You’ll thank me for this crazy roundabout pinxto bar crawl which begins with gorgeously savory steak and foie gras bites, because it ends with a heavenly cheesecake, and the walk is easy and short.
A quick note before pinxto hunting – Don’t be shy making your way through a crowd to get to the bar to order; Most pinxto bars lay out readymade snacks you can place on a plate you’ve grabbed from a stack BUT try to order from the a la carte blackboard or printed menus which feature freshly made dishes; Bartenders here have super powers of keeping a tab on everything you ingest – pay after you eat/drink; Try out only one or two pinxtos at each place because San Sebastian is jam-packed with eateries within a 10 minute walk! Lookit the mass of fork/spoon symbols below. Ignore this advice only to suffer pinxto regret and pinxto envy.
Absolute must; order txacoli, the tasty addictive tart-fizzy wine (more about it here) that comes with a performance -you’ll see what I mean!
Start your pig out at the La Cuchara de San Telmo, my favorite a la carte bar. Prices are fair, drink selection huge, service quick. There’s often a wait to get into this tiny joint and its jam packed at peak hours. Take a peek at the photos to see why. The order-off-the-menu, freshly made small dishes are simply amazing. And reasonably priced at 8-10 euros per piece. I’ve no room to add the razor clams photo but you gotta order it for fresh intense bites of heaven and if available, the queso de cabra relleno de verduras. Address – Calle del Treinta y Uno de Agosto, 28. Tel : 943 43 5446
Next up – Casa Gandarias. Make a left exiting San Telmo, turn left at the first corner onto De Valle Lersundi and walk south then turn right at the first street to walk along 31 de Agosto Kelea (Abuztuaren 31). The star for us was the grilled medium rare sirloin pinxtos topped with charred padron peppers- simple and perfect. My friends raved over the herbed spider crab tarlets but I found local faves ordered off the seasonal blackboard tastier. Get the pork snout (if you dare), beef cheek, hot bacalao crepes and grilled squid skewers (brocheta de chipiron). Open daily from 11 am to midnight, Gandarias also serves a sit-down dinner menu specializing in steak and lamb. Address- 31 de Agosto, 23. Tel: 943 42 63 62
Walk back slightly toward San Jeronimo Kalea turn right, continue down the street until you arrive at Ganbara on the right. Don’t bother with the pinxtos but instead order a platter of the hongos, which seemed pricey at €20, but the fragrant grilled mushrooms are meaty and delicate. You can also get a full menu of seafood and meat dishes while seated dining tables.
To get to one of the best and always crowded restaurants in town, Borda Berri , turn right at Ganbara’s exit then take the second left on Fermin Calbeton to walk one and a half blocks – its on your left. Order off the board or menu – the freshly made risotto with Basque Sheep’s cheese is luscious, while the veal cheeks cooked six hours in red wine have an incredible depth of flavor. If its available, get a small platter of txistorra, the aromatic Basque sausage. If you an manage eating any more, the next stop is fun and casual.
Bar Sport – The crabmeat-stuffed squid is lovely and light, with a drizzle of roasted padron pepper sauce. The steak frites was well salted and charred on the outside. The plump mushrooms so juicy that biting into them you have to watch squirting a neighbor. But don’t come expecting haute cuisine – the presentation is unimaginative and the same sauce gets drizzled over various seafood dishes. This place is popular for its very reasonable prices (check out menu below) and super friendly staff. Address – Fermin Calbeton, 10.
Then double back on the street, passing by Borda Berri and make a first right onto Narrika Kalea. Walk four blocks until you get back to 31 de Agosto street and make a left past the Catholic Church. Walk along Agosto ’til you get to La Vina for dessert and a glass (or bottle) of txacoli. Keep walking if you want to sample a last bite at the final pinxto place on the list (read on below). If all you can think of is a world-class cheesecake – tangy-sweet from top quality cheese, silky and creamy and contrasting with a caramelized top, park yourself here. You’ll giggle at the bartender who has so much fun pouring txacoli wine from as high as he can go.
If your tummy has any room left take a quick dip into La Cepa, a few steps away, next. Easy and quick readymade pinxtos are set at the counter – help yourself to a plate and dig in for a quick and wide ranging taste of traditional pinxtos. The better pinxtos are fresh sardines with peppers (gorgeously pungent and oily); marinated fish with onion-and-sweet pepper mirepoix topping (a perfect balance of tart and savory with a hint of sweetness). The octopus, sardine and olive-laden Gilda pinxtos are only okay and avoid any pinxtos on heavy slices of baguette.
So you’ve checked the box down the famous pinxto barhop – or tired of pinxtos (heresy! but hey, how much foie gras and dainty skewered delicacies can one ingest). What next? Click here for killer steak the size of an encyclopedia brittanica, and here for a Michelin starred sit down meal.
WHY TINY SAN SEB HAS 16 MICHELIN STARS
San Sebastian and the Basque region is blessed in location and micro-climates that yield a huge cattier of top notch seafood, livestock (sheep, cattle, oxen), cheese, vegetables, wine grapes. Farming and food production are small scale, using traditional methods and held to fanatically high standards. Locals take great pride in their produce, sourcing breezy Txakolí wine from Getaria and pressed cheese from Idiazabal. Aromatic tomatoes and peppers at the markets are oddly sized and shaped because Basques value taste and texture over uniformity and shelf longevity, in contrast to mass production. The steak txuleta or chuleton (pron. “choo-le-ta”) is a three- to four-inch thick ribeye steak sourced from aged oxen raised on the surrounding hills. Adventurous young chefs here who don’t shy from merging local and international ingredients and techniques, are some of the most lauded in Spain, with creative flair and dramatic plating skills.
In fall, wild hongos (Porcini mushrooms) abound in the beech forests and pine groves surrounding San Sebastián. Other popular varieties (some are picked in spring) include the Gilberurdina, Champiñon, Rovellón or Níscalo mushrooms, and the highly prized Perritxiko. Hongos a la plancha is a popular racione (hot dish) of sea-salted, grilled porcini with an egg yolk on the side.