San Sebastian is one of those destinations people rave about. Having never heard anything but stellar reviews about the northern, coastal city in Spain, it has been on my bucket list for years. I finally found myself there at the start of June.
Famed for its beach and food don’t go there expecting an abundance of attractions or activities. Rather, a stay in San Sebastian is all about soaking up the sun, sea and enjoying good food and wine.
Having asked friends who’d been previously for tips, the general consensus was that it’s hard to go wrong when it comes to eating in the old town. With this in mind we grabbed our wallets and navigated our way through the narrow streets, letting our stomachs lead the way.
Unlike other parts of Spain where paella and tapas prevail, San Sebastian is all about the pintxo – small bite size dishes which allow you to hop from venue to venue trying a smorgasbord of Spanish cuisine all washed down with some of the finest Rioja you’ll find.
Up there with some of the best food I’ve ever experienced here are six places not to miss:
There’s nothing fancy about Goiz Argi but that’s all part of the charm. With glasses of extremely drinkable Rioja for €2 ($A3) don’t miss the prawns on toast also known as Brochette de Gambas and the padron peppers.
There’s a reason Borda Berri is always packed to the rafters. Hard to pick a bad dish, I can highly recommend the octopus or as they say in Spain, pulpo and the entrecôte. Up there with two of the most delicious dishes I have ever eaten – so much so we went there not once or twice but three times.
Unlike many of the other pintxo places Atari is large enough to have space for indoor and outdoor tables. With more of a gastro pub feel, don’t miss the mini burgers here with burrata and jamon. If you’re very hungry, the steak also looked phenomenal. Atari also served up easily the best espresso martinis I’ve ever had.
If it’s tortilla you’re after, the one name on everyone’s lips is Bar Nestor. Only making two tortillas per day – brought out at 1pm and 8pm – respectively, don’t expect to just rock up and nab a slice. You’ll need to have put your name on the list, however, you can only do this on the day same day you wish to have the tortilla. If this all seems a little too pretentious and hard (you are on holiday after all), we found the tortilla at Ubarretxena worthy of writing home about. Another actual restaurant, not only can you just walk in, sit down and enjoy said tortilla, but they also make a mean paella – not as easy to find as you’d think in San Sebastian.
It was on our last night, next door to Atari Gastroteka, that we found a clear winner. Sirimiri Gastroleku may look like a hole in the wall at first but, step inside and you’ll be rewarded with some of the best food San Sebastian has to offer. Sitting at the bar opposite the kitchen, we had a welcome glimpse at the production line of tapas style plates, all beautifully presented. We had the lamb chop, slow-cooked octopus and bao buns, and left marvelling at how they made such seemingly simple dishes taste so damn delicious.
Old Town Coffee
Ok, so it’s not technically a pintxo place, but as an Australian it would be rude not to mention Old Town Coffee. Thankfully discovering this on our second morning, I faithfully spent the rest of the week returning for my morning caffeine and breakfast fix. If you’re in San Sebastian there’s no better way to start your day than to pull up a pew at the bar and get your caffeine fix alongside some tomato and jamon on toast. When you’re done grab a Portuguese tart from the bakery next door – you won’t be disappointed!
Have you been to San Sebastian? What was the dish you would have written home about?