The Ultimate San Sebastián Foodie Guide

San Sebastián (or Donostia in Basque) is renowned for being a foodie paradise. This city located on the coast of the Bay of Bisque at the Northern part of Spain boasts the second most number of Michelin stars per square metre in the world, only behind Kyoto, Japan. Food lovers from all over the world throng to the Parte Vieja (Old Town) to hop from one pintxo bar to the next. The cobbled streets are lined with bustling pintxo bars brimming with people holding a pintxo in one hand, and a glass of txakoli (a local sparkling white wine) in the other. It is unsurprising that the town holds the title for having the most number of bars per square metre in the world.

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Pintxos set out on the counter at Bar Zeruko.

As you would know by now, food plays a huge part in my travels, so I was extremely excited to kick off my Summer holidays with a trip to San Sebastián. It was a very laidback holiday and what I did there was literally wake up, eat, nap, chill, eat, sleep, repeat. Unfortunately, it was rather cloudy and it drizzled quite a bit when I was there, so I only did a little bit of sightseeing on my last day. Contrary to what I expected, the city actually experiences overcast conditions for the majority of the year. But that’s okay, because give me good food and I’m good to go!

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Head to the sandy beach, Playa de la Concha when your stomach needs a break from eating.

We hopped through quite a number of pintxo bars, visited a traditional Basque cider house, and dined at two 3-Michelin starred restaurants – Arzak and Akelare. Overall, I think I had a well-balanced experience of the food there! This post will be a rundown on the places that I ate at in San Sebastián, with a focus on the pintxo bars and cider house because I will be reviewing the Michelin-starred restaurants separately. Alright, let’s get into the main course of this post!

How to Get to San Sebastián

I took an Easyjet flight from London Stansted airport to Bilbao airport, and then took a bus from Bilbao to San Sebastián. The buses run quite frequently and tickets can be easily bought from the ticket office on the spot, so it is convenient to get from Bilbao to San Sebastián. I chose to fly in to Bilbao, instead of San Sebastián, because the flight tickets to Bilbao were a lot cheaper, even after taking into account the price of the bus tickets. I actually spent a day in Bilbao, before heading to San Sebastián the next day. I got to visit an extra city, and save on travel costs – killing two birds with one stone!

Bus company: Pesa

Bilbao City – San Sebastián: 12 Euros

Bilbao Airport – San Sebastián: 17 Euros

Travel duration: 1 hour 15 minutes

Where to Stay

I stayed at Pensión San Vicente which was right in the heart of the Parte Vieja. I would highly recommend finding an accommodation which is close to the pintxo bars in the Parte Vieja because there is nothing more convenient than being merely a few steps away from some of the best food in the world. The main ‘touristy’ area of the city is very walkable, and I never had to take public transport, unless the restaurants were located outside of the city.

Where and What to Eat

Pintxo Bars

Pintxos are small bites, traditionally served with a bread slice at the bottom. They are similar to tapas and are commonly priced between 2 to 4 Euros. The bars usually also serve small plates which would cost slightly more. We averaged around 5 to 6 pintxos or small plates per person for each meal. The list below consists of our favourite pintxo bars and what to order at each bar.

Tip:

Each pintxo bar has their own specialties, so if you want to taste the best of the best, you have to be disciplined! After all, there is so much food, but you only have so much stomach space. With the wide array of tempting pintxos displayed on the bar counters, it was really no easy feat to exercise self control and stop ourselves from putting all the pintxos on our plates. So head in, order only the food that they are known to be good for, pair it with a glass of txakoli (at less than 2 Euros per glass, you’re welcome to drink to your heart’s content!), finish up and hop on to the next bar. A word of warning – it can get very busy, especially in the more popular bars, so be prepared to wait to be served. However, there’s nothing that a cheerful mood and delicious food can’t cure!

1. Goiz Argi (Traditional)

What to order:

DSC_9987Gambas (Prawn skewers): The prawns were cooked to order perfectly and incredibly fresh.

2. Borda Berri (Traditional)

What to order:

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Veal cheek: Slowly cooked until it disintegrates in your mouth.

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Pig’s ear: Crunchy and nicely seasoned. Don’t be afraid. It didn’t taste funky at all!

3. Gandarias (Traditional)

What to order:

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Solomillo (Tenderloin)

4. La Cuchara de San Telmo (Traditional)

What to order:

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Suckling pig: We did not order this initially, but the kitchen accidentally prepared an extra and the server highly recommended us to try it. It was the best mistake ever! The skin was crispy, the meat was tender and the apple sauce was a beautiful match. Definitely one of the best suckling pigs that I have tasted (only behind Akelare’s)!

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Foie: The foie was cooked and seasoned perfectly so that it didn’t taste sickeningly fat!

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Squid ravioli: The skin of the ravioli was not like conventional pasta, but instead thinner and slippery, almost like wanton skin. It is not something that everybody would fancy, but it is definitely something different and worth a try!

