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 15 Best San Sebastian Tapas Bars: Your Guide To The best pintxos in San Sebastian

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I visited the Basque Country and San Sebastian for 7 days–– As a foodie, I couldn’t be more excited to indulge in the famous tapas of this coastal city in northern Spain. Here you’ll find some of my favorite pintxos bars in San Sebastian!

San Sebastian is known as the culinary capital of Spain, with more Michelin stars per capita than any other city. But you don’t need to break the bank to eat incredibly well here. The tapas culture is lively and affordable, with pintxos bars crowded with locals and visitors alike.

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 Best San Sebastian Tapas 

In this ultimate guide, I’ll share the top-rated tapas bars and restaurants to visit for the very best pinxtos, tapas, and dining experiences in San Sebastian. From seafood specialists to pintxos institutions, these are the places you can’t miss.

What is Tapas and Pintxos in San Sebastián?

Before diving into the recommendations, let’s clarify what tapas and pintxos are.

Tapas refers to a variety of small Spanish dishes that are typically enjoyed with drinks at bars. They can range from seafood, cured meats, skewers, sandwiches, and many other bites.

Pintxos are a type of tapa native to the Basque Country. They are small snacks mounted on bread with a toothpick. “Pintxo” means “spike” in Basque, referring to the skewer. Pintxos bars display plates of pintxos at the counter for patrons to grab. They are then charged according to the number of skewers/dishes.

The tapas culture is vibrant in San Sebastian, with lively pintxos bars packed with locals socializing and grazing on small plates. It’s an ideal way to experience the local cuisine and culture.

Take A Pintxos San Sebastian Food Tour

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how to order pintxos in san sebastian

Here are some helpful tips for how to order pintxos like a local in San Sebastian:

  • Head to the Bar Area – Make your way straight to the bar counter where you’ll see plates of pintxos displayed or menus listing food items. This is where you’ll order.
  • Grab What You Want – For cold pintxos already made, simply grab what you’d like to eat from the spread at the bar. You’ll be charged for what you take at the end.
  • Check the Menu – Look for a chalkboard or paper menu listing the hot pintxos available to order. These are made fresh to order.
  • Order Verbally – Know what you want beforehand. Then clearly tell the bartender your order. Common phrases are “Una orden de…” to order one of something.
  • Give Your Name – For hot pintxos, provide your name and pay first. They’ll call out your name when the food is ready.
  • Drink at the Bar – Tradition calls for eating pintxos with a drink in hand. Order a txakoli, beer, or wine to accompany your food.
  • Pay Before Leaving – Keep your toothpicks! The bartender will tally them up and charge you accordingly. Pay on your way out.
  • No Tipping! – One less thing to worry about. Tipping is not customary for pintxos bars in San Sebastian.

The system can feel chaotic for a first-timer but embrace the experience of joining the communal counters crowded with hungry locals. Eating pintxos is fast-paced and fun!

Bar Tapas San sebastian Tips To Know

Here are some additional helpful tips for enjoying tapas and pintxos in San Sebastian that we haven’t covered yet:

Go Early or Late

The prime dining times in Spain are later than in other countries. While pintxo bars are open all day, they tend to be less crowded in the afternoon (after the lunch rush) or later evening. Going at off-peak times means you can walk right up to the bar.

Pace Yourself

 It’s easy to fill up fast going from bar to bar eating pintxos. Try to share dishes, stick to 1-2 items per place, and alternate between food and just having a drink to pace yourself. The goal is to be able to visit multiple spots to get a variety!

go on a Pintxos Food Tour

Join a tour and have the best experience having a knowledgeable local guide to guide you along the way. It’s such a fun way to learn about the cuisine and meet others. I loved my experience with Devour Tours. Everything was effortless and hassless! Highly recommend it.

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Look for Local Wine 

In addition to txakoli, the local white wine, Basque Country has several Denominación de Origen (DO) wine regions near San Sebastian like Getariako Txakolina and Txakoli de Álava. The bars take pride in showcasing these regional wine varieties along with the seasonal food.

Sit Down for Raciones

If you want to slow down and enjoy a leisurely meal with tapas, order raciones which are full-sized portions. Many pintxo bars have dining rooms for sit-down meals where raciones are more common.

Use Public Transportation

San Sebastian’s Old Town is very walkable, but the city also has buses, trains and bikes that help you efficiently move between neighborhoods beyond Centro to explore different dining areas.

I hope these extra pointers helps you better navigate and enjoy San Sebastian’s incredible tapas and pintxos scene.

