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Our picks: San Sebastian

Over the years we have shared countless times with Cuca’s customers our favourite restaurants from every city we know. The truth is that people in search of the tastiest food from around the world seem to trust chefs’ picks when choosing food, and since everyone asks our humble opinion, we have decided to start a proper “Our Picks” section where we give you our recommendations on where and what to eat.  Go ahead, try for yourself and share these lists as you please, but just because we may help you find a new favourite, please don’t forget about your first love, Cuca!

A pilgrimage for foodies and an absolute “must” for all those in search of delicious things, San Sebastian is one of the most respected gastronomic destinations and boasts more Michelin star restaurants per square kilometer than any other city on earth. The first three restaurants on our list below are some of the world’s best and will need to be booked well in advance. If this is not possible, a great trick is to try and get your hotel concierge to test his luck and see if there are any last-minute cancelations to slot you in. But… the magic of San Sebastian is the small Pintxos or snack bars that explode with life and reflect the incredible traditional cooking of the area. Please remember these Pintxos bars are designed to be just that, a few bites and a drink (not a full meal), and on to the next. The idea is to experience an evening wandering around and enjoying a tasting dining adventure like no other. Let the games begin!

Asador Etxebarri
Until today this is quite possibly the best meal we have ever eaten. The chef is a specialist in cooking with fire and a pioneer in his concept going as far as to customize incredible equipment to do so. Using the best ingredients of Spain, simple full-flavored dishes are expertly executed with simplicity and precision. A very hard table to get, book way ahead or pray.
Price: $$$$$
What to order: Tasting menu.

Arzak
I worked here for a year, so I am extremely biased on how good is Arzak. What I truly love about this place is even though the food is ultra creative, theatrical and unique, it always remains deeply delicious. The magic is in the staff who have been working here for decades and deliver a very rare unpretentious casual version of a 3 Michelin star meal. Brilliant!
Price: $$$$$
What to order: Tasting menu + wine pairing if possible as the sommelier is one of the best in Europe.

Azurmendi
Located in Bilbao area, just an hour drive from San Sebastian. With 3 Michelin stars, this place is set in a spectacular building that focuses on the experience of a unique and delicious food journey. The Basque chef Eneko Atxa is one of the most talented in all of Spain and his food is very focused on its ingredients, which he grows on site or is deeply involved with.
Price: $$$$$
What to order: Tasting Menu.

Portuetxe Erretegia
With a mouthful of a name, this place is an absolute gem that we only recently discovered from a team of Basque chefs. Described to us as a temple of grilled seafood, this old school eatery has been doing it perfectly for over 40 years. What makes this place stand out from all the rest is this is where locals eat. Located off the beaten track and outside of the city center, it is an incredible way to experience the best of traditional Basque cooking. Superb!
Price: $$$
What to eat: grilled fish.

Bergara Bar
My favorite place for Pintxos is located outside of the Parte Vieja (old quarter) and in a quieter neighborhood, making it easier to grab a table and eat a meal without the noise, fighting, standing and frustration of the others. This place is legendary in San Sebastian and specializes in very detailed prize-winning pintxos and proper service. What is sitting atop the bar is incredible, but they also have a menu of hot food made to order direct from the kitchen that most forget about, or simply don’t know exists.
Price: $$$
What to order: txalupa of mushrooms, king prawns and cava.

Ganbara bar
Another very busy spot and for good reason. Here the bar is piled high with artfully decorated pintxos that look like artfully decorated cakes in a fancy French patisserie. When you dream of perfect classic Spanish food bars, this one sets the standards pretty high and is a must-visit to check off the list in any evening’s food tour.
Price: $$
What to order: The specialty is Txangurro (spider crab) prepared in various styles, all are very good.

Bar Txepetxa
This place is a specialist in Anchovies. I know what you may be thinking, but you have never had them quite like this. Experts from around the globe claim these are the best they have ever eaten, and the wall adorned with photos of the world’s greatest chefs devouring them may help prove the point. A compulsory stop and a must for foodies, the dishes range from the traditional to the unusual (with combinations like salted fish with blackberry jam) and are all made fresh from the kitchen. There are wood replicas on the bar of what’s what, making it easy to choose and navigate success.
Price: $$
What to order: Matrimonio, which is the combination of a salted and a pickled anchovy on toast.

Bar Gandarias
This is a temple for good food with a team of smiling, eager staff ready to help, which is a breath of fresh air after being ignored in most others. Bar Gandarias has a solid reputation that will delight true gourmets and a great place to eat all the classics you don’t want to miss.
Price: $$
What to order: Solomillo with peppers on bread.

La Viña Bar
The best cheesecake in the world, period. This is the place that invented the Basque cheesecake and is the inspiration for cafes and restaurants around the world serving it. We think it is indeed the perfect last stop at the end of the night before you head to bed. The just baked, still warm, delicate soft center and charred exterior cheesecake make for a mildly sweet, subtle, ridiculous version of the classic. Portions are big so do share but don’t worry, it always gets finished!
Price: $
What to order: Cheesecake slice