (erizo del mar), spider crab, salmon, trout roe or even blueberry jam. In season fresh anchovies caught off the coast are hand filleted and then marinated in vinegar for 24 hours before being served. These are prized for being larger and tastier than their imported counterparts. In 2013 we tried ‘antxoas mundiala’ or ‘anchovies of the world’, not on the menu and a concoction of anchovy fillet with crab mayo and sea urchin eggs (huevas des erizo del mar). Another classic is a Gilda (pronounced Hilda) – named after the movie Gilda starring Rita Hayworth. This pintxos combines an anchovy fillet with a stoned green olive and a guindillo pepper on a toothpick.
La Fuego Negro (2013) – known for pintxos modernos (modern tapas)
31 de Agosto 31
Another top contender for the best pintxos in ’08. 2008 highlights included pancetta Iberico con ajo, txangurro (crab), avocado ice cream, aniseed ice cream – amazing together. Makobe con txips ( mini hamburger with chips), txupitos (like veloute amuse) salmurejo (salmon custard) con brote (onion sprouts), flore (flowers), anchovies, pickled garlic cloves, roasted cherry tomatoes.
On our 2013 return we had a glass of mussels in tomato sauce with béchamel foam and pork scratchings, along with a dish of lamb’s tongue (lengua) and red wine pickled onions (below).
Bar Martinez (2008) - recommended: pintxos frios (cold tapas)
31 de Agosto 13
Bacalao and salmon on toast. Stuffed peppers, anchovy, egg and jamon, boquerones with red pepper and onion sweet sour relish, anchovy, tuna, gherkin and pickled green chilli.
Goiz Argi (2013)
Fermin Calbeton 4
Tel: 943 425204
Brochetta de gambas – prawn, bacon and spicy sweet sour salsa – incredible, one of the best pintxos. Morcilla, , txangurro a la calenta – hot little dish of crab, polpo. Only disappointment was the chiperrones.
Bernardo Etxea (2013)
Tel: 943 422055
One of our favourite destinations for a long seafood lunch. Especially for hot boiled percebes (120 euros per kilo! or €30 a racione), or dinosaur feet/goose barnacles. Other delights included native oysters, langoustines, almejas (clams) – all available either raw or cooked and both options were delicious…but relatively expensive compared to standard pintxos. Otherwise there was -
Tartaleta txangurro – blind baked shortcrust tarts with a rich, almost burnt, buttery taste, filled with a warm mixture of white and brown crabmeat, nothing else. This was elegantly simple yet luxurious at the same time. One of the highlights.
Jamon de Jabugo – thin slices of classic Iberico ham
Kokotxas en salsa – Hake throats in a white gelatinous sauce flecked with parsley.
Pulpo a la Gallega – Slices of soft octopus with paprika
Cigalas a la plancha – Enormous langostines, split open lengthways and quickly cooked under the grill with a smear of butter.
Chipirones a la plancha – These should have been tiny little squids but were larger than expected in late March/early April, perhaps due to the season.
La Cepa (2013)
31 de Agosto 7
Tel: 943 426394
Reputedly Ferran Adria’s favourite bar.
Jamon de Jabugo – wonderful Iberico ham and hongos a la plantxa – wild ceps grilled and served with an egg yolk.
Borda Berri (2013)
Fermin Calbeton 12
Tel: 943 425638
Translated as ‘New Hut’. This bar was a new discovery in 2013. Apparently owned by one half of the pair who opened La Cuchara de San Telmo following an acrimonious split. The food was fantastic – everything we tried was impressive. Highlights included:
Risotto de idiazabal – the ‘risotto’ was in fact orzo pasta, glazed with the local idiazabal cheese. It was wonderfully creamy and rich.
Kebab de costilla de cerdo – pork ribs, slow cooked to tender meaty shreds
Carrillera de tenera al vino tinto – ox cheek, again forkably soft and savoury sauced.
Atari Gastroteka (2013)
Calle Mayor, 18 Nagusia (Calle 31 de Agosto)
Tel: 943 440792
Foie artesano – Warm foie gras, banana cream and slices of caramalised apple.
A slate with flakes of cooked bonito (tuna), anchovy fillets and spicy pickled guindillo peppers.
Bar Tamboril (2013)
Tel: 943 423507
Txampis Tamboril - fat button mushrooms stewed in their own juices, with garlic and olive oil and served with a piece of baguette to mop up the sauce. Also recommended are the gambas a la gabardina.
In new town – Zona Gros
Alona Berri (2008)
C. Bermingham 24
Tel: 943 290818
Interesting ‘modern’ tapas – unusual combinations, and friendly service. Not the cheapest but worth it.
Erizo de mar (sea urchin – served hot and in the shell)
Chipiron en equilibrio de mar
Entecote atun – tuna with sesame ‘salt’ and honey
Txirristra – mackerel
Bar Bergara (2008)
C/ General Arteche 8
Bacalao a la Vizcaina is a speciality, lots of pastry and tarts, not bad, but we preferred Alona…
Hikamika (2008) – Pinchos in general
Tel: 943 431335
This was recommended on Elena’s list, but we have yet to try it….
Restaurants I went to and loved
Fantastic traditional Basque cuisine and a culinary classic for locals. Also boasts one of the oldest and most extensive wine cellars in Spain.
Arzak (2008 and 2013)
Three Michelin starred gastronomic powerhouse.
Three Michelin stars and a kitchen garden thrown in.
Two Michelin stars and wildly innovative - much loved by chefs.
To try next time
Astelehena - The pan seared foie gras is supposed to be amazing.
Zeruko - very inventive
Akelarre - Three Michelin stars
Martín Berasategui - Three stars too
Zuberoa - One star
Miramón Arbelaitz - One star
Kokotxa - One star
Mirador de Ulía - One star
Alameda de Hondarribia - One star
Aldanondo - Traditional Basque cuisine
Juanito Kojua - Traditional Basque also
The Basque cider houses located in the villages of Hernani and Astigarraga
Elkano in nearby Getaria (recommended by a friend as the best seafood ever tasted in his life, the turbot and camarones in particular)
A few Spanish/Basque translations
Lumagorri – a classic Basque dish
Canelon - cannelloni
Carrillera - cheek
Cochinita - suckling pig
Hongos - ceps
Ternera - veal
Kallos - pig stomach
Kabra - goat
Carri-kabra. – goat’s cheese and beef cheek
Idiazabal - local sheep’s milk cheese
Arandanos - berries
Bocarta - local fish
Oneggin – cheers (like Salute!)
Guindillas – thin curly green peppers, usually pickled and slightly spicy