Pintxos in san sebastian

The Best Pintxos in San Sebastian: Best Tapas in San sebastian 

When you think of San Sebastian, you think of pintxos bars. These popular establishments specialize in bite-sized creations served on bread. The Old Town is packed with excellent options, with the top places including:

Bar Nestor: One of the best Tapas in San Sebastian

Consistently rated as one of the top pintxo bars in the city, Bar Nestor stands out for its simply executed seasonal Basque dishes made with high-quality local ingredients.

Highlights include:

  • The famous Tomatoes – Sweet, ripe tomatoes topped with high-quality olive oil and salt. Simplicity at its best, many say they’re the best tomatoes they’ve ever tasted.
  • Steak – Bar Nestor is renowned for expertly grilled Txuleta steak cooked over charcoal. The meat quality shines. Get the larger steak to share.
  • Peppers – Another standout is the green peppers de padrón, blistered in olive oil and sprinkled with coarse salt. A classic Basque tapa.
  • Omelette – There’s usually a line out the door for their limited tortilla española. Rich and creamy, get there right before 1 pm or 8 pm when they make them.
best tapas in san sebastian Pintxos

The cramped space only fits a handful of people standing around the tiny bar counter. But the food makes it worth the wait. This unassuming spot draws crowds for doing the basics extraordinarily well with an attention to ingredient quality.

Address: Arrandegi Kalea, 11, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain

La Cuchara de San Telmo

 Famous for delicacies like carrillera (beef cheek) and cochinillo (suckling pig). Known for having some of the best hot pintxos made to order. Also offers great ambient lighting.

Address: Santa Korda Kalea, 4, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain

Bar Sport

Specializes in foie gras dishes, with the foie a la plancha (grilled foie gras) being a standout. Also known for fried calamari and cheesecake. Grab a counter spot and watch the bustling open kitchen. This one was one of my favorite!

Tip: Do not miss their calamari stuffed with crab and Foie Gras pintxos.

Address: Fermin Calbeton Kalea, 10, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain

Goiz-Argi

 The brocheta de gamba (shrimp skewer) is incredible, as is the chipiron a la plancha (grilled baby squid). Arrive early as it gets packed.

Address: Fermin Calbeton Kalea, 4, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain

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Best Seafood Tapas in San Sebastian

With its coastal location and abundant seafood, San Sebastian unsurprisingly has many excellent venues specializing in maritime delights. The top seafood-centric tapas bars include:

Bar La Cepa

One of the oldest tapas bar in San Sebastian is Bar La Cepa, which originally opened its doors in 1948. They specialize in tapas and pintxos, standing by the bar motto “Eating and Drinking Well.”

Some highlights of Bar La Cepa include:

  • Traditional Atmosphere: The bar has maintained its rustic decor over several decades, with the beamed ceiling, patterned tiles, and long wooden bar offering a glimpse back in time. Expect a local crowd.
  • Pintxos Variety: In addition to classics like tortilla, they offer modern creations using high-quality ingredients. Popular bite-sized offerings include smoked salmon with caviar and scrambled eggs with gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp).
  • Classic Tapas: Go for favorites like fried anchovies, Russian salad loaded with tuna, and their popular ham croquettes that have a light, crisp exterior and creamy, savory interior. Wash it down with a caña (draft beer).
  • Long History: Opened by Victor Aguirre Zabalaza in 1948, it’s considered one of the first tapas bars established in the Parte Vieja (Old Town). After over 70 years, locals still frequent the spot.


Address
: 31 de Agosto Kalea, 7, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain

So for a taste of quintessential San Sebastian paired with old school vibes, head to Bar La Cepa, one of the pioneering and continuously operating tapas bars since the early days.

La Mejillonera

 Dedicated mussel joint preparing them in different styles like marinera (sailor’s style). Also offers grilled razor clams, shrimp, and more. Expect a crowd.

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Address: Portu Kalea, 15, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain.

La Perla Bar Restaurante

Historic Old Town spot dating back to the 1800s. Renowned for chef Nacho Manzano’s modern Basque-French fusion cuisine with concepts like oysters with apple txakoli gel. Great bar ambiance.

Address: Kontxa Pasealekua, s/n Paseo de La Concha, s/n Edificio La Perla, Kontxa Pasealekua, 16, 20007 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain

Casa Urola

 Elegant century-old restaurant with a rustic stone interior. Specializes in simply prepared local fish and seafood. Known for dishes like hake kokotxas (hake cheeks).

