A pintxo is the Basque word for a piece of bread and its topping being pierced and held together (pinchado) with a cocktail stick. They would be called tapas outside the Basque country but they are usually bread based and are never free as tapas sometimes are in the south. Another difference is that often, but not always, you can help yourself from the display on the bar and tell the waiter what you had later.
Plaza Nueva, so named because it replaced Plaza Vieja in 1821, is in my humble opinion, the buzziest and best place for pintxos in Bilbao. You’ll find everywhere mentioned on this map.
Under the neo-classical arcades are a throng of famous bars and cafes that will meet all your canape needs, and help you develop some new ones.
Gure Toki (Intermediate A+), 12 Plaza Nueva (north west corner), guretoki.com
This is my favourite. It’s not as venerable as the others I mention below, but they take a different, more modern approach to pintxos which I find more interesting. International influences, particularly Japanese, are very apparent.
Carpachio de Avestruz (A++). Ostrich carpaccio! The best thing I ate all year! Thinly sliced raw ostrich marinated with parmesan and if I remember correctly soya sauce, although it doesn’t seem so from the picture. I must go back to make sure!
Foie a la Plancha con Manzana y PX (A) goose liver pate from the hotplate, with apple and a Pedro Ximenez reduction.
The Hamburguesa Wagyu was fine (B) but is more hype than substance. It sounds good though.
Costilla de Vaca con Algas was a revelation (A); a small rib steak with local seaweed, showing the Japanese influence once again.
With the meat I drank two glasses Juan Gil Monastrell 12 meses (A+) at €2 a glass. This stuff blew my socks off, it’s so different from any other Spanish red. It’s now the house red for my pop-up restaurant. I get it posted to me for about £11 a bottle with postage.
Ironically, the guy next to me noticed I was drinking it and he happened to be a friend of Juan Gil in Murcia! He’s a very nice chap apparently, which makes his wine taste even better!
I also had a glass of Ribeira del Duero, ‘Nacimiento’ by Avan which was good (B+)…
…before moving on to the local Txakoli ‘Senorio de Otxaran’ which was a good example of the genre (B).
Sold to me by another friendly customer, Sopa de Idiazabal seemed to consist of a quail’s egg with cream, mushrooms and giant kernels of Choclo (maize). The bar won a prize for this pintxo in a local competition. It was interesting (B+) but I preferred other things on the menu.
The only let down was the lack of decent desserts. They gave me a bowl of dry, flaky mini chocolate croissants which didn’t really do it for me. A chupito of excellent ‘La Gallega’ Orujo des Hierbas (A) cheered me up though.
As you can see, I met a lot of people while I was here, including a big group of Mexicanas on their jollies. With all the good food, wine and company, I rolled out of here a very happy man!
I returned in 2016 and was gutted to discover that the Ostrich Carpaccio was no longer on the menu! The nice lady who served me was impressed that I remembered the pintxo and did her best to suggest other tidbits.
I especially liked the Espárragos.
Gure Toki is still very good I’m happy to report.
Café Bilbao (Intermediate A), 6 Plaza Berria, north east corner of Plaza Nueva (there are two doors, one on Plaza Nueva, the other round the corner on Plaza Berria), bilbao-cafebar.com
Old school and very busy, the traditional pintxos here are a feast for the eyes.
I had Makailua Pilpilean, or in Castillian, ‘Bacalao al Pilpil’, which was good (B+). Pil pil is a basque cooking technique where a sauce is made from the oil that the fish was cooked in, along with garlic and small hot peppers called ‘guindillas’.
Also a canapé with a mushroom and cured ham (A).
And another with black pudding, green pepper and camembert (B+).
In 2016 I tried this chorizo and quail egg creation (B+).
A classic pintxo bar that needs to be visited.
Victor Montes, (Intermediate A), 8 Plaza Nueva, Tel. 944 155 603, www.victormontes.com
For me, this local institution (since 1931) is the most beautiful cafe in town.
The pintxos on the bar top always look very enticing.
Generally they cost €1.90 each.
In 2016 four of us came and had the mixed selection of a dozen pintxos for €22.90. They were all fantastic (A).
They also have a deli, La Alacena del Victor Monte at 14 Plaza Nueva which is a good place to stock up on treats for home.
I got some Jerez vinegar, truffles, foie gras and some good Jamon Iberico Bellota from the Jabugo 5 Jotas or ‘Five J’s’ brand from here.
Please see my other Casco Viejo post for more pintxo bars nearby.
Photos uploaded September 2012, February 2014 and October 2017.