My guide on where to eat the best pintxos in San Sebastian's Old Town.
With more Michelin stars per capita than any other place in the world, San Sebastian’s fine dining scene is in its own category. But on the other spectrum of the multi-hour, white tablecloth gastronomic experience was another type of dining that we found we actually loved more: going on a pintxo crawl.
I'm not sure if it's the fun of sharing small plates with friends, the adventure of trying multiple spots in one night, or the warm tipsiness that vermouth + txakoli + red wine bring in combination—but pintxo bars may have been my all-time favorite thing about Spain.
On a few different nights, we hopped from place to place, ordering the especialidad (specialty) of each pintxo bar, typically along with a drink each. Napkins littered the floor at each restaurant—apparently this is the norm, and restaurants sometimes avoid sweeping up all the napkins to show their popularity.
We must have tried a dozen spots in San Sebastian’s Old Town, where over 50 pintxo bars are clustered. If you're trying to narrow down where to eat, you've come to the right place. Below are our highlights
5 BEST PINTXO BARS IN OLD TOWN SAN SEBASTIAN
1. La Cuchara de San Telmo
We didn’t make it to La Cuchara de San Telmo until our last night—a recommendation from my foodie/chef friend Dave. It’s lucky we didn’t find it earlier, because we may not have tried anything else in town. Dish after dish was outstanding. The long and tiny bar was absolutely packed.
The blood sausage was the unexpected standout—a savory, fork-tender dish. The cochinilla was phenomenal, and the lightly seared foie was perfectly done. The tapas are a little bit pricier than we found elsewhere, but they were also the most memorable and complex of the pintxos we ate. Plus, everything was cooked to order. At closer to ~10 euro a plate, they were dishes I’d easily pay $30 for as an entree at a normal restaurant.
You can only sit in the patio area if you’re getting table service (as opposed to ordering at the bar). We all agreed if we visited San Sebastian again, we’d dedicate a full sit-down meal here.
Address : Santa Korda Kalea, 4, 20003 San Sebastian
Opening Hours : Wednesday - Sunday, 12 - 5 pm, 6 pm - 12 am
Monday, closed | Tuesday, 6 pm - 12 am
2. Bar Borda Berri
Bar Borda Berri is famous for their super tender braised veal cheeks in wine. As our very first stop, it didn't disappoint. It's a cozy, no frills spot but gets packed with people. Chef Iñaki Gulín previously worked the kitchen at our favorite spot above, La Cuchara de San Telmo.
As you might expect, his specialty dish here had that same hearty, lip-smacking flavor.
Address : Fermin Calbeton Kalea, 12, 20003 San Sebastian
Opening Hours : Monday, closed | Tuesday - Sunday, 12:30 - 3:30 pm, 7:30 - 10 pm
3. Bar La Cepa
La Cepa was our surprise find. Though we hadn’t read much about it, we went in on a whim since the bar seemed to attract a more local crowd. When we went on the first night, the owner’s daughter was getting through some paperwork and eating a plate of her mom’s meatballs at the next table over.
We ate a LOT of delicious jamon during our week in Spain, but the jamon iberico at La Cepa is out of this world.
It’s sliced paper thin and the beautifully marbled meat is melty and buttery in your mouth. The family-run bar has a warm, taverny feel and is a little less hectic than some of the other spots. We were able to sit down at a table two nights in a row.
Address : 31 de Agosto Kalea, 7, 20003 San Sebastián
Opening Hours : Tuesday, closed | Wednesday - Monday, 11 am - 12 am
Txepetxa specializes in anchovies on warm slices of baguette, paired with a variety of different toppings.
We tried sea urchin roe and crab paste—both were excellent, but the crab paste was the standout. Even if you’re not a huge anchovy lover, these are worth a try.
Address : Calle Pescaderia 5, 20003 San Sebastián
Opening Hours : Monday, closed | Tuesday, 7-11 pm
Wednesday - Sunday, 12 pm - 3 pm, 7 p.m. - 11 pm
5. La Vina
La Vina is famous for their cheesecake—a super creamy, crustless pie with a slightly burnt top. Dozens of cheesecakes fly off the shelves here every night, as the staff slices and plates the dessert in hyperspeed.
The guys who work here are a ball—and their energy just makes the whole experience even more fun. The first night, we arrived around 11 p.m. and they said they’d stopped serving cheesecake for the night.
While there were still dozens of cakes sitting out—taunting us—they hadn’t fully cooled enough to be served yet. I’m pretty sure my face fell in a most dramatic fashion, and one of the guys behind the bar slipped me a slice. Delicious, even in the premature, gooey state.
The next night, I dragged the gang there by 10 p.m.—before we’d hit any other savory tapas.
I loved this cheesecake so much that after eating a slice at the bar, I ordered another portion to go for breakfast, which I toted around all night. The next morning, having fully set, it was even better as a cold, creamy treat.
Address : Calle Pescaderia 5, 20003 San Sebastián
Opening Hours : Monday, closed | Tuesday - Sunday, 10:30 am - 5 pm, 6:30 pm - 12 am
OTHER PINTXO BARS WE MISSED
There were a few spots that we were too stuffed to hit. Bar Sport came highly recommended for its foie gras, but after having foie gras at four other spots, none of us could process another fatty liver.
Adjacent to the Santa Maria church, the modern Atari is a hip gathering spot for a young crowd. Patrons spill out of the restaurant, sucking down cold beers and gin and tonics on the church steps.
Lastly, my colleague, a Basque country native, also highly recommended Casa Alcalde.
PINTXO BARS TO SKIP
Your mileage may vary, but we tried two that were a pass for me: Zeruko was on several lists, but their tapas were on the more experimental side. Overall, I found them to be more creative than tasty. Lots also recommended Gandarias, but I found the foie to be just average and the steak a little too chewy.
One last tip: Stop by the concierge at the Hotel Maria Christina to ask for a map of the pintxo bars. The map shows both the locations and the specialties of Old Town's most popular pintxo bars. The hotel's elegant (though touristy) Dry Bar is also one of the best places in town for a craft cocktail.
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PS: Need to move a little after three nights of foie gras? I did, too. We loved this gorgeous 7-km coastal hike from San Sebastian to the picturesque little fishing village of Pasajes de San Juan.