It’s no secret that San Sebastian is one of the world’s best cities for foodies.
Locals are proud of the storied gastronomic traditions that draw curious (and hungry!) travelers from all over the world. Part of that, of course, involves tapas! After all, we can’t talk about food in Spain and not mention these tasty bites that make for a great shared meal with friends. This guide to tapas in San Sebastian will help you make the most of this culinary phenomenon in Spain’s best foodie city!
Tapas vs. pintxos
Everyone has heard of tapas, but not everyone may be as familiar with the word “pintxos.” Both refer to a similar concept, but the latter is much more commonly used in the Basque Country. Most of the tapas in San Sebastian that you see will actually be pintxos. These are tapas-sized portions that often (but not always) come served on top of a small chunk of bread, all held together with a toothpick. For familiarity’s sake, we’ll use the word “tapas” here, but keep in mind that locals usually call them “pintxos.”
Best tapas in San Sebastian
As is so often the case with Spanish food, simplicity wins out with this old favorite. The Gilda is as easy as it gets when it comes to tapas in San Sebastian. All it is is an olive, anchovy, and a spicy guindilla pepper all skewered together. However, the three ingredients pack a major flavor punch. The spicy-salty flavors will blow you away!
Due to the city’s coastal location, it will probably come as no surprise that many of the best tapas in San Sebastian involve seafood! One of the most popular types is bacalao, or salt cod. Whether in the form of a gooey tortilla de bacalao at a rustic cider house or beautifully presented with an avant-garde twist at a trendy new restaurant, there’s a bacalao dish here that everyone will enjoy.
No matter where in Spain we find ourselves, there’s nothing better than sharing a tasty cheese plate (accompanied by plenty of wine, of course!) with friends to kick off a meal. However, with so many delicious cheeses hailing from all over the country, there’s no shortage of tasty local varieties to try. Here in the Basque Country, we’re crazy for Idiazabal cheese, with its smoky, nutty flavor and buttery texture. A plate full of this stuff is guaranteed to be clean within minutes when you’re out for tapas in San Sebastian!
If you’ve never considered trying slow-cooked beef cheeks, think again. Carrillada, once considered a humble lower-class dish, now enjoys a status as one of the most elegant tapas in San Sebastian. The unbelievably tender meat is simmered for several hours in a rich red wine sauce. The result: a hearty, filling meal with meat that will fall apart as soon as you sink your fork into it.
We can’t talk about tapas in San Sebastian without mentioning the iconic local steak. Txuleta comes from the grass-fed cows that roam the Basque countryside. The meat itself is left quite rare and garnished very simply—often with nothing more than a sprinkling of coarse sea salt. Trust us: that’s all it needs!
Best tapas bars in San Sebastian
La Cuchara de San Telmo
Miniature-style Basque nouvelle cuisine? Say no more. La Cuchara de San Telmo has revolutionized tapas in San Sebastian. In recent years it’s become one of the city’s most talked-about restaurants, and for good reason. The large blackboard behind the bar lists dozens of innovative, made-to-order pintxos you won’t find anywhere else—and the likes of which would have been unthinkable not too long ago.
We can’t talk about tapas in San Sebastian without mentioning a classic. At first glance, Atari Gastroteka looks like any old-school pintxos bar: cold tapas laid out on the bartop, with chalkboards listing the made-to-order options. However, it retains the feel of a traditional bar while simultaneously giving off a more modern, youthful vibe. Join the crowds at this popular bar as they spill out onto the steps of the basilica next door. And even if you’re not hungry, be sure to stop by anyway and try one of their legendary G&Ts.
You probably won’t ever have the same thing twice at Borda Berri, but that’s okay. The menu at this traditional pintxos bar constantly changes depending on the season in order to reflect the best products currently available. Their specialties are fresh fish and grilled local meats, but no matter what you order, you can’t go wrong. If a rustic, homestyle meal is what you’re after, you can’t miss this place.
No matter where your pintxos crawl takes you, be sure to end the night on a sweet note at La Viña. Yes, they do have some of the most delicious and interesting tapas in San Sebastian. However, we’re here to talk about their most iconic claim to fame: the cheesecake! Said to be the best of its kind in Spain, the creamy, crustless concoction at this atmospheric bar is by far the most perfect way to cap off a great evening of tapas in San Sebastian.
Ready to take a deep dive into San Sebastian’s foodie culture? Join us on our Ultimate Pintxos & Wine Tour, where you’ll learn how to eat like a local and enjoy every bite here in Europe’s top foodie city!
Yes, there are plenty of pintxos and wine, but you’ll also get to step into the gourmet shops and bars that aren’t on most tourists’ radar, learn the story behind every bite, and learn from an expert local guide who knows San Sebastian and its cuisine like the back of their hand. We hope you’re hungry!
Life is too short to speak one language and stay in one place. In 2015, this philosophy took her from familiar Ohio to sunny southern Spain. Usually drinking tinto de verano, reading Lorca, or attempting to dance flamenco (not all at once). Follow her blog, Viatic Couture, for more.