Around The World, Europe

Foodie Heaven: What to Eat in San Sebastian

Old Town lined with bars and bars of pintxos and vino

Did you know that San Sebastian is now one of my favourite European cities. Well, you do now!

Why? Because it is a hidden gem for food, sun, and sea. Food most importantly, of course.

I came back from San Sebastian having learnt two words in Basque – pintxos (obviously), which is the Basque take on Spanish tapas; and eskerrik asko, thank you in Basque (you can pronounce this by saying “as-scaredy-cats-go” really fast).

Fun fact: the difference between tapas and pintxos is the stick / toothpick that pintxos are usually served with. Traditionally, after eating, payment is to be made upon counting number of total sticks, though nowadays this is mostly served by bartenders instead.

Either way, pintxos itself should be enough of a reason why you should open up a new tab to book a flight there right now. Typically, each pintxos is €2, and a glass of rioja is a little less. Bargain.

Additionally, each pintxos bar usually has their own specialty, and it’d be a crime to miss out on those, so no matter how strange or weird it might look or sound – walk in, order, eat, drink, rejoice!

Let’s begin with my most favourite place of all time.

Bar Txepetxa – Anchovies, anchovies, and more anchovies

Wait, don’t scroll on and dismiss this because I mentioned anchovies and you’re like “ew, fish!” – these anchovies are nothing like you’ve ever had. Google any recommendations for pintxos bars and 99% of these will feature this place. It is that good.

I was truly obsessed with this place during our stay. And with good reason.

During our three-day stay here, we visited this place four times. Yep, we were obsessed. My top favourite anchovy toppings were:

  • the snow crab (possibly the most popular choice here),
  • the foie gras (melted, so it spreads evenly like butter),
  • the salmon (because I’m a sucker for anything salmon),
  • and the blueberry (sounds super weird but trust me, the salty and sweet combo is lit).

Juantxo Taberna – Delightful tortilla sandwiches

Carbs with a serving of carbs, anyone?

While you’re here, do it like the locals and eat your Spanish tortillas slap bang in a baguette. Carbs on carbs, that’s why you came here, no?

This tiny sandwich shop is often jam packed with people, both locals and tourists. I always love seeing a place filled to the brim with locals because that’s a sure-fire sign that you are in the right place. And likewise, you should always order what the locals are busy munching on, and here it’s easy to tell, especially with the piles and piles of bocadillo de tortilla on the bar counter.

The soft tortilla centre coupled with the crunchy texture of the baguette… it is a match made in heaven, and I will never go back to ever thinking that a tortilla was bland and tasteless as they usually are in London. The Basque people have changed my mind.

Borda Berri – Veal cheeks, pork ribs, grilled artichokes and more…

Just look at that fall-apart meat…
This rib is unlike other rib you’ve ever had. I promise.

You won’t miss this, because this place is always packed with people, both inside and outside. One of the most popular stops on Fermin Calbeton Kalea, we ordered six items on our first night here. In hindsight, we should have probably paced ourselves better… But still, everything was incredible and I have absolutely no regrets, aside from not being able to stomach more.

The pork ribs were literally falling off the bone, as seen here! And the veal cheeks were also tender and succulent I’m salivating as I describe this.

The grilled artichokes were highly recommended by the bartender, and of course we never turn down a strong recommendation. And he wasn’t lying.

I was so good that we tried going back the following night just for the artichokes, and they were sold out. Left with no choice, we left the bar as two heartbroken girls </3…

Bar Goiz-Argi – Octopus & prawns

Another tiny bar in Fermin Calbeton Kalea, another popular spot. In all honesty, we were way too stuffed by the time we reached here, but when I spotted the pulpo on the bar, we just couldn’t leave.

We returned here on our last night and tried out a few other items, including:

  • Grilled prawns – super delicate and brushed with some secret sauce. Really popular as the barman kept dishing this one out around us.
  • Fried kidneys – really good, with a garlic sauce. Recommended if you’re into organ meats!
  • Black pudding – nice, but wasn’t super memorable in comparison.

Gandarias – Grilled foie gras with red currant

We spotted this while wandering around town on our first night after stuffing ourselves at Borda Barri. Come night time, everywhere was buzzing, and Gandarias was no exception. Then, among the crowds, we saw this plate of foie gras being carried somewhere. And we were sold.

If you are a lover of foie gras, how do you like the sound of it grilled and served on crusty bread with sea salt and currant jam? If it’s a hell yes, then grab a serving of these babies.

Once grilled, foie gras turned into this buttery melty thing that oozes into your mouth as you take a bite. Mop up the remains of it with the crusty bread, sip a few of that red you ordered, and ponder why this isn’t more readily available elsewhere in the world…

We did ordered a few other things while we here but nothing was as good as the grilled foie gras, so this was our standout winner at Gandarias.

