What is a pintxo? What is it different from a tapa? These questions are asked very often by people visiting our beloved San Sebastian and want to live a gastronomic experience. In fact their only similarity is their size, because while tapas consist basically in some solid companion to a drink served for free and with a main goal of filling the gut, a pintxo (read as pincho) reaches another level: is haute cuisine in a small size, with very high quality and a hard making, with a high variety of flavours and textures that justify the price paid for them (generally speaking, 2-3 €) almost every time. Contrary to tapas, in the case of pintxos it is the drink which are ordered to be a companion of the pintxo, and not the other way round.

If gastronomy is one of the main reasons to visit the Basque Country, San Sebastian’s Old Town is the cradle of haute cuisine in miniature: its’ pintxos are an international gastronomic reference.

First of all, it is necessary to specify that Old Town has three main pintxo areas, each one of it with its characteristic bars, ambiance and history. These areas are street 31 de agosto (the oldest one in Old Town), Constitucion Square (in the heart of the district) and street Fermin Calbeton (the most traditional pintxo street).

This post highlights our Top 10 of favourite bars, both due to the quality of their pintxos and their tradition among the donostiarras (local people), not to mention their style. We have tried to vary the price range to fit all budgets. Nevertheless, the amount of bars and pintxos available is so high that it makes it very difficult to sort them objectively – it depends on each one’s taste and preferences. Here it goes!

10th SEED: JOSÉ MARI (Fermín Calbetón 5)

              

This small bar, maybe difficult to see or little attractive at first sight, is one of the favourites for the donostiarras when they want to feel at home (the flags of the local football team Real Sociedad and the old-fashioned pictures are proof of it). Food is homemade, their set menu is very interesting (especially regarding the price) and the ambiance is completely local. Our recommended pintxo here is the txangurro crêpe (a very local word to say crab). It is spectacular.

 

 

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9th SEED: TAMBORIL (Pescadería 2, one of Constitución Square’s corners)

       

 

 

 

 

 

 

This bar is owned by two very nice brothers and is one of the most traditionals in San Sebastian. It is full of pintxos all day long and its atmosphere (especially at peak hours) makes it really worth a visit. The pintxo we recommend here is the mushrooms pintxo. Its spicy touch and its texture could not be suitable for all public, but we definitely love it. Its advantage is that is suitable for vegetarians.

 

 

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8th SEED: EGOSARI – ZUMELTZEGI (Fermín Calbetón 15)

    

This bar has been recently renewed and although its name has switched to Zumeltzegi, almost all the donostiarras still refer to it as Egosari. As what works must not be changed, many of its most successful pintxos have remained (and we appreciate it!), so the essence has not changed at all. Located in street Fermin Calbeton, our favourite pintxo here is the goosefish and prawns skewer. The combination of marine flavours with the grill taste is really unbelievable.

 

 

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7th SEED: GOIZ-ARGI (Fermín Calbetón 4)

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is another bar that stands out for its charm and the kindness of its veteran waiters, attentive and nice as always. The bar is always full of pintxos (most of them with a great tradition) and, despite of the changes made throughout the years, it still keeps the traditional donostiarra essence to the maximum. Getting a spot can be difficult at certain hours, but the experience of trying their prawn brochette with that unique dressing… can’t be missed.

 

 

 

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6th SEED: MUNTO (Fermín Calbetón 17)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One more bar located at the heart of street Fermin Calbeton (next to Egosari – eer… Zumeltzegi). Pintxos here stand out for their originality and quality. Among all of them the one with the most incredible flavour, undoubtedly, is the duck magret. The sauce served is as delicious as it can be and the rustling texture that the chips provide make a combination very hard to surpass.

 

 

 

 

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5th SEED: TXULETA (Trinidad Square 2)

 

This relatively new restaurant (opened in 2007) has become very prestigious since the very first day owing to the very high quality of its raw materials and its traditional style. It is located in the entrance of Trinity Square from street 31 de agosto. Besides being a magnificent restaurant that stands out for their ox T-bone, it also offers a wide variety of pintxos and our favourite is the ox T-bone croquette. The pintxo comprises two units and they melt in the mouth with a mixture of flavours and a smoothness really hard to improve.

 

 

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4th SEED: ATARI GASTROTEKA (Mayor 18)

 

Despite the controversy that this bar/restaurant has created among the locals because of their avant-garde idea of gastronomy (too much for some) and their curious prices, Atari is a highly recommendable bar. it offers high quality pintxos, the care of the waiters is tremendous, it is located in one of the coolest spot in town (the forecourt of church Santa Maria, at the end of street 31 de agosto) and, above all, it has style. So much style. Our favourite pintxo here is the cod brandada (a smooth paste made of crumbled cod fried with garlic, olive oil and milk cream). This pintxo is considered a ghost pintxo by many because it is very difficult to find: very few are cooked every day, and they disappear very fast. Because of this, our alternative is another delight: the beef cheek. Both of them are kind of pricey, but their quality definitely overcomes their price.

 

 

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BRONZE MEDAL: GANDARIAS (31 de agosto 23)

 

Let’s start with the Top 3. Restaurant Gandarias changed owners more than 10 years ago (it has the same owners as bar Juantxo, which will be mentioned in another post) and has added even a higher quality of both service and product to their traditional reputation since then. This restaurant can be, probably, the one with the best quality/price ratio in all Old Town, and it is not cheap at all (this highlights the quality of their products even more). Regarding their pintxos (they offer many, and very good) we choose the most traditional of them all: the sirloin pintxo. With so much quality and love for food on the table, what else can be said?

 

 

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RUNNER-UP: ASTELENA 1960 (Constitución Square 120)

 

This bar is stands out in many aspects for many reasons: it is one of the most traditional ones (founded in 1960), its classic style is very characteristic, the pintxos are delicious and is located in the heart of Old Town (in Constitution Square). The only drawback is that it is not one of the cheapest bars that can be found around. Anyway, the quality and originality of Astelena’s pintxos turn this bar into a must-visit for those who want to see what really is a bar in Old Town, because it has everything. The pintxo we recommend here is the roquefort risotto: such a tasty thing can be found in very few places.

 

 

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TXAPELDUN (CHAMPION): BAR SPORT (Fermín Calbetón 10)

 

Our txapeldun is Bar Sport: it may not be the best in any specific characteristic, but the sum of all of them makes it the most attractive option: the bar is full of varied pintxos all day long, the care is delightful and immediate, the products are very high quality, the instant cooked pintxos are really a marvel… In a nutshell, in our opinion is the most complete. Also, it is a very traditional bar in San Sebastian and it is very fair regarding prices. Among the many choices of pintxos that this bar offers, our loved one is their speciality: grilled foie. It is so absolutely unbelievable that it can’t be described with words: it needs to be tasted.

 

 

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(The cover picture was taken from http://e02-elmundo.uecdn.es/assets/multimedia/imagenes/2015/11/20/14480091622265.jpg)