San Sebastian, Part I - Pintxos

San Sebastian, Basque Country, Spain

Fatty Kat Eats: Atari Gastroteka, Ganbara, Bar Nestor and much more!

Hola! It's about time for my annual post (lol). I took a little time off from life and ate my way through San Sebastian--aka dream come trutoe. If you're reading this, you probably love food, so I wanted to share some of my favorite spots in San Sebastian for your next visit. Vamonos!

Firstly, if you don't know, San Sebastian is a food mecca with the most Michelin stars per capita. For a small city in Basque Country, that's a big deal which validates SS as one of the top food cities in the world. What's more important is that the city's most outstanding and consistently delicious food is found in tiny pintxos bars, sidrerias (cider bars) and bodegas (wine bars). You don't have to spend much to eat well.

Pintxos (pronounced "pinchos") are basically Basque tapas or small dishes. Over the years, they have matured as an art form and many pintxos bars now embrace creativity and international flavors. While I'm a big fan of nouveau food, I'm still a sucker for simplicity and tradition...think anchovies, jamon iberico, potato omelettes, tomato salads, sautéed octopus, and much more! 

My few days in San Sebastian can best be described as a Tour de France of pintxos bars. Here's a list in order of deliciousness to help plan your eating adventures:

Atari Gastroteka: Foie gras a la plancha = out of this world. Grilled perfectly and paired with white chocolate cream and corn can you go wrong? Honorable mention to the arroz del dia (rice of the day), which was prepared with squid and black squid ink the day I visited. These hot pintxos should be eaten at a table, so grab a seat!

Foie Gras a la Plancha at Atari

Ganbara: Wild mushrooms and eggs! So very simple but outstanding. This is Chef Arzak's favorite pintxos bar, and it's easy to understand why. The house specialty crab tart is just ok (contrary to popular opinion), but most other pintxos are very good here!

Wild Mushrooms and Egg Yolk at Ganbara

Bar Nestor: Famous for their potato omelette and tomato salad. Both are EXCELLENT. The kitchen only prepares 2 potato omelettes per day, one at noon and one at 8pm. Get there on time or else. The tomato salad is simply tomatoes, olive oil and a sprinkle of coarse salt. Delicious. 

Tomato Salad at Bar Nestor

Zeruko: This pintxos bar is known for their innovation and creativity. Everything is beautiful and tasty! You must get the la hoguera--raw cod served over hot coals. Even if you didn't know about it in advance, you would see everybody else getting this smoky dish!

La Hoguera at Zeruko

La Cuchara de San Telmo: Sure, it was on every "best" list...I just didn't think it was THAT great. The octopus was tender and flavorful, but the veal cheeks were completely over-seasoned and salty. The foie gras was very good but needed a sweet or acidic dimension. I prefer Atari's version. 

Foie Gras a la Plancha at La Cuchara de San Telmo

La Cepa: Amazing "jamon" selection. You'll love the hams hanging above your head while nibbling on all kinds of iberico. La Cepa's bar wasn't very busy during my visit, but their restaurant in the back was pretty packed. I saw some people enjoying arroz con almejas (rice with clams), and I died of envy.

Jamon Platter at La Cepa

Gandarias: Solid pintxos. I didn't try anything outstanding, but I only tried so much on my Tour de France. This shows up on many "best" lists though. 

La Mejillionera: Seafood only pintxos bar. Their patatas bravas and mussels were good but nothing to write home about. Worth a visit if you're tired from foie gras!

Goiz Argi: Their house specialty of grilled shrimp skewers was excellent. The other stuff I tried? Ok. 

Borda Berri: Closed the entire time I was in SS, but I heard amazing things. Go for me and report back!

A couple tips:

  1. Plan for 2 - 3 pintxos and 1 drink per bar. Remember, this is a marathon...not a sprint! Historically, pintxos helped soak up alcohol and delayed intoxication. Regardless, I ended up food drunk.
  2. Order jamon platters and hot pintxos at the bar! Don't just settle for what the eye can see.
  3. Throw napkins on the floor. Don't leave them on the bar. The messiest bars are probably the best.
  4. Some pintxos bars are open from 12pm - 3pm and then 6pm - 12am. Others are open from noon to midnight. Most bars are closed on Sundays and/or Mondays. Make sure to check!
  5. Don't be surprised when they microwave some of the pintxos. This is standard practice and not looked down upon!