San Sebastian Pintxos Bars A Basque Food Experience in Spain

San Sebastian Pintxos Bars: A Basque Food Experience

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One of the things we were most looking forward to while visiting Basque Country Spain was eating amazing Basque food…and we were especially interested in bar pintxos. The culinary treasures are a Basque region specialty and we heard we could find the best of the best in San Sebastian pintxos bars. 

If you are wondering, “What are pintxos?“, you are not alone. So, let’s take a minute to talk about the definition, pintxos pronunciation and alternate spellings. Basically, pintxos are tapas – hand-crafted, bite-sized mini-meals often held together or served with a toothpick. The correct pronunciation is PEEN-chos. In the Basque language, Euskara, the letter combination ‘tx’ is pronounced like ‘ch’ in English. However, in Spanish, the spelling is pinchos, a word that means ‘to pierce’ (as in, the food is pierced with a toothpick). 

As simple as it all sounds, when it came to Basque pintxos, we were slow learners. We got an introduction to the delectable Spanish pinchos in Hondarribia, but San Sebastian tapas bars take the experience to a different level…and we were struggling to keep up. Between the language barrier and our lack of Basque food research, we ate way too many mediocre dishes. However, when we finally caught on, we found some of the best pintxos in San Sebastian. We hope this story of our San Sebastian pintxos bar crawl helps you avoid some of the mistakes we made! 

{See the map below for locations of our favorite San Sebastian Pintxos Bars}

 

 

Beginners Guide To Basque Pintxos

Walking down the streets of San Sebastian’s Old Town, we found one pintxo bar after another, all displaying the appetizing bites on platters that covered the bars. Without heeding recommendations, we shuffled into any San Sebastian pintxos bar that caught our eye. 

Still a little timid about the whole process, we found that most of the bartenders were quite helpful. Our first round of San Sebastian pintxos included a selection of tortilla-wrapped chorizo, sausage links baked in a croissant and a skewer of shrimp. The bartender asked, “Would you like it heated up?” Why, Yes. Yes, I would. I had heard about Pintxos Caliente (hot pintxos) and I thought I was on to it now. He simply heated up our selected pintxos in a microwave, and – we had to admit – they tasted better than the Hondarribia pintxos we had tried the day before.

We wandered from place to place, mostly finding the San Sebastian tapas to be similar, with a special flair here and there and a twist on this or that. We carefully selected Basque pintxos that weren’t topped with anchovies or sardines. 

We recognized some of the San Sebastian food we eat, like baked prosciutto with cheese, lightly fried zucchini with peppers and a colorful combination of a date topped with melted brie, dried tomato bits and a slice of yellow pepper. (It was beautiful…and scrumptious.) The more we perused the bar-top treats, the more interesting Basque food items we found. 

We also veered away from the typical Basque pintxos and tried a hearty serving of a lasagna-type dish and even got up the courage to try pintxos smothered in mayonnaise (not my favorite condiment) and topped with bacon and shrimp (yes, please!). After an entire evening of grazing on splendid San Sebastian food, we couldn’t eat another bite.

 

Our 5 Favorite San Sebastian Pintxos Bars

We resumed our search for the best tapas in San Sebastian the following evening, stopping at the first place that caught our eye and piling our plates with creamy cheese and seafood goodies. My opening Basque pintxos choice was a Bleu cheese and walnut creation and some sort of sea creature tentacle; followed by a creamy, dill spread with a pickle and a croquette (in case I couldn’t handle the tentacle). Every. Bite. Delicious.

But, as we chomped on pre-made San Sebastian bar pintxos, I couldn’t help but feel like we were missing something and that we hadn’t caught on to the entire Pintxos Caliente concept. After our first round of San Sebastian tapas on our second night, we deviated from our list of recommendations and followed the crowds to Bar La Cepa. A good choice if there ever was one!

 

Best Pintxos Bars In San Sebastian

Let’s get to it then, shall we? Here’s our list of the best San Sebastian tapas bars!

 

#1 La Cepa San Sebastian

When we entered La Cepa, the place was hopping. Patrons filled the seats and the bartender expertly poured txakoli, the regions white wine, from high above the glass. When it was our turn to order, the bartender easily read my “I’m still not confident about this” face and handed me a pintxos menu. I quickly pointed at a few items I wanted recognized and then my eyes slipped to the bottom of the menu: Pintxos Caliente. (Hmmm, I thought, maybe there’s more than a microwave back there…) So I seriously broke the “one per place” rule (I think this was pintxo #5) and added an item from the Pintxos Caliente list:  txampis and jamon (mushrooms and bacon).

