Between Bites

Having lived in San Sebastián for over a month now (pause – wow has it already been a month?!), I must admit I have thrown myself into the pintxos scene here. I think I have tried more pintxos than I can handle and now I know where the locals go, what a specific pinto bar serves best, when it closes and perhaps even the name of the waiter/bartender behind the bar.

It’s a friendly place here; well first off it is rather tiny compared to my old Paris, and people remember you here. “Welcome Back!” They say…Would you like the same? A Martini Bianco with a Jamon Croqueta to start? Why Yes, indeed, I reply. It’s starting to feel familiar to me, I wouldn’t say homey, but at least it’s a home away from home.

4 outstanding pintxos bars have wowed me since I have arrived. And I’m happy to share them with you because if you get the chance to visit this charming town, I’m sure they’ll wow you too.

First off, La Cuchara de San Telmo. Tucked away in a corner side street of Parte Vieja, this is the punk rocker of pintxos bars. The music is loud, the smoke is thick from the kitchen. The attitude is laid back, chilled and the food is one of the best I have had yet.

One of the chefs is Catalan, one Basque, so you get food unlike anywhere else in town; plus the wonderfully patient and talkative Argentinian waiter induces clients to order more. You order off a chalkboard of 15-20 items, updated daily, then the bartender shouts the order to the raucous cooks in the open kitchen, a few yards away. “Oido”, meaning “understood” is yelled back.

The food is the kind of food cooks like to eat on their nights off, rustic, hearty and boldly flavored. Braised beef cheeks,, crispy fried salt cod with romesco, a caramelized chunk of foie gras, fried pimientos de padron, stuffed baby squid, and gloriously gelatinous braised pig’s foot (the best I have had outside of Hong Kong!). On the lighter side, there is also a gazpacho and a brilliant half a tomato stuffed with tuna belly. I was in heaven.

Queso de cabra relleno de verduras (Goat cheese filled with vegetables)

Vieira de ‘toro’ envuelta en tocineta de bellota (Bellota ham wrapped up with scallop)

Oreja de cerdo Iberico (Iberico pig’s ear)

Manitas de ministro asado (pig’s foot, literally)

Tako de Buey Argentino (Argentinian beef)

Carrillera de ternera al vino tinto (Beef cheeks cooked in red wine)

La Cuchara de San Telmo

Calle del Treinta y Uno de Agosto, 28
20003 San Sebastián, Spain
Tel: 943 42 08 40

This next restaurant was recommended by a friend who kept on talking about the Mixto Iberico here. What was it? I just had to try it out.

Bar Nestor is another rugged place. Small, quaint, with only a handful of tables and walls adorned with Basque rugby players; an elderly man (perhaps even owner?) heads the kitchen on his own with 2 waiters on the outside.

Famous for its tortilla which is generally regarded the best in the city;  don’t expect to just walk in and get a slice of this revered potato pie, you will have to plan ahead and possibly reserve a piece. Tortillas are only served twice a day at 1:00 and 8:00pm.  Try stopping by at least 2 hours before hand if you do not just want to try your luck.

There are only a couple of plates on the menu. One of them is a fresh tomato salad. I know, I know, you’re probably thinking. What?  Tomato salad? But let me tell you, this was the best tomato salad of my life. So fresh, cold, feeling what a tomato should feel like and at that moment I was asking myself what bad tomatoes I have had in my life! Sprinkled with a dash of sal gorda and olive oil. I was in heaven.

As I chowed down on the tomato salad, came in front of me a plate of guindillas just taken off the grill. Crispy, spicy, yummy!

Finally, I couldn’t leave without trying the Mixto Iberico; simply put, a sandwich with oily and tasty Iberico ham with melted cheese. O.M.G!

The Txuleta steak is also one of their trademark plates but I had no space to fill. Next time, for sure.

