From the famous gilda and tasty skewers, to the legendary Basque cheesecake, find out about the best pintxos in San Sebastian!
After eating my way around San Sebastian, I decided it was time to put all my tasting notes together in one huge guide. When we started planning our trip to Spain, we found the amount of information online pretty overwhelming! Eat here, don’t go there, order this, but don’t step foot in here. I wondered what our experience would be like.
Since our holiday in the city, I’ve realised that many San Sebastian food blogs recommend the same few pintxos and pintxos bars. I found there was a lot more to the city’s varied cuisine. As I mentioned in my guide to planning a San Sebastian itinerary, I’d highly recommend kicking your city break off with a San Sebastian pintxos tour.
Not only is it a great way to sample lots of dishes in one go, you’ll also learn some pintxos etiquette. You’ll find out how to order, what to ask for and a few other tips that will make the rest of your trip a lot easier.
But… while I’d say a walking tour is a great idea, I’d actually say my favourite dining experiences involved wandering from bar to bar as a couple, sampling a few dishes at each. Essentially, we created our very own self-guided San Sebastian pintxos tour, and I’m a firm believer that you can do the same!
While the majority of the dishes I’m going to share with you are on menus all year round, a few are seasonal. For example, my visit in May coincided with white asparagus season – how lucky was that?! Also, a few of the dishes I’m going to talk about aren’t actually pintxos, but they’re dishes I absolutely loved so I couldn’t leave them out!
So, whether you’re plotting out your own pintxo tasting map or you’re already salivating over what you’ll be eating in the city, this guide to what to eat in San Sebastian will come in handy.
San Sebastián Pintxos Bar Map
I always save my favourite restaurants and bars to Google maps. It makes it easy to share where I’d recommend, without having to jot down complicated names!
I’d suggest saving this map to your phone before you go, so you can amble around the streets at leisure, all while keeping to the best quality establishments. While many of these bars are mentioned in my guide, there are a few on the map that I haven’t included below, so that’s even more reason to keep this map to hand!
What are pintxos… and are Basque pintxos the same as tapas?
If it’s your first visit to Spain or the Basque Country, you might not have come across pintxos before. Pronounced ‘pinchos’ (which is also the Spanish spelling) these are small bites often served on a slice of baguette or on a skewer. Consider them a Basque tapas!
They tend to be smaller than a traditional Spanish tapas dish, and are designed to be eaten with one hand or in a few mouthfuls.
In other regions of Spain, in particular in cities such as Granada in Andalucía, when you order a drink you’ll receive a tapa for free. Don’t expect that in San Sebastian – the culture of pintxos involves ordering dishes rather than receiving them on a complimentary basis!
While pintxos started as very simple skewers of ingredients, many bars have developed their range of dishes, creating a fun and gastronomic experience. I thought the food in San Sebastian was excellent, varied and really shone a light on local ingredients.
My one big piece of advice? Don’t get carried away in your first bar! Create your own San Sebastian pintxos tour and visit 5 or 6 bars across one evening. It’s all part of the fun!
What to eat in San Sebastian (and where!): 18 best pintxos in San Sebastian
La Gilda – Pepper, olive and anchovy skewer
Try it at: Bar Casa Vallés
This is the most famous of all the San Sebastian pintxos available, and one you simply must try on your visit to the city. Traditionally this skewer is made up of three guindilla pickled peppers, two olives and a salted anchovy.
The gilda was created at Bar Casa Vallés after a regular customer combined three bar snacks on one toothpick. It was a revelation – a real flavour bomb! It works well as an appetiser, washed down with a glass of txakoli, a local lightly sparkling white wine.
Txistorra – Smoked sausage
Try it at: Bar Sport
This tasty sausage is usually made with minced pork, salt, paprika, pork, and garlic. It’s produced in the Basque Country but isn’t dissimilar to the chorizo you might already be familiar with. The sausage is a little longer and thinner than a standard chorizo though!
It has a lovely salty and smoky flavour. If you want to order it, the pronunciation is ‘tchistora’. When I tried it, it was lightly fried and served warm on top of a round of baguette.
Txipirón plancha – Grilled squid
Try it at: Bar Sport
If you’re a fan of seafood, you’ll love this squid dish. It contains grilled baby squid on a bed of parsley and garlic sauce, drizzled with a sweet, caramel-like aged balsamic vinegar from Modena. The two sauces are packed full of flavour, and the baby squid was lightly grilled, but still very tender. I’m not always a huge fan of squid, but I’ll admit this was delicious!
