You can’t come to San Sebastian without trying some of the famous pintxos (pronounced “pinchos”).
Pintxos are small, appetiser-sized portions of food that are usually served at bars. They differ from the traditional Spanish tapa in that they are ordered separately to your drink (whereas tapas are generally served for free when you order a drink).
Pintxos were born in the Basque Country and there’s no better place to try them than in San Sebastian.
Rick Stein explains a little more in this video here.
In this article, we’ll run through our favourite bars to create your own pintxo tour in the city.
Whilst pintxos are served throughout the city (and the Basque country), the most traditional bars (and best ones) are found in the Old Town.
You can also check out all our recommendations on our San Sebastian map.
Things to know about pintxos in San Sebastian
Before we dive into our favourite pintxo bars in the city, it’s worth knowing a few things about going on a pintxo “crawl”.
1. Be prepared for a little bit of chaos
Particularly if you’re visiting San Sebastian in the summer or on a weekend where there’s a big event, the Old Town pintxo bars can get really busy!
It’s worth mentally preparing yourself that you may not be able to get into all the pintxo bars that you want, or accepting the fact that in some places you’ll have to wait. To be honest, it’s all part of the fun!
The simple way to combat this is to go for pintxos on a quieter weekday, or head out early in the evening.
2. Check the menu boards
Whilst all the pintxos lined up on the bar may look spectacular and spark your taste buds, if we can give you one tip, it’s to always take a look at the menu boards in a pintxo bar.
Some of the best pintxos are hot, made to order pintxos so won’t be presented on the bar.
Most of the pintxo bars have translations on the blackboards in English or menus in English, so there’s no excuse. And if in doubt, you can always ask!
3. Order at the bar
Unlike most of the bars and restaurants in Spain where they’ll happily do table service, in the pintxo bars you have to order at the bar yourself.
When you walk into any pintxo bar, grab a table (or spot to stand), take a good look around and decide what you want before elbowing your way to the bar.
If you’re ordering cold pintxos then you’ll be served them immediately. But if you’re ordering hot pintxos or something that needs preparing in the kitchen, then you’ll have to wait or go back to the bar when it’s ready.
A tab will be opened for you, and you’ll pay at the end.
What we think are the best pintxo bars in San Sebastian
Whilst there are plenty of bars that serve pintxos in San Sebastian, we’ve hand-picked a few of our favourites.
1. La Cuchara de San Telmo
We’ll start with the pintxo bar that has to be on everyone’s itinerary.
La Cuchara de San Telmo can get really busy (for good reason) so it’s worth going here early if you can. It’s normal for there to be a queue, especially as it’s not the biggest bar!
But even if you have to queue, we promise it’ll honestly be worth the wait. The bar has a well-earned reputation as one of the most popular pintxo spots in the city.
The menu changes regularly and unlike most pintxo bars, pretty much everything is made to order.
Whilst everything is good, we’d recommend:
- Cochinillo (Suckling pig)
- Carrillera (Beef cheeks)
- Pulpo (Grilled octopus)
In the heart of the Old Town on Calle Arrandegi, is Bar Txepetxa. This pintxo bar is famous for their anchovy snacks!
They are mainly made to order with a number of different marinades and topping available.
If you’re not an anchovy fan, then perhaps this isn’t the bar for you. Although they do cook up some mean sandwiches and have the basics like croquetas etc.
If you’re after a more up-market pintxo experience, then Sirimiri may be the place for you!
It’s more of a cocktail bar than your traditional pintxo experience, and there’s a dining area if you want to guarantee yourself a seat in advance.
The bar and pintxos are presented in a more contemporary manner, but they’re still authentic and taste delicious.
The Bacon Bao is a winner for us. And whilst you’re there, it’d be rude not to try a cocktail (or two)!
4. Borda Berri
This lively pintxo bar is one of the most traditional Basque bars in San Sebastian. By traditional we’re referring to both the rustic decor and the menu.
The place has a certain charm that brings flocks of locals and tourists alike, whatever time of year.
The menu is written on the chalkboard that hangs on the bar and changes regularly depending on the season. If the ribs are available, they are 100% worth a try!
Txangurro is a species of spider crab found in the Bay of Biscay. The Donostia style spider crab is typically stuffed, seasoned and baked in its own shell.
The pintxo version is served as a tartlet which not only looks impressive, but tastes phenomenal!
Outside of this classic, we’d recommend the sauteed mushrooms with egg and prawns.
6. Bar Néstor
Although it’s not really a pintxo bar, Bar Néstor has to make our list as it’s simply one of the best places to eat in the city.
The bar is famous for two things; its meat and its tortilla.
Their tortilla is almost impossible to get your hands on San Sebastian. It’s in such high demand and the bar only produces two per day (one at 1pm and another at 8pm). To get your hands on a slice, you’ll need to go to the bar and put your name on the waiting list!
Luckily the meat is easier to try! You can reserve a table in the bar (it’s worth doing as space is very limited) and you’ll be presented with the raw meat to choose from.
If you’re looking for somewhere that serves traditional Basque food and is a little easier to get into, then Gandarias is the place for you.
They have a wide variety of pintxo available, from the classics through to raciones (plates) of jamón ibérico.
If you want a more traditional dining experience, there’s also a dining area where you can order from the a la carte menu. Otherwise, there’s ample room outside for a drink and a few pintxos.
8. Bar Martínez
Set on Calle 31 de Agosto, Bar Martínez has a long standing presence on this famous street in Donostia. Having first opened its doors in May 1942, it still remains one of the most popular spots in the Old Town.
Despite its history, the bar fuses tradition with modern gastronomy, bursting with quality and flavour.
The red pepper stuffed with bonito and Chatka (Russian crab) pintxo are some of their stand out picks.
Alongside the cold pintxos on the bar, be sure to check out the hot, made to order chalkboard options!
9. La Viña
We finish with perhaps one of the most well known bars in San Sebastian that’s the perfect place to end any pintxo tour.
Just a couple of doors down from Bar Martínez, La Viña has gained worldwide recognition for the quality of their cheesecake. It’s even received accolades from the likes of ABC and the New York Times. Celebrities such as Woody Allen have even made an effort to try it here.
The hype speaks for itself, and it’s well worth trying if you can get your hands on a slice.
Outside of their world famous desert, they also offer a varied selection of hot and cold pintxos which are equally as good.