San Sebastián has often been hailed as the gastronomical capital of Europe – that is until our froggy friends over in Paris nicked the title off them a couple of years ago. Still, coming second to the city of love is nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s a hard task trying to find a bad bite to eat in Donosti (that’s San Sebastián in the local tongue, Basque).
But while Michelin-starred restaurants might occupy the minds of the world’s gourmands and other feckers, the average Stokie baulks at the €300 and up price tag. Thankfully for us, the city is absolutely rammed with pintxos bars that draw on the gastronomic culture of the region and serve it up in a manner that won’t kneecap your budget. But before we begin to countdown our (in)definitive list, first we must define:
What exactly is a pintxo bar?
Pintxo (Basque; n.) literally means thorn, or spike, but hereby is used as a term to describe a small Basque tapas, often, but not always, with a wooden cocktail stick stuck through the middle.
Bar (English; n.) a venue in which one can imbibe alcohol to the point of intoxication; due to the Coronavirus lockdown, we haven’t been thrown out of one of these in a while.
Pintxo Bar (Spanglish/Basque; n.) a bar. That sells pintxos.
So now we know what a pintxo bar is, let’s have a look at some of the best.
Atari €€ – We’re kicking things off with one of the most-loved pintxo bars in the city, and not just by Stokies. The carrillera de ternera, or beef-cheek, is a pintxo eating rite of passage. Many have been known to order several plates of the carrillera, back to back, one after the other, devouring them instantly, like one of Joe Exotic’s tigers, polishing off the arm of a G.W. employee.
Situated right on the doorstep of the Parroquia Santa María Basilica, even if the meat doesn’t tickle your fancy (you go Team Vegan) sitting on the church steps in front of Atari with a glass of Basque sidra is a perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
Sirimiri €€ – With the same owners as Atari, and located just round the corner, the ‘Atari Academy’ comes off as the fun, sexy younger brother, a place where up and coming chefs can experiment to great effect. The cordero, or slow-cooked lamb, is one of the best pintxos in the city, and the arroz de temporada is a silky smooth risotto with no meat, that will please the belly of nearly any vegetarian punter.
Come to Sirimiri on a weekend, and you’ll find bangers blaring out the speakers till the wee hours of the morning, and it’s tasty array of custom and classic cocktails usually brings out a bit of a younger crowd. Maybe it’s just the name, but we’re a fan of the Sirimiri original, Donosti Traveller.
Polka €€€ – A relatively new venture, opened less than a year ago, but a place that many locals have already fallen in love with. On the corner of Plaza Sarriegui, the large outdoor seating area is a rarity in San Sebastián’s Old Town, and a perfect spot to enjoy a pintxo and a beer with some friends – or a full on meal if your pockets are feeling fuller than your belly.
Whilst you can’t actually order them as a pintxo, the croquetas de calabaza (pumpkin croquettes) are another veggo’s favourite, and can be ordered as a sharing platter (hence why it’s best to come here with a few friends). The Polka take on a classic Kalimotxo (bottom of the barrel red wine, topped with ice cold Coca-Cola) is definitely worth a go too – we’re not exactly sure what’s in it, but it definitely tastes boozy as hell.
Bar Desy € – A bit off the beaten track if you’ve only got a few days in San Sebastián, Bar Desy is located over the bridge from the Old Town in Gros. On the outside, it’s as non-descript as you can get, looking the same as a thousand other bars across Spain.
But inside, you’ll find a ridiculous array of craft beers, and a surprisingly good selection of pintxos considering the size of the place. It’s not exactly a Basque speciality, but the albóndigas caseras (homemade meatballs) here are incredible. Plus, have a chat with the owner Gorka (friendliest guy in all of Donosti) about your favourite style of beer and he’ll be sure to pick out something tasty for ya.
Gandarias €€€ – Another in the cluster of establishments surrounding the Santa María Basilica, Gandarias is not only a hot spot for bar pintxos, but also a ritzy fine-dining institution. And as anyone who’s watched foodie series Parts Unknown will know, Gandarias holds the claim to fame of being the go to eatery of the late, great Tony Bourdain.
With that being said, it’s a pain in the arse trying to get a table reservation, plus the average price of a plate is enough to make the Queen blush, so we’d recommend kicking it at the bar and ordering a Txuleta pintxo. What’s a txuleta, you may be asking? You might want to have a read of this.
Mendaur Berria €€ – After years of being an infamous Stoke haunt, a dive bar known for the dance floor being constantly ripped to pieces due to the sheer quantity of shapes being cut, Mendaur decided to hit the straight and narrow. These days, it’s a sleek, minimalist gastropub, located on one of the busiest streets in the Old Town, Fermin Calbeton.
There’s always a huge range of bar pintxos here, but to really enjoy the place, you need to be ordering off the menu. There’s nowhere in town you’ll find a better Taco Talo, a Basque wrap filled with begihaundi (baby squid) with a kimchi dressing, washed down perfectly with an icy glass of Basque sidra.
Bar Piñudi € – It’s only right that we finish up with a bonafide Stoke classic – Piñudi’s. A bar so steeped in history with the company, so intertwined with the Stoke story, that there’s a pintxo named after one of our former staff members – The Jimmy. A bed of ox steak, topped with a slice of foie gras, and with a drizzling of sherry balsamic vinaigrette just might be the best pintxo we’ve ever tasted.
And we’re not just saying that ‘cause we’ve been mates with Big-Oscar for years – his hole-in-the-wall sports bar has been featured on foodie shows and best bar lists a countless number of times. For us, this is a place that encapsulates everything you want in a pintxo bar; great company, cheap beer, and damn good food.
If, like us, this article has got your taste buds tingling, why not come along on a pintxos tour with us at the San Sebastián Surf Camp? Open all summer long from June 1st #fuckcovid-19