In a LONG overdue follow-up to the first (Best of Barcelona: Tapas, Wine & Cocktails) in my 3-part food travel series on Spain (18 months to be exact; because, global pandemic), the time has come to share all the delicious highlights from the incredible oceanside town of San Sebastian. Hands down the best food experiences I’ve ever had on any vacation. And I’m not talking one incredible meal, I’m talking food perfection every which way you turn, at every meal and at every price point. We stayed four nights, but could have easily enjoyed exploring the city for a week or more. Walkable European city, lovely people, endless delicious things to eat and drink (cheese, cider, olives, ham, seafood and so much more), gorgeous beach and ocean views.
Below are my can’t miss stops and recommended things to try. If you hit even half of these, you’ve done good.
Pro tip: The beautiful stacks of pintxos on the bar are rarely the best things to try. The fresh-to-order menu is the way to go. And be on the lookout for the little plaque on the wall that touts the establishment’s signature dish(es) — anonymously voted on each year by a collective of Michelin star chefs. Crawling down the street and tasting the signature dish of each bar is the best way to spend an evening, or four!
Best Pintxo Bars in San Sebastian
148 Gastroleku. Eat: Iberian pork cheek; wild mushroom and truffle risotto. Drink: Marianito (vermouth, gin, picón, angostura, olive and orange).
Atari Gastroleku. Eat: White tuna fillet with basque peppers and olives.
Bar Txepetxa. Eat: Fresh anchovy fillets prepared several different ways; my favorite was the “jardinera” with green and red peppers, chili and onion (you’ve NEVER had anything like these before). Drink: cold bubbly txakoli.
Borda Berri. Eat: Crispy pigs ear cooked in red wine sauce, served with romescu and chimichurri. Drink: dry cider.
Ganbara. Eat: Seasonal wild mushrooms sauteed in olive oil and garlic with fresh egg yolk.
La Espiga. Eat: Sardines with fried garlic and chili.
La Mejillonera. Eat: Fresh mussels and patatas bravas with spicy tomato and garlic sauce (reportedly the best in the city). Drink: dry cider.
La Viña. Eat: Bruleed Basque cheesecake. Drink: Pedro Ximénez sherry.
Best Fine Dining Restaurant in San Sebastian
Amelia. Admittedly, it would be absurd to declare any single restaurant “the best” in San Sebastian (Exhibit A, this post). That said, I adored absolutely everything about this place. Young chef, edgy decor (is that Darth Vader? Super Mario Brothers?), and out-of-this world tasting menu. Pro tip: extravagant tasting experiences are awesome for lunch so you have hours to walk it off afterward … or go hit more pintxo bars like we did.
Best Breakfast in San Sebastian
Old Town Coffee. A little hidden gem we stumbled upon. Breakfast (at least typical American style) is a rarity in Spain. This place serves up serious coffee and tasty daybreak treats like avocado toast and chia pudding.
Best Cider House in San Sebastian
Petritegi Cidrerie. A Basque cider house visit is an absolute must-do when visiting San Sebastian. It will cost you a taxi ride outside the city, but 100% worth it. They typically offer a couple fixed menu options, featuring house specialities like salt cod omelette, grilled hake, t-bone steak, Idiazabal cheese and other goodies. But the real fun pouring yourself unlimited cider from the giant barrels while yelling “txotx.” The night we were there we got to hang with the kitchen staff from a 3-star Michelin restaurant who were blowing off some major steam. Good thing we took that taxi.
Best Cocktail Bars in San Sebastian
La Gintoneria Donostiarra. Boy do they love their “G&Ts” in Spain. But it’s rarely the boring version you might think of stateside. Beautiful aromatic gins, blended with herbs and botanicals and other interesting flavors. A can’t miss for the cocktail enthusiast.
Museo del Whisky. I credit this place with making me a whiskey fan (or at least whiskey curious). While I consider myself more of an agave spirit fangirl (mezcal and tequila all day), this place has two stories and floor-to-ceiling shelves of rare whiskies from around the world. Bonus: the barmen are endlessly entertaining.
Best Gourmet Markets / Stores in San Sebastian
Food souvenirs are my absolute favorite thing to take home after a trip. They immediately transport me back to the place I picked them up, reminding me of some of my best life moments. Even years later, the box of salt flower flakes (Sal de Anana Ananako Gatza) I bought in San Sebastian is one of my most prized possessions. Definitely check out these local shops and stock up before you leave!
Aitor Lasa. What to buy: Basque cheeses and dried wild mushrooms.
La Oveja Latxa. Awesome gourmet store with lots of samples! What to buy: picnic supplies, wine, olive oil, spreads and cheese.
Zapore Jai. What to buy: fine hand-cut Iberian ham, premium canned seafood, foie gras, wine, cider, olive oil and more.