At the Working Man’s Cafe

Anyone would think that living in San Sebastian I´d be off at a Michelin starred restaurant every Friday night downing Vega Sicilia wine. Obviously, this is very far from the truth. I think I´ve visited just three Michelin-star restaurants since I´ve been here, although a long overdue visit to Arzak is planned for later this year.

I´m a working man you see. Gotta go off and work to bring home the bacon 5J ham. And living here aint cheap. I got the fright of my life when I started looking for a place to buy here and found out the property prices. Add to that nice big mortgage two young lads to bring up and the idea of spending 200 euros on a night out is very much a special occasion kinda thing.

But what makes it harder still to justify, is that you eat exceptionally well just about everywhere you go. The Working Mans Café a la donostiarra isn’t about greasy bacon rolls or sausages and baked beans. It´s about stews, broths, beef chops, seafood, salads, and fish that had been happily swimming about a few hours previously.

In the Altza neighbourhood of San Sebastian the Anaiak Taberna sits between the pelota court and the church that I visit regularly. The exterior suggests the best you´ll get here is a Fab ice lolly (is it just me or are they smaller now?). If you want a beer, best go for a bottled one just in case. Behind the main bar area there´s a small dining area with 4 tables set aside to have lunch. You´ll find all kinds here. Immigrant workers from the local building site, businessmen dining on their own, elderly couples who have eaten there for over half a century and on occasion the boys (and girl) from our office.

It´s the kind of bar where there are no menus on offer. Not even a laminated A3 sheet with tomato ketchup and other less identifiable stains. You get whatever the owners have decided to pick up in the market that morning. If you´re lucky you´ll get a strip of paper with a starter and a main course scribbled on it, but most likely your “waitress” will just list reel off what they have available for each course. And don’t make her repeat it, you should have been paying attention the first time round.

Now this way of offering the menu used to annoy me. I made the fatal mistake of trying to memorise all the dishes and make a decision at the end. By the time I did this they were half way through the list of main courses and more often than not would end up “having what he´s having”. The technique, obviously, is to make your mind up as you go, rejecting or accepting each addition to the list as the one you will have. Locals are born with this gift, I have had to learn it the hard way.

I remember also the Tuscan way of doing things, where the waitress would turn up and just kind of stand there awaiting your order. You would then either just ask for chicken, wild boar, rabbit etc or would already have contacted the restaurant to give their order the night before. This is advisable here in the wonderful Maritxu restaurant here, where you need to let the restaurant know the day before if you´ll be having the seafood platter. And often the waitress is only there to deliver food cause everyone has already given their order by phone the previous night. Cause when you go to Maritxu, you want the seafood platter.

Anyway, back to Anaiak. With a choice of eight starts and eight main courses, and three or four puddings, you´re spoilt for choice. They´ll rustle you up whatever else you fancy if you like. The portions are king size, you get the impression they´ve gotten instructions from your mum to make sure you eat well. But the quality is exceptional and you get the impression that there’s a fair portion of pride and love going into what they are serving up. The only bad thing about the place is the desire to have a two hour siesta when I get back the office.

I took photos last time I was in now when I don’t go along with my colleagues they ask after the one who takes photos for his blog”. My colleagues were in today and they served up an absolute feast. I am told I really missed out. And as there are no photos, I´m told to apologise for my readers missing out too! Anyway, here´s what I had from the daily menu last time, as an idea to a standard offering.

Oh, I´m back tomorrow.

3 course lunch, cider, coffee (damn fine coffe by the way). 12 euros.

Seafood Salad


Gypsy's Arm


About PintxoBoy

Scottish by birth and in my heart. Basque by lifestyle and in my stomach. Living in San Sebastián where I eat and comment about as many pintxos as I can. In my spare time I work in Marketing the renewable energy sector.
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9 Responses to At the Working Man’s Cafe

  1. AltaPeng says:

    I, personally, would be disappointed if you only dined based on michelin stars 😉

    I am asked the same Q first and over again…what was Arzak like ?! There are looks of disbelief and shock when I say I didnt make time to visit last trip. Not that I didnt think it worth the trip, not at all, but…like your wonderful post above…I got lost in the wonderful day by day offerings in the old city.

    You take wonderful photos, dear foodie friend, so I wonder if that lifts the food above the taste? Nah, I am confident if you wrote of it being worthy…it was..otherwise you know I will hunt you down in October and ask why you wrote what you have !!?!! lol

    Also appreciated what you said of real estate in San Sebastian…OMG…is all I can say… I can understand why family lives together thru generations… not an easy place to live in, I am sure…but Pintxoboy..I bet it is worth it, no?

    Again, thanks for the pics…feel free to share descriptives anytime for us food forlorn ~ lost in the americas ~ the photos are sublime…but would really love to learn more of the dish itself



    • donostilad says:

      I think if I only dined in Michelin star establishments I’d be feeling pretty ill most of the time! I’d be craving lettuce and water. But I will need to do it a bit more often!
      It is a hard place to establish yourself. For many reasons. The property price is a biggie, I think the average age for emancipation is now 34! But if you’re willing to make ceratin sacrafices its a wonderful place to live, it’s a beautiful city and has a great “quality of life”.
      Thanks for the feedback, I’ll take a notebook as well as a camera with me!

  2. contessapv says:

    I liked it that you live there and go to REAL resturants. We live in Puerto Vallarta Mexico and it has FINE dining and gastronomicl festivals and french/ italian chefs
    etc. everywhere…but some of the best food is a local ” comida ” that serves a plate lunch ( 5 choices ) , a fresh fruit water drink , and soup ( 3 choices ) for $ 5.00 USD.

    • donostilad says:

      Wow, sounds amazing for that price. I ate really well in Mexico, it was a chance to get all these foods that you don’t find here. My first morning I had two enormous pancakes. I thought they had given me two gigantuan scoops of ice cream with it but it turned out to be butter! And I had a croissant filled with jalapeno peppers, mustard and ham one morning. That was a real, unexpected treat.

  3. S Lloyd says:

    Hello Pintxo Boy,
    Always a huge pleasure to read you. Anaiak sounds like one address I should add to my address book on a potential future visit there since I will need some affordable eating options. Please let me know if they are opened on Sundays and Mondays. Also: do you know good affordable eateries in that same range of price (3 course lunch at euros 12, especially if it is decent to good, that is great rare bargain) that are opened on Sun and Mondays? Thanks

    • donostilad says:

      Yes! Anaiak is open on Sunday and Monday, it closes on Tuesday. I think the weekend price goes up a bit and they do a bit of a more special menu, but I couldn’t tell you by how much. I’ll ask them on Thursday which is becoming my weekly Anaiak day. I should warn you though that the bar isn’t close to the town centre, nor is it in an area of San Sebastian that tourists would normally visit.

  4. S Lloyd says:

    Just realized that this is not in downtown San Sebastian. My bad. Sorry, I did not want to disturb you with infos of places outside of SB.
    PB, would you know which is more flavorful, juicier, tastier between a and a ? I am debating on whether heading to Aldonando, Txuleta restaurante or Astelehena but for totally different cut of meats.

  5. Alain1979 says:

    I eats mostly everydays and it is amaizing place.

  6. Alain Perez says:

    Hoy nos han hecho una alubiada impresionante.
    Gracias por hacernos felices a los que comemos fuera de casa todos los dias.
    Es un placer, un sitio inmejorable.
    Pruebalo, al 100% acertarás.

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