- a blog about food and value

Cheap Eats, San Sebastian

San Sebastian

San Sebastian

It wasn’t until we’d booked our accommodation, and hopped on the train, that we learnt San Sebastian is the most expensive city in Spain. Great.

But as soon as we arrived – feet weary from the Camino – we fell in love with this very popular beach city. It’s billed as the gastronomic capital of Spain and is brimming with Michelin starred restaurants. Sadly for us, these weren’t an option.

But we did eat very well nonetheless (except for the day I ate nothing but Italian ice cream, but I’ll gloss over that). You can get by in San Sebastian by living off pinxtos, the Basque tapas that usually appear as small bites on pieces of fresh bread. Showing a customary disdain for health and safety, these often sit up on the bar all day, uncovered, while people drink and smoke all over them. This didn’t stop us eating them, and we didn’t get sick. Usually priced from €1.50-€3, a few pinxtos go very well with a drink at the bar. You’ll find the best of them outside the old town, on a street called Reyes Catolicos.

You can get by solely on pinxtos, although you’d get pretty bored of them very soon. Most restaurants offer a Menu del Dia, where you’ll get a starter, main, and dessert for €15-20.

As a one-off treat, we decided to try out one of San Sebastian’s most renowned seafood restaurants, Beti-Jai. I still can’t believe I paid €18 for a starter plate of ham. Excellent ham it was, but a load of ham on a plate nonetheless. It may have come from the King of Pigs, massaged by angels and fed a strict diet of caviar and sylphs, but inevitably, with every bite, I couldn’t help questioning if it was worth €18. Snack Box’s Gambas al Ajillo (Prawns in Oil) cost €16, came alone, and were started-sized. I had a traditional Basque dish of Hake (€22); it was a feast of fish, white wine, herbs, and garlic – superb.

The next night, we kicked ourselves as our meal in Itxaropena, a restaurant in the old town, was less than half the price and just as good. Their paella may be the best I’ve ever tasted, while my fried anchovies were wonderfully fresh.

Basque and Spanish food wasn’t particularly amenable to the days when we stumbled around the city, simultaneously drunk and hungover, and utterly hysterical from lack of sleep. For hungover pleasure, be served by the world’s rudest lady in the takeaway chicken paradise of La Cueva del Polla. We got a very delicious, big fat juicy half chicken with (possibly some kind of Basque) gravy and chips for just €7.30, and then went back for more. Enjoy this while sitting on the beach and soaking up the sun, before heading back for more drinkin’.

This is a great little town, relatively pricey compared to most of Spain, and very busy in July and August, when most of France and Spain decamps here. Best of all, it’s quite possible to enjoy the food in this gastronomic haven without breaking what’s left of your bank.


  1. “Except for the day I ate nothing but Italian ice cream ” Its a food group, have no shame.

    Chicken and chips on the beach? Classy!

  2. Born in San Sebastián, living in Dublin; and happy to see my town featured.

    Be careful with spelling “La cueva del pollO” means “the cave of the chicken” “the chicken’s cave”. “Pollo” is chicken, “Polla” is something different…. :-p

  3. Hihihi, got that one, donostiarra!

  4. Peter,
    Thanks for this helpful, informative post. It reaches out to my principal fear on a potential visit very soon there in San Sebastian: avoiding to spend too much on food. My question: I’ll be there on two days where most eateries are known to be closed (Sun + Monday). Do you remember any affordable good place opened on both days. I hope I can pay less than 20 euros (average price for an appetizer at most non-pintxos places) for a meal (simple app and a decent-to-good enough main course) .