Not only one of the best dining cities in the world, tiny San Sebastián is every glutton's dream come true. A concentrated metropolis of pintxos (small snacks) bars and Michelin-starred restaurants, the coastal city in Spain's Basque Country is a true gem. While it's always a good time to visit, San Sebastián was named last year's European Capital of Culture, which means it's a particularly opportune time to go.
With so many restaurants and bars to choose from, visiting can get overwhelming. So we consulted the chefs and owners of Huertas and Donostia, two exceptional Basque restaurants in NYC's East Village, to find out exactly where visitors should focus their energy. Thanks to Huertas executive chef and owner Jonah Miller and general manager and partner Nate Adler, as well as Donostia owners Marissa Miller and Jorge de Yarza, your itinerary is all set.
First, a rule of thumb: San Sebastián is not a town for holding back. Here's how the Huertas team suggests you explore:
Whereas in our dining culture, once you enter a restaurant and sit down, you feel obligated to stay there, pintxo-culture is built for flexibility. Don't be afraid to enter a pintxo bar and just look around. Try a single pintxo; if it isn't to your liking, move on.
Bars tend to have their specialities; even without researching ahead of time, see what everyone around you is eating and eat the same. It's also fun to find a pintxo that you like, a sort of baseline pintxo, and order it at several bars to see how they stack up.
Where to Go for Pintxos:
"Known for their sirloin toast. Get one of the cold (room-temp) pintxos lining the bar while you wait for your diminutive steak." —Miller and Adler of Huertas
31 de Agosto Kalea, 23, 20004 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain (+34 943 42 63 62)
"One of the most visually arresting bars in the city—there are pintxos everywhere! Many use puff pastry. A sort of 'pig in a blanket,' made from chistorra sausage. I like the assertive head cheese, anchovy and cornichon trio on a mini croissant." —Miller and Adler of Huertas
San Jeronimo Kalea, 19, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
"Awesome beer tap that looks like a brass leg of jamón." —Miller and Adler of Huertas
31 de Agosto Kalea, 7, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain (+34 943 42 63 94)
"This tiny spot in the Old City serves only four items: chuletón or steak chops; fresh tomato salad; blistered padrón peppers; and their famous tortilla Española. They make only two massive tortillas a day, and for anyone who would like to have a pintxo (or slice) on toast, you need to go an hour in advance (11 a.m. for lunch, 6 p.m. for dinner), write your name down and reserve a slice. Not to mention, Nestor, himself, is always there, and he is an amazing dude." —Miller and Adler of Huertas
Calle Pescadería, 11, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain (+34 943 42 48 73)
La Cuchara de San Telmo
"A different level of pintxo bar. Small, composed plates made to order. A must-visit. San Sebastián is about bar hopping, trying as many bars as you can in a night—this is an exception. Spend some time here." —Miller and Adler of Huertas
Calle del Treinta y Uno de Agosto, 28, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
"Located on the other side of the river, in Gros; love the clam and salsa verde croquette." —Miller and Adler of Huertas
Calle de San Francisco, 32, 20002 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
"One of our very top pintxos bars in Donostia. Small and family run. Specializes in tartaletas, which are mostly comprised of shellfish mousse. Must also try Brick de Bacalao, fried bacalao wrapped in fried caramelized onion bow with drizzle of reduced vinegar. It's a favorite stop for the Arzak family." —Miller and Yarza of Donostia
Aldamar Kalea, 8, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain (+34 943 42 57 10)
"Classic taverna deep inside the historic district. The cheesecake is a must-have, as they employ a special charring technique to finish it. Also try the original La Viña' cono pintxo, to which we pay homage [at Donostia]. It's a great place for beginning with a plate of boquerones and having a classic tortilla." —Miller and Yarza of Donostia
Calle del Treinta y Uno de Agosto, 3, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain (+34 943 42 74 95)
"Everything is great here especially the seafood conservas (what else?). Love the timeless feel here." —Miller and Yarza of Donostia
C/ Pescadería, 5, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain (+34 943 42 22 27)
Insider tip: The folks at Donostia recommend you call ahead for reservations at most of the upscale restaurants.
"Beautiful area and a classic restaurant, where you must order the turbot." —Miller and Yarza of Donostia
Herrerieta Kalea, 2, 20808 Getaria, Gipuzkoa, Spain (+34 943 14 00 24)
"A truly serious experience." —Miller and Yarza of Donostia
Av Alcalde Elósegui, 273, 20015 San Sebastián-Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain (+34 943 27 84 65)
"Some serious American chef alums have staged here—badass chefs. This is pretty big time." —Miller and Yarza of Donostia
Paseo Padre Orcolaga, 56, 20008 San Sebastián, Gipuzkoa, Spain (+34 943 31 12 09)
"Here, you'll find 'the grill master of the world,' who's even grilling caviar," according to Miller and Yarza of Donostia. The Huertas team seconds this recommendation: "It's a Michelin-starred restaurant in the hills of Basque Country, about a 30-minute drive from San Sebastián. While it is almost impossible to find, they cook everything on an open flame, from baby octopus to vegetables and steak. The scenery, food and experience make it my favorite dining destination in Basque Country."
Plaza de San Juan, 1 48291 Atxondo, Bizkaia (+34) 946 58 30 42
"This is the place everyone wants to go in Gipuzkoa. Couples plan their weddings around having a meal here." —Miller and Yarza of Donostia
Aldura Aldea, 20, 20100 Errenteria, Gipuzkoa, Spain (+34 943 52 24 55)
Restaurante Martín Berasategui
Just one of the many "Michelin temples." —Miller and Yarza of Donostia
Calle de Loidi, 4, 20160 Lasarte-Oria, Gipuzkoa, Spain (+34 943 36 64 71)
Mercado de la Bretxa
"Nothing that will compare to Barcelona's Boqueria or even some of the neighborhood markets around Spain, but the modern Mercado de la Bretxa, housed in a beautiful old building, has a nice seafood section where you can check out the local catch." —Miller and Adler of Huertas
Boulevard Zumardia, 3, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
"Albeit touristy, it's certainly worth it to ride the funicular up to the vintage amusement park and take in the stunning views of the beach and city below." —Miller and Adler of Huertas
Two Day Trips
Go east: "One of my all-time favorite days was driving toward France, stopping at the seaside town of Pasaia de San Juan, walking through the small town and then along the shoreline path, stopping for a beer and a snack at the snack bar. Next, drive up the small mountain called Jaizkibel for an amazing vista, and then down the other side to the bordertown Hondarribia. Have a late lunch at the excellent Gran Sol taberna." —Miller and Adler of Huertas
Go west: "Drive the scenic coastal highway to Getaria and have lunch at the elegant and iconic Elkano. Try percebes, kokotxas and the turbot, gently grilled in custom baskets on the street behind the kitchen." —Miller and Adler of Huertas