Ordering Pintxos In San Sebastian

What Are Pintxos? How Do You Order Them? Don’t Steal Pintxos Like I Did, Oops!

When my ex-boyfriend and I drove into the old quarter of San Sebasti├ín we were inundated with crowds. What on earth was going on? People amassed the narrow roads and alleys, bars were overflowing with patrons and music was reverberating around the buildings. Turns out this was the weekend for San Sebastian’s annual regatta race. Party!

After endless circling of the town, we squeezed our car into a tiny spot hugging the seawall, found our hotel between the throngs of partygoers, rolled our luggage into our room and bounded back down the stairs to join in the festivities. Ravenous and thirsty from our drive from Arcachon, we maneuvered our way through the crowds in search of a filling meal.

Every bar we peeked in, a restaurant we passed we noticed colorfully displayed ‘open-faced sandwiches’ laid atop the length of bars. We were jealous as we assumed these were for private events, but when we overheard a group of Aussies rave about their plates of ‘tapas’, we realized we could join in. Score!

Now, I have already made two faux pas, calling these delectable morsels both a ‘sandwich’ and ‘tapas’. So below is a guide on what pintxos truly are:




  • Pintxos are a Basque version of the tapas/tapa found in other regions of Spain
  • Pintxos, which means to pierce
  • The bread is pierced with a toothpick to keep the layers of goodness together – cheese, charcuterie, vegetables et cetera. Some cocktail sticks hold their own items such as olives, anchovies, and peppers
  • If you call them tapas you will be asked to leave the bar and San Sebasti├ín for that matter
  • Not all pintxos use a piece of bread as its base. Some are fried pieces of yumminess, such as croquettes or can be a bowl of risotto
  • You always pay for pintxos, unlike some areas of Spain where tapas are free when a beverage is purchased
  • Pintxos are displayed along the bar for easy viewing and serving
  • Some bars allow self-service – grab a plate! Others will have the barman serve you
  • Not all pintxos are displayed. Some bars offer a menu of cooked to order pintxos
  • Payment is by the honor system. Those toothpicks aren’t just for holding the pintxos together. They are used to count how many you ate. Round them up and hand them over to the barman


Now that you have been briefed on all things pintxos, let me tell you about my Pintxos stealing adventure.




On our final night, the last of the suns rays were moving over the old quarter creating distorted silhouettes against the pavement. Bands were playing an array of music competing against one another’s sounds and revelers were in high spirits after a successful day of boat racing. Chris and I were famished after a hike up Monte Urgull and decided to head to our favorite pintxos bar. (By now we were seasoned eaters, ‘pintxos bar stars’ we coined ourselves – we had the ordering and paying down pact, we knew which pintxos would be the most delicious and what establishment offered the highest quality of ingredients).

As hoards of inebriated patrons were having a raucous of a time, we had to forcefully meander ourselves through to the bar. Like being on a conveyor belt, we slowly made our way down the long bar, salivating at the pintxos. As it took a while to get the bartenders attention we knew we should order everything in one go – we piled two plates with an assortment of goodies – enough to feed a family, their neighbors, and friends.

We couldn’t shove our way through the crowd in fear of dropping our pintxos on the floor, so we delicately held our plates tight and slithered through to the outside tables. We plonked into the metal chairs, happily sipped our sangria and munched through the pintxos. For an hour we breathed in the exuberant atmosphere and chatted with others at our table.

It was time to head forth to another restaurant, so I piled all the toothpicks into my hand and elbowed my way back to the bar to pay. I felt like a child again, standing among the towering adults, waiting for the barman to notice me. I stood like a good Canadian, patiently waiting to pay. Time passed. I held the toothpicks in front of my face to make it more obvious. Still nothing.

Again like a conveyor belt, I slid side to side in whatever direction the bartender was moving. Finally, eye contact achieved! Then nothing. After this charade went on for a good ten minutes, I had enough of this game and forfeit. When the bartender was busily serving others at the other end of the bar I made a run for it. I ducked low, moved stealthily through the crowd, told Chris to get his ass off the chair and like thieves in the night, disappeared into the darkness down a crowded alley.


*Have a similar story? Appalled by my actions? Share your thoughts below.*