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Erin L. McCoy
Imagine a world where plates upon plates of gastronomic beauty line the bars of every local joint you walk into, where bread and toothpicks are tools of artistry, and rare international delicacies are available in the most casual of settings. Now, welcome to a place where this is not only a reality, but the norm: San Sebastian, Spain, the global capital of pintxos.

Known as the city with the most Michelin stars per capita in Europe, this culinary wonderland is the perfect destination for foodies. It’s home to the pintxo—a small plate of food usually served hors d'oeuvre-style on a toothpick.

The way that locals eat pintxos—and the method that we’d highly recommend—is to visit each bar only to eat its specialty. Have just one or two pintxos at any one establishment before moving on. It’s a great way to see the town—pintxo by pintxo, cider by cider—while sampling only the best.

Take a look at just 10 of our favorite pintxo bars.

Atari Gastroteka

Atari San Sebastian Pintxos
Pintxos line the counter at Atari Gastroteka in San Sebastian. | Photo by Anna Spivak
Specialities: Carrillera (beef cheek), pintxos

Address: Calle Mayor, 18, 20013 San Sebastián, Guipúzcoa, Spain

Price Point: $$

Atari is located on the Parte Vieja’s bustling Calle Mayor. This wrap-around corner joint takes elevated bar food to a whole new level. The carrillera, or beef cheek, is a specialty at Atari. It is tender, flavorful, and served with creamy mashed potatoes. Did I mention this was bar food?

A Fuego Negro

Specialities: Sliders, fried chicken

Address: 31 de Agosto Kalea, 31

Price Point: $$$$

Around the corner from Atari, A Fuego Negro is another pintxo bar serving up some seriously swoon-worthy cuisine. The fried chicken comes in a KFC-style bucket and is every bit as crispy and satisfying as fried chicken can be. The buey (ox) slider is a juicy, flavor-packed bite, as well.

Sirimiri Gastroleku

Specialities: Txipirones (baby squid), croquetas, lamb

Address: Calle Mayor, 18

Price Point: $$$$

I promise to move away from Calle Mayor after Sirimiri … although you can probably see how difficult it is not to fall in love with every bar or restaurant in the Parte Vieja.

Sirimiri’s intoxicating atmosphere is the perfect pair to its mouthwatering food and drink. The baby-squid croquetas, a specialty I didn’t know I needed in my life, are filled with squid cooked in its own ink. Now, stick with me here: the inside is black, but I promise it’s worth it. Just don’t skimp on the napkins.

Make sure you also try the croquetas de seta e idiazabal (croquettes with mushrooms and idiazabal cheese, a local speciality), the cordero (lamb—absolutely stunning), and pulpo con mojo verde y frambuesa (octopus with garlic sauce and, yes, raspberry).

Ganbara

Mushrooms at Ganbara San Sebastian
Fresh, seasonal mushrooms at Ganbara. | Photo by Anna Spivak

Specialities: Seasonal mushrooms with egg yolk, white asparagus

Address: San Jeronimo Kalea, 19

Price Point: $$$$

The bliss that is an afternoon lunch at Ganbara is hardly comparable to any other casual-dining experience. With a broad entrance featuring a view out onto the street, you can people-watch as you enjoy your perfectly sautéed, savory selection of mushrooms (traditionally served with an egg yolk that you mix in yourself) and a huge piece of white asparagus, baked to perfection.

La Cuchara de San Telmo

Specialties: Foie gras, mushroom risotto

Address: Santa Korda Kalea, 4

Price Point: $$$$

Tucked away in a little alley called Santa Korda, la Cuchara de San Telmo is thronged with locals and tourists from open to close. Their extensive pintxo and entree menu is impressive to say the least. Their foie gras and mushroom risotto, however, are the breakout stars. If you’re lucky enough to snag a seat towards the back of the bar, you can even peek into their open kitchen.

Beti Jai Berria

Specialties: Croquetas, but everything is great

Address: Fermin Calbeton Kalea, 22

Price Point: $$$$

Beti Jai’s massive, cube-shaped croquetas may be, quite simply, the planet’s best. Try the classic jamón (containing a mixture of ham and bechamel) but don’t be afraid to sample some of their other fillings, which vary daily.

The place is immaculate, and every pintxo you see will be tantalizing, so it may be hard to choose. We recommend taking the opportunity to try morcilla, a Spanish blood sausage. You’ll probably find the Burgos-style morcilla here, which contains rice, perhaps topped with a roasted red pepper or a quail’s egg.

Drinka

Specialties: Calamari, patatas bravas

Address: Matia Kalea, 50

Price Point: $$$$

While the Parte Vieja has the highest concentration of pintxo bars in close proximity, there are tons of incredible bars and restaurants scattered all over San Sebastian. On the other side of Playa de la Concha, just past Miramar Palace, is a street called Matia Kalea. This residential area, called Antiguo, is swimming with incredible cuisine and local charm. The city even closes Matia Kalea to cars on most weekends so pedestrians have free range.

Drinka is a relatively new eatery serving up classically Basque pintxos and dishes with a modern twist. Their calamari is crispy, tender, and delicious, and their patatas bravas (with different dipping sauces) are not to be missed.

Booking.com

Garai Taberna

Specialties: Burgers, lentils

Address: Juan de Garai Kalea, 2

Price Point: $$$$

Just off of Matia Kalea is a little gem called Garai Taberna. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but this little basement dive bar serves up incredible home cooking for a very reasonable price.

Their lunch special (which usually changes daily) consists of two choices for a starter, entree, and dessert. Their burger was seasoned to perfection and the heaping bowl of lentils we had was enough to feed an entire household—which is probably the extremely friendly staff’s goal, as they treat their customers like family.

Bordaberri

Specialties: Cheese risotto

Address: Fermin Calbeton Kalea, 12

Price Point: $$$

One of the specialties this quiet corner is famous for is its risotto. In this dish, idiazabal, a cheese typical of the Basque and Navarra regions, is the star of the show. It’s the ultimate comfort food. And FYI, if you ever run into an idiazabal croqueta, eat it immediately.

Bordaberri idiazabal risotto San Sebastian
Bordaberri's famous idiazabal risotto. | Photo by Erin L. McCoy

Casa Gandarias

Specialties: Solomillo, goat cheese and jam pintxos

Address: 31 de Agosto Kalea, 23

Price Point: $$$$

The specialty here is the solomillo, or sirloin, pintxo. This may sound simple enough—a small, perfectly cooked cut of steak with a sprinkling of sea salt and a roasted green pepper perched on top. But you will find yourself coming here again, and again, and again. This is not a pintxo you’ll find on the bar, so it comes straight from the kitchen, hot and freshly made. It may prove one of the best cuts of steak you’ve ever eaten. I know, I know, we’ve already used a lot of superlatives—but when it comes to gastronomy, San Sebastian is simply a superlative place.

 

Erin L. McCoy contributed to this article.

Tags : featuredFeatured CulturefoodfoodiesgastronomypintxosSan Sebastian
Anna Spivak

The author Anna Spivak

Anna Spivak is a journalist and native New Yorker whose passion for travel, food and writing led her to do something that encompasses all three. She has been featured in several online and print publications throughout her years in the news industry and is an NYPA Better Newspaper Contest award recipient. She holds a B.A. in journalism from Brooklyn College and currently resides in Rockaway Beach.

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