5. La Viña (Traditional)

What to order:

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Cheesecake: If you prefer lighter cheesecakes, unlike traditional New York cheesecake which is richer, then you would love this cheesecake. The shelves are lined with rows of beautifully caramelised and wobbly cheesecake, with the smell of freshly baked cake wafting through the restaurant. The texture of it is almost like crème brûlée and I really enjoyed the hint of burnt caramel taste. I loved this cheesecake so much that I went there three times!

6. La Cepa (Traditional)

What to order:

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Fried Milk

7. Zabaleta (Traditional)

What to order:

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Tortilla (Spanish omelette): The tortilla was so yellow that it almost looked golden. Locals frequent this place for breakfast and together with a cup of freshly brewed coffee, this was the perfect way to start my day.

8. Sirimiri (Modern)

Sirimiri was my favourite pintxo bar! It served many of my favourite dishes, and the restaurant had a very chilled vibe which I enjoyed.

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Dinosaur ribs.

What to order:

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Ibérico pork: Perfectly cooked Ibérico pork with a sweet glaze, hazelnuts and bacon bits. It was so delicious that I went back the next day and ordered it again.

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Octopus: One of my pet peeves is rubbery, overcooked octopus, but this was beautifully grilled. This ranks as one of the best octopus dishes that I have had, and this is coming from someone who orders octopus whenever it is on the menu.

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Salad: This salad is proof that salad does not need to be boring. A delightful mix of fresh leaves, beets for sweetness, nuts and seeds for crunch and texture, fresh goats cheese, tossed in a fresh and tangy dressing. Amongst the heavy meats that we had all day, this was a wonderful relief.

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Burnt cream: The cream on top is torched for a burnt caramel taste. The inside is cold ice cream with a buttery biscuit base.

9. Zeruko (Modern)

What I liked about Zeruko was that everything was plated so beautifully. It is a modern pintxo bar, so the pintxos were served with a twist. I didn’t even know what were the ingredients for some of the pintxos. All I knew was that they tasted great.

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What to order:

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La Hoguera (The bonfire): It was a fun way to eat because we had to smoke the cod for 10 seconds on each side, eat it with the bread slice, and finish with the refreshing shot.

What we also ordered:

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The two photos above looked like eggs, but they were not!

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Fried courgette flower stuffed with cheese. This was 10 times better than Barrafina’s (1-Michelin starred Spanish tapas restaurant in London), and at a fraction of the price!

10. Atari (Modern)

What to order:

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63 Degree Egg

Cider House

This region is famous for cider production and local farmhouses have been making cider using the traditional method for centuries. The cider is crisp and dry, and is a perfect accompaniment to wash down a meal. The most exciting part of dining in a cider house is entering the cold cider rooms filled with huge chestnut barrels, and filling your glass with cider flowing directly from the barrels.

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Petritegi has three cider rooms filled with these massive 15,000 litre chestnut barrels.

Cider season runs from January to April, but some cider houses open throughout the year. We decided to visit Sidrería Petritegi because it is open all year round (we visited San Sebastián in June). It took us around 45 minutes to get there by bus, but we had to take a taxi back after dinner as it was past 11pm by then.

We decided on the traditional cider house menu which costs 28.50 Euros per person. For 4 courses and unlimited cider, it was well worth the price! The food did not look fancy, but it was truly one of the most enjoyable meals I have had. There’s something about traditional, humble food which touches your soul and leaves you feeling extremely satisfied.

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Each table had a baguette to be eaten together with the courses. To be honest, it looked like bread from the supermarket, but don’t judge a book by its cover! First, we were served two pieces of chorizo as appetizers. They didn’t look like much, but when eaten together with the bread, they tasted so flavourful and delicious!

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Next, we had the salt cod omelette which was smooth and creamy.

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The following course was the fried salt cod with peppers. The cod was a little bit overcooked, but it was still a delicious dish overall.

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The txuleta was the star of the night. This 700g bone-in rib eye steak had its outside seared crispy. The inside was rare, but not chewy at all. It was melt-in-our-mouths! This was the steak of my life.

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The dessert course was cheese, quince jelly, walnuts, almond ‘tiles’ and ‘cigarettes’. Cracking open walnuts was so addictive that I couldn’t stop even though I was already so full by then.

Final Thoughts

The restaurants in San Sebastián always cook to a very high standard and we never had a bad meal there. It was an amazing destination for a relaxing holiday filled with endless eating, with beautiful beaches as a side. One of my friends remarked that when in San Sebastián, you only have one meal a day because the meal lasts from morning until night. The food in San Sebastián was truly game changing and I don’t think that Spanish cuisine outside of Spain can ever be a real match to the amazing quality of food there!

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A Summer holiday isn’t complete without gelato.

Processed with VSCO with a5 presetDSC_1128DSC_1153DSC_1178Processed with VSCO with a6 presetUntil next time, stay hungry and keep exploring!

One thought on “The Ultimate San Sebastián Foodie Guide

  1. Pingback: Arzak or Akelarre – Which should you visit? | Food & Wander

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