guide: top 5 pintxos bars in San Sebastian

TOP 5 PINTXOS BARS

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She says: San Sebastian or ‘Donostia’ as it’s known in Basque, is located in the north of Spain. It boasts a picturesque coastline and plenty of shiny Michelin stars including the renowned Arzak and Mugaritz. My first taste of San Sebastian was in 2011 and it was an indulgent weekend of pintxos hopping and 3 Michelin star dining at Akalerre with a fellow girl friend from Australia. The place I fondly remember when I first discovered how great red wine and coke go together – the locals call this refreshing drink ‘Calimotxo’.

He says: I suggested to go together over Easter weekend in 2013 as it’s a place in Europe that has a reputation for being a food lover’s paradise! I happily experienced some of Her favourite pinxtos bars, but it was a complete adventure for both of us as we tried new dishes and discovered unchartered territories together as well. San Sebastian definitely lived up to the hype.

We’ve put together our top 5 list as a guide if you’re planning some pinxtos hopping in San Sebastian’s old town! Hope you enjoy your trip there as much as we did, one little bite at a time! In no particular order…

1. La Cuchara De San Telmo
Calle 31 de Agosto 28 / Corredor de San Telcmo, San Sebastian
A small little bar with an equally tiny kitchen, La Cuchara or the one with the ‘wooden spoon’ is well known amongst both locals and tourists alike. Squeeze your way through the crowds of people during peak eating hours and ask for their English menu if your Espanol is ‘no es bueno’. Our favourite dishes would have to be the ‘viera’ or scallop wrapped in bacon & the creamy fois gras with apple compote. We also enjoyed the risotto and suckling pig! All the dishes can be shared but would recommend one scallop each! 🙂

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Scallops were cooked just right and the saltiness of the bacon was a perfect complement – we came back for round two the very next day!

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Dangerously good fois gras!

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Mushroom risotto, light and fluffy! The overall dish was rich yet not overly creamy!

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Suckling pig, crispy golden brown skin with tender flesh!

2. A Fuego Negro
31 de agosto, San Sebastian
You can’t leave without trying the infamous mini wagyu burger (makcobe), the beef is perfectly cooked and enveloped in a bright orange sesamed seeded bun! The burger was cooked medium rare (leaning a bit to the rare side). Due to it’s miniature size, you won’t feel guilty for eating a few of these compared to a regular sized burger!

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We also tried the bakailu or coaled cod with pepper which had a subtle, light taste.

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3. Borda Berri
Fermin Calbeton 12, 20003 San Sebastian
The chefs who opened Borda Berri are ex-La Cuchara, so you’ll noticed similarities in menu and cooking style at this pintxos establishment. You can’t go wrong with the slow cooked beef cheek, mushroom risotto and the ‘sweetbread ravioli’.

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One bite of the ravioli and you’ll be seeing stars! We had to google what ‘molleja’ meant – sweetbreads, so yummy!

4. Zeruko
Calle Pescaderia 10, San Sebastian
Zeruko is probably the most contemporary of the lot, with modern preparation techniques and plenty of creative flair that you’d likely find at an upscale fine dining restaurant. Signature dishes include the ‘La hoguera’ or bonfire and the ‘Rosa bogavante’ or lobster rose.

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Why is this dish aptly named the ‘bonfire’? The cod is served on the metallic mini grill and should be cooked for a minute or two on each side (or two your own taste). Once this little cooking ritual is complete, place the cod on the bread which is topped with parsley cream and place in mouth! A little messy but a fun and original dish! Drink the small test tube shot to finish.

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The lobster rose is one of the most elegantly presented and delicate pintxos we’ve eaten. Note that the red liquid is not drinkable, but adds to the aesthetic drama of the dish, wafting in liquid nitrogen. The flower is made up grilled lobster pieces which are seasoned well! Hard to share, so order one each!

5. Gandarias
C/ 31 de Agosta, 23, 20003 San Sebastian
Gandarias is a meat lover’s haven. With a bar at the front and restaurant out back, you can choose how you’d like to dine. For those craving a good steak, we’d highly recommend the Txuleta. Simply translated txuleta means “chop” and in this case it was a sirloin which is priced per 100g. We didn’t hesitate and ordered the minimum of 500g for about 17 euros, which came with a nice side portion of fries! Guys looking for a steak challenge can devour a 1kg for a reasonable price of 34 euros. If a slab of meat sounds too much on your pintxos hopping tours, you can opt for the ‘Solomillo’ which is a mini version of the sirloin that comes on a slice of bread and green peppers. The meat is served seasoned with sea salt and is cooked almost rare. Delish, especially for those with an iron craving!

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Txuleta – sirloin goodness! Cooked rare because we didn’t know how to say medium rarem but due to the quality – rare was the right temperature.

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Solomillo – mini sirloin goodness, the meat was cooked rare and felt like it was melting in your mouth.

Other notable mentions:

  • Hildago 56 – Black pudding volcano with yolk + sashimi of tuna and red fruit gazpacho
  • Casa Senra – Baby squid with chestnut puree
  • Todopinxtos – Great resource for exploring other bars in the new town

Where to stay?
We stayed at the Pension Basic Confort. It was nothing fancy but it was a clean and quiet hotel with a great location. It was right in the epicentre of the old town, which was perfect for siestas in between lunchtime and dinner pinxtos hopping.

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