Eight unmissable restaurants in Bilbao, northern Spain

Our pick of the best places to eat in the Basque capital, a city that knows a thing or two about good food and drink. 

By Ben Lerwill
Published 23 Aug 2020, 08:00 BST
Overlooking the Jardines de Albia since it opened its doors in 1903, Café Iruña still feels like ...

Overlooking the Jardines de Albia since it opened its doors in 1903, Café Iruña still feels like some half-dreamt Moorish fantasy, with glazed tiles, painted murals, wood carvings and a tasselled valance above the bar.

Photograph by Café Iruña

El Globo

Best for: lunch-hour pintxos
Bare brick walls and a lively lunchtime throng create the setting for this local favourite, where the house speciality pintxo is a disc of bread topped with spider crab, paprika and a béchamel sauce. Pair it with a chilled glass of txakoli and you may find it hard to ever leave. It’s a few minutes’ walk from Plaza Moyúa and, as with so many places in Bilbao, offers excellent quality at an extremely affordable price. barelglobo.es 

Charamel Gozotegia

Best for: baked goods
Locals queue up, waiting to pile into this Old Town bakery the moment it opens its doors each morning, which tells you all you need to know about the quality of its in-house baking. You’ll find everything from croissants and pastries to more inventive concoctions such as a blue-cheese cheesecake. The coffee is particularly good, while the homely interior design — with greenery hanging from the rough stone walls — makes it the kind of place you’ll want to stay awhile. charamelgozotegia.com


Best for: beer-lovers 
Located near the Udaletxeko Zubia Bridge, this uniquely multifunctional spot is part brewery, part bakery and part restaurant. Staff in breton tops buzz around ferrying drinks and parcelling up bread. It does a good-value midweek menú del día, which you can enjoy while watching bakers and brewers going about their business, although it’s the beer that’s the main attraction. Try the hop-heavy Hitman IPA. basquery.com 

At Gure Toki pintxo bar on the corner of Plaza Nueva, specialities include cheese soup.

Photograph by Gure Toki

Gure Toki

Best for: exquisite pintxos  
Situated in one corner of Plaza Nueva, Gure Toki is to many minds the greatest pintxo bar in the city, with some of its creations elevated to the realm of fine dining. It’s eminently affordable too, with devilishly good specialities such as its sheep’s cheese soup, served in a tiny bowl with quail egg, mushroom and truffle oil, one of the best couple of euros you’ll spend anywhere. Some of its pintxo offerings require ordering direct from the kitchen — don’t be afraid to ask.  

Promenade Bilbao 

Best for: devouring gildas 
Calle Ledesma runs parallel to the main shopping drag, Gran Vía, and is lined with bars and terraces. It lends itself superbly to a spot of bar-hopping, although tiny Vermutería Promenade, with its slim yellow frontage, can be easy to miss. Seek it out, largely because it does one of the best gildas in Bilbao. Made with anchovies, olives and green chillis, this pintxo is said to be named after the 1946 Rita Hayworth film Gilda. promenadebilbao.com

Café del Arenal

Best for: churros
On the fringes of the Old Town, this cafe isn’t much to look at — expect slot machines, tired neon, and a TV showing pop music — but serves up an irresistible treat in the form of its hot chocolate and churros. The chocolate is ludicrously thick and rich; the churros are crunchy tendrils of warm, sugared dough fresh from the kitchen. Bag a seat outside, in the shadow of the Iglesia de San Nicolás de Bari, and get dunking. facebook.com/cafeteriaarenal

Café Iruña

Best for: elaborate decor 
Overlooking the Jardines de Albia since it opened its doors in 1903, this stunning cafe still feels like some half-dreamt Moorish fantasy, with glazed tiles, painted murals, wood carvings and a tasselled valance above the bar. It’s a relatively large venue, split into multiple areas, but the main event, food-wise, is the grill in the far corner, where lamb kebabs are spiced and cooked to order. As late-night snacks go, it takes some beating. cafeirunabilbao.net

La Viña del Ensanche   

Best for: old-world ambiance 
Across the street from El Globo, La Viña del Ensanche has been in business since 1927. It retains a pleasantly bygone feel, with tulip-shaped lampshades, dozens of ageing postcards on the walls and huge legs of ham hanging above the bar. This acorn-fed jamón, cut wafer-thin, is what the bar is famous for, but there’s a broad range of other pintxos to try. In 1996, the bar opened a produce shop to sell the in-demand ingredients and wines on its menu. avinadelensanche.com/en

Published in the Jul/Aug 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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