We once asked famed Spanish chefs Ferran Adria and Jose Andres where they would go for a gastronomic holiday in Spain. Both answered "San Sebastian!" The city's chefs are the most acclaimed in the country. Gourmets devour local specialties such as baby eels in garlic or hake cheeks in green sauce. The local pintxos (Basque tapas) are all the rage from London to Los Angeles.
Even if it were possible to highlight every great pintxo bar in San Sebastián, the resulting list would resemble the phone book. Groups of pintxos enthusiasts often spend their evenings on some 20 streets in the old town, each leading toward Monte Urgull, the port, or La Bretxa marketplace. Alameda del Bulevar is the most upscale of these streets, and Calle Fermín Calvetón is one of the most popular. We like Calle 31 de Agosto and the side streets and back alleys that radiate from it.
Here are a few places to get you started. Their hours vacillate with the seasons, but most are open from around noon to mid-afternoon and then again from early evening until midnight. Most pintxos run 3€ to 6€. Wine, cider, or beer is typically another 2€ to 3€ per serving.
A Fuego Negro - You have to smile when you walk in, for A Fuego Negro is simultaneously witty and a little ridiculous in its self-conscious hipsterdom. The food lives up to the swagger, with funny dishes like “baca-bits” of fried codfish bites that emulate bacon bits and a ketchup-flavored brioche bun that A Fuego Negro uses for its Kobe beef slider. (Calle 31 de Agosto, 31. tel. 65-013-53-73. www.afuegonegro.com. Closed Mon.)
Aloña-Berri - Run by two smart chefs, José Ramón Elizondo and Conchita Bereciartua, this pretty little bar focuses on “haute cuisine in miniature.” That might include a zucchini flower stuffed with mushroom risotto and drizzled with balsamic vinegar, or a beggar’s purse of fresh cheese and foie gras with mango. (Calle Berminghan, 24. tel. 94-329-08-18. www.alonaberri.com. Closed Sun evening and all day Mon.)
Bar La Cepa - Mushrooms, mushrooms, mushrooms! The menu is obvious in this beer bar with heaps of mushrooms on the back counter and hams hanging overhead. (31 de Agosto 7–9. tel. 94-342-63-94. www.barlacepa.com. Closed Tues.)
Bar-Restaurante La Viña - Once one of the most traditional bars, La Viña got an injection of creativity when chef Santiago Rivera took over from his parents in 2013. You can still get great ham and mushroom croquettes, but there are more inventive pintxos as well, including a prize-winning “ice cream cone” filled with fresh cheese whipped with white anchovy. (Calle 31 de Agosto 3. tel. 94-342-74-95. www.santiagorivera.com. Closed Mon.)
Bergara Bar - Someone should declare this pintxos bar a national treasure. The bar is laid out with fabulous spread of up to 60 dishes at a time. Just order by pointing, and the barman will keep your tab running until you’re done. These creative bites can be deceptively simple, like the crab salad, grated hard-boiled egg, and swirl of mayo topped with an olive on a plain toast. (Calle General Artetze 8. [tel] 94-327-50-26. www.pinchosbergara.es. Closed Sun.)
Casa Alcalde - Head to the pintxos bar at this restaurant for the best variety of ham, cheese, and ham-and-cheese pintxos in San Sebastián. The crispy fried calamari aren’t bad either. (Calle Mayor 19. tel. 94-342-62-16. www.casaalcalde.com. Open daily.)
Ganbara Bar-Asador - Local mushroom foragers come here first to sell their finds, and sautéed wild mushrooms are the specialty at the bar. (Calle San Jerónimo 21. tel. 94-342-25-75. www.ganbarajatetxea.com. Closed Sun evening and all day Mon.)
La Cuchara de San Telmo - The look is traditional, but the kitchen aspires to be avant-garde. Look for squid ink “risotto” made with orzo, foie gras with applesauce, and roasted pig’s ears. (Calle 31 de Agosto 28. [tel] 64-778-74-44. www.lacucharadesantelmo.com. Closed Mon.)
Restaurante Gandarias - We only have to close our eyes to recall the grilled sirloin and green pepper on small rounds of bread at this beef-crazy restaurant. Fish lovers adore the crepes filled with salt cod brandade. (Calle 31 de Agosto 23. tel. 94-342-63-62. www.restaurantegandarias.com. Open daily.)
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.