Bilbao, Spain, Guggenheim, Pintxos, Restaurants, Guggenheim Museum, Guggenheim Art Museum, Pintxos, Tapas, Restaurants, Bars, Recommendations, Where to eat in Spain, Where to eat in Bilbao, Chef Recommendations, Insider Recommendations, Hotel, Where to stay, Slide Show, Photographs, Spanish


Recommendations From

- Chef Kevin Patricio

- Terry Zarikian, co-owner of the former Bar Basque Restaurant in New York, NY

- Chef Alex Raij and Eder Montero of Txikito, El Quinto Pino and La Vara in New York City

- Andre Tamers, founder of  De Maison Selections

Basque Country - Spain

Historically, it was referred to as the Pittsburgh of Spain, an industrial city in need of some loving. That love arrived over a decade ago, when a monstrous, twisted metallic titanium structure landed on the banks of the Nervion River. Along with it, man’s best friend, a 43-foot tall topiary puppy.

For many, the pilgrimage to Bilbao comprises of a quick overnight stay to see the Guggenheim Museum, check out a few pintxos bars, and move onto the next destination.

From about 7pm to 9pm, the streets and plazas are filled with people strolling from bar to bar, stopping to chat with neighbors and friends, children in tow, grazing on pintxos (pronounced “pin-choss”). The insiders have the game down pat. They stop in for only the specialties of the house, then move on. Hat’s off to them, because it’s really hard to pull yourself away from the bar when you’re enjoying the delicious nuggets of jamon and a glass of wine. But we recommend sampling lots of different places. Here is a list of recommendations from chefs and food industry insiders.

After nine, the bars start to empty and you move onto a restaurant. Chefs Alex Raij and (Bilbao native) Eder Montero who own New York pintxos bars Txikito and El Quinto Pinto, recommend Cafe Iruna, where Eder’s father works. Cafe Iruna first opened its doors in 1903 and they’ve only changed a few light bulbs since. The decor is a historical treat. Beautiful Moorish-inspired tiled floor and walls, a large wooden bar, and bartenders dressed what seems like period costume. In the corner of the bar area, a guy grills kebabs, per order, over an open flame. Served with a couple of pieces of bread, the lamb had hints of fresh lemon, cumin, and a nice mixture of spice and smokiness.

For breakfast, wander around the Plaza Nueva in the Casco Viejo (Old Quarter), and if you’re lucky you might be treated to the Grand Slam Masters Chess tournament.

Shop around town and then return to the Plaza Nueva for lunch. The square is filled with cafe tables and multi-generations of families.

The jewel of the square is the classic Casa Victor Montes. The facade of the building dates back to 1829, with beautiful gilded Art Nouveau touches. Inside, older men with canes and berets hang at the bar, nursing beers and eating pintxos. Lunch starts late, arrive at 2:30pm and the dining area might be empty. Within a half-hour, it’s filled and bustling. Checkered floor, marble tables, white tiled walls, it has an old world elegance. So does the menu, which consists mostly of traditional offerings, a deep Rioja and Spanish-focused wine list, and a dizzing array of whiskies. Pig’s trotters stuffed with foie gras, are sweet, with almost marmalade or chutney taste. The meat soft, tender, with a delicate barbecue-type sauce. The Pil Pil is a very authentic Basque dish. It’s made with cod, garlic and olive oil, three simple ingredients, which is always helped along by the freshness of the bacalao (cod). What makes it unusual is that they cook the olive oil until it turns into an emulsion sauce. Think along the lines of the consistency of a Bearnaise sauce or even a mayonnaise.

Bilbao is not a one-hit wonder. There is much to see beyond the Guggenheim and even more to eat. The formally soot-covered, graffiti-tagged city has had a remarkable make-over with lots of new Starchitect-designed buildings and new restaurants popping up all the time.


Restaurant recommendations in Bilbao, Spain.

Slide Show

For more about Bilbao, watch the slide show.

Travel Guide

Download the Spanish Basque Country guide.




F.E.D. Travel Guides
Find a travel guide »../../../../../guide/download_guides.html../../../../../guide/download_guides.htmlshapeimage_25_link_0