Txuleta – Cheap but amazing steak!

Just because we didn’t eat steak at Bar Nestor doesn’t mean we passed on steak all together while at San Seb. Not even going to write much on this, except for it being super cheap and amazingly tender. This place is such a meat institute, and you can tell by seeing all the steaks hanging in the window!

Outside of meats, the squid croquettes were also out of this world! Pro tip: always get the ones were it’s still uncooked, so you know that you’ll get some piping hot croquettes, instead of ones that are microwaved and soggy!

La Cuchara de San Telmo – Suckling pig & octopus

Comparatively more modern than other pintxos bars in the area, dishes here look more modern, like your usual sit-down restaurants. But this doesn’t mean they’re not authentic, it just means that the food here is *beautifully* presented, on top of being incredible in flavour.

The suckling pig was my favourite. The crackling was crunchy, the meat was tender and falls apart at the lightest touch, and that sauce, ugh. I don’t know exactly what it was (something in Spanish I don’t remember oops). but man, it was tangy and just completed the dish. I could have happily ordered another portion, not sharing this time.

We also ordered the grilled foie gras and the octopus here as they were both popular items on the menu. But sadly we were not served a whole complete tentacle so didn’t look the most beautiful, hence no picture, though still delicious and super reasonably priced.

Bar Nestor – Famous for steak, but don’t miss the tomatoes

I know it’s strange to rave about tomatoes, but these were not just anytomatoes, these were some insanely flavourful and juicy tomatoes. But what really elevates them is the incredible olive oil and the salt. The salt brings out all the flavours. Try it.

We were not hungry enough to order steak here, despite it being the signature dish of this bar. In our eyes, it was a shame to eat steak and be too stuffed for anything else. But if you’re a meat lover, order the steak, share it (or not, if you’re a badass like this one dude we saw eating an entire two people portion alone), get a glass or two of the vino, and a side of these juicy tomatoes. Enjoy life!

La Cepa – Jamón & award-winning cheesecake

That marbling though…

I know I know, everybody raves about the cheesecake at La Viña, but unfortunately it was under refurbishment when we were there. But luckily, we stumbled into La Cepa while sussing out good pintxos bars and a few locals told us that their cheesecake was also award-winning, so we were sold there and then. Una tarta de queso, por favor!

While we waited for the cheesecake, another local pointed to the legs of jamón above us, and said that it would be wrong to not order any. So of course we did.

The barman waited for us while we took a bite, and when we smiled, he also smiled warmly. I think he was pleased we liked it.

That bread, I don’t know what it is but it’s so good. Crunchy and light, and perfectly compliments the thinly sliced jamon. And I’m not usually a lover of bread…

Bar Zabaleta – Soft, runny Spanish tortillas that you’ll want more of

Soooooooo good!

On our last day in San Sebastián, we made our way to Bar Zabaleta for breakfast. Unlike all other pintxo bars we went to, we did not share this time. We had learned that sometimes, amazing food is best consumed all to yourself.

Let me stress, this is unlike any tortillas you’ve had outside Spain. This was some next level delightful tortilla, and compared to the ones at Juantxo Taberna mentioned above, these were more delicate, in my personal opinion. The runny and soft inside was too good and before I knew it, it was all gone. No wonder why the reviews for this place is high and was often listed as one of the top places for the best tortilla in town.

La Viña – The most raved about cheesecake in town

It was a sad day when I realised that La Viña was closed for refurbishment. But I’ve heard only raving reviews for this place, and you should have this high on your list of eats when you make it to San Seb.

The burnt cheesecake here is nothing like the American styled ones. I love a New York cheesecake but those are often too heavy and sickly for me. This type of cheesecake, on the other hand, is not… And I did find ourselves a substitute to make up for the lack of La Viña. See below!

Bar Sport – An awesome alternative cheesecake to La Viña

Not that having La Viña closed refurbishment was ever going to stop me from eating Spanish cheesecake, it was only a matter of time before I found the next best thing in town. A quick Google informed me that Bar Sport also had a winning cheesecake.

Rammed full of people on a Saturday afternoon, we squeezed in and found ourselves a spot by the bar. “La tarta de queso!” I pointed at the perfectly imperfect slice of cheesecake looking right at me.

The texture was light, not too sweet, and the slightly burnt top tastes almost caramel-y. And we loved it. “Should we get another one?” We wondered, but quickly dismissed it as we wanted to eat more of everything else. Ha!

Ok. I think that’s about it. I have so much more to say but this is the best of the best from my most recent visit. Eat, drink and enjoy!!!!

Verna x

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