If gastronomy in the Basque Country is an art, then one of its principal masterpieces is the pintxo.
What is a Pintxo?
A pintxo, pronounced pin-cho, is a bite-sized appetizer offered in restaurants and bars, they are a reflection of Basque cuisine and culture. Served hot or cold, simple or elaborate – the pintxo and the culture that surrounds it epitomize the Basque love for food, social gatherings and tradition.
The pintxo itself is ever changing — influenced by trends, it constantly innovates and reinvents itself – every bar and restaurant has its own specialty from the classics like tortilla de patata on a slice of crusty baguette (Spanish potato omelette), grilled mushrooms, or anchovies, olives, tuna and peppers on a toothpick (pintxo refers to being pinched or pierced by a toothpick) to more elaborate renditions of foie gras, grilled prawns or beef cheeks. Imagination, creativity and quality ingredients create a diverse banquet of flavors and textures that await you. Many visitors are overwhelmed with the choices offered, where to begin, what to choose and when to finish.
Bilbao offers numerous areas for visitors to try pintxos – not all pintxos are created equal. We’ve provided recomendations for popular areas for you to explore. Locals will go from bar to bar for a tasting of each of their favourites.
Pintxos in the Old Town
Perhaps one of the most well known areas for pintxos, is the Casco Viejo or old town, where visitors will find many taverns and bars on the pedestrian streets. Ir de potes, is a local expression which means to bar hop from locale to locale having one drink and one pintxo in each place. It is a favorite pastime between groups of friends who will often meet up in the early evenings or late morning to get together and grab a bite or several!
Typical drinks to accompany pintxos are short pours of red (tinto) or white (rueda or albarino), zurito (shot of beer) or caña (beer on tap) to keep the pallet wet while enjoying the ambiance and company. In the Casco Viejo look for La Plaza Nueva, Somera, La Calle del Perro and Santa Maria, all bustling areas where the locals will seek out fried calamari (rabas), croquetas, champinones (grilled mushrooms), tortillas, peppers, bacalao or tigres (mussles in a spicy tomato sauce) among others. Don’t expect to find a lot of places to sit down. Locals will eat standing at the bar or outside in the street if the weather is nice.
In the Plaza Nueva each bar has its own outside seating, if you sit in an outside area, be sure to order food from the same establishment, the waiters are very protective over their turf. Favorites include Victor Montes, Café Bar Bilbao and Gure toki.
In Plaza Unamuno, look for grilled mushrooms from Bacaicoa and in María Muñoz, other long standing establishments include Baste and Muga.
Nearby you will find the street Iturribide, filled with taverns and further on Calle Somera which also has a selection of places to check out.
On Calle Santa María you’ve got to try the croquetas and fried calamari (rabas) at Txiriboga or the bacalao pintxos at Gatz, both award winning favorites. On Calle Jardines you will find great embutidos and jamon at Sasibil and Berton. On Calle del Perro you will find several traditional bars like Río Oja and Xukela; and on Calle Askao the well known traineras (mini baguettes served with omelettes or stir fry) and txapelas (mini-baguettes baked in the oven) of Askao Berri go great with a beer.
Pintxos in Indautxu
Next to the financial district in the center of town, is a long street called Licenciado Poza, called “Pozas” it is lined with some of the best bars and is popular with locals. This area is extremely popular during soccer games and on the weekends. Bitoque, an establishment that has won several pintxos awards in the past has its original location near here. Izaro, known for making the best tortilla de patata (Spanish omelette) in the province is worth a visit.
In addition to this there are dozens of locales with great food in miniature to choose from, check out the foie pintxo at New Or Konpon, Bilbao Loop Cafe, Bowie, El Huevo Berria, El Busterri, La Dolce Vita, El Mesón Kopon, El Huevo Frito or Murgi Ardo Txoko for great wines or Ziripot for their anchovy or quail egg pintxos.
Pintxos Around the Gran Via
This principal artery of the city is where the financial and commercial district is found. Along the main street you will find clusters of bars frequented during the weekdays by the working crowd and shoppers. Around midday many office workers will flock to the bars for a glass of wine or two before heading to their favorite restaurant for a menu del dia (menu of the day), a three-course lunch set at a reasonable price available from Monday to Friday. Lunch is the main meal of the day in the Basque Country and if you sit down at a restaurant expect to choose from a selection of fresh meat, seafood and produce. Bars will also get busy during happy hour after work for a pintxo and a drink.
You can also head to Calle Ledesma, a pedestrian street filled with taverns and always busy during happy hour. Worth checking out are Antomar, Ledesma, La Taberna Taurina, El Artajo, el Molinillo etc.
Finally two famous meeting points, and also some of the oldest bars in Bilbao are Café Iruña, where locals go to admire the half Andaluz, and half morrocan ambiance while enjoying the typical pincho moruno (coal roasted lamb kebab). And La Granja, near Plaza Circular, this emblematic bar is remenicent of an old French café. La Granja has free WIFI, hosts events and serves the local specialty talo con chorizo during the week.
Pintxos in Diputacion Street
Calle Diputacion is a hot spot for social life, places like Lasa, El Globo, La Viña del Ensanche serve great jamon and hot pintxos, or check out Los Candiles (ask for a tortilla de patata with onion) bars are usually bustling and frequented by locals.
Most pintxos are served standing or at the bar, for a sit-down meal, check out Shopping in Bilbao.