Best places to eat Pintxos in Pamplona, Spain
There are a few reasons people visit Pamplona, Spain. They either want to run with the bulls during the summer San Fermin festival, walk the Camino de Santiago which winds right through the city, or they have fallen in love with Northern Spain and its culture. Whatever initially brought someone to Pamplona, they fall in love with the food. The pintxo culture is strong in Pamplona and shouldn’t be missed. So where should you eat in Pamplona to enjoy this tradition? Below is my recap of five great places to eat pintxos in Pamplona.
But first, what’s a pintxo? Pintxos (PEEN-chos) are small bites of food typically skewered with a toothpick. Pintxo is a Basque word for tapas, but they are not quite the same thing. A pintxo is “a bite” of food meant to be served individually. Pintxos can be finger foods or not. They can be warm or cold. They will almost without exception be delicious. The word pintxo is used in the Basque and Catalonia areas in Spain. If you use the word in Andalusia they will understand what you mean, but bring you tapas instead. If you are the type of person that likes to nibble, or eat appetizers for dinner, you will love the pintxo culture.
In Pamplona, pintxos are a way of life. You will see the locals stop in to a cafe/bar in the morning for a quick coffee and tortilla de patata slice (think potato quiche without the crust). Then you will see the local return again at night for a cafe/bar crawl in which they enjoy a savory snack on their way home from the office or after their late night stroll. In the evening, each pintxo is paired with a glass of wine. One of the best things about pintxos is that they are extremely affordable. Most pintxos in Pamplona are only one or two euros each (as is the wine).
Best places to eat pintxos in Pamplona:
- Katuzarra – You have got to love a place that has legs of cured ham hanging from the ceiling. Did you see that photo by the title? True, there are many bars that have this, but there isn’t another restaurant that also has a slab of dry aged beef on display outside their restaurant. This restaurant knows their meat. Katuzarra has fantastic presentation. One interesting fact, is that the kitchen is on a different level from the restaurant. I caught myself constantly watching the dumbwaiter behind the bar. Like a kid before Christmas, I eagerly awaited to see which mouth watering treats would come out of it next. Each platter of pintxos that was whipped out of that dumbwaiter was carefully placed on the bar. I swear, each one looked more yummy than the last.
- Bodegon Sarria – Michelin Rated – I fell in love with this place years ago and it is still a great stop. The restaurant deserves its Michelin rating. This is a restaurant that knows how to pull you in. How? The decadent countertops can be seen from the street. You are already salivating in anticipation by the time you enter the restaurant to sit down. The pintxos will cost you more than one euro, but each one is crafted with top quality ingredients and worth every penny. Bodegon Sarria introduced me to a new type of seafood – baby eels. They look like slightly grey spaghetti noodles. These eels are a delicacy and extremely popular. If seafood isn’t your thing, don’t worry, there is something here for everyone.
- Cafe Iruna – Go to this restaurant just because Hemingway loved this bar, and go because the actual space is cool. Old tin ceilings and intricate detail work on the support columns bring an old fashioned classy vibe to this otherwise regular cafeteria. The long bar makes it easy for a foreigner to find a space to place their order. It’s best for breakfast. Cafe Iruna’s pintxos are very approachable for the uninitiated or less adventurous. That being said, this restaurant serves up comfort food that is reliable and well made.
- Bar Guria – Small and mighty. The hipsters will like this bar. Don’t be afraid to order off the blackboard. Be sure to get my favorite pintxo of all time – the egg with white truffle. Oh My Goodness, just get the egg with truffle. One tip that I picked up during my intensive immersion schooling in pintxo eating was a quick way to tell the quality level of a pintxo bar. Similar to they way white tablecloths signal a fancy restaurant, the amount of pintxos served on bread is a good indicator of the “fanciness” level of the pintxo bar. You can tell that a spot is “fancy” if many of their pintxos are not served on slices of baguettes. To be fair, fancy restaurants don’t necessarily signify better food, but you will typically see more creative and different dishes in these places.
- Dom Luis – A locals kind of place. Simple and good. Almost all of their pintxos are served on bread. I love it. The restaurant is right in the thick of things, so it is a great stop during an all evening pintxo crawl. To mimic the locals, remember that even though a pintxo bar may look like a smorgasbord, it shouldn’t be approached like an all you can eat buffet. A local will order a glass of wine along with one to two pintxos. When they are finished they might have another glass of wine, but most likely they will leave and go to another pintxo bar and repeat the process.
- If you are in Pamplona, you also might be interested in the other best large cities along the Camino.
- Staying in Spain? Don’t miss out on these great small cities.
- Thinking about walking the Camino de Santiago? You should check out what’s cool and what they don’t tell you about.
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