Ever since we first watched Anthony Bourdain hopping between San Sebastian pintxos bars on his episode of A Chef’s Tour eons ago, I knew we wanted to visit. It just seemed like such a unique food culture and the perfect way to experience San Sebastian Spain.
Since then, we’ve visited San Sebastian a few times to eat seemingly hundreds of pintxos to bring you this San Sebastian pintxos guide.
*This post contains compensated links. Find more info in my DISCLAIMER. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
How to Visit San Sebastian For Food
In this San Sebastian pintxos guide, we share our top tips on what to eat in San Sebastian. And, yes, we focus on the most famous Basque country cuisine – pintxos.
Although there is more to Basque and San Sebastian cuisine than pintxos, it’s one of our favorite reasons to travel to San Sebastian. It’s why when we lived in Girona, Spain, we made the 6-hour drive just to eat pintxos, more than once. We’ve done this even though we had a few decent pintxos bars in town.
Traditionally, pintxos are the little bites of starters that are consumed before the main meal, which in Spain is a long weekend lunch or a late dinner.
For us, when we are traveling in San Sebastian, a night of hopping between pintxos bars is enough for us. We almost never have a sit-down meal in San Sebastian.
Check out our Spain Food Guide – What To Eat In Spain for more details on regional must-try dishes in Spain.
What You Will Learn In This San Sebastian Blog Post:
- What is the difference between tapas, pintxos, and pinchos?
- How is typical Basque food different from other Spanish cuisines?
- How to eat the best food in San Sebastian Spain, including how to survive a pintxos bar, what to eat, and where to eat it.
How To Book Hotels In Spain
Since leaving the US over a decade ago, we’ve traveled to Spain numerous times. We’ve even lived in Spain for over three years.
During these trips to Spain, we learned a few things about booking hotels in Spain. We’ve stayed at stunning luxury hotels like the Hotel Alfonso XIII in Seville and the W Barcelona. And sadly we have stayed in our fair share of not-so-great hotels in Spain.
San Sebastian – Tapas or Pintxos?
When it comes to what San Sebastian is famous for, it really comes down to one thing: pintxos. But, many travelers who are unfamiliar with Basque cuisine and its uniqueness tend to plan their trip around eating San Sebastian tapas, which is a bit of a misnomer. Here, we talk about the difference between tapas, pintxos, and pinchos.
Spanish Food Words
The first tip is to know your nomenclature. The Basque word pintxo translates to skewer. It refers traditionally to a small bite or two on a long wooden toothpick. Sometimes, the pintxo rests on a slice of bread.
The word pintxo is pronounced pincho, which also happens to be the Spanish word for pintxo. Just down the road in Logrono, in Rioja, the term pincho is used more than pintxo.
Pintxos can also be small plates, which look a little more like the tapas many people are more familiar with in the rest of Spain, and around the world.
Whether actually on a skewer or on a plate, they are all referred to as pintxos in San Sebastian. Menus normally don’t refer to tapas at all, even if they look just like a tapa. It’s a Basque thing.
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 the best San Sebastian pintxos) and what to order at each of these bars.
Mediavine Video PlaceholderVideo only displays when ad script wrapper is loaded on page
Taking A Food Tour In San Sebastian
People often ask us how we find great food in a city we’ve never visited. In addition to doing our own research and asking friends, we always take a food tour. Not only will you learn what to eat and where, but food tours are also a great way to learn your way around a city.
There are lots of great food tours in San Sebastian and choosing the right one is tricky. We are big fans of Devour Tours. Devour Tours does a great job of explaining the food and drink in a city.
They have the local knowledge to discover off-the-beaten-path bars and restaurants only locals go to. Over the past decade, we’ve easily been on a dozen Devour food tours across Spain.
In San Sebastian, Devour Tours offers a mix of food tours and sightseeing tours. Tour prices range from $70 to $130 per person. Most of Devour’s tours max out at 12 guests making it a more enjoyable experience.
Here are the food tours Devour currently offers in San Sebastian.
How To Plan Your Own Pintxos Crawl in San Sebastian
Are you looking to plan your own pintxos crawl in San Sebastian? The goal is to hop, or sometimes at the end of the night crawl, from one San Sebastian pintxos bar to the next. At each stop, order one or two small plates along the way.
Sometimes the plates are just one or two bites on a wooden skewer with the tasty food sitting on top of a thick slice of bread. Other times, the food comes on a small plate, which many people think of when they hear the word tapas.
These pintxos can be warm or cold. The most important thing to know is that each of the best bars in San Sebastian specializes in a dish that is the must-eat dish at that bar.
Pintxos are part of traditional Basque food culture and can be found throughout the region, including cities like Bilbao Pamplona, and Logrono. But, San Sebastian dining is all about the pintxos and it is like a mecca for this type of dining. It’s a must-visit destination for any food traveler.
