San Sebastian is an absolute paradise for food lovers. Eating and drinking was my primary plan during my 3 day stay in San Sebastian. I left with a slightly tighter waistline, and I couldn’t be happier about that, because I loved everything I ate! San Sebastian is truly a culinary destination known for its exquisite cuisine, boasting of more Michelin stars per capita than any other place in the world.
But you don’t have to spend a lot to eat like royalty in San Sebastian.
Enter pintxos. Pintxos, pronounced “pinchos,” are small-plate dishes typically served on bread, toothpicks, or skewers. Usually eaten as a snack or light meal, they are a staple of Basque cuisine. You can find them throughout this region of northern Spain, but San Sebastian is the epicenter of pintxos culture. For only a couple of euros a plate, you can sample the crown jewel of San Sebastian’s culinary offerings.
Visitors to San Sebastian will be spoiled for choice when it comes to pintxos. Given the staggering number of bars offering pintxos, finding the best restaurants in San Sebastian can be a challenge. I spent hours researching all the best places to go, because I didn’t want to waste a single meal eating something that wasn’t excellent. There are a million lists out there about the famed pintxos in San Sebastian.
From Anthony Bourdain to Lonely Planet, you are bound to find amazing recommendations for pintxos throughout the city. In this blog post, I aim to highlight some of the unique pintxos that you might find at both famous and lesser known restaurants in San Sebastian. For foodies looking for unique pintxos that are different from the usual fare, here are the must-visit pintxos bars in San Sebastian.
From Basque fusion and trendy offerings, to the classic and legendary spots, these pintxos bars are not to be missed. So next time you’re in San Sebastian, be sure to make a pitstop at these essential pintxos bars to indulge in some of the best food that San Sebastian has to offer.
Foodie’s Guide to the Best Unique Pintxos in San Sebastian
What You’re Ordering: Poached egg
This was the first pintxos bar that I went to, and I am pretty sure it spoiled me – these were fantastic! Mendaur has a modern feel to it with minimalist, sleek decor and an unpretentious but distinctly foodie vibe. The pintxos here are creative and full of flavor, using seasonal ingredients to create their dishes.
I tried several things here, but the highlights for me were the Tacotalo and the poached egg. Tacotalo is a Basque take on a taco, filled with flash-fried squid, pickled red onions and avocado sauce served on corn tortilla. Another must-try at Mendaur is the poached egg, which features a perfectly cooked egg on top of a bed of wild mushrooms, truffle oil and a potato foam.
- Address: Fermin Calbeton Kalea 8
- Website: https://mendaurberria.negocio.site/
What You’re Ordering: Scallop with white garlic cream
Open since 1956, the locally beloved Casa Urola is a classic Basque pintxos bar located in the Old Town. The decor is traditional and rustic with wooden beams and stone walls. One of their most famous pintxos is the Vieira (scallop) with white garlic cream. The scallop is carefully butter poached to perfection before being topped with a rich, creamy garlic sauce and fried herbs. Another standout dish was the octopus, which is chargrilled and served with a paprika drizzle.
- Address: Fermin Calbeton Kalea 20
- Website: http://www.casaurolajatetxea.es/
What You’re Ordering: Mushrooms and crispy Iberian ham
Offering a fusion of Mediterranean and Basque cuisine, the simple and uncomplicated menu at Kapadokia is unique. You can expect to find unusual pintxos dishes here. I also really liked the funky rope lighting and inviting sit-down bar. There is a modern quirkiness to it. Kapadokia has a commitment to using fresh, local ingredients so the menu is seasonal.
You might encounter different items if you travel outside the summer season. I remember loving the seasonal vegetable ravioli. Stuffed with zucchini, eggplant, and red pepper, the delicate pasta was served with a simple olive oil sauce and fresh farm cheese. The mushrooms and ham were also amazing. Wild mushrooms are sautéed in olive oil, garlic, and parsley, topped with crispy Iberian ham.
- Address: Arrandegi Kalea 10
- Website: http://kapadokiabar.com/
What You’re Ordering: Grilled squid with cauliflower cream
This bustling pintxos bar overlooks the stunning 18th century Koruko Andre Mariaren basilica. You couldn’t ask for a more picturesque spot in San Sebastian to enjoy delicious food and Old Town character. I honestly loved everything I got here, and I wound up spending a longer time than I expected, because the lively atmosphere and chatty staff were so welcoming!