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Address: Fermin Calbeton Kalea, 20, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain

Best Pintxos bars San Sebastian for Sit-Down Dining: Michelin Guide

In addition to hopping between lively pintxos bars, visitors should experience San Sebastian’s famed restaurants that elevate Basque cuisine. The top-rated fine dining establishments include:

Arzak

 The most world-famous restaurant in San Sebastian, led by father-daughter chefs Juan Mari and Elena Arzak. Cutting-edge modern Basque tasting menus with 3 Michelin stars. Expect avant-garde bites like prawns in basil with pistachio vapor. Difficult reservation.

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Address: Alcalde J. Elosegi Hiribidea, 273, 20015 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain

Akelaŕe 

 Chef Pedro Subijana also holds 3 Michelin stars for his inventive cuisine melding Basque influences with global techniques. Sample signatures like rice with coconut milk and romanescu. Breathtaking cliffside location with views of the Bay of Biscay.

Address: Padre Orkolaga Ibilbidea, 56, 20008 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain

Mugaritz

 Avant-garde menus led by chef Andoni Luis Aduriz, considered one of the most imaginative culinary minds today. Dishes almost play with the idea of food itself. Be prepared for unexpected flavors, textures, and approaches.

Address: Aldura Gunea Aldea, 20, 20100 Errenteria, Gipuzkoa, Spain

Azurmendi

Chef Eneko Atxa’s green restaurant located on a hillside outside the city seamlessly integrates nature and sustainability. The garden produces many ingredients for beautiful, artistic plates. Holds 3 Michelin stars.

Address: Barrio Leguina, s/n, 48195 Larrabetzu, Biscay, Spain

Martin Berasategui

 This minimalist fine dining restaurant in Lasarte-Oria holds 3 Michelin stars for Berasategui’s precise French Basque cuisine. The 12-course tasting menu highlight’s Spain’s high-quality produce. The turbot with peppers is famous.

San Sebastian, begin by exploring the lively Old Town (Parte Vieja) and soaking in centuries of history and culture. Then sample your way through the city’s famous pintxo (tapas) scene for a memorable multi-course lunch.

Old Town Tapas San Sebastian Highlights

  • Plaza de la Constitucion – Vibrant main square surrounded by vibrant buildings with balconies. Great spot for people watching!
  • Basilica of Saint Mary the Royal – Gothic-style Catholic church built in the early 1500s.
  • Bretxa Market – Indoor food market with rows of stalls selling freshly caught seafood, array of pintxos, local cheeses, hams, and more.
  • San Telmo Museum – Fascinating museum dedicated to Basque culture and history.

Best Pintxos San Sebastian Old Town Bars

is absolutely packed with pintxo bars, but these spots come highly recommended:

  • La Cuchara de San Telmo – Creative modern pintxos like foie gras lollipops. Arrive early to get a spot at the bar!
  • Bar Sport – An old-school spot popular with locals, specializing in bacalao (salt cod).
  • Borda Berri – Elevated pintxos made with market-fresh and seasonal ingredients. Creative plates served on a leaf!
  • Ganbara – Fun underground setting in an old wine cellar. Specialty is their seared foie gras pintxo.
  • La Viña – Go for their famously decadent cheesecake, after savoring some pintxos!

best pintxo bars in san sebastian Route

 A handy way to tackle the abundant options is to go on a DIY bar crawl through the Old Town’s narrow streets. Just look for the spots with the most crowded bars spilling onto the sidewalk! No need to commit to a full meal at any one place. Simply mix and match a few pintxos and glasses of txakoli (local sparkling wine) at each stop. It’s a super fun way to sample a wide variety of Basque bites!

Here’s a route to hit some of my top recommended pintxo bars in the Old Town:

  1. Start at Plaza de la Constitucion
  2. Head down 31 de Agosto street to La Cuchara de San Telmo
  3. Continue wandering the narrow side streets to stumble upon hole-in-the-wall gems like Ganbara and Bar Sport
  4. Make your way over to Bretxa Market for some samples
  5. Finish off on Calle Aldamar at La Viña for some of their insanely good cheesecake!

Best Desserts Tapas in San Sebastian

While hopping between savory pintxos bars, don’t forget to save room for San Sebastian’s incredible desserts. The city excels at pastries, cakes, and sweets, with establishments like:

La Viña

 Come for the famous cheesecake, said to be the best in the world. The creamy yet airy Basque-style burnt cheesecake is irresistible. Pair it with a glass of sherry poured over the top. Expect long lines out front.

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Maitia

 Charming pasteleria crafting gorgeous French-inspired pastries and chocolates. The fruit tarts and macarons are first-rate. Lovely cafe space to take a coffee break.

Oiartzun

 Historic and popular shop constantly filled with locals. Display cases over low with sweets like chocolate cake, fruit tarts, flans, and the Basque specialty intxaursalsa (walnut cake). Affordable prices.