If you want to order it, the full pronunciation is ‘chiparone plancha con vinagre de Modena y salsa de ajo y perejil’ or you can simply ask for ‘chiparone a la plancha’.
Vieira en salsa ajo blanco – Scallop in ajo blanco sauce
Try it at: Casa Urola
One of my favourite things about the food scene in San Sebastian is that it’s really varied. Some bars are really upmarket, others are on the rustic end of the scale. Regardless, there’s good food to be eaten at all of them.
Casa Urola on Fermin Calbeton Kalea serves smart pintxos, generally on plates and in bowls rather than on skewers or slices of bread. The experience is similar to having a gourmet tasting menu of small dishes.
One of my favourite pintxos from my trip to the city was this dish of scallops in a rich and creamy ajo blanco sauce. If you’ve never had this sauce, it’s made with almonds, vinegar and garlic. It’s seriously delicious and extremely moreish!
The scallops were delicately fried until they were a little golden on each side, before being smothered with the ajo blanco sauce and topped with crispy seaweed.
Brochetas de gambas – Prawn skewers
Try it at: Taberna Pagadi
Wow was this a flavoursome few mouthfuls! It features a lightly fried skewer of prawns, topped with diced peppers and onion and a slightly tangy vinaigrette. On the side was a slice of baguette to soak up all of that yummy juice.
Pimientos asados leña – Wood-roasted peppers
Try it at: Bodega Donostiarra Gros
This was one of the first things we ate in San Sebastian. Since completing our trip, we genuinely think it’s one of the most delicious plates we ate in the entire city. It’s another one of those wonderfully simple dishes. Just a dish of roasted red peppers smothered in garlic and a healthy drizzle of high-quality olive oil.
It was so tasty, with a really pungent wood smoke flavour and that yummy sweet pepper flavour. It’s not exactly a pintxo, but it’s a must-try food in San Sebastian!
Pulpo a la brasa – Grilled octopus
Try it at: Bodega Donostiarra Gros
This was another great discovery at our very first meal! This restaurant had been recommended by a lot of people and we quickly learned why! Great flavours, buzzy atmosphere, reasonable prices and a cool location in the Gros neighbourhood, a stone’s throw from the Old Town.
The octopus was delicately grilled, still retaining a moistness and not being rubbery. It was served on top of a paprika infused mashed potato, to continue the smoky flavours.
Carne cocida con tomate – Pulled beef in tomato sauce
Try it at: Bodega Donostiarra Gros
This hearty dish reminded me of a meat stew or an Italian ragu. The meat was braised and juicy, served in an unctuous sauce made with tomato. It’s definitely more of a winter dish in my opinion, as it’s on the heavy side. It’d pair beautifully with a glass of rioja wine.
Itxaso – Monkfish with seafood cream
Try it at: Bar Bergara
Who doesn’t love crumbly buttery pastry with a rich, creamy filling? This reminded me of the kind of tasty treats you’d have as a canape at a wedding. I’ll admit the filling was a little non-descript… and by that I just mean we couldn’t put our finger on what it was exactly, but we both agreed it was delicious.
Inside the pastry you’ll find monkfish with a txakoli and leek cream. There are some little deep-fried pieces of leek on top too, adding a bit of crunch. Bar Bergara opened all the way back in 1950 and is still family owned (3rd generation now!) It’s a brightly-lit establishment with quite an intriguing menu of pintxos. We’re definitely glad we left to Old Town to discover it!
Ensalada de tomate – Tomato salad
Try it at: Bar Nestor
You’ll see tomato salads on the menus across the city, and I’d definitely recommend you order a plate during your trip. This is another great example of a simple Basque Country dish. It’s a reminder that when you treat ingredients with care, a little bit of magic can happen!
The components are simply tomatoes, olive oil and salt. It’s utterly delicious, particularly when served with the city’s famous txuleta steak.
Pimientos del Padrón – Padron peppers
Try it at: Bar Mendi Berri or Bar Nestor
You’ll see this dish on many tapas bar menus. I think it’s an ideal snack to accompany a glass of wine before a meal and is often always one of my favourite things to eat in Spain. You’ll see these little green peppers on menus across San Sebastian, particularly at bars that serve txuleta steaks.