The most memorable dish here was the beef cheeks. Slow-cooked and served with a tangy sauce, these are the pintxos of my dreams. The pork belly was also awesome, fried until crispy and served unusually over a hummus. There are even sweet pintxos here! I sampled the goat cheese ice cream with a berry drizzle and crushed ginger cookies.
- Address: Plaza Zuloaga, 1
- Website: http://zazpistm.com/
What You’re Ordering: Beef cheeks
Located inside the San Telmo ethnography museum, Zazpi is an easy spot to write-off as too touristy. But that would be a mistake, because this stylishly designed restaurant offers some of the best pintxos in San Sebastian. The decor is contemporary with a mix of wood, metal, and glass. With a focus on seafood dishes, the pintxos here are creative and beautifully plated, adding a refined elegance to the dining experience.
One of their must-try dishes is the grilled squid with cauliflower cream. The squid was tender and flavorful, while the cauliflower cream added a creamy, earthy flavor. A perfectly balanced dish. Another standout dish was the buttery cod cheeks rice in green sauce, which was a rich and satisfying dish that’s perfect for sharing.
- Address: Calle Mayor 18
- Website: https://atarigastroleku.com/
What You’re Ordering: Pipas (fried shrimps) and Gildas
There isn’t a bad thing on the menu at Tamboril. This traditional pintxos restaurant doesn’t cater to tourists, and most of the menu uses the traditional Basque names for the food. Ask the server for recommendations if you can’t decide what to order – they’ll steer you in the right direction. The Txanpi is a highlight. This is a hearty and flavorful dish that features wild mushrooms sautéed in olive oil and garlic, served on a slice of crusty bread.
One of the most popular items was the Pipas or fried shrimps. The fresh, plump shrimps are deep fried in a light batter and served with a zesty lemon aioli. Finally, I can recommend Gildas, or skewered green olives, spicy guindilla peppers, and a salty anchovy filet. The name “Gilda” comes from a 1940s American film of the same name, which was popular in Spain at the time. The dish is known for its bold and intense flavors, with the briny anchovy filet balancing out the heat of the guindilla pepper and the saltiness of the olives.
- Address: Arrandegi Kalea 2
- Website: www.instagram.com/tambodonosti/
La Cuchara de San Telmo
What You’re Ordering: seared foie gras
This cozy, dimly lit pintxos bar is located in the heart of the Old Town San Sebastian with a laid-back and relaxed vibe. It is common to find a mix of locals and tourists here. There is nearly always a line, and you could find yourself waiting for up to an hour if you don’t get there soon after opening. The pintxos here are creative takes on classic dishes with a focus on high-quality ingredients. One of their standout pintxos is the foie gras, which is seared to perfection and served with orange oil, fig compote and brioche toast.
- Address: Santa Korda Kalea 4
- Website: None
What You’re Ordering: Idiazabal cheese risotto
Another cozy spot that feels like a local joint is Borda Berri. The bright yellow walls and dark contrasted wood accents feel quintessentially Basque. Offering a laid-back and unpretentious experience, this is one of the pintxos places where you aren’t likely to linger. Come in, eat amazing food, and get out – in the best way. It’s just one of those brisk kinds of spots.
I am not exaggerating when I say I still think about the Idiazabal cheese risotto here. I am something of a risotto connoisseur, and this one is LEGIT. Idiazabal is an aged sheep’s milk cheese with a nutty, intense, almost smoky flavor. This tender, al-dente risotto was so creamy and rich, thickened with this cheese. Truly amazing, and I ate it so fast, I forgot to take a picture.
- Address: Fermin Calbeton Kalea 12
- Website: http://www.bordaberriakiseguisa.com/Carta/
What You’re Ordering: cheesecake
For a sweet treat at the end of the night, you’ll see that San Sebastian locals and tourists alike flock to La Vina for the city’s most famous cheesecake. La Vina is legendary and has been serving pintxos for over 75 years. The dessert line will start forming before the dinner seating even begins, and lasts throughout the night. There is an option for in-person dining or takeaway. The takeaway line tends to move much faster – I grabbed mine to go, and ate it in a park nearby.
Regardless of which option you select, you’re ordering the cheesecake. Spanish style cheesecake has a denser texture than New York style cheese with a “burnt” caramelized top. It is incredibly rich and creamy. La Vina’s recipe is a closely guarded secret!
- Address: 31 de Agosto Kalea 3
- Website: https://lavinarestaurante.com/