Bar Nestor

Calle Pescadería, 11
20003 San Sebastián, Spain
Tel: 943 42 48 73

Then, there’s Borda Berri. Located also in the Parte Vieja (“Old Part”) of San Sebastian, is one of the places held in great regard by many, and it’s easy to see why.  Every single dish here was remarkable in both concept and execution.

 On Saturday night, the crowds spilling onto the street–generally speaking, not just at Borda Berri–felt more off-puttingly Lower East Side, though. Screaming, glass-breaking (though San Sebastián was suspiciously free of zombie-texters, and smartphones, period). Is there such a concept as bridge-and-tunnel or fratty in Spain?

Similar in quality and quantity to La Cuchara de San Telmo, this San Sebastian pintxos bar always has a good selection of freshly-prepared dishes.

Magret de Pato Asado lentamente (Duck breast)

Oreja de Cerdo Crujiente (Crispy pig ear)

Keso de Kabra Tostada (Toasted goat cheese)

Kebab de Costilla Iberica (Pork ribs)

Pulpo Asado con Vinagreta (Grilled octopus)

Terrina Casera de Foie (Home-made Foie gras)

Kallos de Bacalao al Pil-pil (Cod bladder)

Finally, Bar Zeruko. There are bars, like this one, that really demand more time. Here, they have so many inventive, different “little things” that it would be hard to put your finger on exactly which one you would most recommend. What is their star pintxo? Who knows. I think it has one of the best pintxo menus in San Sebastian. Not just that it has two or three “star” pintxos, but it has such an extensive menu of truly inventive, memorable and unique pintxos that it demands some time. I´m always surprised at quite how much there is to have there. The pintxos along the top of the bar are the most striking of any in San Sebastian. And there´s real variety and depth to what they offer. And when you try something off their menu, just pick one at random, then another, then another…

And it may be a controversial opinion among pintxo crawlers but for me their deep fried prawn, their prawn tempura, outdoes a lot of other places.I get the impression my enthusiasm for Zeruko doesn’t seem reciprocated by locals, perhaps for their outward inventiveness, their extreme flavors and not being so traditional. But I like it, it’s different and if you want to take a break from those anchovy salads and morcilla sausages on baguette bread, this is the place to keep you on your toes.

La Hoguera (bonfire): Smoked salt cod with textures of caesar salad

Lobster Rose. A small terracotta plate with a mesh top contains a smoldering piece of chacoal wafting its smoke over a thin slice of salt cod, on either side the textures of salad range from a liquid filled test tube to spherical salad cavair and an emlusified salad cream.
It’s tasty and fun, order more than one as you won’t want to share.

Spicy meatballs (actually blood sausage)

Tomato jelly with goat cheese

Egg on Egg. It consisted of fluorescent caviar paired simply with a slice of hard-boiled egg.

Seared foie gras, sprinkled with hazelnuts in an onion ring

Cone of foie gras an apple sauce

Quail egg in revisited gazpacho

Roasted eel

Kallos de bacalao (codfish bladder)

Anchovies and vinaigrette on a stick

Goat cheese and apple

Black pudding, foie gras and pistacchio

Anguilla Ahumada (Smoked eel)



Tempura de Langostino (Shrimp tempura)

Cream of sea urchin

Jamon Iberico jelly with vegetables and quail egg

Canelon de foie y hongos (Canelloni of foie gras and mushrooms)

Alcachofra y foie (Golden artichoke with foie gras)

There’s so much more…90 pintxos in total..but I couldn’t try them all!

Bar Zeruko
Calle Pescaderia 10,
San Sebastian – Donostia, Spain
Tel: 943423451

After typing this up, I feel like curling up into a ball and sleeping under the table…

2 Responses to “Between Bites”
  1. This Zeruko place seem so inspiring. How can they hold a 90 little dishes menu? Is it every evening the whole 90 or every day something else? Did you change to a professional camera? Photos looks awesome.

    • Hey.
      No it’s mainly the 90 pintxos but I think they change a couple according to season. There’s so many, you’d have to go back several time!
      No, I still use the same camera, glad the pics are still looking good!

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