6. Bar Nestor
The T-shirts pretty much say it all. Steak, tomatoes and peppers are the trinity at Bar Nestor, which has been in San Sebastian’s Old Town since 1980. The space centers on a wood bar and crazy decor, which includes a New York Yankees helmet and baseball balanced on the scales of justice, a shark head, an English style red phone booth, and framed soccer jerseys on the walls and ceiling. Piece together your a la carte meal starting with tomato salad with Méngibar olive oil, a few drops of balsamic vinegar and finishing Maldon sea salt. Padron Peppers are prepared a la plancha and finished with sea salt. If you order their famed Chuleton, a server will present a choice of three-week, dry-aged steaks. Your steak sears a la plancha and is served on sizzling cast iron with a fatty melting rim and dusting of Maldon sea salt. Bar Nestor busts out a single tortilla Española daily at 1 pm and 8 pm. This amazing, thin omelet cradles caramelized onions. It’s worth arriving an hour before each release time to score a taste, since every slice is spoken for in advance and disappears in under 10 minutes.
MUST ORDER: Chuleton, Padron Peppers, Tomato Salad, Tortilla Española
Josecho Marañon, wife Mari Carmen and their son Manuel Marañon have specialized in marinated anchovy preparations for over 60 years. Their Old Town space features high-top tables, a wood bar sporting plasticized versions of dishes, a la a Japanese restaurant, and ferns frame the ceiling’s perimeter. Zach Galifianakis, host of “Between Two Ferns,” would no doubt feel at home. Photos of famous patrons line the wall, including Glenn Glose, Ian McKellen and a young Ewan McGregor, but the primary interest is the anchovy. Twin anchovy-shaped menus line the wall, touting anchovy toasts topped with ingredients like trout roe, crema de centolla (snow crab) and pink sea urchin eggs. These toasts are a great snack.
MUST ORDER: Anchovy Toast with Sea Urchin Eggs, Anchovy Toast with Snow Crab, Anchovy Toast with Trout Roe, Bacalao Toast with Garlic Cream
8. Borda Berri
You won’t find pintxos on the counter at this tiny bar from Iñaki Gulín and Marc Clua. That means limited food traffic and makes Borda Berri more of a destination. The space features mottled yellow walls, photos of old homes, and a wood bar with stone front and copper railing. Modern music is Borda Berri’s soundtrack, including Massive Attack’s “Paradise Circus.” They have Entrecot with mustard sauce and arugula, but Borda Berri excels at lesser known cuts, including ears, lips and cheeks. For instance, Kallos de Bakalao al Pil-Pil features sticky, gelatinous cod tripe on bed of cauliflower puree. Carrillera de Ternera al Vino Tinto consists of rich braised veal cheeks plated with plum puree and oil of parsley and garlic. If you prefer less progressive fare, thick, crispy octopus arms rest in membrillo, mayo and herb oil.
MUST ORDER: Carrillera de Ternera al Vino Tinto, Entrecot con Mostaza y Rucola, Kallos de Bakalao al Pil-Pil, Polpo a la Plancha con Membrillo
9. Casa Urola
Since 1956, this dual purpose establishment has featured a marble bar facing the street, with a restaurant upstairs. The bar features wood counters along the wall with yellow stools, wood tables, and blackboard menus. Their namesake pintxo, the Urola, fills a spoon with lobster, frisee, tomato, mayo, a drizzle of red lobster innards and bursting salmon eggs. Vieira con Crema de Ajo Blanco y Vinagreta de Cafe is a thick almond and garlic soup from Málaga, garnished iwth crispy basil. Alcachofa y Lardo is another powerhouse plate with artichoke, lardo, artichoke sauce, chard and almond praline sauce.
MUST ORDER: Alcachofa y Lardo, Urola, Vieira con Crema de Ajo Blanco y Vinagreta de Cafe
10. Farmers Market at Les Halles de St Jean-De Luz
St Jean-De Luz is a charming town just across the French border, but still in Basque Country. On Friday mornings, the area’s leading culinary artisans ring Halles De Saint Jean De luz, the city’s historic food hall, and set up stalls to sell their wares. Cheesemakers bring big wheel’s of sheep’s milk cheese, each stamped with a proprietary mark. Meat mavens shave slices of locally famous Bayonne ham and sell lobes of foie gras. You’ll also find seasonal vegetables and an impressive array of breads and pastries, some unique to the region.
MUST ORDER: Bayonne Ham, Bread, Foie Gras, Sheep’s Milk Cheese