Pintxo Culture: Pamplona and San Sebastián Edition
A little bit about Spain's pintxo culture and how to navigate the pintxo scene in Pamplona and San Sebastian.
What are they? Pintxos? Bite size meals of goodness.
How many do I need? 3-5 pintxos per person.
What time should I head out? I’d probably head out by around 9:00 pm for pintxos. The bars might be closed before that. The Spanish have a reputation for eating much later than the rest of the world.
Should I go get 3-5 pintxos in one bar? No, because pintxo hopping is a thing and you should always leave space in your stomach for the next special pintxo in the next bar. Aim to go to at least 2-3 bars.
How do I get a table? You fight for your life. I’m kidding. You enter the restaurant, and scout for the best table you can find. If there are none, find any kind of space where you can stand and eat. Yes, the Spanish will stand, eat and chat all night long in a crowded room and enjoy it. It’s an experience.
Does the waiter serve me? Nope, you gotta find your way to the bar and order everything from there and pick everything up from there as well.
Do I pay at the bar? Depends on the bar and if you plan to stay long and keep ordering. You can choose to keep a tab open.
What if the bar is dirty? Don’t get turned off. The dirtier the floor, the yummier the food and more popular the place. That’s a good sign.
Is there a drinks menu? Probably not. Always just get the wine of the house because it’s almost always delicious (it’s Spain after all) but to state your preference of red or white wine. There should also be beer on tap, or a refreshment available.
Do I use utensils? You can if you want to, but also don’t be afraid to use your hands. No judgement there.
There are babies inside the bar! Don’t freak out, the Spanish are social beings and always come out to see friends for a pintxo/drink or two and sometimes they have no one else to watch the kids. It’s normal. Even if it’s midnight. Don’t judge. Live and let live. Welcome to Spain.
How long should I stay in the bar? It’s really up to you. Spanish time is quite a thing in Spain. Like I said, the Spanish are social beings. Just enjoy the moment you have with amazing food and good company. Enjoy the process. That’s the best way to immerse yourself in the culture.
Now that you’re prepared, below are a few of my recommendations for pintxos in Pamplona and San Sebastián. I’ve put some of my favorite pintxos per bar but don’t be afraid to try anything else that might catch your attention. You can’t go wrong with any of the pintxos. They’re THAT good.
1. Bar Gaucho (Calle Espoz y Mina, 7 Bajo)
- Foie: duck liver
- Solomillo: beef or pork tenderloin
- Huevo trufado: truffled egg
2. Bar Guria (Calle Espoz y Mina, 62)
- Mini hamburguesa de Wagyu: wagyu mini hamburger
- Txalupa: sardines
3. Bar Vermuteria Rio (Calle San Nicolas, 15)
- Pintxo de huevo: an egg specialty. They take into account of how many of these they sell a year.
4. La Mandarra de La Ramos (Calle San Nicolas, 9)
- Bola de pimiento: a ball of crushed pepper. Don't worry, it’s not spicy at all.
5. Beatriz Cake Shop (Calle de la Estafeta, 22)
- Garroticos: It’s kind of like a chocolate puff pastry. It’s not technically a pintxo BUT you have to go get a box of garroticos to take home.
- La Cuchara de San Telmo (Santa Korda Kalea, 4)
- Foie gras with apple sauce: duck liver with apple sauce
- Pulpo: grilled octopus
- Carrilleras: pork cheek
- Vieras: seared scallops
- Bar Gandarias (31 de Agosto Kalea, 23)
- Langostinos: prawns
- Solomillo: beef or pork tenderloin
- Bar Nestor (Arrandegi Kalea, 11)
- Special tortilla de patata: Spanish omelette which are only made twice a day— at noon and at 8:00 pm
- Txuleton steaks: T-bone steak, best eaten medium rare
- Bar Txepetxa (Arrandegi Kalea, 5)
- Jardinera anchovies: anchovies taken with Txakoli (Etxaniz brand) which is a typical white or rose wine from the hills of nearby Getaria vineyards
- La Viña (31 de Agosto Kalea, 3)
- Tarta de queso: baked cheesecake