Donosti Dining Update, Vol III

New spots in San Sebastián are opening at a pace faster than I can cover them. Overall, the places tend to be Spanish riffs on global trends, from coffee snob spots to all-day kitchens with ambiguous international menus, which is a bit disappointing. However, I am committed to cutting through the noise and the Pinterest knockoffs to find the gems out there.

For those of you curious as to how this works, you should know I head off to new places with the idea of slotting them here. However, if a place pleasantly surprises me, instead of appearing in the Donosti Dining Update, it will get its own post. You should also know I pay for my meals and don’t mention my intentions when I head off to dine.  For a key to the slightly unconventional rating system, scroll down to the bottom of the post.  The first edition was here, the second here, and here goes number three, a Gros-centric edition.

the exterior of khaki campbell, in gros

the exterior of khaki campbell, in gros


This new spot in Gros aspires to hip international greatness. Somewhat inexplicably, the menu is divided into snacks, traditional plates, 'farm and flavor', Mexican plates, and Italian ones. The decor is really cozy, with wood-and-pipe furniture by Batlló Concept. 50 cent glasses of wine are advertised on a board outside. There's a DIY salad bar. There's a lot going on.

So when I stopped in to eat a few times, I wanted to try to capture a little bit of everything. The salmorejo (above) is another good litmus test for a bar, along with the croquettes (below). The salmorejo was outstanding, with a fine presentation that was both practical and not stuffy, its neat little dish of ham and eggs served alongside a generous bowl of chilled soup.

The croquetas were just fine.

One of the waiters could not be bullied into telling me a single dish to order, but the second one made it up to me by neatly suggesting his favorite plates from each category.  He suggested these pimientos de piquillo stuffed with squid (a plate of for for 10€). They were quite good, above all thanks to the rich sauce covering them. 

I couldn't help but order something from the Mexican menu, ugh, I'm such a sucker. We ordered the cochinita pibil, which came in little flour tortillas with a side of avocado and pico de gallo. Well....the meat was tender but the dish could benefit greatly by a little detail or two (pickled onion? something green?) and the 'guacamole' was missing salt and acid.  Not bad but not amazing, and sad because the hard part (the meat) was the highlight.

All in all, it's a fine place, invaluable for a kitchen open all day. It feels a bit pricy when it comes to the traditional dishes, and for me it seems to be a spot more valuable to residents of Donosti than to visitors, who would likely be unimpressed by the renditions of foreign food. Quite a nice place to just be, however.

$€$€ :  ★ ★ ★ ☆  ☆
Vibeyness : ★  ★ ★ ★ ★
Gobackability : ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Martimeter :  ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Khaki Campbell
Ramon y Cajal Kalea, 3 (GROS)


Gros's favorite pedestrian street has birthed yet another of its favorite businesses: a cute coffee shop (the other favorite being a last count there were five).  Fam Kafe is a tiny shop with a short list of coffees.  Nary a chair in sight, the idea is grab your coffee and go. It's an agreeable enough spot to do so, with its wood-heavy decoration by hometown designer darling Bois et Fer

The sweets come from local cutesy baker Sweet Lulu and can range from banana cake to cookies to brownies.  They are better than your average wannabe American baked good served up in town, but we all know what that means...

The coffee, from roasters Zabala in nearby Tolosa, is adequate. I would recommend the cortado and the café con leche before the americano, which is brewed in true American style but was inexplicably watered down with even MORE water before being handed to me. *sad face*  All in all, a cute spot with pleasant enough service.

$€$€ :  ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Vibeyness : ★  ★ ★ ★ ☆
Gobackability : ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
WIFI: 👎 
Martimeter :  ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Fam Kafe
Peña y Goñi Kalea, 15 (GROS)


Finally, a bar has settled into the old Narru spot, after ill-fated Pecaditos. The bar is Aitzgorri, and it's just what Gros needed: another pintxo bar-slash-restaurant. Okay, that sounds sarcastic, but I swear it's not.

Ham croquettes are a great way to start to get to know a bar. Shape is the first way to distinguish a homemade croquette from a frozen one. You don't want them to be too perfect, and small balls are often a sign that they are made in house.  These were creamy, seasoned, and correct all the way around.

