Pintxos in the Old Quarter, the Casco Viejo
On Sundays you can see three generations of a family making their way through the neighborhood bars drinking Rioja in sips and feasting on pintxos. In the “Siete Calles” section, those seven parallel, narrow, pedestrian streets running south of the cathedral. Note that Bilbaínos believe in “little and often” and in each bar order only a short “txikito” or “zurito” and one pintxo that they knock back in a minute or two before quickly relocating to another bar. The plaza has so many that you may never get beyond the square before the evening’s over.
My favorite haunt in the old quarter is one of the oldest (1849) and liveliest of the Plaza Nueva’s restaurants and bars, which have a wonderfully jaunty Belle Epoque décor that are all black and white and gold. Start off with some rabas, fried squid rings, and a txikito of Rioja. The txikito is a sturdy short glass with a thick stem and a small hollow that holds only a few sips of wine.
Tel: (+34) 944 157 067
Café Bar Bilbao
Another favorite, just nextdoor at Plaza Nuevo, 6, (has only been around since 1911) and always does well in the annual “pintxos” competition.
Tel: (+34) 944 151 671
This is yet another good stop in Plaza Nueva, where chef David Asteinza offers a selection of classic and avant-garde pintxos. Very busy on weekends. Open Monday-Saturday from 12:00 noon to 11:30 and on Sunday’s until 4:30 pm.
Tel: (+34) 944 150 321
In the corner of Plaza Nueva at No. 12, it reopened its doors in 2015 and is open Monday-Saturday from 9:00 am to 11:30 pm and on Sundays from 9:30 am until 4:00 in the afternoon. Recommended in the Michelin Guide for 2018.
Tel: (+34) 944 158 037
This bar-restaurant at Plaza Nueva, 2, is open every day and features Conservas Zallo brand Thunnus alalunga, white tuna from Cantabria. They offer three menus served all day for 28,50€, 44€ and 54€. Won first prize for the best pintxos bar in Bizkaia 2015-2016.
Pintxos on Calle Santa María
Look for this popular bar that regularly wins awards for their creative pintxos. Located next to the hostal Iturrienea Ostatua, it first opened in 1994, and is a good stop for vegans. Open Monday-Thursday from 12:30 pm to 11:00 pm, Friday and Saturday until midnight, and until 4:00 pm on Sundays.
Tel: (+34) 944 154 861
This tiny (Lilliputian) but highly popular tavern sits on the corner of La Merced and Santa María, and is a favorite of our old friend Mikel (Tours by Basque). Laura and Ernesto serve some of the best bonito and antxoas pintxos, gildas and their famous Felipadas del Saltsagorri. It’s always packed, but there’s always room for one more.
Tel: (+34) 636 883 296
Two other contenders in the “Siete Calles” area include Xukela at Calle del Perro, 2, and Río-Oja at Calle del Perro, 4, for casserole dishes.
More Pintxos in the Casco Viejo…
Two more of our favorite bars in the Old Quarter, welcomed havens when we need to sit and rest, can be found on Calle (Kalea) Jardines.
This bar-restaurant offers some of the best pintxos around IMO, made with high quality ingredients, try its “solomillo con foie”, a tiny filet mignon on toast. It has table seating, and can be found at Calle de Jardines, 11, running off Calle Santa María. Relax with a wine, pintxo and classical music.
Tel: (+34) 944 167 035
We also enjoy its sister next door at No. 8, which specializes in grilled fish, meat and seafood.
Tel: (+34) 944 155 605 / 944 154 080
Both offer a well-priced menú del día, and both are closed on Sunday night and Monday, and on Thursdays they offer a “Pintxo-pote”, a pintxo and small beer or glass of wine for 2€. Both are recommended in the Michelin Guide for 2018. They also have a third bar-restaurant, Berton Goikoa, located at Rodríguea Arias, 64, not far from the Euskalduna’s Palace.
