When it comes to eating in San Sebastián you basically have two options. You can dine at the chaotic pintxos bars that line the cobbled streets of the old town serving quality but cheap food. Or you can dine at one of the city's spectacular Michelin starred restaurants.
We spent two nights in the city so we were able to do both. Whilst the two experiences were phenomenally different from each other, the food we ate on both nights was beyond magnificent. If you can spend at least two nights here to sample both the fine dining and bar food scenes you will be absolutely blown away. I'm already planning my next visit.
Michelin starred restaurants
Akelarre, Arzak, and Martín Berasategui are the three big names on the Michelin star scene in San Sebastián. Each restaurant holds an impressive three stars each. I had originally wanted to dine at Arzak but it was fully booked when I tried to make a reservation so I'm hoping to visit next time.
For our Michelin starred dining experience we chose 2* Mugartiz which is a 20 minute drive out of the city. I did a review about Mugartiz the other day so I won't say too much about it here but our meal was impressive to say the very least. 26 courses and a few hundred quid later this was by far one of the best dinning experiences I've ever had.
Pintxos, pronounced 'pinchos' is Basque-style tapas. They are small morsels of savoury food placed on top of a slice of bread with a toothpick stuck through the centre to keep everything in place. They come in many different variations and are laid out on giant platters along every bar counter in town.
The pintxos bars are where all the fun happens in San Sebastián as you hop from place to place having a glass of wine and a bite of food. Steve and I visited 8 bars in the space of 2 hours to try their speciality dishes on our first night in town. By the end of it we were busting from the seams. We managed to visit a few more bars at lunch time on our last day just to make sure we had eaten everything the city had to offer.
To really enjoy the pintxos crawl make sure you only have one bit of food in each bar. The vast selection of delicious looking treats will be very tempting but you'll want to hit as many bars as possible and having more than one thing in each place is going to fill you up quickly. When we set off on our pintxos crawl I armed myself with a list of the different bars I wanted to visit and what their speciality was so I'd advise you to do the same.
I've presented this list in the order we tackled the pintxos crawl therefore it makes a nice circle around the old town i.e. Parte Vieja. Our guesthouse, Pension Edorta, was situated above the very first bar on our pintxos crawl which was extremely handy.
La Mejillonera (C/ del Puerto 15)
La Mejillonera is the place to go for mussels. Shells are discarded on every inch of the floor and the neon lighting is rather intense but that doesn't take away from the food in the slightest. There's a huge variety of mussels on offer so the choice can be a little overwhelming. We went for the mussels in tomato and garlic sauce which tasted rich and absolutely heavenly.
A Fuego Negro (C/31 de Agosto 310)
A Fuego Negro is quite different from the other pintxos bars in town. The interior is dark and sultry and there's a distinct avant garde vibe to the place. Believe it or not the speciality here is the Kobe beef slider and banana crisps (makobe with txips). It's delicious and I was kind of bummed that Steve and I decided to share one.
Casa Gandarias (C/31 de Agosto 23)
Casa Gandarias is known for it's meat so we ordered the grilled sirlion steak with green pepper and sea salt (pintxo de solomillo) which was absolutely stunning. The black pudding and egg cold pintxos from the counter was fantastic as well.
La Cuchara de San Telmo (C/31 de Agosto 28)
La Cuchara de San Telmo was one of my favourite pintxos bars in town. The food is hot and made to order so you won't see cold platters on the bar like everywhere else in town. The cooking here is creative with a modern spin on classic dishes. We ordered the signature braised calf cheeks in red wine (carrilera) which was melt in the mouth delicious. We also ordered the squid ink risotto which is made from orzo pasta instead of rice, it was exceptional.
La Cepa (C/31 de Agosto 7)
La Cepa serves traditional pintxos and is known for its cured iberico ham from Southern Spain (jabon jabugo). The meat is rich in flavour and melts in the mouth, it is absolutely delicious and one of the dishes that really sticks out in my memory. We also ordered the croquetas, which had a perfectly crisp coating and full of perfectly oozing cheese sauce. They were heavenly. Apparently the grilled mushrooms are great here but lol as if I'd ever try them.
Bar Nestor C/ Pescadería 11
We didn't get to eat here because it was closed during out stay but apparently the tortilla is world class. You have to put in your order before 1pm and 8pm each day but be prepared for lots of people because it's meant to be that good. I love tortilla so hopefully Bar Nestor will be open next time we visit. The steak is meant to be amazing as well.
Bar Zeruko (C/Pescadería 10)
'La Hoguera' ('the bonfire') at Bar Zeruko was one of my most memorable pintxos. You are presented with a cod lollipop which you grill yourself. You eat the fish with an onion and parsley crostini followed by vial of asparagus purée, it's brilliant.
Goiz Argi (C/ Fermin Calbetón 4)
The speciality dish a Goiz Argi is brocheta gambas a la plancha (grilled prawns). They have a slight charred flavour and are absolutely stunning.
Borda Berri (C/ Fermin Calbetón 12)
I'm not sure if the pork rib is a speciality at Borda Berri but that's what we ordered. The meat melted away from the bones, it was rich in flavour and mouth watering delicious. I really liked this bar and there were a lot of other meaty dishes on the menu I would have liked to order.
Bar La Viña (C/31 de Agosto 3)
Bar La Viña is the place to go for dessert. They serve the best cheesecake you'll come across. It's baked on the outside and exceedingly creamy in the middle. It was verging on a little too indulgent for me but it really was delicious. We had this on our last day as there was no way we could have eaten a slice of cheesecake after our big pintxos crawl.
The best of the rest
The Loaf (Zurríola Hiribidea, 18)
The Loaf is a bakery come trendy cafe on the other side of town. We had brunch here which consisted of fried potatoes and eggs, plus a bunch of other stuff I can't actually remember. It was good value and very tasty so if you're looking to get away from the pintxos bars then this is worth seeking out.
La Fábrica (C/ del Puerto 17)
I want to stay we had a light lunch here but it ended up being pretty enormous as we didn't realise you had to order from a set menu. Despite not being hungry enough to eat 3 courses the food here was great. I don't think there are that menu sit down restaurants amongst the huddle of pintxos bars in the old town but if you're after something a little less manic without going mad at one of the Michelin starred restaurants than La Fábrica is a good options. Beware the wine that comes included in the set menu price, it's not great.