How To Survive A San Sebastian Bar
There is an order to what at first seems like chaos when it comes to eating pintxos in San Sebastian Spain. At first, it can be intimidating. Why is the San Sebastian style of eating so intimidating?
Particularly on a weekend, the pintxos bars are packed. At least the good ones are. People are yelling orders at the bartender, in Spanish or the Basque language. They are grabbing food right from the bar, without even looking like they are paying.
The bartenders don’t seem to keep track of any of it. Everyone is elbowing everyone else to get their orders in. Then, many of them flee outside, to eat and drink in the San Sebastian streets. It can seem insane.
Even when eating inside the bar, people just throw their napkins on the ground. It’s part of the insanity. Some bars have little containers for this kind of garbage, on the floor, all along the bar. If you kick some strange metal contraption at the foot of the bar, just throw your napkin there.
How To Order Pintxos In San Sebastian
You can either grab a plate and pick your pintxos from the bar yourself. Or, the bartender will place the pintxos on the plate for you. Watch what others are doing to know the norm.
At the end, present your plate with empty sticks to the bartender for your bill. Or, for most of the best hot pintxos, order them directly from the bartender.
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.
If a pintxo is meant to be served hot, ask for it to be heated. If you don’t speak Spanish, just say “caliente por favor.” I will say that we almost never eat pintxos right from the bar. I would say that 95% of the time we order from the menu, which is either a printed menu or a chalkboard behind the bar.
Oftentimes, at the best San Sebastian pintxos bars, this means a freshly made pintxo. Unfortunately, sometimes it just means a reheated pintxo, but even some of those are pretty darn tasty.
Best Pintxos Tour San Sebastian
If you want someone else to do the work in helping you visit the best pintxos bars in San Sebastian, why not take a San Sebastian food tour? We recommend Devour Spain. We’ve taken their food tours all over the country, and took their San Sebastian Pintxos Tour during our first visit, on our first night.
It was a great way to be introduced to the city, its history, and its food culture. They also taught us how to eat pintxos to make the whole experience less intimidating during the rest of our visit and during future visits.
San Sebastian Pintxos And Wine Tour
This is the food tour we took during our first visit to San Sebastian. It is offered in the afternoon and in the evenings.
The tour lasts three hours and includes a visit to six of the most historic pintxos bars in the historic old town. It also includes a stop at one of the more trendy pintxos bars to see what contemporary Basque cuisine is like.
Waiting for one of our favorite San Sebastian bars to open…patiently
What To Eat in San Sebastian – The Best Pintxos in San Sebastian Spain
This is our list of the best pintxos in San Sebastian. Some of these pintxos are true Basque classics. Others are found at some of the more contemporary places for 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. They were also the tapas we craved as planned on our recent second trip.
Almost all of our recommended pintxos can be found at the tapas bars in San Sebastian Old Town, or Parte Vieja. It’s where the largest concentration of tapas bars is located. They are down narrow, pedestrian-friendly alleyways just made for tasty San Sebastian pintxo crawls.
If you get confused about what to call something, or how to pronounce it, just pull up this post on your phone and show them the photo!
I am also including a few recommendations on where to eat these pintxos in San Sebastian as well.
The Original Pintxo – The Gilda
The story is that a patron at Txepetxa 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, which became the Gilda.
At Txepetxa, they’ve been offering the Gilda ever 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. They are a good first pintxo of the night. They also make for a good palate cleanser between more rich bites at other bars.
Where to eat it: Txepetxa, C/ Pescaderia 5
Brocheta de Gambas
This is easily our favorite traditional pintxo. It’s one that we don’t generally see at other pintxos bars in Old Town. This cooked-to-order shrimp skewer, or brocheta de gambas, is topped with a perfect pepper sauce. The sauce is tangy with just a touch of spice.
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. We always do.
In fact, this is normally one of the first pintxos we eat each night. And, is sometimes the last one we order before heading home as well.
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, the bartender came out with this deep fried, tempura style shrimp. Ask and I shall deliver. It’s a small traditional bar on the corner of the main square in the center of San Sebastian Old Town.
Where to eat it: El Tambori, C/ Pescaderia 2
Grilled Octopus Brochette
Eric is not a huge fan of octopus, but this pintxo had him licking his fingers. Grilled tender octopus (look for pulpo on the menu) served with two slices of soft potato, all topped with spicy paprika.
The entire plate is doused generously with olive oil, garlic, and parsley mixture. Ask for some bread to sop up every last drop of this sauce! Being slightly larger, we shared this one.
Where to eat it: Bar Martinez, C/ 31 de Agosto 23
Chistorra – Puff Pastry
We didn’t eat these during our first trip to San Sebastian, but kind of fell in love with them on our second trip. A chistorra is a small chorizo sausage, wrapped in a puff pastry, like a filo dough, and baked. Incredibly tasty.
When mentioning this to a local, he referred to it as the “Gringo Pintxo” meaning it’s an easily accessible pintxo for foreigners. But, we saw locals eating them too. How can you not? They are tasty.
