SSGuide

The Best Pintxos In San Sebastián’s Old Town

10 must-try pintxo bars in La Parte Vieja and what to order at them.
The Best Pintxos In San Sebastián’s Old Town image

photo credit: Markel Redondo

If you’re headed to San Sebastián, chances are you’re going to eat a lot of pintxos. These small plates are traditionally served at bars across the Basque Country and play a huge role in this region's food-obsessed culture.

Starting at lunch time, you can pop into a bar for drinks and a pintxo (or three), which can come hot, cold, pierced with a toothpick, or stacked on bread so you can easily shove it into your mouth. And if you spend an entire afternoon hopping from place to place in search of more pintxos to eat, then kudos—you’re doing San Sebastián right. 

Many of the city’s best pintxos bars can be found in its Old Town, a historic quarter full of mid-19th century buildings and narrow streets crowded with hungry locals and tourists. There are also plenty of noteworthy pintxos to try in San Sebastián’s other districts, which you can find on our full city guide.

But on this list, we're solely exploring the Old Town and the iconic food destinations that make it San Sebastián’s most popular neighborhood. Here’s everything you should be eating in La Parte Vieja.


THE SPOTS


Basque

Parte Vieja

$$$$Perfect For:Small PlatesEating At The BarWalk-InsQuick EatsPeople WatchingDrinking Good Wine
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Ganbara belongs on the cover of a farm-to-table cookbook, particularly one that makes you want to live off the land’s bounty. The bar’s counter is lined with piles of gorgeous seasonal ingredients: you may see fluffy foraged mushrooms, ruby red langoustines on ice, or Basque peppers that are so vibrantly green they look photoshopped. And like local organic produce at your grocery store, these ingredients aren't cheap—we're talking €12 for a tomato salad. 

Ganbara is worth every penny, though, because the simple pintxos here don't need much to be mind-blowingly delicious. A paper-thin tuna carpaccio is brightened up with peppery olive oil, that pricey tomato salad expands your consciousness to how incredible a ripe tomato can taste, and the best roasted mushroom dish we've ever had uses a runny yolk as its sauce—it's perfect. Seating at Ganbara is limited, so plan on waiting outside with wine or cider.


photo credit: Markel Redondo

If the dozens of glistening hams dangling from the ceiling wasn’t a clue, La Cepa specializes in all things jamón. Find a seat at the bar or at a table inside this cozy tavern with stained glass windows and dark wood beams that belong in Geppetto’s workshop. A visit here is all about sampling as many forms of cured pork as possible, including chewy bocadillos stuffed with ribbons of ham that melt on your tongue, creamy jamón croquettes that go hand-in-hand with a cold beer or two, and marbled slices of spicy chorizo that coat your mouth with buttery fat.


This narrow, somewhat hidden bar is known for its hot, made-to-order dishes that get scribbled on a big chalkboard. And even though La Cuchara is quite casual, the pintxos here look straight out of a fine dining spot with their abstract plating and swirls of colorful sauces. This more modern approach to Basque cooking has proven to be quite popular among locals and travelers, which explains why it gets so crowded here. 

Have your order ready by the time you squeeze your way to the counter and get lots, because everything we’ve had is exceptional. Some highlights include the tender veal cheeks that fall when you dig your fork in, crackly pieces of suckling pig that shimmer like caramels, and a very generous portion of seared foie gras on a sweet apple compote.


There are a handful of San Sebastián “musts,” like booking a surf lesson, realizing surfing is not for you, and heading to Goiz Argi afterward for a grand consolation prize: grilled seafood. The tender baby octopus is a fan favorite here, with its smoky char marks and garlic lemon sauce we could drink off the plate. But the main attraction at Goiz Argi is the excellent shrimp skewer coated in a vinegary tomato and pepper sauce that soaks into its sliced baguette. It’s a simple pintxo with enough acid and brininess to make you crave three more, or however many it takes to heal a bruised ego after a first surf lesson.


There may come a point during your visit to Borda Berri when things get overwhelming. This tiny pintxo bar gets packed, forcing you to elbow your way through a sweaty crowd so you can shout your order at a waiter who’s too busy refilling glasses to look at you. But trust us—they don’t miss a beat. It’s organized chaos that ends with some of the best hot pintxos in San Sebastián. 

Owned by the La Cuchara de San Telmo people, Borda Berri also makes its grilled and braised dishes to order, like beef cheeks slow-cooked in red wine until they collapse under your fork and tender, garlicky pig’s ears with glossy skin that shatters like candy. If you’re looking for a great meatless option, get the creamy orzo risotto made with nutty idiazábal cheese.


There’s a TV to watch La Liga at this bar, but sports aren’t why you come here—it’s the wide variety of cold and hot pintxos that range from simple to noticeably gourmet. The bartenders fill rows of glasses with fizzy cider as you point out what delicious thing on the bar you’d like first. 

The gildas with a triple briny punch of olives, pickled peppers, and anchovies are the perfect salty bite to kick off a meal before you migrate to the warm dishes, which are the most impressive things that hit the counter. The txangurro al horno is perfect for sharing and comes as a sweet, creamy crab bake served inside its shell. And no visit to Bar Sport is complete without trying the grilled foie gras with a smoky char, sprinkling of rock salt, and a shiny coat of olive oil.


We like to think there’s an anchovy pintxo for everyone at Txepetxa, even those who aren’t big on tinned fish. For decades, this small bar has been putting all kinds of anchovy flavor combos on sliced baguette, some of which might raise a few eyebrows. There are savory bites featuring anchovies topped with vinegary giardiniera and tapenade, and sweeter options like foie gras with apple compote and blueberry jam that tastes twice as sweet from all the fish’s saltiness, making it pop with flavor. Anticipate ordering half the menu, because each pintxo will sound delicious or too intriguing not to try. Also, prepare to make eye contact with a signed Glenn Close poster.


Getting into Bar Nestor feels like you’re sweet-talking a bouncer at an exclusive nightclub: grit, patience, and a little strategy are required. You’ll need to get on the list to be guaranteed a spot at lunch or dinner, so show up before opening and a waiter will give you an estimated wait time. Some things also need a reservation, like the one table inside or getting a slice of their legendary tortilla española—they only make two a day, so this luscious omelet is a hot commodity.

Have a drink outside while you wait for space to the bar—once you’ve snagged your spot, expect to be met with a menu of just four things: sliced jamón, a simple but delicious tomato salad, blistered Gernika peppers, and the txuleta. It’s a massive, pink-in-the-middle, fat-capped steak with rock salt and the most satisfying reward for your determination.


One could argue that La Viña is a historical monument because it’s the birthplace of the Basque cheesecake: a fluffy, no-crust dessert that gets (intentionally) burnt in the oven so it’s firm enough to slice. But with great clout comes great hordes of tourist, so expect long lines during the busy season. The hack to getting your hands on this cloud-like cheesecake is to beat the dinner crowds by showing up early or simply wait them out. We suggest the latter and ending your night of eating with dessert and a glass of sherry.


Casa Vergara is a gorgeous, contemporary pintxo bar that serves very underwhelming food. So why is it on this guide? Well, it serves a specific purpose: it’s directly outside La Basilica de Santa Maria del Coro. At night, people gather on the church steps to drink, chit chat, and possibly meet a mysterious backpacker/future love of their life. Come to Casa Vergara, order a glass of cider at the bar, and join this fun nightly tradition, because life in San Sebastián is about doing things that feel good (i.e., eating, drinking, and romanticizing everything to the utmost degree.)


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