San Sebastian, Spain // © 2017 Creative Commons user yellow.cat
Feature image (above): Tapas are known as “pintxos” in San Sebastian. // © 2017 Creative Commons user katinalynn
You would be hard-pressed to find something that brings locals and tourists together more than tapas culture in Spain. Especially in San Sebastian, tapas — known here as “pintxos” — are both an art form and a way of life. A pintxos crawl is a wonderful way to hit the pavement and walk in the shoes of a local, all the while eating and drinking the San Sebastian way.
Here are five pintxos spots not to miss in San Sebastian.
At first glance, the unassuming Bar Txepetxa is, well, not worth a second glance. Casual tables fill a small dining area, with flat-screen televisions blaring the latest soccer match. A buzzing clientele sips on beer and wine, and the crowd usually spills out onto high-top tables in the street.
But what truly makes it a standout spot is the generous pintxos spread on the bar counter. Guests pay per plate, and though the pintxos aren’t made to order, they are continuously refilled by the kitchen staff. Most popular is the array of seafood, from white anchovies and shrimp to baby octopus. Bar Txepetxa serves the traditional pintxos favorites, too, but where it shines is in its fish specialties.
Barbecue meets pintxos at this tapas house with a twist. Modern Basque-style dishes adorn the menu, such as salad of Iberian pork cheek or chorizo with cider, as well as twists on old classics such as “bacalao” (salt cod) tacos.
The pintxos of the day are written on a chalkboard, and everything is made to order. The decor is subtle, but don’t be fooled — Borda Berri may look casual, but the quality is anything but.
An iconic staple of any pintxos crawl, especially in San Sebastian’s Old Town, Gandarias is one of the best tapas spots. The house specials are scrawled on a blackboard behind the bar, and the “jamon iberico” (cured ham) is sliced off in sheets and presented on wooden slabs alongside massive baskets of bread. Handsome legs of pork hang behind the bar, too — perfect for fantasizing about as you sip a glass of wine from Spain’s Rioja region.
La Cuchara de San Telmo
La Cuchara de San Telmo is one of the best pintxos bars in San Sebastian. Unlike typical pintxos bars, the eatery asks that customers order food from boards on the wall, then the dishes are prepared and brought to the table. (Usually, examples of items are displayed on the bar top.)
Inside, the atmosphere is cozy, with low ceilings, hanging copper pots and limited seating. Don’t leave without ordering the grilled octopus or the salted foie gras.
What Paco Bueno lacks in its variety of pintxos, it makes up for in quality. The bar has a laid-back atmosphere and boasts a high wooden bar and low wooden stools that line the back walls. It’s casual, with a friendly and effervescent vibe.
Don’t forget to order the “montaditos”: These little sandwiches are made with mini-baguettes and filled with simple but delicious ingredients such as chorizo and anchovies. Paco Bueno is also known for its battered scampi on a stick. Also be sure to order a glass of local “txakoli,” a dry Basque white wine.