The wheels in my brain started turning like a train gaining momentum as it is leaving the station and I was getting more excited by the moment: My previous conception about the ‘heated’ pintxos being ‘Pintxo Calientes’ was WRONG! And we had just ordered our first real Pintxo Caliente.

A memory was triggered and I grabbed the Basque country travel guide from my day bag to more carefully re-read the section on finding the best tapas in San Sebastian. While we were not doing it wrong, we were certainly not getting the full experience. The book had recommended bars and with each bar there was a recommended, made-to-order Pintxo Caliente!

After consuming our La Cepa pintxos (oh my, were the mushrooms and bacon delicious!), I wanted to sprint through the streets in search of all the best pintxos bars in San Sebastian!

Read La Cepa San Sebastian TripAdvisor reviews

 

#2 Bar Goiz-Argi San Sebastian

Recommended shrimp skewers at Bar Goiz-Argi in San Sebastian, Spain

We had passed Bar Goiz-Argi several times, but unlike many of the other San Sebastian tapas bars, we couldn’t see a bar full of pintxos through the door (which is why we never went inside!). This time, we pushed open the door and followed a short hallway to the bar. It was packed. I squeezed up to the bar, caught the bartender’s attention and ordered the recommended shrimp kebab like I was a pro. 

He grabbed a stick with 6 raw shrimp on it, put it on a plate and hollered to a woman who stood at the grill. She took them, tossed them on the grill, covered them in a sauce and hollered back to the bartender. Finally, my first made-to-order pintxos…and they were incredible!

Read Bar Goiz-Argi San Sebastian TripAdvisor reviews

 

#3 Bar Borda-Berri San Sebastian

Bar Borda-Berri was next San Sebastian pintxos bar on the list and just down the street. Inside, we found a small, cheerful space filled with boisterous patrons. Again, I squirmed my way up to the bar and ordered the recommended made-to-order pintxos: Carrillera de tenera (beef cheeks) and risotto. I was highly suspect, as I can’t recall ever eating beef cheeks before (and, quite frankly, it just sounds weird), but – WOW – both dishes surpassed our expectations. 

We were on a roll, eating some of the best pintxos in San Sebastian – and were not ready to stop! However, our stomachs were full…and satisfied. Our San Sebastian pintxos experience had been elevated – and we had one day left to savor the local Basque tapas. 

Read Bar Borda-Berri San Sebastian TripAdvisor reviews

 

#4 Bar Astelena San Sebastian

On our last day in San Sebastian we picked up our pintxo bar crawl in the Plaza de la Constitucion at Bar Astelena. Since we were the only ones there (we never got adjusted to the time difference!), we had full view of the bar-top goodies, including unique pintxos like raw frog legs, waiting to be ordered and fried.

We also had the full attention of the bartender, who made some made-to-order pintxos recommendations of his own. We settled on the solomillo a la planche (sirloin steak with fried veggies) and the rabo de buey (oxtail).

It is difficult to describe the spectacular taste, as I have never before had anything so good. The sauce and seasonings only enhanced what could have been served without either. The meat was so tender I cut it with a spoon. Hands down, these were the best pintxos in San Sebastian that we tasted.

Even though we felt we had reached the pinnacle of our self-guided San Sebastian Food Tour, we couldn’t resist ordering a second round of pintxos. We tried the foie gras and pasta wrapped shrimp. Both were excellent choices, but nothing was going to beat our first picks at Bar Astelena.

Read Bar Astelena San Sebastian TripAdvisor reviews

 

#5 Bar Tamboril San Sebastian

Famous Champis Tamboril at Bar Tamboril in San Sebastian, Spain

For our final pintxos of the night (and of our trip!), we wandered across the square to Bar Tamboril for a taste of their famous mushrooms, champis tamboril. We savored every last bite of the perfectly-cooked mushrooms in the cozy bar. The food in San Sebastian had completely blown us away!

