The Casco Viejo is Bilbao’s old town on the east bank of the river. Today it’s Bilbao’s main entertainment district, the place to come for a txikiteo (bar crawl). At the heart of the Casco are Bilbao’s original seven streets, Las Siete Calles, which date from the 1400s. Also here is Plaza Nueva which I have given its own post. You’ll find some of the best pintxo bars in the city here, all marked on this Google map.
Irrintzi (Intermediate A), 8 Santa Maria Kalea, www.irrintzi.es
My favourite place for innovative, modern pintxos. The display on the bar is stunning.
International influences abound. I can recommend the ‘Brocetas de Verdura en Tempura a la Menta’ aka brochettes of vegetable tempura with mint.
‘Crujiente de Manzana con Pato en Salsa de Cacahuete’ or crispy apple with duck in peanut sauce.
‘Nido de Pollo Lacado con Rúcula’ or nests of chicken with rocket.
Gatz (Intermediate A), 10 Calle Santa Maria, www.bargatz.com
Another good pintxo place, right next door to Irrintxi above.
The windows are covered in Michelin Guide stickers dating back to when it opened in 1994.
It’s fairly traditional but everything is top quality.
Xukela (Intermediate A), 2 Calle El Perro, www.xukela.com
One of the most renowned pintxo bars in town.
Quite trad, but all top quality tackle.
Cresta de Gallo, cockscomb, is one of their more unusual pintxos. It was a first for me (B).
After seeing it being made for another customer I ordered a ‘Marianito’, the shop’s own version of a Negroni. As an aficionado I would say it was the best Negroni I’ve ever had made with Martini Rosso (not my favourite vermouth), though they have Martini Gold as well. Aerating the mix before shaking might have made the difference.
Cafe Boulevard (Intermediate C) 3 Calle Arenal, cafemercante.es
A much feted Art Nouveau cafe that has undergone renovation in 2012. I only came in for a coffee in the day time but was left cold by the uninteresting decor and lack of atmosphere. Maybe it’s better at the weekends.
This next place wasn’t too great in 2012 but it might be okay now…
Saibigain (Elementary B-), 16 Calle Barrencale Barrena, www.saibigain.com, closed Sunday
Times have changed since Cadogan guides put this place on their ‘inexpensive’ list. The €8 menu-del-dia has been superseded by a choice of four set menus. I went for the cheapest at €32 which involved a multitude of starters including; foie gras with blueberry jam and tostados (B), a plate of three hams (B-), prawns with a dish of plain mayo (C), codfish croquettes (B), mushrooms with scrambled egg (D).
There were several choices for the main course, the most typical (according to the waitress) being Pequillo red peppers stuffed with salt cod in yellow and red sauces (C). I added a bottle of Txacoli (Aretxaga 2011) to drown my culinary sorrows (B).
With the addition of a slice of apple pie (B) and a glass of Rioja (B+), it was hard to argue about the value, but the food was too mediocre for me to want to return.
The place doesn’t seem to have been redecorated since it opened in the 50s, except for the addition of photos and posters of Athletic de Bilbao from the 70s. The interior is faded and unspecial but the service was fine.
You’ll also find the Mercado de la Ribera www.mercadodelaribera.net in the old town, down by the river.
Here are a few things you might see there.
Photos uploaded September 2012 and October 2017.