Abando is the central area of Bilbao west of the stadium and on the south bank of the Ría del Nervión. It’s opposite the Casco Antiguo (see separate posts), which is on the north bank. This part of the city is also known as the Ensanche (extension) and was once a town in its own right, in competition with Bilbao until it was swallowed up. Barrio map here.
Iruna (Intermediate B+), 5 Calle Berastegui (corner of Calle del Musico Ledesma), www.cafeirunabilbao.net
Iruna is a famous old cafe bar dating from 1903 and decorated in the Moorish neo-Mudejar style.
It’s very atmospheric and seems to be popular with all kinds of people.
They were grilling Pinchos Morunos, Moorish kebabs on a skewer, when I was there, so of course I had to try some (B+).
La Viña del Ensanche (High Intermediate A), 10 Calle Diputacion, lavinadelensanche.com
This local institution (serving pintxos for over eighty years) is a Lonely Planet top pick, and is also recommended by Conde Naste. It’s popular with the locals so if you want to sit on the terrace you should definitely reserve or take a seat in the dark interior as I did.
The food and the service were really good. I had a pintxo of ‘Cabezada Ibérica de Jamones de Joselito cocinada a baja temperatura en su jugo’, that is ‘Joselito Iberian pork, cooked at a low temperature in its own juice (B+).
I also had a glass of an unlabelled house wine, from the Cariñena DO near Zaragoza, which was quite unusual and interesting (B+).
I need to come and eat here again. Next time I’ll try their tasting menu, or go upstairs to the restaurant.
Casa Rufo (High Intermediate A), 5 Hurtado de Amézaga Kalea, www.casarufo.com
In 2012, this was my favourite place in the short time I was here. Founded in 1955, it’s a deli and bodega that becomes a restaurant in the evenings. It’s very atmospheric sitting amongst shelves stacked with local produce and bottles of wine. The building dates from the fifties so there’s lots of wood and nice ceramics tiles.
I started with a plate of local leeks, Puerros, dressed in oil and sherry vinegar, and topped with raw onions, peppers and olives. It was pretty good but I’ve had better (B).
The star however was the huge beefsteak (Chuleton) which arrived ready sliced and still sizzling on a thick earthenware platter. It was huge (the next table shared it between two) and the chef came out of the kitchen to egg me on as I started to flag towards the end. It was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had (A). It’s a speciality of the house, along with codfish.
It was helped down by an excellent half bottle of Rioja Crianza (Senoria de Cuzcurrita), a perfect marriage with the meat (A).
Sadly my ideal desserts of Plums in Brandy and Pears in Txacoli were not available so I went instead for the cheesecake which thankfully was very satisfying (B+).
Finally a glass of ‘Nectar’ Pedro Ximenez which was so nice (A) that I bought two bottles to take home.
The service was a bit dour at first, but they lightened up when sprinkled with niceness. I’d definitely go again.
Guria (High Intermediate A), 66 Gran Via, www.restauranteguria.com
This is a somewhat formal place with a good rep. The youthful service was a bit severe but I did get a smile eventually.
I had the Menu Bistrot for €39 which included a bottle of thin-tasting Txacoli (B).
The first course was a soup made of pureed peas (A) followed by a mushroom omelette (B), both very unphotogenic.
Cod is the speciality of the house so I had the Bacalao a la Vacainza, saltcod in a red pepper sauce, also somewhat unsightly, but still tasty (B).
And the classic Basque dish Bacalao Pil Pil, done very well (B+).
This was followed by some tasty Carrilleras, beef cheeks (B+).
For dessert the Brownie was great but would have been better if the chocolate sauce was hot (A-).
Brandies are a bit pricey here so I went for their homemade Pacharan Casero which was pretty good and only cost €3.
So not very pretty food, but well-made and it pushes all the right flavour buttons.
And a place to avoid….
Asador Indusi (Intermediate C), 7 Calle Maestro Garcia Rivero
This was the place recommended by a hotel receptionist on a Sunday in 2012 when all other places nearby were closed. There is nothing to recommend it in particular, the food, decor and service are all non-descript (all C). The Rioja and Pedro Ximenez were the only things that made the experience enjoyable.
If you can’t find something better nearer your hotel, you might want to walk the twenty minutes to the old town for a bit more choice.
The Guggenheim next!
Photos uploaded September 2012 and October 2017.