Where to Eat in San Sebastian, the Ultimate Foodie Paradise
San Sebastian is known for having the best food in all of Spain. This rather small city is home to seven three star restaurants, one of the cities with the most Michelin star restaurants by square meter of anywhere in the world (it’s only beaten by Kyoto in Japan).
Mugaritz, San Sebastian’s most famous restaurant is listed as no.6 in the world and home to a truly amazing culinary adventure, while Arzak isn’t far behind at no.17. At the start of this year I put eating at a top ten restaurant on my new years resolution, and I’ve made room in the budget to accommodate the expense.
But unfortunately my trip to San Sebastian was spur of the moment and I wasn’t able to get a last minute reservation at either restaurant. But regardless of your budget or the level of dining you want to partake in, San Sebastian has you covered.
I didn’t go to any of the Michelin star restaurants but managed to have some of the best dishes of my whole trip, and definitely the best food I had whilst in Spain.
I headed to San Sebastian with one goal in mind; eating as much great food as possible. In my original plans for Spain I hadn’t factored in San Sebastian. It was only after meeting multiple people in Lisbon that raved about the foodie scene in San Sebastian that I decided to add it into my trip. It’s not something I regretted, San Sebastian ended up being my favourite place in Spain.
The three short days I spent in San Sebastian wasn’t nearly enough to satisfy my cravings for good food and hence this guide is in no way complete. But these were the best places and dishes I ate during my short time in the city.
Pintxos from Bar Zeruko
Pintxos are the dish/dishes that San Sebastian is most famous for. Before identifying as Spanish, those that live in San Sebastian and the Basque Country identify themselves as Basquilian (check spelling/word). Everyone here speaks both Basque and Spanish. Pintxos are basically Basque tapas.
Bar Zeruko serves pintxos the traditional way. Upon arrival at this bar you’ll find the bar counter full of delicious morsels and small plates. You are handed a plate by the guy at the bar and then pile it up with what you want to eat.
You then hand them back the plate and they prepare the food for you. For some of these dishes this might simply be putting them on a neater plate. For other dishes it might be sticking them under the grill to warm them up and surrounding them with a pairing sauce.
I was truly overwhelmed by the choice at Bar Zeruko and ended up eating far too much and spending far too much money. The advice I’d give my previous self is to only order 3-4 pintxos. It’s plenty enough to keep you full and actually doesn’t end up being that expensive.
Of course being the lover of seafood that I am, most of my choices were seafood based dishes.
I started with four plates (and really should have stopped there); a creamy sea urchin (una- find name), a toast with Spanish ham, goat’s cheese and an anchovie, a fresh prawn skewer with salsa on top and a toast with a combination of cream cheese and smoked salmon. Everything was super delicious.
And I blame the quality of the food as the reason why I went back for two more dishes despite how full I was. Again I went for the seafood based dishes. I got the toast with chilli and squid, and the toast with marinated fish piled on top.
Of course I washed it all down with a glass of vino, as you do while in Spain.
Bar Zeruko was my first taste of San Sebastian food and it set the bar high. It’s hard to think that this incredible meal was actually the worst of all of my dining experiences in San Sebastian (the food is seriously that good). It’s definitely worth checking out, especially because it was the best traditional (plates on the bar), Pintxos bar that I found.
Pintxos from Borda Berri
This Pintxos bar was by far the best meal I had while in San Sebastian and Spain. In fact it’s probably one of the best meals I’ve had in my whole four months of travel. It was so good it made me want to stay on in San Sebastian for a couple more days just to eat at this bar again.
Having learnt my lesson from Bar Zeruko, I stuck to four pintxos at this bar. Although I went to this bar with a group of people for my hostel so we were able to sample each other’s dishes as well.
Unlike Bar Zeruko, at Borda Berri you order from the chalkboard menu behind the bar. The dishes are then freshly prepared and they yell out your order to go collect it.
This place is always packed with locals, a good sign that you are in for some great food.
The first dish to come out was the octopus. By this point I’d had some pretty incredible octopus dishes during my trip; especially in Portugal. But this one was equally phenomenal.
The octopus was cooked to perfection and paired with this delicious sauce. The complexity of flavours in that sauce made me think I was eating at a three star restaurant rather than some alleyway bar.
The octopus set the bar high, but the next dish was equally as good. I’m not sure I could pick a favourite between them.
The second dish was a cheesy risotto and one of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth (I know I saw that a lot but I really mean it with this dish).
I still can’t pinpoint exactly what cheeses were used in that sauce but they worked together with the rest of the risotto beautifully. It was the kind of dish I didn’t want to share but I found myself giving spoonful to my hostel friends so they could understand what I was moaning about.
