Oh, San Sebastián. Everyone loves you for your outer beauty, for your beaches and your pintxos. But those of us who know you well know that there is so much more on the inside to appreciate. We know that it's not always time to hop from bar to bar, drink in hand. Sometimes you want the ambience of the Old Town, but in a seated, more relaxed setting. It's a question that consistently gets raised among my friends and I: where can we go sit down and have great meal, without getting too far from the action?
That's why I've compiled this list, my Top 5 places to sit down for lunch or dinner, right in the heart of San Sebastián's pintxo scene. The fruit of much thought and research. So ignore (if you can) those small bites lining the bars and pull up a chair at one of these fine establishments. On egin!
Steak + wooden tables + simple sides + tradition = Basque Country. Aldanondo is the no-frills, locally recommended Old Town spot to enjoy this tried-and-true formula. Sit back, order a bottle of Rioja and a plate of croquetas to begin, and wait for your steak and its adornments to arrive. And just feel so....Basque.
Euskal Herria Kalea, 6, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa | +34 943 42 28 52
There's something about Bodegón Alejandro that just seems to make it the right choice on every occasion. It's a spot where you can eat without breaking the bank (daily lunch prix fixe runs you about 30 euros), but where great flavor meets just the right amount of innovation. Bodegón Alejandro has a deep, connected local history, once belonging to the family of famed chef Martín Berasategui. Now they offer traditional plates with pleasing touches of modernity.
Calle de Fermín Calbetón, 4, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa | +34 943 42 71 58
Astelena has been one of my favorite sit-down spots since I first ate there years back. This restaurant could easily be overlooked by a tourist in San Sebastián, but its unremarkable façade houses some serious cooking. Most notable here, for me, are the veggies. I go to eat cardoon, artichoke, white asparagus...whatever is in season, knowing that it will be carefully cooked and presented. And its chef de cuisine, Ander Gonzalez, hosts the national Basque cooking show I appear on as a judge each week.
Euskal Herria Kalea, 3, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa | +34 943 42 58 67
This spot, headed by chef Dani López and Estela Velasco, garners its mention mainly for its Michelin star. It's not Kokotxa's fault that there's three three-star Michelin spots in this tiny town. López's cuisine draws inspiration from all over Spain, with delicate and picture-perfect plates. A great place in the Old Town to experience Michelin without going all-out Arzak/Akelarre/Berasategui/Mugaritz. (photo: http://bixigarri.com)
Calle del Campanario, 11, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa | +34 943 42 19 04
Casa Urola is one of those restaurants that has been around for a long time, since 1956 to be exact. However, in 2012 it was updated and handed over to the capable hands of Pablo Loureiro, a local chef who has trained in many of the city's top kitchens, from Rodil to Branka. What sets Loureiro and Urola apart, however, is an absolute and unwavering commitment to local, seasonal products of highest quality. This is one of those spots with producers passing through the back door throughout the morning, arms loaded with boxes of mushrooms or coolers of line-caught squid. The perfect place to experience classic yet updated Basque food based squarely on its amazing product.
Fermin Calbeton Kalea, 20, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa | +34 943 44 13 71
This list is super how-do-hipsters-say curated, but there is one spot that deserves an honorable mention: Ganbara. Didn't make the list because I personally have never been in the dining room, but it comes highly recommended by all chefs in town and Amaia is an amor. Look for a post in the future!