We traipsed all over San Sebastian Spain, in and out of pintxos bars, to learn everything we possible could about the most well known, and least understood, Spanish cuisine. It was a sacrifice, trust me. By the end of our trip to San Sebastian I was so full all I wanted to do was crawl into bed. But, it was worth it to provide travelers to the Basque Country the 10 best pintxos in San Sebastian. Plus we recommend the San Sebastian restaurants and bars where you can find these tasty treats.
San Sebastian Tapas or Pintxos?
First, a little lesson on what you even call these plates of goodness. First, tapas, which you can find all over Spain, traditionally started as a small bit of food that is placed on top of a glass to keep the bugs out. Currently, tapas tend to be slightly larger portions than they once were. They can include plates of jamon, croquettes, or patatas bravas, for example.
But, San Sebastian is not known for tapas, it’s known for pinchos, or pintxos in the local San Sebastian Basque language. For the most part, pintxos are small portions, normally served on a stick or skewer. When ordering, you order one pintxo per person. But, look around, occasionally pintxos can be slightly larger portions, at least large enough to share. And, the slightly larger ones should be shared to help you last longer on a tour of San Sebastian restaurants.
The moral of the story here is that as a traveler, instead of asking for the best tapas in San Sebastian, you are really looking for the best San Sebastian pintxos bars, and what to order at each.
Book a San Sebastian pintxos tour with Devour San Sebastian to learn more about pintxos culture.
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Our List of the 10 Best Pintxos in San Sebastian
Some of the following pintxos are definite must eats while touring San Sebastian. Others are the best pintxos we found, even if they weren’t the most traditional. These were the ones we returned for over and over, sometimes twice in one day.
And, we had a little bit of help in creating our list of the 10 best pintxos. Some of these we tried during our Devour San Sebastian Pintxos and Wine Tour. Devour San Sebastian taught us all about how to eat, and order, the best pintxos in San Sebastian. And, they gave us a great head start on the best San Sebastian bars for food.
Gilda – The Original Pintxo
The original pintxos. The story is that a patron at Txeptexa liked the flavor of the snacks that were served at the bar. At the time, they included anchovies, pickled peppers, and olives. This patron liked them so much that he skewered them all together to try all the flavors in one bite. The term pintxo refers to the stick that was used to skewer the tasty treats.
At Txepetxa, they’ve been offering the gilda every since, and they pride themselves on how they clean and cure the anchovies. A family trade secret. Even if you don’t generally eat anchovies, try them here. It’s worth it. But, it is a mouthful. Took me at least 2 bites!
Where to eat it: Txepetxa, C/ Pescaderia 5
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Unlike the salted and cured version of the anchovy used the gilda, these boquerones are fresh anchovies. The anchovies are served in vinegar and olive oil, perhaps with pepper, garlic, or parsley. They are so fresh and tangy, and offer the perfect pairing with a crisp white Basque wine called Txakoli.
Where to eat it: Bar la Vina, C/ 31 de Agosto 3
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Okay, so risotto is not a traditional Basque pintxo. And, after going to the pintxos bar that serves this particular risotto several nights in a row and seeing the plates of risotto fly out of hte kitchen we had to try it. And, so glad we did. This risotto with creamy Idiazabal cheese is addictive!
Where to eat it: Bar Borda-Berri San Sebastian, C/ Fermin Calbeton 12
Another addictive, but untraditional pintxo, also at Bar Borda-Berri. This kebab is a slow cooked pork rib, and placed delicately over a sauce that seemed to be a mixture of curry with a slight coffee flavor. Easily one of the best pintxos we ate in San Sebasian.
Where to eat it: Bar Borda-Berri, C/ Fermin Calbeton 12
Described, somewhat unattractively as a bonito stuffed pepper served with tartare sauce, there is nothing wrong with this pintxo. It is a vinegary pepper, stuffed with tuna (not bonito, which I usually associate with smoked tuna flakes in Japanese food). This was also equally addictive. If it is not on the bar, ask for it. They have more in the back. Thanks to Karen over at Global Help Swap for the recommendation!
Where to eat it: Bar Martinez, C/ 31 de Agosto 23
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Grilled Octopus Brochette
While at Bar Martinez for the tuna stuffed pepper, check out their octopus brochette (pulpo). Grilled tender and served with two slices of soft potato, all topped with spicy paprika. And, the entire plate is doused with an olive oil, garlic, parsley, and heaven mixture. Ask for some bread to sop up every last drop of this sauce!
Where to eat it: Bar Martinez, C/ 31 de Agosto 23
Brocheta de Gambas
A more traditional option, this cooked to order shrimp skewer is topped with a perfect pepper sauce. My only complaint? I could use more sauce and a bigger piece of bread to scrape up the sauce. But, the solution to this problem? Order a second.
Where to eat it: Bar Goiz-Argi, C/ Fermin Calbeton 4
We walked into this pintxos bar and I ordered dos gambas gabardina. Eric had no idea what I ordered. While waiting, he said “I could go for something deep fried.” Seconds later, these deep fried, tempura style shrimp. Ask and I shall deliver.
Where to eat it: El Tambori, C/ Pescaderia 2
Txangurro is the famous Basque crab. It is often served creamy, with roe, or on top of a piece of bread. It’s also entirely tasty in a Txangurro tartlet. If not on the bar, ask for it by name. They bake it in an over just behind the bar. It’s a perfectly baked bite of goodness.
Where to eat it: Bar Ganbara, C/ San Jeronimo 21
Not your typical pintxos, this falls squarely within the modern pintxos category. Cochino is a suckling pig, perfectly tender, with crisp skin, and topped with crystallized Maldon salt.
Where to eat it: La Cuchara de San Telmo, C/ 31 de Agosto 28 (tucked into the corner of the square)
Learn more in our San Sebastian Food Travel Guide.
San Sebastian Hotels
Hotels in San Sebastian Spain
There are loads of hotels both within San Sebastian and in the surrounding area. Within San Sebastian old town there are a lot of hostels and pensions, but it can get loud and crazy in the heart of the land of pintxos and cider. We offer two recommendations just at the edge of old town.
We stayed at the Hotel Parma, where rooms without a view start at only €50 in the low season. Rooms with a view of the sea are a lot more. They also have parking available for €15 a night. (Book on Booking.com | Book on Hotels.com | Rooms from $50 | Check TripAdvisor reviews here)
For a more luxury experience, check out Hotel Maria Christina, a Starwood Luxury Collection property. Rooms start at €250 a night. (Book on Booking.com | Book on Hotels.com | Rooms from $275 | Check TripAdvisor reviews here)
San Sebastian Spain Map – Where to Find the Best San Sebastian Food
Traveling to San Sebastian?
Things to do in San Sebastian: Take the Devour San Sebastian Food Tour, which starts at €99. Book here. Read what other travelers say about Devour San Sebastian here. Or, take a San Sebastian winery tour in Rioja from $360. Eat at one of the best restaurants in San Sebastian – Arzak Restaurant – San Sebastian.