Bilbao, like many cities in the Basque country, is known for its excellent cuisine, particularly its fish and seafood. The city may be filled with haute cuisine dining options and Michelin-starred restaurants, but it has more than its fair share of local places too. Here are our top ten local restaurants in Bilbao.
Situated in the historic Casco Viejo or Old Quarter in the heart of Bilbao, the Restaurante Mandoya has been serving traditional Basque cuisine for more than 55 years. As much a part of the city’s history as the medieval streets surrounding it, this popular venue is well-established on Bilbao’s restaurant scene. Mandoya prides itself on its top quality produce—fish is sourced daily from the nearby ports of Lekeitio and Bermeo, and they grow some of their own herbs and vegetables. They’re particularly well known for their excellent fish and seafood dishes, which include sizeable lobsters straight from the restaurant’s in-house tank, giant clams, and chargrilled monkfish. They also have special options for vegetarians and coeliacs, which is rare in Spain.
If you’re after something a little different, Casa Rufo provides the unexpectedly fantastic experience of dining in a delicatessen-inspired labyrinth. Over a hundred years old, this apparently unassuming, family-run establishment is Restaurant network of hidden rooms and secret corners, its corridors lined with all sorts of delicious Basque groceries including vegetables, olive oils, cured hams, and preserves. Feel free to investigate the Spanish produce and interesting knick-knacks displayed throughout the rooms. The owners are widely renowned as welcoming, enthusiastic, and ever-happy to recommend their favorite dishes. Casa Rufo boasts a charming, comfortable atmosphere serving excellent, simple, and traditional Basque food and regional wines. It is celebrated in particular for its txuleton (rib-eye) steaks, cooked over hot coals.
Located a little away from the touristic center, Agape is a top choice among locals, particularly for its good quality and reasonably priced food. Typical Basque and other Spanish dishes are the order of the day, but the main reason to come here is its excellent menú del día (menu of the day), which was named as one of the top 20 in the whole of Spain by El País—one of Spain’s national newspapers. For just €13 you can choose from selection starters, mains, and desserts, with wine, water, and bread included. Typical choices include courgette soup with ricotta cheese, followed by braised tenderloin cooked in two types of wine.
Café Iruña is a much-loved Bilbao institution. Situated opposite the popular park, Los Jardines de Albia, it’s renowned for its intricate Moorish-inspired interior. With its Arabic-style archways, patterned ceilings, and colorful tiled floors, the main dining room overlooks the square beneath. Established in 1903, it has been a favorite hangout of both locals and visitors for over a century and is considered a vital part of the cultural heritage of the city. The café is particularly famous for its kebabs, which are prepared in front of clients in one corner of the bar.
Another Bilbao institution, this cute little restaurant first opened in 1959, serving what came to be its filled stews. Today it’s known for its simple, yet hearty, traditional Basque cuisine, both from the land and the sea. Think snails in garlic and tomato sauce, sheep’s brains, salt cod, and squid cooked in its own ink.
Guria is another of the city’s traditional restaurants with deep roots in the earth of the Basque Country. Created by the Pildain family in 1948, who hailed from the tiny village of Arakaldo, the restaurant is an elegant choice for Basque cuisine. Historically serving simple country fare, the restaurant today has embraced contemporary trends in Basque cooking while remaining true to its roots. The majority of the menu and the dishes were created by Jenaro Pildain, known as “The King of Cod,” hence why Guria specializes in a variety of typical cod dishes.
A great meeting spot in the heart of the Old Town, Los Fueros has recently undergone major renovations to restore it to its former glory. The interior now beautifully fuses together modern furniture and a fresh contemporary feel, with traditional colorful tiles lining the walls. Its menu has been updated too, but still uses authentic Basque ingredients and quality produce. Dishes include anchovy pie, fried hake with pepper mayonnaise, and bonito salad. They are particularly well known for their famous prawns.
This welcoming restaurant serves both classic Basque dishes and international classics with a Basque twist. Its cozy interior, lined with photographers and bottles of wine, is an atmospheric place to eat too. Try dishes such as cod gratin with vegetable pisto (Spain’s version of ratatouille), fried hake with roasted peppers, or beef sirloin with pistachio crust and glazed scallions. They also serve rustic burgers, risottos, and pasta.
Actually a small bar rather than a proper restaurant, this place is for oyster fans. El Puertito is the city’s first oyster bar. In the summer patrons sit outside sipping on glasses of local wine and slurp down delicious oysters straight from the shell. The menu features oysters from both France and Galicia.
Located along the banks of the River Nervión, this is a popular choice on the Bilbao restaurant scene. Its sleek interior is lined with stone walls and is fused with modern touches. They specialize in paella, but also serve a variety of classic Mediterranean dishes. The menu features plates such as fried squid with artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes and seafood soup. They also offer savory crêpes and pasta.