San Sebastian is synonymous with gastronomy, boasting more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere else in the world. But while the hatted restaurants up on the mountains may make the headlines, it is pinxtos that really define the San Sebastian eating experience. Pinxtos (peen-chos) are the Basque version of tapas – small bites to eat, perfect for sampling or sharing. To get the most out of your mealtimes in San Sebastian, you’ll want to brush up on your pinxto etiquette.
Ordering pinxtos: an instruction manual
Like most other things in Basque culture, the practice of ordering and eating pinxtos whilst out is ruled by a series of customs and behaviours that may seem impenetrable to an outside visitor. Perhaps that’s just because it’s such a different experience to that back home. However, they key to a good night out is to leave room to sample lots of different pinxtos at multiple venues around town. Head out in the late evening – the people eat late here remember – and head into a lively pinxto bar, where it may seem like standing room only. The pinxtos you see out on the bar are self-service, the staff have an uncanny ability to know how much you owe when you’re ready to leave. You can also order from the hot menu, which you will see on the boards above the bar.
Try and limit yourself to one or two before moving on to the next place, after all half the fun is getting acquainted with some of the 200+ bars in the city. Basques will also have their pinxtos with a small drink, if you’re looking for a local specialty you should try the txakoli (cha-koli) – a refreshing, slightly sparkling white wine. Because of the limited space in the bars, it’s perfectly acceptable to take your drinks out to the street.
Where to go for pinxtos?
The biggest concentration of pinxto bars is in the Old Town, especially the streets Fermin Calbeton and 31 de Agosto. The areas of Gros and El Centro are great as well, and each of these will have their own pinxto pote night where bars serve cheap food and drink to the masses on the streets.
10 pinxtos bars to visit & what to order:
- Bergara, Gros: Raf tomato hamburger with dates and cod
- Bodega Donostiarra, Gros: Individual potato omelette
- Borda Berri, Old Town: Bomba paella rice with squid
- Atari Gastroteka, Old Town: Griddled octopus
- Ciaboga, El Centro: Garlic potatoes
- Etxaide, El Centro: Deep-sea soup
- Ganbara, Old Town: Baked spider crab tartlet
- Bar Mendi, Gros: Vegetarian risotto
- Narrika, Old Town: Griddled oyster mushroom
- Zeruko, Old Town: Lobster toast
Have you enjoyed pinxtos in San Sebastian? Tell me about it in the comments!