I might have mentioned that on our recent trip to northern Spain we ate all the pinxtos.
You might have thought that was an exaggeration. I assure you. It was not.
We really did eat pinxtos from morning till night. There’s just something about those little appetizer-sized wonders that I just adore. Maybe it’s all the bar snacks I grew up eating as a kid waiting for my mom to either finish her waitressing shift, or run through her tips while hanging out at said bar, a place of both employment and entertainment. Although, to be fair, those bar snacks were mostly bowels of stale Corn-Nuts or some chicharones.
Whatever it is, I’m like Cher’s Rachel Flax in “Mermaids:” I could exist on a diet of just hors d’oeuvres.
Plus there’s the fact that, in Spain at least, it’s all but mandatory that you accompany your plate of pinxtos with a 2-3 euro glass of better-than-average vino tinto or vino blanco.
And, I love the history of them: They came about as a way to save your place at the bar while you went to the bathroom, or stepped aside to call your homies on your phone, or, more likely since we are in Spain, dashed outside to have a cigarette. The bartenders would give guests little pieces of bread to put over their wine glass to show they were coming right back.
There is a protocol to ordering and eating pinxtos. You slide up to a spot at the bar, point at a couple of delicious looking ones, or order some heated ones off the board. In many places, you can just help yourself to the cold ones that are literally out in the open. Or, you can point and grunt and have them served on a plate. The bartender will keep your tab open till you’re done. Most folks just get a couple and then move on. We sometimes broke this rule, eating many, many options from the same place just, you know, for quality control.
Oh, also, a lot of the old Spanish men throw their paper napkins on the ground when they are finished. No idea what that’s about but thought it worth mentioning. I totally wanted to do this, but didn’t dare.
On that note, here’s some of our favorite pinxto places in Bilbao. There will also be separate posts on pinxtos in San Sebastian and Pamplona, where we conducting our own “Running of the Bars.” That would be a pinxto crawl of all the bars along the route of the Running of the Bulls. I have photos from around 12 or so locations before everything turned heartburn-y and blurry and I completely lost track/the will to eat/photograph anything else.
Do not let it be said that our research was not comprehensive or exhaustive, dear reader.
Calle Licenciado Poza 50
A wonderful, if extremely narrow, bar near the soccer stadium, San Mames. We came by here more than once before and after Athletic Bilbao games. The crowds were festive, the bartender was friendly, and he made a great gin and tonic. This one is a bit of a cheat because while they did have pinxtos, we actually just had a bowl of peanuts encrusted in salt. You would pop one in your mouth, swirl it around to get some salt off and then crack it open and eat the peanut inside. I cannot find them on the Internet anywhere, so I’m not sure what their proper name is, but they were perfect.
Maestro García Rivero, 6
This is actually a bar that we went to the last time we were in Bilbao. We had gone before a weekend soccer match, and it was full of families and fans and had a great atmosphere. Naturally, we headed right there when we got to Bilbao this time. We found the street it was on fairly easily (there are a bunch of pinxto bars on this particular street), but we couldn’t remember the name or exact location. So we stood on the sidewalk and looked it up on the blog (there was a photo with the bar’s name on a napkin) and realized we were standing right in front of it.
I must say, it was a lot less lively and inviting than last time, so we kept our visit pretty short. And, we stuck with a classic, pan con tomate y jamon – nice crusty bread smeared with tomato guts and topped with some nice salty Iberico.
Maestro Garcia Rivero 5
Just across the street from Gozatu was the new and very sleek La Fugitiva. I’ll admit, I was drawn in by their excellent awning and cool type font. Since it was new, so was our bartendress, who was friendly but a bit clueless about the pinxtos on offer. We settled on a special, which included six pinxtos. They were all pretty meh, including the potato and cheese coquetas pictured here. We ended up wishing we’d skipped the hard-sale special and just had one or two pinxtos. Cool atmosphere though.
Gregorio de la Revilla 13
This became our new favorite pinxtos bar in Bilbao after the disappointment at Gozatu. Wonderful food and drinks, great atmosphere. It’s on a busy street corner and had outdoor seating so the people watching was fantastic.
We definitely had a few of what on the receipt appear as “muselina de bonito con piparra,” but which I believe were the tuna sandwiches/rolls with green peppers. Or maybe those were the “bonito del cantabrico con alegri,” which the INCREDIBLY unhelpful Google Translate said is “bonito del cantabrico with joy.”
Whatever they’re called, they were awesome. Tuna in Spain is dense, and briny, and doesn’t even need any garnishment, although the peppers are so, so good with it. It is completely different. It’s like comparing “Real Housewives of Potomac” to “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” They may sound similar and they may swim in the same Bravo waters, but one is very much of lesser quality.
Speaking of, I really want to watch “Mermaids” right now. (ALL FISH-HORS D’OEUVRE-RELATED PUNS INTENDED.)