I had them at several spots, but my favourites were probably at Bar Mendi Berri, an understated and un-touristy bar in the Gros neighbourhood.
Txuleta – T-bone steak
Craving a steak? Well you’re in the right place! OK, so this definitely doesn’t fit into the pintxos category as it’s a really substantial dish. It’s too good not to mention it though!
The txuleta is a huge rib steak that’s served pink with a tasty crack of salt over the top. It has a bone down one side, and the meat is really flavoursome from the fat running along the edge.
The perfect accompaniments are the tomato salad and fried peppers that I’ve mentioned. Most bars offer this by weight. We found it hard to find a small enough cut for two people, they were all ginormous! It’s easier to order if you’re in a group… or really really hungry!
Espárrago blanco – White asparagus
Try it at: Casa Urola
Another smart dish available at Casa Urola in San Sebastian Old Town is this one made with white asparagus and a hollandaise. Simple, yet delicious. It’s a reminder that you don’t have to do anything elaborate to celebrate a high-quality ingredient.
Carrillada Ibérica – Iberian pig cheek
Try it at: 148 Gastroleku
If you’re a meat lover, you’ll enjoy tucking into this dish of Iberian pig cheeks with pumpkin puree. This is a rich and filling dish with tender meat and a sweet sauce.
The pork is braised and almost melts in your mouth. To order it ask for ‘carrillera Ibérica con puré de calabaza’. You won’t regret it! If you’re looking for something to pair this dish with, you can’t go wrong with a glass of red wine such as a rioja.
Brochetas – Skewers
Try it at: Gandarias
Hands up if you’re a fan of kebabs! I definitely am so I was delighted to find that San Sebastian has a yummy style of meat kebab usually referred to as a brocheta (meaning skewer).
At Gandarias I tried two different ones: brocheta de cordero (lamb skewer) and brocheta de pato (duck skewer).
They were layered along the stick with slices of green pepper, adding a bitter yet sweet contrast. The skewers had a lovely char, and while some were a little dry, the flavour was really tasty. The atmosphere in this bar was great too – it was really lively!
Tacotalo – Taco style pintxo
Try it at: Mendaur
While many pintxos in San Sebastian have historic origins, Bar Mendaur is showcasing some modern creations. This dish is similar to a large taco, topped with battered squid, kimchi, leaves, pickled onions and a spiced mayonnaise.
In the Basque Country there’s a similar style of dish called a talo, which is a variety of flatbread, so the name of the dish, tacotalo is a fun play on words!
Torrija – Bread dessert
Try it at: Atari
Are you ready for dessert? Yes you even get sweet pintxos in San Sebastian!
Torrija is a cross between bread and butter pudding and French toast. It has a buttery flavour and a caramelised outside. You don’t need to crack through the sugar coating like a crème brulee, but it’s not far off. Inside the dough is light and fluffy.
If you’re a fan of desserts, order one for yourself. Otherwise, it’s pretty sickly so you might want to share with your travel buddy!
Tarta de Queso – San Sebastian Cheesecake
Try it at: La Viña
Last, but certainly not least, is the most famous dessert in the city: the San Sebastian cheesecake. This is a baked cheesecake with a smooth, creamy middle and a burnt caramelised outside.
I can confirm, after two portions (!!) it’s absolutely delicious! The most popular place for a slice of Basque Country heaven is La Viña. As you walk in you’ll see all the Basque cheesecakes waiting on the shelves! It’s quite the operation.
So, there we have it! That’s pretty much everything I ate in San Sebastian… excluding a Michelin-starred meal at Mirador de Ulia and the dishes I helped create at a cookery class! Yes, this is definitely a city where your stomach leads the way! Bring your stretchiest trousers.
If you’re looking for other activities for your stay in the city, I’d recommend reading my San Sebastian itinerary. This includes suggestions for a group pintxos tour, market stroll with a top chef, cookery class and wine tour! My guide is full of travel tips for non-food activities too (such as visiting the beach and a few lovely hikes) for between all of those plates of pintxos!
Donostia–San Sebastián, as it’s known by locals, is one of the best food destinations in the world. I hope you have an amazing trip! Eat lots, drink lots and enjoy the beautiful flavours of the Basque Country.