Pintxos crawling off the beaten track in San Sebastian: The Gros district
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – San Sebastian has got to be one of my favourite places on the planet. With Michelin stars and Pintxos bars galore, the charm of the city’s Old Quarter (‘Parte Vieja‘) and a gorgeous city beach on its doorstep, it’s quite simply heaven on earth for any food and travel enthusiast out there. Ever since my first visit in 2011, I’ve been back here every year without fail for what’s now become an annual gastronomic pilgrimage I simply can’t get by without.
A proper crawl through the Pintxos hotspot of the Old Quarter is of course a must on any San Sebastian itinerary (I’ve covered Pintxos culture and some of my favourite bars in Parte Vieja extensively in a separate write up here). However, the more I revisit San Sebastian and explore its lesser known neighbourhoods, the more I realise there’s more to the city’s Pintxos scene than the jam-packed bars of the Old Quarter.
A short walk east across the Kursaal or Santa Catalina bridges from Parte Vieja, the Pintxos bars of Gros offer a much more laid back and local experience. Not only does the food rival that of the Old Quarter but you will have pleasure of meeting some of the friendliest locals and barmen around. On top of that, with Pintxos dishes and wines by the glass typically 10-20% cheaper than their counterparts in Old town, you get incredible value for money here.
Here are some of my favourite Pintxos bars in Gros for those of you looking to escape the crowds of Parte Vieja and crawl a little bit off the beaten track in San Sebastian.
Casa Senra (Calle de San Francisco, 32 | @casasenra)
Spacious, welcoming and with a huge variety of hot and cold dishes to choose from, Casa Senra is one of the Gros district’s most classic bars and my personal favourite in the neighbourhood. Make sure you order their signature baby squid dish (Txipiron plancha con pure castana). Chargrilled to smoky perfection and served with herb oil and a sweet, chestnut puree, it’s a fantastic little number that will give even the best dishes in Old Town a run for their money. The wide range of Croquetas are also a must – their classic Croqueta de Jamon is one of the best I’ve tasted in all of San Sebastian. You will be hard-pressed to find a crisper, meatier and creamier croquette elsewhere. Leave some space in your stomach for their terrific Tortilla de Bacalao too. Soft cooked and with generous amounts of salt cod flakes throughout, it is properly moreish and comforting!
Bar Bergara (Calle del General Artetxe, 8 | www.pinchosbergara.es)
This buzzing corner lot in the heart of Gros sports a modern, white counter-top and ample seating. Hand-sketched designs on the back wall and a friendly pictorial menu give a preview of the many hot and cold Pintxos on offer here. The star dish for me here is undoubtedly their Tomato Tartare “Hamburguesa”, served with bacalao, dates and peppers. The balance and harmony of flavours is just excellent. Txalupa – a puff-pastry ‘boat’-shaped case topped with creamy mushrooms, shrimp and gratinated cheese is another crowd favourite. I also particularly love their Pintxos-sized serving of Fideua here. Typically a main course found in the Catalan and Valencian regions, the characteristic short noodles are cooked in a flavoursome seafood stock and served in a rather clever, vintage tin can. There’s a excellent list of Spain’s best wines available both by the glass and bottle at reasonable prices too.
Bar Zabaleta (Zabaleta Kalea, 51 | @barzabaleta)
It’s all about the Tortilla here at Bar Zabaleta! A slice of the classic Spanish omelette here is so good, I reckon it rivals that of the legendary Bar Nestor on the other side of the river in Old Town. There’s a constant flow of Tortilla here too so there’s no fuss of having to reserve a slice ahead! Style-wise, it’s a little less runny, the potatoes are cut smaller & more cooked than Nestor’s. Totally delicious it still is, with that same caramelised and green onion goodness.
Xarma Cook & Culture (Miguel Imaz Kalea, 1 | www.xarmacook.com)
Hidalgo 56 (Paseo de Colón, 15 | www.hidalgo56.com)
Hidalgo 56, a Gros classic serves up some creative and tasty Pintxos. Their Morcilla ‘volcano’ is one of the dishes I crave most as soon as I set foot in San Sebastian. A house speciality made from black pudding, egg yolk & apple puree, it’s an explosion of bold, earthy and moreish flavours from the get go. For something a bit more delicate and fresher on the palate, try their Tomato & Anchovy Tartare. Another must-visit on any Pintxos crawl itinerary in the Gros district.
I’m already counting down the days to next year’s San Sebastian trip….