If you’re visiting San Sebastian, Spain, you’re most likely visiting for the delicious pintxos the city is known for. Clustered in the Old Town, bars are lined up next to each other making it super convenient to bar hop. There are many pintxo tours being offered but why not enjoy a free pintxo tour in San Sebastian by following this guide below!
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What are Pintxos?
First things first, what are pintxos anyways? Instead of tapas (Southern Spain) or petiscos (Portugal), pintxos are the small snacks commonly eaten in bars in Northern Spain. We recently visited the ever-popular food destination, San Sebastian, in the Basque country which is known as the pintxo capital!
There’s not a specific set of pintxos that each bar serves. Rather, each bar tends to have a few unique pintxos that is only done by them. You can expect each pintxo to be around 2-3 Euros.
What makes a pintxo different from the more familiar tapa?
The main difference is that pintxos are usually “spiked” with a skewer and often served on a slice of bread. These individual portions are best accompanied by small drinks – usually cañas (small beer), vino tinto (red wine), sidra (cider), or txakoli [pronounced chacoli] (sparking dry white wine). The best way to experience pintxo culture is to do a bar crawl by visiting multiple bars in one night and only ordering one or two at each place! Here’s my recommendations below for a free pintxo tour in San Sebastian!
Free Pintxo Tour in San Sebastian
Here are the most memorable bites of our trip, influenced by the ambiance, service, experience and of course, the taste. I’ll list out the bar, the particular pintxo, and summarize it all on a map at the bottom of this post! Let’s get started!
#1 Bar Nestor – Tortilla de Patatas
Starting off with one of the most exclusive pintxos in San Sebastian, Bar Nestor’s Tortilla de Patatas. It’s a simple dish with eggs, onions, potatoes and olive oil. This Spanish omelette may sound pedestrian, but all the ingredients come together to make a pintxo that makes you feel at home and feeds your soul. This tortilla is creamy, rich, and soulful. They only make two a day at 1pm and at 8pm. You have to line up an hour before the opening time to put your name down on the list for one of 16 servings! Trust me, it’s worth it!
#2 Txepetxa – Jardinera
Next up is Txepetxa which specializes in anchovy pintxos. Don’t run away, I am not an anchovy fan either. But this classic pintxo is a must try. Our recommendation is the Jardinera which is a salsa of red and green peppers, guindillas, onions and anchored by an anchovy. This combination is fresh and not too fishy! We loved it for the refreshing pepper salsa, balanced by the acidity from the onions, and saltiness of the anchovies. It’s an umami bomb waiting to happen!
#3 Txepetxa – Pintxo de Txangurro (spider crab with bechamel sauce)
We have another recommendation for Txepetxa and it’s the spider crab pintxo. Not for the faint of heart with shreds of crab dressed in a light bechamel cream piled high on a round of toasted bread. It’s a Basque classic for a reason.
#4 Bar Sport – Txangurro al hono (stuffed spider crab)
Behind the case full of pinxtos at Bar Sport, you’ll come across the hot pintxos menu. – This stuffed spider crab was one of the standouts! Txangurro al horno is a traditional Basque dish tasting as good as it looks. It’s herbaceous, creamy and paired with the perfect level of sweetness and acidity from the rich tomato! Bar Sport was also one of our favorite bars so we have a couple more recommendations coming up!
#5 Borda Berri – Pork Rib Kebab
We’ve been heavy on the seafood so far but don’t worry meat lovers, this pork rib kebab will leave you satisfied. This rib is prepared with Mediterranean spices and cooked until it’s fall-off-the-bone tender and juicy. Be prepared for this to melt in your mouth and to be going back to the bar to order a round 2.
#6 Borda Berri – Carrillera al Vino Tinto
Up next is another meaty dish from Borda Berri. We had a lot of carrillera (“cheeks”) in Spain, though Borda Berri’s takes our hearts as it was fork-tender, and harmonious between the veal, red wine reduction, and vegetable stock. I am usually not a fan of meat but I could eat this everyday!
#7 Bar Sport – Crepe de Txangurro (crepe stuffed with spider crab)
Much like the pinxto de txangurro at Txepetxa, this spider crab stuffed crepe is also dressed with bechamel sauce. This version is differentiated by being served hot and wrapped in a thin pancake with a splash of tomato cream sauce that provides a warmly welcomed acidic balance. This is nice variation where you eat the portion off the plate instead of a piece of bread.
#8 Bar Sport – Pinxto de Picante Anchovy
If you can handle heat, you have to try this anchovy pintxo with a spicy salso of tomatoes and peppers. We sure learned to love these little fish, and this spicy addition added the perfect kick to the salty, garlic-y, tomato-y ratatouille-like base! This was one of the very few spicy pinxtos we came across. You should definitely include Bar Sport in your pintxo tour in San Sebastian.
#9 Kapadokia Bar – Scallops with Garlic and Lime Oil
We are including a modern pintxo on the list. Kapadokia is more of a fusion pintxo bar and we really enjoyed the scallop. The scallops with garlic and lime oil burst in our mouths with the sweetness, acidity, and umami notes.
#10 Ganbara – Tartaleta de Txangurro
Last but not least, we have the Tartaleta de Txangurro from Ganbara, another classic establishment in San Sebastian’s pintxo culture. This version of the spider crab pintxo comes in the form of a baked good. This pinxto is evidence of the French cuisine within the Basque country with its puff pastry shell as the vessel. The filling is a mix of spider crab and bechamel sauce and is served warm. The texture and flavours combined truly make this pintxo unforgettable
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The pintxos listed above should give you a really good base starting point for exploring the Basque culture. The next two items are not really pintxos but I have to call them out.
La Vina – Cheesecake (Tarta de Queso). We had La Vina cheesecake 3 nights in a row while in San Sebastian! This cheesecake does not have the graham cracker crust of typical North American cheesecakes and has more of a cream cheese aroma. The texture is soft and velvety, and the perfect way to end the evening.
Bar Nestor – Txuleta. Txuleta is a full on t-bone steak that’ll bring out the caveman in you. This hefty t-bone steak will make your eyes pop and jaw drop when you first see it (the minimum order is 1kg)! For the faint of heart who prefer a more well-cooked steak – place your slices on the sizzling hot plate to cook it through 😉 Be warned, Bar Nestor only serves four items! You’ll also likely have to skip out on other pintxo bars because this will fill you up!
My suggested 3-day pintxo itinerary for 3 days
- Bar Sport
- Borda Berri
- Any repeats from Day 1