You Gotta Plan Your Pintxos, But Be Ready to Change the Plan
When it comes to getting ready for a trip, I’m the planner. I like to know where I am going, how to get there, what sites should be seen or missed, where we should eat, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I am not meticulous about having everything planned out to the minute, but I do like to have an outline for the trip. I read travel books, check out online resources, and maybe some of my favorite travel shows have visited the area. However, lately, I have found that I tend to throw all of that planning out once we have our feet on the ground. There is something about being immersed in the area you are visiting that can change what you want out of it, and sometimes a local can help you with that change. This is how we found some of the best pintxos in San Sebastian, Spain.
La Parte Vieja
We rented a small apartment in the Historical Quarter of Old Town (La Parte Vieja) for our stay in San Sebastian. This area is rich in history, with cobbled streets, a fishing port, San Vincente Church, Santa Maria del Coro Basilica, and the San Telmo Museum. The streets are narrow and ancient. There are bars and restaurants crowded along each narrow street. These eateries are not competing against one another, per se. They are all part of a symbiosis of aromas and tastes. This is the gastronomic heart of San Sebastian.
Three Simple Rules for Your Best Pintxo Experience
Our hostess Monika took the time to map out some sights, and more importantly, mapped out the best pintxos bars to go to. These are the local’s bars. A place where you can see the same faces every day, stopping in for a bite and a beer at all times of the day. Most importantly, she laid out some hard and fast rules for a novice like me:
- Don’t be timid. Step up to the bar and look the bartender in the eye to order a drink or something to eat. The bar you are in may be very crowded. Be polite, but be forceful. Fortune favors the brave.
- Don’t just go for what’s on the bar. There will be a lot of options on the bar area. Most of these are cold pintxos and tapas. While good, they may not be the best the bar may offer. Take the time to look around at what others are eating. You may find what they are having is not set out. Look at the menu for other options. This is usually written on the wall behind the bartenders, if not on paper menus.
- Don’t worry about keeping track of what you eat. You are dealing with professionals here. The bartenders will keep track. Just be sure that if you do grab something off of the bar placements, look the bartender in the eye and show him what you got.
With those three simple rules, we were off to explore. Here are some of our favorite pintxos bars and what they serve best.
Bar Sport Calle Fermin Calbeton, 10
They had me at foie gras. I love foie gras. I don’t get enough here in Texas because it is insanely expensive and usually only bougie places serve it. But in Spain, it is not seen as a delicacy for only the ritzy fare. Our simple foie gras dish was a piece of toasted bread, two thick slices of seared foie gras, and a drizzle of aged sherry vinegar. Quite simply, this was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten in my life. The cost? Three euros. Cheaper than a cheeseburger, but so much better.
La Mejillonera Calle del Puerto, 15
This small eatery showcases two food items very well: mussels and patatas bravas. La Mejillonera is not a fancy place. Basically, a box with a whole lot of locals shoved in to get a plate of mussels and the ubiquitous dish of fried potatoes covered in an aioli-like cream sauce. You will find that the locals throw the mussel shells on the floor. This is totally acceptable. This a cheap and well-loved bar for the local scene to enjoy.
Bar Txepetxa Calle Pescaderia, 5
I will speak for the majority of America in saying that we do not appreciate the lowly anchovy. After all, we really only know this tiny fish as something pulled from a can and usually plopped on a pizza by only those with the fortitude to withstand its intense flavor profile. But at Txepetxa, the anchovies are fresh and taste of the sea. Served in a variety of ways from simple pintxos on bread with a pepper sauce, to hot dishes fried with local veggies. My favorite is the simple pintxo. The anchovy is flaky white, briny, and nothing like what I have had before.
La Cuchara de San Telmo Calle Santa Korda Kalea, 4
This bar is a hidden gem tucked away by an alley to the museum, but it has some of the best food around. It is tiny and packed from the time they open, so push your way in and order! You will not find pintxos spread out on the bar so grab a menu. We shared a 45-day-aged ribeye, perfectly charred and tender and served with a chimichurri type sauce. We paired it with a risotto style rice dish with local wild mushrooms and smoked Idiazabal cheese. Once again foie gras was available, this time served in a massive portion with an apple compote and cider caramel. By the time I finished off this plate, I was sure I had gout.
La Vina Calle del 31 de Agosto, 3
A perfect way to end a night in San Sebastian is to stop in at La Vina for their specialty, cheesecake. Spanish cheesecakes are different from the New York style I am used to. The cake itself is very toasty, almost charred on top. It is served warm, and the texture is more of a soft cheese tension than cold firmness. Grab a slice with a nice Pedro Ximenez sherry to top of the evening.
Have you been to San Sebastian or other parts of Spain? What are some of your favorite places to eat? Drop us a line and let us know!
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