The best restaurants in Bilbao

And the tastiest local specialities

Bilbao is a city for culture vultures and foodies, home to the Guggenheim and a host of other galleries and museums. Its streets are lined with fascinating architecture – quaint, old and ultra-modern – and Basque cuisine is held in high esteem. It’s also only a stone’s throw from the verdant coastline.

We’ve put together some of the best restaurants in Bilbao for your city break, catering to every taste and budget. Find out where to sample the best pintxos (the region’s answer to tapas), how to do fine dining on a budget, and the best Bilbao restaurants for plant-based grub.

Bilbao districts

Before we head out on a Bilbao restaurant search, you’ll first want to get to grips with the city. Abando is one of the most attractive and popular areas, home to the famous Guggenheim Museum, some intriguing outdoor art installations and a glorious walk along the banks of the river. You’ll also find a lot of beautiful residential architecture, sun-drenched streets with shady pockets of green, modern shopping arcades, and a huge variety of cuisine, both local and global, rubbing shoulders. Just south of Abando, Bilbao La Vieja (or “Bilbi”) is a hip district packed with cool cocktail bars, craft beer joints, markets, street art and live music. Bilborock, a former church turned indie concert hall, is one of the fashionable venues here, but you’ll also find plenty of nightclubs and gay-friendly bars open till (very) late.

Pop to the other side of the river for the city’s medieval old town, Casco Viejo. You’ll find a healthy helping of museums, a beautiful cathedral, and narrow cobbled streets lined with sand-coloured buildings whose delicate wooden balconies overflow with flowers and laundry. Plaza Nueve is the culinary highlight – a bustling square lined with some of the best restaurants in Bilbao and packed with visitors every evening. Other areas include Indautxu (near Abando) for a vibrant nightlife and modern art scene, Deusto, the student area near the university – a good call for cheap eats – and Santutxu, a very local and residential area with plenty of tucked-away bars and eateries.

Best for drinks and nights out: Bilbao La Vieja

Best for cosy and romantic dates: Casco Viejo

1. Bistró Guggenheim

Since you’ll probably be paying a visit to the famous museum, why not stop for a bite too? This is no stuffy museum café: it’s got a terrace with one of the best views of any restaurant in Bilbao, a designer vibe, excellent service and an exquisite wine list. Plus, you’ll be able to get two or three courses for under €30 (unlike the Michelin-starred restaurant downstairs at the Guggenheim – which is obviously worth a visit if it’s in budget). The cuisine is Basque with a contemporary twist and changes with the season, as does the beautiful light and the view across the river.

Vibe: Fine dining on a budget

What to order: The set menu for great value

2. Gure Toki

Meaning “our place” in Basque, Gure Toki is one of the top reasonably priced bars to get pintxos in the old town, situated right on the hopping Plaza Nueva. Pintxos (sometimes called pinchos in Spanish) are small bite-sized morsels usually eaten alongside a beer or a glass of wine, and they’re tremendously popular in the region. Sit outside or inside this cosy bar, grab a glass of your favourite tipple and order a bit of this and a mouthful of that. When you’re done, order a few more pintxos until you’re full and ready for bed, or head to the next venue and do a “pintxos crawl”.

Vibe: Cosy and casual with great people-watching

What to order: Croquetas, jamón and/or seafood

3. Café Iruña

A visit to Café Iruña is as much about the jaw-dropping, Moorish-inspired interior as the food itself. Running since the 1900s, this elegant coffee shop is a cavern of dreamy tiles and rich paintings hanging on the walls. It offers coffee and cakes during the day, a reasonably priced menú del día (three courses for less than €20) and late-night delights from the grill, for those in need of a lamb kebab before they pop home. Locals often cite this as one of the best restaurants in Bilbao.

Vibe: Photogenic, storied and cosy

What to order: Topped toasts or a pintxos menu for a variety of miniature dishes

4. Víctor Montes

Víctor Montes is no hidden gem, so it’s best to book ahead if you plan on sampling the regional dishes such as bacalao al pil-pil (fried cod with herbs and garlic) or acorn-fed pork fillet. This Bilbao restaurant also serves delights such as octopus carpaccio, spider crab croquettes, wild red tuna and T-bone steak – all of it presented beautifully. Behind the opulent shop front is a gorgeous interior, with black-and-white marble floors, marble tables, and a back wall lined with vintage whiskeys and cognacs. As you can imagine, it’s not the cheapest spot for an evening out, but the food, setting and atmosphere rather justify the price tag. It’s also open for breakfast if you’re staying nearby.

Vibe: Elegant, romantic, upscale

What to order: Spider crab croquettes, cod loin al pil-pil, homemade black pudding

5. Casa Rufo

What started life as a local food store in the 1950s has since become a deli/restaurant with quite the following. Casa Rufo’s colourful interior definitely has old-fashioned charm, with tables tucked in between walls lined with canned goods, local cured meats, cheeses, honey and the shop’s own wine. You can shop while you dine, tucking into anchovies, baked cod and reportedly the best chuletones (beef steaks) in Bilbao.

Vibe: Casual, cosy, friendly

What to order: Chuletones, Basque inky squid (txipirones) or smoked cod

6. La Viña del Ensanche

Another relic of days gone by, La Viña del Ensanche was founded in the 1920s and, apart from a few updates here and there, its wood-panelled interior has barely changed. It serves wine, beer and pintxos, with top choices including the toasted bread topped with cured Iberian ham, croquetas or tuna tartare. If you can’t choose, simply tuck into the seven-dish tasting menu. This place gets packed with locals and tourists all perching around the wooden bar for a vermouth and the renowned ham – which you can also see hanging above the bar. Top marks for old-world, authentic charm.

Vibe: Local, authentic, lively

What to order: Tasting menu, pork on ciabatta, Iberian pork cheek and mashed potato

Vegan restaurant options

Eating vegan in Spain, and particularly in the Basque country – the spiritual home of meat and seafood – isn’t always easy. But there are plenty of Bilbao restaurants to try if you’re in the know. Bohemian Lane Pastelería is a highly rated bakery and cake shop overflowing with delectable vegan sweet treats. Amorino, just opposite the Guggenheim, is the place to stop for vegan ice-cream (available in a rainbow of flavours), while Txarloska is another much-loved plant-based bakery. La Camelia is a popular, 100% vegan café/restaurant serving salads, sushi, bowls and sharing plates, as well as vegan burgers in the intimate interior. Other popular evening spots include colourful Garibolo restaurant and Txukrut vegan bar, with a varied menu featuring tacos, pasta dishes and other hearty mains. Those in a group might fancy a Bilbao restaurant that caters to both veggies and meat-eaters: Bar La Muga is a charming spot serving pintxos, burgers and tacos to please all palates and dietary requirements. It’s also open for food till rather late.

Vibe: Vegan restaurants here tend to be casual and friendly

What to order: Plant-based pintxos for a Basque experience

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