San Sebastian: A Tapas-Lover’s Dream

I was fortunate to stop in San Sebastian on a whim, with a couple of days to spend before a flight out of Bilbao, and quickly found that I had landed smack in the middle of Foodie Mecca: land of the famous Basque-style tapas called pintxos. There is no better way to spend an evening in San Sebastian than meandering through the lively bars and cafes lining the streets, absolutely brimming with rows and rows of savory canapés and gourmet small bites. The region’s balmy climate, friendly locals and thriving nightlife scene create the perfect setting for pintxos culture!

To best experience San Sebastian’s exciting culinary scene,you absolutely must go on a pintxos crawl through the city’s Old Quarter! For my fellow foodies out there, prepare for a full-on sensory overload- and possibly even minor paralysis at all the choices to be had. From fried anchovies and stuffed grilled artichokes to cream of sea urchin and quail’s egg omelets- you could face hundreds of options at just one bar (not to mention opportunities for adventurous eating!) Here are some tips for that unforgettable pintxos crawl!

How to Order Pintxos

Most bars are self-service, so you can just ask for a plate and pick out your own tapas then show the plate to the bartender. But if in doubt- you can’t go wrong watching how the locals are doing it! Most pintxos run about 1.00 to 3.00 Euro per piece.

Order food with a drink

The food and drink compliment each other wonderfully in Basque country, so order your pintxos with a glass of the txakoli, a slightly fizzy Basque white wine. You’ll notice that drinks always come in small glasses; drunkenness is frowned upon, and the food and modest drink portions prevent people from stumbling through their pintxos crawl. Drink prices are also pretty low, 2.00-5.00 Euro, so you can sample lots of food and beverages throughout the evening!

Ask About the Tavern’s Signature Plate

If I hadn’t gone pintxos-crawling with people in the know, I wouldn’t have experienced one of the single-most mind-blowing food experiences of my life: braised beef cheek with a rich red wine sauce. Point being, ask the bartender about any specialty dishes they are preparing to order, because sometimes the best pintxos aren’t out on the bar.

Miscellaneous Etiquette

Pintxos are a hands-on experience, so to speak…so feel free to ditch the worries about being polite, and pick them up with your hands to eat. And don’t worry about finding a place to sit- it’s just fine to eat right at the counter, even squeezing your dish between the serving plates. Oh- and how about all that trash on the ground? Believe it or not, it’s perfectly normal to throw used napkins and toothpicks on the floor- and it’s even said that the quality of a taverna can be marked by the amount of waste on the floor!

And Now…a Few Great Picks in the Old Quarter

Casa Vergara- This is a large bar serving a variety of traditional tapas including octopus with mushrooms and grilled eggplant with ham and cheese. www.casavergara.com

Bar La Sepa– Well-known spot with a great ambiance, perfect for soaking in the lively scene along with your small bites. Make sure and try their specialty, the Iberico cured ham. www.barlacepa.com

A Fuego Negro- Here you’ll find more contemporary Basque cuisine, such as mini Kobe beef burgers with banana chips and txitxarro- sashimi and cheese on a cherry meringue. Melt-in-your-mouth fabulousness! www.afuegonegro.com