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Sep 17, 2007 05:42 AM

Best Places to Eat In Basque Region

I'm going to Bilbao in about 4 weeks. Can anyone tell me the best places to eat in Bilbao, San Sebastian and the surrounding basque villages?
Local haunts, haute cuisine and where the chefs hang out.

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  1. I just got back from Basque country yesterday. Just outside of the town of Haro, about half an hour, is a resort village called Ezcaray. There you will find the restaurants of Michelin starred chef, Francis Paniego's El Portal and his mother, Marisa Sanchez's Echaurren Tradicional. Both share the first floor of the Hotel Echaurren, both share the same kitchen, and both could not be more extremely different. I ate at both on consecutive nights, here's my take. Echaurren Tradicional is just what it sounds like, traditional dishes served in a comfortable space, decorated much the way you would expect a "mom" to do it, lots of florals and knick knacks. Much of the food is served as stews or braises. It's nothing mind-blowing, but it's good, solid food revered by the locals; definitely in 'local haunt' category. El Portal is completely different. They earned the first Michelin star in the region of Rioja in 2004. The room is modern and start, the cuisine is cutting edge, avant garde but with noticeable nods to the roots of his cooking, obviously to his mother. We had the tasting menu (70 euro), but most of the dishes served were also available ala carte. Don't miss the Tomato Tartare with 'Cigale' and Ajo Blanco. Both restaurants share the same Sommelier and wine list, he is a wealth of information and tends toward classic styles and sustainable agriculture.

    If you find yourself in San Sebastian, there TONS of places to grab tapas or pinchos. It's easy to hop around and have a bite at several stops. Make sure you have a glass of Txacoli, it's easier to blend with the locals if you have one in hand. Try to find Bar Borda-Berri, the address is Fermin Calbeton 12. It's not very crowded (because it's new) and the counters are not covered in pre-made dishes (because almost all of it is made to order). These are the most creative bites I had on my whole trip, don't go without trying Foie Gras a la Plancha con Coco... I've never had anything like it!

    If you have a chance to explore wineries around Haro, put Lopez de Heredia at the top of your list. One of the last few wineries using ultra-traditional methods. The caves are immense, the spiders and mold are everywhere and the wines are stunningly beautiful. It's Rioja the way it used to be... without the glam and flash of modern architecture and Parker ratings.

    Have a blast and bring a sweater, it gets cold at night and no one eats dinner before 10pm!!!

    2 Replies
      1. re: aperitif

        I'm also heading to Basque country in early November, but am on a really limited budget as I quit my job and am living off savings. Did you find anything absolutely wonderful and cheap, particularly in San Sebastian?

      2. I just posted the video a few below titled "tapas". definatly look for the place featured there (its where all the locals in the know go). Just roll around old town... you'll find it.

        1. San Sebastian and Bilbao are two best places for pinxtos. Many good ones are in the old part of both cities so just wander and eat what looks good. Move to the next one if one is not happy. The Basque area probably has more great restaurants than any other parts of Spain. They include Arzak, Martin Berasategui, Akelare, Mugaritz and Zuberova. A current favorite among chefs is Etxebarri in a little village outside of of San Sebastian.

          1 Reply
          1. re: PBSF

            Agree whole-heartedly on San Sebastian. Many, many pinxtos bars worth going to. Txacoli is a must. Suggest you started out at somewhere big like Victor Montes. Of the big restaurants I really liked Martin Berasategui and Akelare. Arzak was good but a bit disappointing for me.

          2. La Cuchara de San Telmo was hands down my favorite stop in San Sebastien. Innovative and delicious tapas made to order at prices that you should feel guilty about. 3.2 E for a huge chunk of foie with apple puree. The size of which would anchor a $15-$20 app anywhere in the states.

            Seared sweetbreads, duck breast with figs, Tempura cod with tomato confit... just really cool and delicious food all for about 3 E a plate.

            1. Thanks everyone. Anything in Barcelona or Bilbao?

              1 Reply
              1. re: indulgence

                The old part of Bilbao has the best pinxtos. The restaurant in the Guggenheim is terrific and not expensive. There are many posts on this board on Barcelona.