Pintxos bars are quite the social setting.

Pintxos are bite-sized snacks, typically served in bars, and are a staple Basque tradition. We learn that for a modern country, Spain has kept its traditional methods of harvesting in abundance for a short period, then salting, pickling and preserving it to enjoy for the rest of the year, cooking it all up with creative flair. “Basque country is all about specific flavours and specific combinations,” Gabriella explains, with San Sebastian, in particular, being the very pinnacle of a miniature food culture known as Pintxos.
The best bars in San Sebastian look like this.
READ MORE: Things to Do in San Sebastian – From Conflict to Capital of Culture
Finding The Best Pintxos in San Sebastian, Spain – Bar Snack Food Culture

People walk down a golden walled street in San Sebastian old town lined with restaurant and Pintxos bar signs.
Pintxos are typically layered on top of a small piece of bread and held together by a single cocktail stick.

What are Pintxos?

Start on the main street in the Old Town – Fermin Calbeton Kalea – and work your way around from there. You’ll see that the cluster of bars spread on a block of four streets surrounding Constitution Square, so the area is easy to navigate.

A man in a blue shirt hands over a plate of food across a bar filled with multiples plates of Pintxos bar snacks.
Gabriella talks about ‘her shepherd’ who makes the sheep milk cheeses up in the mountain in his hut – a variety of pale yellows and creamy whites with not too overpowering a taste, accompanied, naturally, by more Taxkoli.

Pintxos are meant to be eaten in one bite and devoured slowly, an exquisite moment of enjoying the region’s carefully chosen and handcrafted combinations of fresh flavours in true farm-to-table fashion.
This trip was organised in conjunction with iAmbassador and the Spanish National Tourism Office to highlight San Sebastian’s offering in light of it being the European Capital of Culture for 2016. I’m still not a good chef, but I’m trying. 
Pintxos bar-hopping in San Sebastian is the end game of this culinary journey. As we dig into our hand-made creations, we reminisce about the multiple stops – of peering into doorways and perusing the entire length of the bar, lost in the problem of how to narrow down 30 options to a hearty three. Such an event is a visitor rite of passage here in San Sebastian to indulge just as the locals do.
Taking a Pintxos tour in San Sebastian can help you find the best bars like a local.

Pintxos Bars in San Sebastian 

People sit and stand around a bar in San Sebastian underneath hanging legs of Jamon.
The best Pintxos in San Sebastian are an art form and social event. As culturally significant in Spain’s Basque country as its landmarks. Here’s where to find them. 
A brown wooden sign and doorway leading to the entrance of a busy Pintxos bar in San Sebastian.
We are on “the street where everything happens”, according to Gabriella Ranelli, whose apartment we have taken over for the afternoon to try our hand at making Pintxos with a local chef. This humble-abode turned Tenedor cooking school is on the same Fermin Calbeton Street we had previously toured by Pintxos bar-hopping.
Four people at a bar in San Sebastian that covered in small snacks known as Pintxos.
Join a Pintxos cooking class in San Sebastian with Tenedor.

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A glass of red wine stand needs to plates on bitesized bar snacks, which completely cover a bar in San Sebastian, Spain.
You could spend a whole day bar hopping, but if you are feeling overwhelmed by choice, here’s a selection of 15 of the best Pintxos bars in San Sebastian.

“You must try Pintxos in San Sebastian!” You’ll hear it over and over when you arrive, if not before. Yet, trying the best Pintxos in San Sebastian also requires a local education about their origin and importance. 

Pintxos - food with cocktail sticks - line white plates on two levels on a long bar in San Sebastian.
Pintxos are best paired with wine and devoured slowly.
A man faces a dark wooden bar covered in plates of the best Pintxos in San Sebastian – snacks on cocktail sticks.
Only then can you understand this city’s unique and long-standing gastronomic culture.

How to Eat Pintxos

Wine tasting is a part of the cooking class, as is customary at a Pintxos bar.
During the Tenedor Pintxos cooking class, we listen as the onions sizzle in the pan before adding peppers and garlic. We each prepare a Piquillo pepper that has been charred, peeled and packed in olive oil (post-harvest), ready to stuff it full of a tuna-based mix. Peppers are used in almost everything and are already roasted, peeled and frozen.
Pintxos are culturally significant in the Basque country, as are landmarks, monuments, and an ancient language.
This is how to enjoy the best Pintxos in San Sebastian.

Where to Find the Best Pintxos in San Sebastian

San Sebastian was the European Capital of Culture for 2016. Still, it had long been a worldwide gastronomical acclaimed city, including an accolade of 16 Michelin stars, signature restaurants, straight-from-the-barrel cider houses and members-only ‘gastronomic societies’.

  • La Cepa de Bernardo
  • La Viña
  • Bodega Donostiarra
  • Gorriti Taberna
  • Atari Gastroleku
  • Bartolo House
  • Gandarias
  • Bar Sport
  • Paco Bueno
  • Bar Nestor
  • MendaurBerria
  • La Cuchara de San Telmo
  • Casa Alcalde
  • Ganbara
  • Borda Berri

Cold Pintxos adorn the bar, and you can order hot options directly from the waiter. Seafood and red meats combine with savoury delicacies like peppers, olives, potatoes and eggs, and freshly carved slices of Jamon.
Mouthful by tiny mouthful.

Take a Pintxos Cooking Class

This Old Town street is San Sebastian’s avenue of food. 

In a small kitchen, a woman stands with a chefs in whites and a grey apron, leading a cooking class.
The concept of Pintxos in San Sebastian is more profound in a city where gastronomy is an expression. Making them is an art form and eating them is a social event. It’s criminal to call these delicately pieced-together portions tapas, for they are in no way the same, but exquisite bites layered on top of a small piece of bread and held together by a single cocktail stick.

The Pintxos bar in San Sebastian’s old cobbled streets brings everyone together in one place – the atmosphere created by the excitable hovering around the bar where the cocktail sticks peak from the trays, ready to be plucked out in the ravenous decision.
Drinks are small measures to go with the bite-sized food for extended indulgence. The idea is to choose one or two of the Pintxos and pair them with a small serving of the local cider or the fruity Txakoli white wine, which is poured with precision skill from a great height to preserve the bubbles. You then collect your sticks to pay at the end before moving on to the next bar.

A group prepares food on green chopping boards, while drinking wine during a Pintxos cooking class.
Entrance to a Pintxos bar in San Sebastian’s old town.

Things to Know About Pintxos in San Sebastian

  • Learn to make Pintxos in San Sebastian: Tenedor offers a variety of cooking classes in San Sebastian suited to all levels of culinary expertise and includes a private market tour and a personal chef.
  • How to Plan Pintxos Bar Hopping in San Sebastian: Go Local San Sebastian offer dedicated Pintxos bar tours (alongside other activities), taking you to some of the most favourite hangouts and explaining the food culture. The tour lasts 2.5 hours and costs €25. We had Iñigo as our guide, and he comes highly recommended.
  • Pick up the “Gastronomic Guide Map” from the tourism office, which details the 70 key bars and restaurants, three pintxos routes and food shops on a map.

An essential part of the experience is to go with the flow. Do you like the look of a bar, or are you curious about the atmosphere brewing inside? Head inside and see what you find – you might stumble upon a local secret. 
We cocktail-stick loops through a salted anchovy three times to make it look like its own curving art form as it delicately sits atop a pepper-like flag. We coat fresh prawns in a dusting of flour and egg before lightly crushing tiny pasta sprinkles onto them so that they can puff up and crisp in a pan of oil and turn into a heavenly texture mesh of crunch and delicate seafood.

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