The third dish was a single large ravioli which was full of chicken in a curry type sauce. This dish was super tasty but probably my least favourite dish of the four (an indication of how good the food was here).
The last dish I ordered was the lamb kebab which consistented of a large bone of lamb that landed on my table. It was covered in that same magical green sauce that they had put on the octopus.
The meat was so tender that I literally slid the bone out clean and then devoured the meat. I was worried about the lack of sauce but the meat itself was so juicy and delicious that I didn’t even notice.
If you are vegetarian Borda Berri is also the place to come as they have lots of delicious vegetarian options (including my cheesy risotto). One of the guys from the hostel was vegetarian and I got to try some of the delicious dishes he ordered.
This special rice dish looked more like a science experiment than a dish but was surprisingly good. The balance of flavours was really subtle and I actually still can’t guess what they put in it. But it’s a dish worth ordering.
I’m not a huge fan of peppers (capsicum in Australia) but this stuffed pepper almost persuaded me that they could be good. I honestly don’t think you could order a bad dish at Borda Berri.
Pintxos at La Cuchara de San Telmo
La Cuchara works in the same way as Borda Berri. You order your dish from the chalkboard behind the bar and they cook it fresh for you.
I found myself ordering almost the exact same dishes I had ordered at Borda Berri but just different versions of them.
My first dish was again the octopus. I really enjoyed the crispiness of this octopus and as a whole the produce was perhaps slightly better cooked than the one I had at Borda Berri. But I was missing the delicious sauce that I got at Borda Berri.
The second dish was another rice dish but this one was slightly more adventurous than just cheese risotto. This particular risotto was cooked with squid ink. It was my first time trying anything with squid ink and I found it to be very tasty.
The third dish was another ravioli and this one had the edge over Borda Berri’s version. The pasta was very delicately cooked and the sauce that they had smothered it with worked well with the flavours inside.
I also went here with a girl from the hostel and she ordered this steak/meat dish that was out of this world. I’d definitely try some of there more meatier dishes if I went back again.
Tortilla, Tomato Salad and a Giant Steak from Bar Nestor
Bar Nestor is different to a pintxos bar. They specialise in only a few dishes and they do them very well.
The first is their Spanish tortilla that comes out twice a day; at 12pm and (check time). They only make two a day and their tortilla is so famous that you need to make sure you arrive an hour early and leave your name for a slice of it.
Spanish tortilla is a delicious mixture of eggs and potatoes and who knows what other ingredients. It’s a dish I had grown to really love even though I’d only been in Spain for five days.
Bar Nestor’s version was worth all the effort and the hype and it still remains the best tortilla I’ve ever had.
The potatoes had a caramelised texture and taste that you don’t often find in a standard tortilla, the dish had this crispy top that made it taste so much better than your average tortilla and from the photo you can see how juicy the dish was.
The second dish I ordered here was the tomato salad. This isn’t a dish that you are going to like unless you really like tomatoes. It basically consists of chopped up tomatoes covered with this awesome olive oil dressing.
Tomatoes are one of my favourite foods; I can sit there and eat them like apples. Hence this was my kind of dish; especially given tomatoes and olive oil are a match made in heaven!
I went to Bar Nestor on my last day in San Sebastian and I didn’t have any plans for the rest of the day. Thus I found myself chilling out at the bar for a couple of hours after finishing my tortilla and tomatoes, writing postcards, drinking lots of good Spanish red wine and chatting in broken Spanish and English with the lady behind the bar.
During this time I watched people order and devour what looked like some truly delicious, but also huge steaks. I’d been told about the steaks at Bar Nestor but also warned that I needed to go with someone to split it with if I wanted to try it because even there smallest steaks were huge.
But as I looked at these steaks I figured I absolutely needed to try it. I had come to San Sebastian for the food and here was what looked like an incredible dish and I wasn’t trying it. Of course I thought of you guys and research for the blog when I decided to order one of those 1.2kg steaks (the smallest they had) for myself.
My plan was to eat half of it and then palm it off to the guys sitting at the bar next to me. But when I took the first mouthful of meat I knew I absolutely wasn’t sharing it. It was by far the best steak I’ve ever had in my life.
The meat was tender, juicy and cooked to perfection. It was simply seasoned with salt and a little bit of olive oil. Before I knew it I had finished it.
Now before you judge me, I didn’t really eat 1.2kg of meat, the bone was pretty huge and I presume a large part of that 1.2kg. But nevertheless it was a lot of food.
Needless to say, I didn’t need to eat for two days after this.
It was the perfect end to my food journey in San Sebastian.
During the three days I spent in San Sebastian, I absolutely feel in love with this beach city and it’s amazing foodie scene. Whilst I won’t make it back this trip it’s definitely firmly on my list for a future trip to Europe, especially in summer when I can indulge in that beautiful beach!