There’s something for everyone in the cosmopolitan city of San Sebastian. There’s history and culture, great surfing, nightlife, relaxing beaches and, with the second-highest number of Michelin stars per square metre (behind Kyoto), you’d better believe it’s a magnet for foodies too.
Nestled on the Basque coast, seafood is king here, but the region is also very passionate about its meat. Many of the best places to eat in San Sebastian are pint-sized pintxos joints or Michelin-starred seafood restaurants. But there are also great plant-based spots and options for every budget.
Before we get to the best restaurants in San Sebastian, let’s take a look at its neighbourhoods. The first port of call for most visitors is the Old Town (Parta Vieja), with its sunny plazas, colourful, narrow streets overlooked by balconies, and the port. Not to mention the scent of pintxos drifting around every corner. Abutting this is the popular La Concha beach area. This picturesque sandy bay, backed by a grand esplanade, is a top attraction for swimming, surfing and sunbathing. At the other end of the esplanade is another beach, golden-sand Ondarreta, behind which lies the historic Antiguo district. The well-heeled area is home to traditional establishments serving Basque cuisine, as well as a funicular leading up to Monte Igueldo for a spectacular sunset view. Gros is the cool surfing neighbourhood with vibrant nightlife, budget-friendly eateries and a stunning beach – Zurriola – where you’ll catch the best waves. On the same side of the river, Egia is the arty district home to the Tabakalera – a cigarette factory turned cultural exhibition space – and a maze of charming streets with local bars and restaurants. Furthest from the beach is Amara, a residential neighbourhood with tree-lined boulevards, second-hand markets, the football stadium and a riverside esplanade.
This unassuming and petite corner bar has a reputation as one of the best places to eat in San Sebastián for fresh pintxos. Snap up an outdoor table and watch the evening’s events unfold as you sip on wine and sample octopus, hake, creamy risotto and suckling pig. The portions are large and hearty, the atmosphere jovial, and the prices blissfully low.
While the name holds little charm, Bar Sport is a traditional Basque eating experience that’s especially popular with locals. You’ll find it packed out, with people perched on high tables and stood at the bar admiring the groaning counter of pintxos. It got its reputation for its friendly atmosphere, very reasonable prices, and melt-in-your-mouth dishes that will draw you back here every night.
Nearby Goiz Argi is another standing or perching only affair, a tiny sliver of a bar that’s perennially popular for its seafood pintxos. Anchovies, octopus, cuttlefish, prawns, sardines, salmon… you name it, they serve it. To top it off, it’s at the heart of a quintessential old town street that leads to a glorious plaza.
Over in trendy Gros, La Bodega Donostiarra is another seafood sensation, with a colourful interior and a bustling outdoor seating area. The walls are lined with strings of garlic, huge jamón ibérico and bottles of wine. This place is a purveyor of many fine Basque specialities, from cod and hake to fuet and black pudding, scallops, tortilla and even pig snout. The towering prawn-and-octopus skewers are sure to make your jaw drop and your mouth water.
What could be better than jumping off your surfboard and stumbling upon a reasonably priced spot just steps from the shore? Norta Gros Beach House has a cool, laid-back interior complete with nautical décor, foosball table and pool table. Come here for brunch, lunch or cocktails as well as burgers, tostadas and poke bowls. You’ll find both veggie and vegan options, making it a great option for a mixed group.
If you delight in the simple things, you’ll be drawn to Cervecerías La Mejillonera, located near the harbour in the old town. It’s a typical narrow pintxos bar with tiled walls and wooden counters, and your meal will probably consist of cold beer, platefuls of mussels, squid and patatas bravas. It’s not a serene, sit-down experience, but the locals love the brashness and the speed of the service, not to mention the prices.
What with it being famed for meat and fish, you might think that San Sebastian restaurants wouldn’t cater to a plant-based diet. But this is one of the most innovative culinary cities in Europe, and good food thrives in all its guises. Start your day with vegan baked goods from trendy seafront spot The Loaf, or head to Old Town Coffee for reportedly the best coffee in the city, plus pastries, bowls and toasts. Kafe Botanika is an Instagrammable spot where plant-based delights are served under a dense canopy of greenery. It offers mouth-watering cakes, bakes and breakfasts, as well as mains and even jazz gigs in the evenings. Head to Egia neighbourhood favourite Garraxi Taberna to sample their four-course lunch menu for under €15. This San Sebastian restaurant is 100% vegetarian, serving up dishes so delectable that even non-veggies will drool. Two more favourites are seafront star Fresh Green for rainbow salads, bowls, burgers and tapas, and Mapa Verde with its pretty interior and even prettier food. If you’re in the old town with a sweet craving, make a beeline for La Viña to sample their infamous cheesecake (vegetarian) or head to nearby Maiatza for a vegan take on the city’s favourite dessert.
It seems remiss not to mention Michelin-starred venues in a city that has so many. The crème de la crème are top-notch trio Arzak, Akelarre and Martín Berasategui, with three stars apiece. Arzak is a chic, out-of-town restaurant presenting dishes almost too pretty to eat. Mugaritz is an experimental Michelin-starred experience set in the hills, with a thoroughly unconventional approach to haute cuisine. Mirador de Ulía has one Michelin star and, at the affordable end of the scale, is a good option for entry-level haute cuisine. It also overlooks one of the best views of the city, promising exceptional flavours and an unrivalled vista at night.