Where to eat it: Bar Ganbara, C/ San Jeronimo 21
Kokotxas – Cod Cheeks
Something most travelers wouldn’t eat just based on the name. We love eating cheeks and eat a lot of beef cheek and pork cheek where we live in Catalonia. They are super tender cuts of meat when cooked right.
The same is true for the cheek of a fish, including cod. When prepared right they are super tender. When deep fried, they are even better. This is a true San Sebastian Basque-style pintxo.
Cochino – Suckling Pig
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). If someone asked us where to eat in San Sebastian when it came to high-quality, modern pintxos, this would be on the top of our list.
San Sebastian Pintxos Pro Tip
La Cuchara de San Telmo is one of the most popular pintxos bars in San Sebastian. Double-check their hours by visiting them ahead of time. Then, arrive about 15-20 minutes before they open and hang outside until they do. Grab one of the first spots. After that, it gets increasingly more difficult to elbow into a spot.
I would not have put risotto on my list of best pintxos to eat in San Sebastian until we arrived at Borda Berri San Sebastian. It quickly became one of our favorite pintxos bars and we visit once a day each time we are in the city.
During our first few stops, we kept seeing the risotto fly out of the window. Almost everyone ordered it! We hesitated, thinking we were in the Basque Country and not Italy.
Then, we ordered this creamy risotto made with Idiazabal cheese, which is from the Basque Country. It is addictive! I’ve even tried replicating it at home. It was good but not as good as the real thing.
Where to eat it: Bar Borda-Berri San Sebastian, C/ Fermin Calbeton 12. I would count this as one of the best pintxos bars in San Sebastian. We were there at least once a day. Get there early to get a space at the bar!
Cheesecake? Yes, cheesecake in San Sebastian. Now, it’s pretty easy to find something that translates to cheesecake elsewhere in Spain and Catalonia. It’s not the same as what I grew up eating outside of New York.
It’s missing the graham cracker crust, the cake itself is amazing. Creamy, rich, and total yum. It’s not only the best cheesecake in San Sebastian, but safe to say in Spain as well.
Where to eat it: Bar la Vina, C/ 31 de Agosto 3
Or, make it at home. Check out our Basque Cheesecake Recipe.
Drinking Cider In San Sebastian
What To Drink in San Sebastian
The hardest thing about eating in San Sebastian is getting too full too quickly. Luckily many of the drinks enjoyed alongside pintxos tend to also be small, so you don’t fill up.
There are three main drinks available in San Sebastian. Beer is quite popular. It is mostly served on tap. A caña is a small beer and generally costs between €1-2. We don’t tend to drink a lot of beer in San Sebastian and instead focus on cider and wine.
Basque Country is well known for cider, or sidra in Spanish. This is a far cry from the typical British cider and is a lot less sweet.
Generally, a small glass of cider will cost about €1 or a little more. In some bars, they will pour the cider from a bottle into a glass at a great distance to add a little more air to the cider.
There is also a local Basque wine that is produced outside of San Sebastian called txakoli (pronounced chakoli). It’s a white wine, which is crisp, easy to drink, and is served slightly carbonated.
It reminds us a lot of vinho verde from Northern Portugal. A glass of txakoli will be larger than a beer or a glass of cider but will cost around €3.
San Sebastian Pintxos Guide Pro Tip
We tend to order more cider than wine for a few reasons. One, because we love the cider in San Sebastian. Second because we like to visit a bunch of bars in one night and if we order 5 or 6 glasses of wine in a night, well, you know what happens.
By ordering a small cider at each of the San Sebastian pintxos bars, it is easier to make it through an evening of eating in San Sebastian.
FAQs – HOW TO PLAN YOUR SAN SEBASTIAN SPAIN PINTXOS CRAWL
Follow these food travel tips, and seek out our recommendations for the best pintxos in San Sebastian. First, plan your San Sebastian bar route ahead of time. Second, wear comfortable shoes. The chance of sitting at any pintxos bar is pretty slim, particularly over a weekend when the bars are at their busiest.
When are the San Sebastian pintxos bars open?
There is no standard schedule. Search for opening times using Google or, if they have it, the bar’s website or Facebook Page. None of this, though, is ever entirely accurate. Some bars are open all day, every day. Some close during siesta between lunch and dinner. Some close on Sunday, others close on Monday or Tuesday. If they say they open at 7 pm, be prepared for them to open at 7:15 pm. It’s just part of traveling in Spain.
In the Basque language, the tx is pronounced like a ch. The pronunciation is more like the Spanish word for this tasty dish, pinchos.
Most pintxos cost between €3-6 depending on what you order. Some seafood or beef will be more expensive. At more trendy pintxos bars, a plate could cost around €10.
For the average traveler, they are essentially the same. Technically, tapas originated as a free snack for customers who’ve bought a drink. Today, tapas are still u0022freeu0022 (mainly in Granada and towns in Andulasia) but have evolved into a snack you pay for. This is the same with pintxos.