Anthony Bourdain in San Sebastian Hero
Spain,  A Cook's Tour,  Europe,  Parts Unknown

Anthony Bourdain in San Sebastián:
9 Spots Where Tony Ate

Home to more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita than anywhere on earth, San Sebastián is must-visit destination for anyone who loves food – and that of course included Anthony Bourdain, during his time. There are a number of places visited by Anthony Bourdain in San Sebastián, some more than once since he filmed twice in the city and surrounding Basque region.

While Anthony Bourdain visited other parts of Spain – many of them, including Andalucía, Barcelona, and Madrid – it almost feels inaccurate to include San Sebastián on that list. Being Basque country, it is so different than the others; it may be part of Spain (and France) by our modern day borders, but it is a place unto itself.

Unlike other posts about cities that Bourdain visited more than once, I’ve decided to combine the list of restaurants Tony visited on his first trip to San Sebastián in 2001 (A Cook’s Tour) with the list from his return trip in 2016 (Parts Unknown). This is mostly because he made repeat visits to several restaurants, which is pretty unusual for him – and shows how much he loved some of these places!

If you’re ready to dive into the list of places Anthony Bourdain visited in San Sebastián, read on. And be prepared for some serious mouth-watering.

Want to watch the episode where Anthony Bourdain visits San Sebastián?
It’s available on Amazon and Apple TV.

Where Anthony Bourdain Ate in San Sebastián

Before jumping into each restaurant, I thought it might be helpful to start with a map and list of places that Tony ate in San Sebastián. Note that this map includes places outside San Sebastián, but I zoomed in so it only shows those within the city; if you want to see them all, click the image.

Anthony Bourdain in San Sebastian Map
Click to interact with the map.

Now let’s go through each place one-by-one, and what food(s) Bourdain ate at each one.

Arzak

There’s no better place to start our exploration of San Sebastián than at Arzak, visited twice by Tony in his two episodes set there. It’s here that on his first trip, he meets chef Juan Mari Arzak and his daughter (and chef de cuisine) Elena. This was a significant meeting in Bourdain’s life: he and Arzak remained close throughout the years, and had a deeply moving conversation during Tony’s return trip 15 years later at the same table.

Speaking of tables, Bourdain gets a real treat during both of his on-screen visits to Arzak: the in-kitchen chef’s table. The first time he enjoys an appetizer of poached egg with goose fat with caviar or mushroom and chorizo puree, sheep’s milk yogurt and foie gras, fish with eggplant, sea bass with dark sauce, and roasted duck with seasonal vegetables.

The second time, the menu features marinated prawns on lemongrass and mint with beetroot and crunchy krill; roast pigeon with mastic and potato; grilled hake jowls with teff seeds and fresh almonds served on bamboo leaf; grilled monkfish with pecan paste and “heiroglyphics” of pumpkin and sweet pea; white tuna with green melon and jackfruit sauce; and squid with walnut ginger paste, psyllium sauce, and black tomato.

Personally, I’m partial to the second menu, which I think shows how much Arzak has grown as a restaurant during the decades since Tony’s first visit.

Astelena

Bar Astelena (not to be confused with a restaurant of the same name) is one of the bars that Bourdain visits during his first trip to San Sebastián, when he goes on a meandering tour of spots offering pintxos, the Basque form of tapas. Here, he tries the house specialty of pastel de pescado (fish cake) as well as codfish with onion and peppers.

While this doesn’t sound like much, it’s part of Tony’s education in the Basque tradition of eating “a little bit, often” and only eating the best pintxos that each bar has to offer.

Ganbara

Anthony Bourdain in San Sebastian - Octopus Pinxos

However, another stop on Tony’s first pintxos tour is good enough that he makes a return visit during Parts Unknown. Bar Ganbara is another pintxos spot, but their house specialty of seared wild mushrooms with foie gras and raw egg yolk is what Bourdain has been dreaming of for the 15 years between visits.

He also tries various other pintxos during his two trips: anchovies, smoked salmon, octopus, white asparagus, iberico ham with mushrooms, and crab tartlets. (He’s really lost the thread of “a little bit, often” by this point!)

San Telmoko Goilarea

Bourdain visits one other pintxos bar during his 2001 visit, though they’re really more of a high-end tapas bar. At San Telmoko Goilarea (which I could find no website or contact info for), he eats black pudding ravioli and foie gras – both of which are not for everyone but are two faves for Tony.

