Los Pinchos de San Sebastian

A pincho is a snack eaten in bars, traditionally in the North of Spain and the Basque Country. They consist of small slices of bread upon which an ingredient or mixture of ingredients is placed and fastened with a toothpick, which gives the food its name pinch”, meaning “spike.” Pinchos can be very sophisticated, sometimes consisting of very elaborate (and sometimes expensive) fish, seafood, or meats, and San Sebastian is arguably the place to find the best pinchos in the world.

As such, I’ve dedicated one week to sampling the best pinchos the city has to offer in the best bars that house them. Thanks to chatting with a few locals and crawling through the net to see which pinchos are award winning, I made a plan and set foot. Below are my top 20.


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Langostino Relleno (Bar Haizea, Parte Vieja)

Grilled king prawn with a sauce on top that is made from prawn! It’s flavour is only magnified by itself… Absolutely delicious and one of the main reasons people come to this bar.It’s sauce is both it’s strength and weakness for me. It’s normally served with a very generous amount of sauce, probably an attempt to compensate for the lack of meat in the king prawn, but can be overwhelming.

Brik de Bacalao (Bar Haizea, Parte Vieja)

I tried this upon the recommendation of the owner, and I actually enjoyed it more than the king prawn. A cod fish cake enclosed in a crispy thin wrapper, nicely bowed up and sprinkled with what tasted to be a balsamic glaze. Great crunch in the initial bite followed by the creamyness of the fish cake, and finished with the sweet flavour of the balsamic.Not to be confused in appearance with a banana fritter dessert with chocolate sauce.

Igueldo(Antonion, Centro)

Anchovies, tuna and green pepper on a bed of tomatoes and sliced bread, this is a fine mix of the sea and the land.Very soft and juicy with a lovely mix of natural flavours, it’s a very easy dish to like.

Top marks!

Antxoas(Antonion, Centro)

The fame in this dish is in it’s simplicity, the quality of the ingredients and the combination of flavours. Also called “Doble Zero” in the menu, you can see the why with the shape in which it is served.It’s a dish of anchovies with green pepper and chilli, on slice of bread and olive oil. Very refreshing and delicious.

Txalupa (Bergara, Gros)

Although not the prettiest I must say, this is the signature dish of this bar. Quality ingredients carefully selected to appear together and form a delicious tapa. Named after its shape, given by the wafer, on which incorporates a mixture of mushrooms and prawns with chives, cream and coated with grated cheese.

Gratinado de Pisto (Bergara, Gros)

Looking like the twin brother of the Txalupa, the ratatouille gratin is built on a base with mushroom ratatouille and garlic mousseline sauce, all on bread. It is covered with melted cheese and it filaments chips sprinkled with ham. Good ingredients, good flavour & juiciness delicious contrast of ratatouille with grilled cheese.
At this point that I noticed Bergara like to sprinkle chips on lots of their dishes, as do they like to use a thin wafer as a base for a different texture in the mouth.

Vieira con Beschamell y Gambas  (Bergara, Gros)

I didn’t read about this dish beforehand, but I saw it on the menu and thought I had to have it. It’s a Scallop and Shrimp bechamel made on a thin pastry, and of course, sprinkled with chips. Once your spoon goes through it, the creamy sauce oozes it’s way out and tastes an absolute delight.After three pinchos in Bergara, I can see why the bar is award winning. I highly recommend this place.

Carrillera de ternera al vino tinto (Borda Berri, Parte Vieja)

This was a suggestion by the barman for me to try and also the best pincho I had at this place. An extremely tender braised veal cheek mixed with red wine and tomato sauce, I can’t imagine this being done any better.I also had vallos a bacalao al pilpil (cod tripe cooked “pil-pil” style, which is de-salted and cooked in extra virgin olive oil, garlic and chili), which I regret ordering because it was also swimming in mayonnaise and I didn’t realize vallos meant tripe. But definitely come for the veal!

Foie con compota de manzana (La Cuchara de San Telmo, Parte Vieja)

Definitely the star dish of this place, the foie is accompanied by applesauce, comes on slice of bread, and dipped in sauce. It’s well cooked, the portion size is perfect and the subtle flavours come through quite nicely.Highly recommended!

Relleno de chipirones con foie (La Cuchara de San Telmo, Parte Vieja)

First of all, I don’t know why I ordered this. I just ate a dish with foie, but the thought of a baby squid stuffed with foie was too intriguing for me to ignore. But it was a pretty huge baby for one, with more foie stuffed inside it then I would like and a significant amount of the all favourite mayonnaise sprinkled over it with the same sauce as my other two dishes.This one is a miss…

Antxoas con crema de centollo (Txepetxa, Parte Vieja)

Txepetxa specializes in just anchovies and this is their signature dish. Two anchovy loins on a slice of toast spread with olive oil and coated with a crab sauce. It looks heavy, but it’s surprisingly light and fresh.I only had this one pincho in this bar as I can’t take too much anchovies without my taste buds feeling like their submerged in the sea, but I thoroughly enjoyed this.