It was a pleasant surprise to see a special house vermut preparado on the menu. A few drops of some magic potions and a vermouth that yours truly had never seen, Las Endrinas.  

This newcomer to the neighborhood actually just placed in the finals of the Pintxo Championships of Basque Country, right alongside the acclaimed Zeruko, with a pintxo of game bird, mushrooms and crunchy cheese. I opted to try some of their more traditional pintxos, which were adequate and could hold their own with most pintxos in the old part, from the morcilla (above) and the bacalao ajoarriero (below).

All in all, Aitzgorri is a solid addition to the neighborhood. A new spot to take friends that are visiting on a Gros pintxo route, with little dishes that aspire to greatness.

$€$€ :  ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Vibeyness : ★  ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Gobackability : ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
WIFI: 👎 
Martimeter :  ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Calle Usandizaga, 20 (GROS)

Agree? Disagree? Have a new place I need to cover? Just leave a comment.


Since this is my blog and I can do what I want, I have curated a strange group of criteria that summarizes the way my brain breaks down a restaurant experience. Ratings are from 0-5 and highly subjective.

$€$€ : Tuning in to how I felt looking at the check. The general price to quality ratio, the relation to how good it was to how much I paid. 
Vibeyness :  I'm super sensitive to ambience. Love low lighting and textures. Don't like virtual Pinterest reality.
Gobackability :  How likely is this place to be somewhere I make a regular haunt?
WIFI:  👍 or 👎, self-explanatory, ¿jyes?
Martimeter : The general feeling I have about the place, an unexplainable rating yet perhaps the most important of all.. 

Lunes Lekuak (My Monday Spot)

Basque Country, we always have October. Until the tourist season keeps on expanding and we don't have October. Or the countryside, or all those secret corners you reveal to the worthy ones. Worthy having nothing, nothing to do with merit if not with an obsession with you.  Basque Country is a jealous lover that wants all the attention. And for now, we have October.

The Burger | Kafé Botanika

There's a BURGER in town.

I should probably preface this with one thing....I couldn't care less about burgers. My burger feelings are far from unconditional: I don't love a burger just because it is a somehow has (had) to prove itself worthy. I can look a burger square in the bun and say, "I wish you were garbanzos." 

Why do I tell you this? To prove that what I am about to say is a big deal.  Kafe Botanika invited Maite and I, presumably for our contributions to the good of humanity via the Vermut Society, to decorate a Halloween pumpkin. While there, we decided to try the hamburger, which I had heard some whisper of but, again, couldn't care less. 

I took a bite, distracted by the table conversation and side-eyeing the guacamole and...*****!!!!!  Simple, amazing, amazing meat. Not too pink in an attempt to be cool or dressed in mushrooms, bacon and egg to hide something. With just cheese, onions, pickles and mayo. I already had a mental note to ask for ketchup, but the desire dissipated. THIS WAS THE BEST BURGER I HAD EVER HAD. A confusing feeling, which I conveyed to Billy, one of the owners, who told me a nearby table (of Americans, i.e., burger experts) had just said the same thing.

If you're wondering why, exactly, this American-style café in San Sebastián has such an outstanding burger, you have to look at Rodrigo Jaramillo. This Chicago-raised cook has been in San Sebastián for four years, and he is uniquely obsessed with burgers. As in, that's all I've heard him talk about since I met him in 2013. Rodrigo has worked with Brendan Sodikoff, whom he credits a lot of his chef chops to, and in San Sebastián he spent time in La Madame, another great spot for eating *different* food.

 He wouldn't divulge any details on the burger, but....who cares!  I write this here so that you all go to try. A note: it's not on the menu, costs €12.50 and doesn't come with any accoutrements. Still worth it.

Kafe Botanika is here and here.

Lunes Lekuak (My Monday Spot)

This little basement patio in Egia, under the train station, is an oasis of cuteness in one of San Sebastián's toughest barrios.  They had cactuses before they were cool....heck, these people were cool before cool was cool.  It looks like a bar but it's not a bar. Best I can tell, it's a gathering place for old people, where wine probably costs .30 a glass and cards are shuffled for hours on end.  One of those spots, common in Egia, where time has just stood still. 