Casa Urola

For another fine dining option (which basically sounds like almost everywhere that isn’t a pintxos bar in San Sebastián based on Tony’s visits), Bourdain heads to Casa Urola. Here he has an incredible multi-course meal of seared mushrooms with egg yolk and pine nuts, grilled tuna with Marmitako sauce, peas in a consumme of Iberico ham, and fish with white bean cream. It’s further evidence in the thesis he makes that San Sebastián might be the best food destination in the world.

Churreria Santa Lucía

Anthony Bourdain in San Sebastian - Churros

During Tony’s visit to this spot during A Cook’s Tour, he and his show refer to it as “Cafe Santa Lucía,” and it’s where he sits down to nurse a hangover with delicious churros and hot chocolate. However, since filming, this must-visit spot for those with a sweet tooth (of which Tony was not known) has changed to be called Churreria Santa Lucía – yes, it’s literally a place that’s known specifically for and named for its churros.

Txoko (Private Gastronomic Societies)

No list of ways and places to eat in San Sebastián would be complete without mentioning the Txokos, or private gastronomic societies that characterize Basque culinary culture. There are a great many txokos, and Tony visits two of them: one during his first visit and a different during his second.

His first txoko in San Sebastián is Gaztelubide, which he visits with chef Luis Irizar. There, he enjoys bacalau (salt cod) with browned garlic olive oil immulsion and piperade (basque pepper sauce), kokotxas (cheeks of hake fish), langustin with serrano ham, and hard cider in the company of the other men who are members of the society.

(It’s worth noting that bacalau is the same food Tony tries often in Portugal, there called Bacalao/Bacalhau – this was a critical food staple of many seafaring European peoples and is experiencing a culinary revival!)

His second visit (during Parts Unknown) is to an unnamed, now-co-ed society, where he enjoys diced raw tuna, grilled prawns with green sauce, fried hake with chicoli(?), and steamed clams.

Asador Etxebarri (Axbe)

Anthony Bourdain in San Sebastian - Grilled Shrimp

Anthony Bourdain visited many great restaurants; few earn the accolade of the place where you’d be fine having your last meal, which is how he introduced Asador Extebarri. Located an hour outside San Sebastián (about halfway to Bilbao), this is one of the best restaurants Tony visits in Spain – if not all of Europe. He makes the trip during Parts Unknown.

There, he’s joined by Virginia Irizar, daughter of Luis Irizar who helped show Tony around during his first visit. They enjoy a multi-course meal of grilled chorizo, grilled razor clams, grilled beluga caviar over almond paste, grilled Gambas, line caught squid grilled and served in its own ink, and Galician beef chop, all while overlooking the Spanish countryside from the restaurant’s outdoor terrace.

El Kano (Getaria)

One main difference between the A Cook’s Tour and Parts Unknown episodes about San Sebastián is that in the latter, Tony spends a lot more time learning about (and showing the audience) Basque history and culture. This includes venturing beyond the city to meet with others who can help tell the story of the Basque people.

For one part of this education, Bourdain heads to Getaria, another seaside community about 30 minutes west of San Sebastián. He meets with shipwright Xabier Agote who is working to revive the Basque tradition of shipbuilding; they enjoy a lunch at El Kano. Known for its style of “paleolithic cooking,” they enjoy an incredible seafood meal including rock prawn (grilled head and body “semi ceviche”); squid grilled with onion green pepper sauce; pil-pil cocochas (jowls or chins of hake); and grilled turbot. I’m not the biggest seafood fan and even my mouth was watering for some of these dishes!

Restaurant La Lerme Ostalapia (Ahetze, France)

Finally, Tony’s second visit includes a visit to an entirely different part of Basque Country: France! The Basque people are actually split across two modern-day countries, Spain and France, and separated by a mountain range – this creates a very interesting dynamic both culturally and and culinarily.

Meeting with a local expert in French-Basque food and culture, Bourdain visits La Lerme Ostalapia in the French town of Ahetze. There he enjoys the French version of Basque food, including tuna belly with tomato carpaccio, and roasted and flambeed pigeon with a tureen also of pigeon. It is a very different meal than the same dishes would have been on the Spanish side, and provides a nice contrast and context for Basque culture.

San Sebastián Food Tours to Try

While you can absolutely plan a trip to basically all of these restaurants visited by Anthony Bourdain in San Sebastián, you might instead want to take a food tour; this will allow you to sample a lot in a short amount of time. Here are a few great food tours in San Sebastián to consider:

No matter which tour you choose – or if you decide to go it alone, following Tony’s footsteps – you’re sure to have at least one incredible meal in San Sebastián. Have any questions about the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in San Sebastián? Let me know in the comments.

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