Read Bar Tamboril San Sebastian TripAdvisor reviews

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San Sebastian Restaurants Map

Link to San Sebastian Pintxos Restaurants in Google Maps

 

Plan Your Complete Basque Country Itinerary!

3-Day Basque Country Itinerary by JetSettingFools.com

 

Looking for a guide to lead you to the best pintxos in San Sebastian? Book a San Sebastian Pintxos tour now on Viator

 

Getting To Basque Country

We arrived to Basque via plane from Madrid. The Basque Country airport we flew into was San Sebastian Airport (which is actually located in Hondarribia). There are two other Basque Country airports: Bilbao Airport and Vitoria Airport. You can search for the best prices for flights on SkyScanner

We relied on public transportation and taxis to get around Basque Country. However, renting a car would allow for greater exploration and an epic Basque Country road trip!

 

Where To Stay In Basque Country

There are many Basque Country hotels to stay in during your trip. With such short amount of time in our 3-day Basque Country itinerary, we recommend staying in the heart of the old town in both Hondarribia and San Sebastian.

 

Hondarribia Hotels

In Hondarribia, we stayed at the charming Hotel San Nikolas in the Old Town (which we loved, but has since closed!). Start your search for other Hondarribia hotels on Booking.com.

 

San Sebastian Hotels

We didn’t book a hotel ahead of time in San Sebastian – and when we arrived, our preferred accommodations had no vacancy. We ended up staying in the Gros neighborhood (east of the Old Town) at Hotel Arrizul Congress, which turned out to be a great choice, as it was an entire apartment. You can search for other San Sebastian hotels on Booking.com.

 

What To Pack For Your Basque Itinerary

Our final tips for your Spain trip planning covers our best packing hacks!

 

Walking Shoes

We cover a lot of ground in our Spain vacation planner! Be sure to pack a pair of comfortable city walking shoes for your trip. I like to explore cities on foot in my Columbia shoes – and Kris likes wearing Merrell trail shoes for men. Read all of our tips in our best Travel Shoes blog post!

 

Weather Appropriate Gear

What you will need to pack for your trip to Spain will depend on the season. Summers are hot and sunny – so bring sunglasses, plenty of sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat and a refillable water bottle. In the wintertime, you will likely want to wear layers, temperatures can range from cold to warm throughout the day. On the chance of rain, make sure you are prepared with a packable raincoat and travel umbrella

 

Real Travel Camera

Spain is an absolutely gorgeous country! Capture the beauty of the cities with a real camera, rather than using your phone. We carry a DSLR Canon Rebel (which is great for beginners!) with an everyday 18-135mm lens (so that we only have to carry one with us!). 

 

Map and WiFi

It’s so much easier to get around if you know where you are going! We recommend purchasing a Spain destination maps before your trip so that you have time to learn the layout of each place. 

Travelers relying on Google Maps (or using the links to our detailed walking tours) will need WiFi. While it is possible to adjust your phone plan for international data, frequent travelers (or those traveling as a group) may find it more beneficial to buy a GlocalMe Mobile WiFi Hotspot. With GlocalMe, you can purchase data online – so it is ready to go the moment you land. Furthermore, you can connect up to 5 devices at one time and it doubles as a power bank

 

Anti-Theft Travel Bag

Tourists are prime targets for pick pockets – and no where is that truer than in Spain! We have (thankfully!) never had an issues, as we keep our valuables – like wallets, phones and camera – tucked away in a zippered bag. Travelon makes a full line of anti-theft bags, but you can read more of our tips in our blog post, The Best Day Packs for Travel

 

Travel Insurance

Now more than every, travel insurance is essential! Not only does it protect against cancelled trips and lost luggage, but it can come in handy if you get ill or injured abroad, too. If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected with World Nomads.

 

Start planning your trip to San Sebastian, Spain! Search for the lowest airfares, the best accommodations and fun things to do…then start packing!  Want more travel planning tips? Head over to our Travel Planning page for more information and tips on traveling – and for country-specific information, take a look at our Travel Guides page!

 

We want to know: What is your favorite Basque food? Have you eaten at San Sebastian Pintxos Bars? Which is your favorite? How did they compare to tapas in Barcelona or Seville tapas bars? Give us your best tips and advice in the comments!

 

Visiting Other Top Destinations In SpainWe’ve got you covered with our detailed guides to MadridBarcelona, and Seville!

 

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