Donosti Dining Update, Vol II

So, the first Donosti Dining Update was quite the success, not to mention I slept better having covered these places nagging on my subconsciousness.

So, time for round two. 

For those of you curious as to how this works, you should know I head off to new places with the idea of slotting them here. However, if a place pleasantly surprises me, as happened this week, instead of appearing in the Donosti Dining Update, it will get its own post—soon. You should also know I pay for my meals, don’t tip off the restaurateurs that I am a blogger, etc (as if these wonderfully down-to-Earth Basque folks would even care).

The first edition was here.  But now it’s time for Donosti Dining Update, Vol II. With that prologue, here goes my semi-weekly collection of new(ish) spots in San Sebastián, made to keep us all in the know.


People in Donosti have to have somewhere to eat, too, you know. Somewhere they can feel at home, go every day without breaking the bank, and have their tastebuds oh-so-slightly teased.  That's where places like La Cochinita Pibil come in.

This bar used to be a frozen-in-time tribute to the 1980s, before ownership was transferred in the last year. Fortunately for us, this transfer was made to some pretty hip residents, which translates to a laid-back, cool clientele.  Which, in a neighborhood bar, is really all one is looking for, right?

That, and FREE FOOD.  La Cochinita Pibil takes a page from the playbook of Southern Spain and offers a free tapita, or little plate, with the purchase of any drink.  In addition, they offer a daily plato that rotates as well as a constant menu of pintxos and small plates with just the slight deviation off of the beaten flavor path, like the couscous. I like to overlook the fact that couscous hit its trend peak in the late 90s and instead focus on the fact that everything is sufficiently salted and reasonably rico.


$€$€ :  ★ ★ ★ ★  ☆
Vibeyness : ★  ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Gobackability : ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Martimeter :  ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

La Cochinita Pibil 
Calle de Fuenterrabía, 38 (CENTRO)



Essencia is another spot that's not outrageously new, having opened sometime in the last year. It's a useful bar to have in one's back pocket, however, for one reason: the list of libations.  The current Essencia is a reincarnation of the wine store, formerly located across Calle Zabaleta.  In the new space, the wine shop lives upstairs, on top of the fully functioning bar. Why do you care?

The man behind the magic is Dani Corman, one of the region's foremost wine experts, who specializes in champagnes.  While my specialities currently lie in vermouth, baked goods and pickles, champagne is on my short list.

Because of his passion for wines, in Essencia you can find 100 wines by the glass, 50 sherries, and a wide selection of vermouths and other interesting drinks. In this bar they aren't going to slosh your glass with the same two-euro-a-bottle of verdejo.

The food may not be quite as remarkable, but it is simple and based strongly in local products.   You will find adequate classics, with the menu's strength lying in the raciones, or small plates. Try whatever's local, whatever's in season, and just make sure to drink something.

$€$€ :  ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Vibeyness : ★  ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Gobackability : ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
WIFI: 👎 
Martimeter :  ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Zabaleta Kalea, 53 (GROS)



The guiri darling of Gros is BACK. Casa Senra, always open and always dependable, with its colorful waitstaff, closed last year under mysterious circumstances. The whisper of what would happen faded after several months, until the spot abruptly re-opened last month.

So of course I had to go back and place an order like the orders of the old days. For me in Senra that means brava patatas, croquetas, and baby squid, or txopitos (is all that fried? oops).  After we ordered cava only to find out not a single bottle was chilled, the txopitos came and were so, so sadly soggy. 

In my grief, I turned my eyes upwards, only to note the beautiful oak caserío style beams were painted a half-assed white. On only one side of the bar. Great, a historical nod to Pinterest.

The croquetas were decent. And honestly, I'll probably go back to try a few more things off the menu. But I question if Casa Senra has been restored to its former guiri, over-priced yet dependable glory.

$€$€ :  ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Vibeyness : ★  ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Gobackability : ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
WIFI: 👎 
Martimeter :  ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