Volcán de morcilla con yema, pasas y manzana (Hidalgo, Gros)

Vividly presented as a volcano-shaped spike with an egg yolk in its crate, a touch of raisins, paprika and on the bed of the volcano a smooth applesauce. The combination is very tasty and the tapa size is ideal for sharing.A strong natural taste of morcilla comes through so you can enjoy the quality of the Spanish blood sausage in its best!

Pickled Pork and Frozen Mole (A Fuego Negro, Parte Vieja)

QUE RICO! Both the pickled Pork (with a bit of paprika sprinkled on top) and the frozen mole are so tasty you can eat each on their own. The mole is like ice cream almost, and the pickled pork is so soft and juicy with a good mix of sweet, sour and a very mild spice. They each have enough flavours and then it’s further multiplied when you put them together. Took me instantly back to being in Mexico.

Ceviche with pomegranate(A Fuego Negro, Parte Vieja)

Another winner from A Fuego Negro. Codfish, avocado, lemon and lime zest, red onions, served Ceviche style with promegranate froth on top and seeds mixed inside. It’s a little acidic (characteristic of a Ceviche), not not overwhelmingly so, but the mix of ingredients bring out amazing natural flavours.

Rabbit with Garlic(A Fuego Negro, Parte Vieja)

Very simple dish that is extremely well presented. Small pieces of rabbit mixed with a pinch of salt and garlic, with a tiny baby carrot on the side. One of those dishes where the quality of the meat and how well it is cooked speaks for itself. This is one the main reasons why A Fuego Negro has quickly become possibly my top pincho place. Very high quality and well picked ingredients, great care when cooking and/or preparing and none of the 4 dishes I ordered were covered in sauce or mayonnaise as they simply were not needed. Even the salt was used to the perfect amount.

Makobe with Txips(A Fuego Negro, Parte Vieja)

I only ordered this because it is the signature dish of the restaurant so I could not resist. The beef was cooked medium rare, but it tasted like it was made from 100% pure beef with onions etc, so that made it perfect. Quite tasty as far as baby hamburgers go, but it really just is a tiny hamburger so I wasn’t as impressed as I was with their other dishes. Nevertheless, very tender and tasty.

La Hoguera(Zeruko, Parte Vieja)

I was partially worried when I ordered this that the presentation would be the best part and the taste would be underwhelming in comparison, but I was pleased to be wrong. The cod was of extremely high quality and a couple of seconds on each side on the bonfire was all that was needed to give it a nice, slight grilled effect. The toasted bread with caramalized onions and parsley is a perfect garnish to the cod… the only thing I wasn’t to impressed by was the vial of vegetables, that although looked lovely tasted like they just blended broccoli. But regardless, as a whole this dish is both a feast for the eyes and the mouth!

Queso Fresco con coco y foie(Zeruko, Parte Vieja)

I was looking forward to trying this because it’s a blend of goats cheese, foie and coconut. Three ingredients that I love! Once again, Zeruko delivered with a top notch pincho. It’s prepared almost as a mouse with a mild syrup glazed on top, lovely subtle mix of ingredients, and despite the size is not too heavy. An absolute delight!

Cream of Sea Urchin(Zeruko, Parte Vieja)

I pre-convinced myself that I would not like this as I have tried Sea Urchin before in the Philippines and remembered it was literally just like eating the sea, but it looked so exotic and inviting that I had to try it. My first bite instantly took me back home because I got a distinct lovely flavour of guava coming through and the delicious taste of the cream took away the extreme saltiness that sea urchin tastes when you eat it raw, reminding me of a restaurant in Manila where I tried frogs legs adorned in so much flavour that you almost forgot you were eating frogs legs. There were also two little pieces of crunchy bread inside to add texture to the dish. At this point I was convinced that everything in Zeruko was good and someday I’d love to have enough time to try it all.

Cochinillo asado lentamente (La Cuchara de San Telmo, Parte Vieja)

Slow roasted pig! I can’t believe the first time I came to this pintxos bar I decided to skip this dish, especially being from Cebu. I heard afterwards it was amazing so I had to go back just to have this one dish. Well, I’m glad I did because it was comparing to the roast suckling pig from Mesón de Candido in Segovia or even Cebu (minus the lemongrass, of course). The skin was fresh and crispy, with juicy and tender meat beneath it with all the natural flavours coming through. As all the other dishes I’ve had in La Cuchara de San Telmo, still too much bloody salt. Top Dish!

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