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 was eating Basque food…and we were especially interested in bar pintxos. The culinary treasures are a regional 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 (similar to how you would say nachos). 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 the lack of guidance, 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 our story of our San Sebastian pintxos crawl helps you avoid some of the mistakes we made! {See the map below for locations of our favorite San Sebastian Pintxos Bars}

 

 

Street in Old Town San Sebastian, Spain

 

Beginners in 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 pintxos bars 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 pintxos that weren’t topped with anchovies or sardines (and, if there was just a little piece for flavoring, we made sure to pick it off). 

We tried things we recognized, 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 items we found. 

We veered away from the typical 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. After an entire evening of grazing, we couldn’t eat another bite.

 

San Sebastian Pintxos Bars

We resumed our search for the best tapas in San Sebastian the following evening, stopping at the fist place that caught our eye and piling our plates with creamy cheese and seafood goodies. My first choices were a Bleu cheese and walnut creation, some sort of sea creature tentacle; 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 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. 

 

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 my travel book from my bag to more carefully re-read the section on finding the best tapas in San Sebastain. 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.

Read La Cepa San Sebastian TripAdvisor reviews

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

 

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 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

 

Bar Borda-Berri San Sebastian

Bar Borda-Berri was next 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. 

Read Bar Borda-Berri San Sebastian TripAdvisor reviews

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. 

 

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

 

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. 

Read Bar Tamboril San Sebastian TripAdvisor reviews

 


San Sebastian Restaurants Map

Link to San Sebastian Pintxos Restaurants in Google Maps


 

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

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? Give us your best tips and advice in the comments! 

 

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