Loreak

Avant-garde shop where chocolate artist José Juan Lopéz creates edible art sculpture pieces that are almost too stunning to eat. Think chocolate stilettos and orchids. Also handmakes incredible bonbons and pastries.

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fAQ San Sebastian Tapas Pintxos

What is pintxo in San Sebastian?

Pintxo (pronounced “peen-cho”) refers to bite-sized snacks mounted on pieces of bread with a toothpick to hold the ingredients together. They originated in the Basque Country, especially San Sebastian, as an evolution of tapas. The word “pintxo” comes from the Spanish word “pincho” meaning a spike, referring to the ever-present toothpick skewer. Pintxos make use of local Basque ingredients and often consist of combinations like cured meats, seafood, roasted peppers, cheese, mushrooms, and regional sausages.

What is difference between tapas and pintxos?

While the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, tapas are small plates or appetizers in Spanish cuisine, while pintxos are a specific type of tapa that originated in the Basque region. The main difference is in their serving style – tapas can be served many ways, while pintxos specifically involve a bread base and skewer holding toppings together. Pintxos also strongly utilize regional ingredients and are more predominant in Basque bars versus regular tapas establishments in Spain.

How much do pintxos cost in San Sebastian?

Pintxos prices typically range from €2-4 per pintxo in the many bars across San Sebastian’s old town. Simpler pintxos like a piece of bread with cheese or meat might cost closer to €2, while more elaborate hot pintxos using premium ingredients like foie gras can cost €4 or sometimes more. The portions are generally quite small, so visitors should expect to order at least a few per bar.

What town is best for pintxos?

San Sebastian stands above the rest when it comes to the best places for pintxos in Spain. As the birthplace of this type of Basque tapa with the highest concentration of bars specializing in them, San Sebastian offers unparalleled quality, variety and density of pintxos. Many also make the short trip over to Hondarribia, a small fishing town near the French border known for excellent pintxos as well.

When should I eat pintxos in San Sebastian?

One of the beauties of pintxos culture is that you can eat them all day! The bars are open from morning till late night. Afternoon (after the busy lunch rush) and earlier evenings tend to be less crowded. But one of the best times is to go on a pintxos crawl around 8 or 9 pm when the bars become animated with locals unwinding over small bites and drinks.

How does pintxos work?

Pintxos bars display plates of pintxos already made at room temp to simply grab at the counter, as well as a menu of hot pintxos that need to be ordered. You can take or order a few at a bar, eat them with a drink in hand while standing, and then pay before moving on to the next lively bar. It makes for a very fun and social culinary crawl!

What do you drink with pintxos?

Pintxos are ideal sharing plates meant to accompany drinks. The Basque cider and wine varieties like Txakoli are very popular. Otherwise, beers, wines from Rioja, or vermouth from nearby Navarre are excellent pairings too. The bars take pride in their regional pours, so take advantage!

How do you pronounce pintxos in English?

Pintxos is pronounced “peen-chos” in English. The “tx” combo in Basque makes a “ch” sound. Just don’t pronounce the second “t” and you’ll have it right!

How do you pronounce pintxo?

Pintxo on its own as a single snack drops the “s”. It’s pronounced “peen-cho” – so an “ntx” together makes a “nch” sound.

What is the most popular dish in San Sebastian?

San Sebastian is famous for Basque cuisine, with signature dishes like bacalao (salted cod), marmitako (tuna stew), axoa (veal or chicken stewed in peppers and onions), and of course, pintxos! The city has become synonymous with pintxos bars and their bite-sized creations. Above all other tapas and plates, pintxos on bread reign supreme as the most popular offering visitors must try when traveling to San Sebastian.

Do you tip in San Sebastian?

Tipping is not expected or customary in San Sebastian pintxos bars or most restaurants. Menu prices already include VAT tax and service. Visitors shouldn’t feel obligated to leave a tip, though it’s always nice to round up the bill for exceptional service.

Do you need cash in San Sebastian?

Carrying some cash is recommended since smaller establishments may only accept cash or prefer it. Larger venues will accept credit cards. Having a mix of cash (especially smaller denominations for pintxos bars) and relying on cards for bigger purchases ensures you’re covered across San Sebastian.

Final Thoughts on Pintxo san sebastian

Between the lively tapas culture and emergence of cutting-edge cuisine, San Sebastian delivers an extraordinary food experience. Follow this guide to discover the time-tested local favorites and celebrated establishments that have shaped the city’s culinary identity. The pinxtos institutions stand shoulder-to-shoulder alongside envelope-pushing tasting menus, historic seafood taverns, and pastry temples. With such diversity and quality, visitors can’t go wrong wherever they choose to eat in San Sebastian.

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