San Sebastián: Michelin Meals, Perfect Pintxos, and Seaside Strolls

When my sister and I set out to plan our trip to Spain, there was one spot that both of us knew was a must-visit: San Sebastián. We were both aware of Basque country’s reputation as one of the world’s top “foodie” (cringe) destinations, so it was always going to be essential for us to make a stop.

While I’ll get to the food – as if I would not! – let’s start with San Sebastián itself. Truth is, there isn’t a ton to “do” in San Sebastián, but I was charmed by how lovely it was. The city is perched on the sea, and the waterfront is spectacular at all times of day: whether it involves waves crashing on the shore during the perfect golden hour, or rough seas rollicking under stormy clouds.

Beyond time spent at the beach, we didn’t do much other than wander; we wandered through the harbor dotted with fishing boats, across the many bridges criss-crossing the river, and up and down the quiet streets of the old town. San Sebastián is a pleasant city, and I don’t mean that in a backhanded compliment sort of way. It really is just nice.

Now, on to the main event: the food! San Sebastián is known for its incredible concentration of Michelin star restaurants, and the region as a whole is renowned for top notch cuisine, Michelin or not. Suffice it to say, we were pumped. Our first meal was at Narru. While Narru doesn’t have a Michelin star, what it does have is awesome food for good value: we had a 32 euro apiece lunch tasting menu, which came with three courses, plus bread, water, coffee, and an entire bottle of wine to split. For my meal, I had pasta with Iberian pork to start, roasted Cantabrian tuna for my main, and brioche butter toast with coffee ice cream to finish.

Our first Michelin experience was at Kokotxa, which has one Michelin star. Located in old town San Sebastián, this restaurant featured a wonderful ambiance and attentive service. Oh, and, great food. Some of my favorite dishes here? A soft shell crab with coconut milk (probably my favorite part of the meal); the fish of the day with avocado, daikon, and lime; and the dessert of tomato raspberry, tonka bean, and curd ice cream.

Our big splurge meal of the trip was Akelarre, the owner of 3 Michelin stars (the most a restaurant can have). Perched high up in the mountains, Akelarre features impeccable service and menus you can tell were designed with incredible thought and attention to detail. Some of my favorite courses (below, clockwise from top left) included crackers with “diabolical butter” (butter mixed with goat cheese); a tasty squid atop venere rice (a variety of rice with a naturally black color); roasted pig with a “bone” that was made of sugar but filled with marrow (so intriguing!); and the gin and tonic on a plate. As to the last one, my sister and I were both truly wowed by this dish: it really did taste like a pure gin and tonic. We couldn’t stop marveling over it.

San Sebastián is also known for its pintxos culture, aka the Basque form of tapas. On our last night in town, we put together a miniature pintxos crawl of our own. I have to admit that I myself have not quite mastered the art of pintxos, as I have trouble muscling my way to the front of the bar, and I always feel like I order the wrong thing. Ah, well, when in Rome San Sebastián.

Overall, I was pleased with what a rich destination San Sebastián was, both in terms of the cuisine and the gorgeous seaside landscapes. If you love good food, it’s not to be missed.

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