Top 10 Pintxo Tips

… or how to get the most out of of going for pintxos!

While eating great pintxos in Donosti is about as hard as falling off a log, there are things you can do that will make the experience doubly good. Clear your mind of pre-conceived ideas of how to eat and dive into the pintxo culture as it should be experienced. Here are my top 10 tips for getting the most out of Sanse´s pintxo bars…

1.       Go to Busy Bars
Simply put – a bar which doesn’t sell good quality won’t last. The locals won’t go and any bar will struggle to live off exclusively tourist trade.  That means that the best bars are usually the ones that are the fullest. So don’t be put off, dive into the crowd and lean over people to grab a pintxo off the bar or holler your order over the crowd. You´ll be rewarded by what comes.

2.       Be prepared to Stand
If you want to sit, go to a restaurant. The best bars often don’t have much seating and the poorest ones, targeting the tourist trade, usually do. Locals, especially in the old part, are usually small, often with people spilling out into the street, and there´s no space for tables.

3.       Order from the Blackboard
It´s tempting I know. You walk into the bar and there´s 50 pintxos aligning the top of the bar, each one looking more appetizing as your eyes dance from plate to plate. ¡Resist! The best pintxos are the ones freshly prepared from the kitchen. Order from the blackboard, whiteboard or menu. You won’t be disappointed.

4.       Go to Gros
Without doubt the heart of the pintxo culture is the old part but there are a dozen or more exceptional bars in Gros, from along La Zurriola to around the Plaza Catalunya. These shouldn’t be missed on any trip to San Sebastián. Gros has far more of a pintxo culture than other areas such as Amara or El Antiguo, although there are good bars to be found in these areas also.

5.       Drink Small Drinks
Don’t accompany your pintxo experience with pints of beer or Kalimotxo. Try the local Txacoli, a refreshing white wine best taken in a cider glass. Or a zurrito, a smaller version of the caña.

6.       Do a Tour
Star your trip to donosti doing a pintxo tour. There´s nothing better to introduce you to the culture and secrets of the place than going with a local. Friends of mine often comment that the experience of going for pintxos with me is totally different to going by themselves. You benefit from being with someone who knows what to ask for, what bars to go to at what time, who has little secrets that aren’t widely known. Then once you have the lay of the land, go off and discover for yourself….

7.       Have 2 pintxos in Each Bar
Why 2? Cause you risk being put off a bar by having one pintxo you´re not enthused by and never going back. Also, it gives you a good time to be in one bar before heading off to the next.

8.       Start Early
It takes longer than you think to order, receive and eat you pintxos, especially ordering off the menu. You´ll need 20-25 minutes in each bar, add walking time between them, and if you start at 21.30 you may find kitchens closing by the time you get to the 4th or 5th bar. Also, it allows you to get to busy bars when they are a bit quieter – if you go to La Cuchara, go between 12-12.30 at lunchtime for example, the crowds start to hit around 13.00.

9.       Be Adventurous
Try stuff you´d never think of going for. You may not like something because of the way it has been prepared in another place, and fall in love with it here. Just cause pigs ear or fish throats sound a bit grim, doesn’t mean they are going to be gross when it comes. Give it a go, if you don’t like it, it´ll only be one of the 50 pintxos you can have.

10.   Do Some Research
But leave your options open to be spontaneous. It´s a good idea to have some must do bars with some must do pintxos planned before you come, make sure you check opening times and what the recommended pintxos are. But leave time to wander into whichever bar grabs your attention and to spend more time in those that hit the spot.

Ok, and 1 don’t!

1.       Don´t try and do every bar
Cause it´s impossible. You´ll end up being exhausted and you won’t enjoy the bars you´re in. Plus you have to leave some excuse to come back…



What do you think? What are your tips for pintxoing in sanse? Any of the above you don’t agree with? Let me know your thoughts!


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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19 Responses to Top 10 Pintxo Tips

  1. oog says:

    Drink small drinks? Why? Because you like small drinks? I like beer. And artificial lighting.

    Also, I don’t completely agree with you about point no. 3. For every lovely gourmet pintxo you order from the blackboard, I will never grow tired of a nice tortilla or ham on bread. Because those are two of the best things ever.

  2. donostilad says:

    Small drinks cause it´s about accompanying what you´re eating not getting pissed. Drinking large beers will mean you´ll have to spend longer in each bar, feel more bloated and reduce your overall pintxo experience…and have you ever tried getting into a toilet in a bar in the old part after 21.30?

  3. Gigis_mum says:

    Love your ideas! Especially #4 on Gros. Everyone makes a bee-line to the Parte Vieja but we’re staying in Gros and look forward to visiting Mil Catas, Bergara, Hidalgo 56, Bodega Donastiarra and the (renamed) Ramuntxo Berri.

    Speaking of La Cuchara de San Telmo, is it closed on Mondays in July and August?

    • donostilad says:

      I´d switch Ramuntxo Berri for El Lagar. It was good when it was El Patio de Ramuntxo, but it´s no more than a fast food joint now. And Bergara for Casa Senra, Bergara has had its day…

  4. Miranda says:

    So many of these things I only started to learn after a semester in Pamplona! I needed your guide at the beginning but I still love reading it… 🙂

  5. LC says:

    Great post. I couldn’t agree more with #3 and #9 although I enjoyed the entire list. 🙂 So many tapas bars, not enough time!

  6. Alain says:

    Just amazing! I think is the best recomendation I have ever read!
    I will try to follow these steps!

  7. Brian says:

    Has anyone done either of the 2 tours listed? I’ll be in San Sebastian for a few days and am considering doing one, but not sure it’s worth the price considering the online resources available out there for pintxos.

  8. La Coccinelle says:

    I did a tour when in San Sebastian in September 2010. It was great, the guide spoke excellent English and was very informative about the Old Town. It was through the Tourist Office. I can’t wait to go back to this area. I have just been to the other side of Spain, the Costa Brava. I found the tapas just didn’t compare with Basque pintxos, on the whole they just seemed like crude mush. I think San Sebastian must be the food capital of the world at the moment.

  9. Teg says:

    This is a great post – I’ve been looking for information like this 🙂 I’d love to do a pintxos tour when I’m in San Sebastian in November, but it seems all the tours need you to be in a group – I’m travelling alone. Any tips on good tour guides where you can just join in on your own? 🙂

  10. Paul Downes says:

    My wife and I are visiting san sebastian for four days from 20/1/2012 – 24/1/2012
    It is our intention to visit as many authentic Pintxo bars as we can and a good Cideria
    Will any of the owners take offence at us taking Photos of their food on offer, we would really like to create a project of the Pintxo bars and San Sebastian itself, we have three Pubs in Manchester NW England, out trip would make for great conversation and hopefully help to organise some future trips.
    We will be driving from Bilbao airport, any recommendations for a reasonable priced hotel located within walking distance of the main Pintxo bars ?

    • PintxoBoy says:

      Perfect timing for the cider houses, the season started last week. Make sure you head out of san sebastian for one, astigarraga and hernani are safe bets and east to reach on the bus. Book ahead this time of year though.
      No-one will take offence I´m sure, never have when i take them certainly.
      Try the Arrizul in gros, perfect for the old part as well.
      Hope it goes well!

  11. Great post and site! I understand there is a main street in Parte Vieja for pintxos bars. Can you tell me which one? Many thanks!

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