"A pintxo should be eye-catching, original,
and petite enough to eat in two bites"In a city known for its Michelin Stared restaurants, we favored the more affordable, but no less appreciated haute cuisine of the region - Pintxos. The highly regarded Basque style tapas reign as a collection of mini masterpieces lining bar counter tops in most notably the city's historic district. The atmospheric Parte Vieja (Old Town) encompasses tiny charming streets limited to those on foot, where the most common activity is gallivanting from one pintxos bar to the next.
Among lively crowded spaces, the amicable bartenders nod to locals and welcome out of towers. The tab is on the honor system. A spirited pintxos crawl kicks off an evening that turns into a party in the street, which might lead to playing slots at the small unassuming casino, making friends over darts and beers, and hitting up a seemingly hidden discotheque till the wee hours. It's an enticing scene as a whole, the pintxos alone are reason enough to embark on a bar crawl even if you decide to call it an early night. (You likely won't want to.)One of my favorite traditional pintxos is a briny melt in your mouth oil and vinegar marinated anchovy woven with a spicy pimento pepper, speared on a toothpick with a juicy green olive, topped with a colorful confetti of finely diced onions and peppers, and bathing in a vat of golden olive oil. Pintxos are a highly adored cuisine for their impeccable attention to detail, both in taste and presentation. A tuna stuffed piquillo pepper here, a thin slice each of jamon, pimento and a hard boiled egg stacked gracefully on on a toasted baguette there, followed up by a cube of cod fish sandwiched by pickle halves dusted with peppers and onions, and you've got yourself a meal. Wash it all down with a glass of Txtakoli, the fizzy white wine of the region notorious for its dramatic pour. Sparkling wine streams out of an emerald green bottle from nearly a foot above the glass, it is poured this way to aerate the wine for optimal taste. Move onto the next bar and prepare to do it all over again, and again, until your feeling sufficiently full and buzzed. Pictured at a local "sports" bar where everyone was playing pool or darts. Our crawl one night started first with a glass of Cava and then Estrellas on draft at A Fuegro Negro - a stark contemporary black and red space amongst a slew of traditional wooden clad tavernas. Here we consumed your average bar snacks of bocadillos and tortillas, but longed for some of the modern pinxtos detailed on the chalkboard menu. Unfortunately we wandered in before the kitchen was open for dinner. We quickly learned that even the "average" bar snack around here are pretty sensational.
We popped into Casa Vergara for chorizo sausage and crouquetas and were warmly embraced by Bar Gambara where the pulpo de gallega - octopus dusted in rock salt, paprika and olive oil delighted. After that point, I officially lost track of bar names.That's the great thing about a Pintxos crawl, wander into any one that appeals to you and you're pretty much guaranteed a reasonably priced excellent bite of food. Same goes for the glass of wine.At least, that was our experience. There are definitely beloved spots and many we had read about and researched, but in the end, wandering into the unknown, maybe even unnamed spot proved to be just as rewarding as seeking out the recommended. Inside a traditional pintxos bar on Calle 31 de Agosta we feasted some more and drank a glass or two of Rioja, the ever reliable red wine choice. You also might want to wander into the Basilica of Santa Maria at some point, or at the very least, you'll notice it along your crawls. It stands as an impressive 18th Century Baroque church at 46 Calle 31 de Agosto. Just when I thought I had experienced Spanish nightlife to the fullest in Madrid, and ate some of the best cuisine of life to date in Barcelona, I traveled to San Sebastian where the two merged in extraordinary fashion. The dreamer in me imagined what it would be like to take up permanent residence (the beaches playing a huge part), while my younger self wished I studied abroad here (stemmed after we hung out with kids from England spending a semester in town, naturally) while my still not rational self is planning a trip back when I win the lottery so I can afford to eat at restaurants like Akelare and Arzak. Otherwise, I remain beyond content with the city as I experienced it; my affections for San Sebastian run deep.