The art and design capital of the Basque Country, Bilbao is a vibrant city, known for its world famous museums and architecture as much as for its tasty cuisine. You’ll find excellent places to dine all over the city, but if you’re looking for places in the atmospheric Casco Viejo (Old Town), then take a look at our selection of the best.
One of the oldest and most famous restaurants in Bilbao, Víctor Montes started life out as a delicatessen in 1846. Sitting on the lively Plaza Nueva, the heart of the Casco Viejo district, it’s an atmospheric place with cosy booths, bottles lining the walls and photographs of famous people who have eaten here. Patrons have included everyone from Bono and Jeremy Irons to Prince Albert of Monaco and the architect of the Guggenheim, Frank Gehry. Dishes include Norwegian salmon with gold powder and Piedmont truffle, and butterfly anchovies with Arbequina caviar.
A modern and contemporary pintxo bar, Irrintzi’s motto is ‘good pintxos with good friends’. Not content with the traditional ingredients for these Basque bites, they use inspiration from all over the world. Lined up along the bar you’ll find everything from crispy apple with duck and peanut sauce to mushrooms with caramelised onions or marinated anchovies with potatoes. Don’t forget to sample the delicious octopus in vinegar and mushroom cream.
A cosy and welcoming restaurant, El Txoko Berria offers both traditional Basque dishes and those with a contemporary international twist. Surrounded by old photographs and bottles of wine, dine on 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, as well as an excellent-value three-course menu of the day for 10.50 euros ($12.83).
A hip little tapas and pintxo bar, Baster has funky lighting, seats at the bar, and chairs and tables outside on the street. It’s known for its 0km concept and use of ecological ingredients. As well as lots of tasty seafood-based tapas dishes, you’ll also find vegetarian and vegan offerings such as an almond pesto-filled roll with shallots, wild mushrooms and courgette. Don’t forget to try their delicious and spicy patatas bravas (fried potato cubes topped with a tomato-based sauce).
A Bilbao institution, Rio-Oja first opened its doors in 1959, and has been going strong ever since. It’s famous for its simple, yet quality, classic Basque cuisine. Make sure to try the bacalao (salted cod) and stewed clams in green sauce, or if you’re feeling adventurous: the snails in garlic and tomato sauce, squid cooked in its own ink or even sheep’s brains.
Dating back to 1973, Bar Charly has been a favourite Plaza Nueva hangout for over 40 years. Inside it is tiny, decorated with polished wood panelling and often standing-room only. Priding itself on its home-cooked food, quality ingredients and traditional recipes, it’s a great spot to dine with the locals. Pair your glass of txakoli (Basque white wine) with goat’s cheese, foie gras and apple; deep fried shrimp rolls with ham; or even fried cod balls. There are a few vegetarian offerings available too.
A large and busy modern-style tavern and bar, Berton is a great choice for both pintxos or a main meal. Its pintxos offerings include bites such as cod or octopus bruschetta, or grilled mushrooms with homemade garlic mayonnaise. If you’re feeling hungry, go for the larger plates such as wild monkfish, baked cod or grilled clams. They also serve excellent grilled meats cooked on hot coals.
One of the most famous pintxos bars in the city, Cafe Bar Bilbao sits on Plaza Nueva, and first opened in 1911. Still just as popular, it’s a cute little place decorated with old blue and white tiles on the walls, and a cosy dining room upstairs. Lined up along the bar are hot and cold pintxos, which include everything from breaded goat’s cheese with berries to a skewer of mushrooms with fried ham, foie gras, melted cheese and caramelised apple. There aren’t many vegetarian options out, but just ask at the bar and they’ll whip you up a pintxo you can eat in a matter of minutes. The bar’s signature pintxo is the traditional bacalao pil-pil, a piece of cod fried in olive oil and garlic.
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