Specializing in Setas al purgatorio, Champiñones a la gloria and Chorizo al inferno, the bar can be found at Plaza Miguel de Unamuno, 2. Orginally opened in 1965, they moved to their new location in the plaza in 2003, and are open from noon to 3:30 pm and in the evening from 7:00 pm to 10:30 pm. It’s a small space, and often busy, but you’ll always be welcomed by Juan, Verónica and Kerman.
Pintxos In The Ensanche
After trying out the bars around the Plaza Nueva, take a stroll down Licenciado Poza Street, behind the Gran Vía, in the Indautxu area, to the corner of Maestro García Rivero, between 7:00 and 8:00 pm, for a night’s pintxos adventure. On this small pedestrian street, in an area called “pozas”, you’ll see several bars filled to the rafters with people, some spilling out into the street, enjoying Bilbao’s gourmet tapas.
El Huevo Frito
One of my favorites here is located at Garcia Rivero, 1, Its specialties include zucchini filled with ham and cheese. Another favorite is Café Estoril at Plaza Emillo Campuzano, 3, one of the classic pintxos bar specializing in croquettes and chorizo tortillas. It also has one of the very best martinis in town.
La Viña del Ensanche
After everything else is done, head to the pedestrian Calle Diputación for a unique treat at Diputación, 10; great “jamón ibérico” of the Joselito brand, the silkiest ham in the world, better than prosciutto. This is a chic local hangout where everyone drinks “cariñena” red wine to go with the ham, foie and cheeses. First opened in 1927, the Bar offers a tasting menu to share for 30€, or you can simply have pintxos, hot or cold, including ham croquettes, grilled mushrooms, tempura of baby green asparagus, little lima beans sautéed with ham, grilled filet mignon. Have a mozzarella and tomato salad, a carpaccio or a gazpacho. Or try the gastronomic menu, which includes five dishes and two deserts for 60€, in the Taller (Spanish for workshop). There is also a gourmet shop just around the corner. Open Monday to Friday from 8:30 am to 11:00 pm and on Saturdays from 12:00 noon to 1:00 am. Closed on Sundays and holidays. The Taller is closed on Monday. Always busy, reservations for lunch or dinner highly recommended in the Bar, and required in the Taller.
Tel: (+34) 944 155 615
Bar El Globo
Next, head across the street to Diputación, 8, for great tapas and good wines. Here you can experience treats like scrambled eggs with mushrooms and roasted red peppers in earthenware dishes that make for a great 4-star meal. It’s filled with locals, popular with business folks in the morning hours. It also features a wine of the month. Great gazpacho! El Globo often wins the yearly tapas competitions with its very original creations. This is very much a local yuppie watering hole, but just can’t be beat. Open 8:00 am to 11:00 pm Monday-Thursday and 8:00 am to midnight on Friday and Saturday. Recommended in the Michelin Guide.
Tel: (+34) 944 154 221
If you happen to visit Bilbao in July when the Viña del Ensanche is closed and would like a wonderful sit-down meal built around Spain’s famous jamón, head straight around Alameda de Urquijo, past the post office, before reaching the intersection with General Concha, to this fantastic bar-restaurant-delicatessen-wine store combo. It’s been around since 1998 and offers nice service and reasonable prices, including a daily menu for only 14,90€. You can order as much or as little as you wish, just a starter (ham croquettes, Piquillo peppers stuffed with ham), large salad, a dish of scrambled eggs (with ham, wild mushrooms, baby asparagus, limas, etc.), a meat course (their grilled pork loin is dynamite) or a homemade dessert. Open Monday-Thursday from 8:30 am to 11:00 pm, Fridays until midnight, and Saturdays from 9:00 am to midnight. Recommended in the Michelin Guide for 2018.
Tel: (+34) 944 436 001
El Perro Chico
Overlooking the River Nervion, across from the Ribera food market and Bilbao’s old quarter is where you will find the popular El Perro Chico (Little Dog), which was opened by the group from Marzana 16 bar in 2015. Stop by for pintxos or dinner (reservations highly recommended). Closed Mondays.
Tel: (+34) 946 442 665