The Basque country on the north coast of Spain has carved out an impressive reputation with its vibrant food scene. Indeed, San Sebastian is one of the foodie capitals of the world drawing gourmands from near and far to sample its culinary delights. But in recent years, Bilbao has also placed itself firmly on the map with its excellent cuisine. The city is brimming with Michelin-starred eateries, traditional cafes and street food stalls showcasing the region’s wonderful produce. With all these choices, deciding where to begin can be tricky. To help you embark on an unforgettable culinary adventure, Elite Traveler has rounded up the very best restaurants in Bilbao.
Helmed by famous Spanish chef Daniel García, Zortziko regularly rates as one of the best restaurants in Bilbao. Bearer of a Michelin star and popular with critics, the restaurant offers traditional Basque cuisine, including local favorites such as Roast Baby Squid with Peppers and Scallops on a bed of Tomato Carpaccio. Zortziko offers three different dining rooms; one has a Versailles feel to it, another is English influenced, while the third has a more contemporary, laid-back vibe. The best option, however, is to dine in the wine cellar beneath, where you’ll be seated at a rustic wooden table surrounded by premium vintages.
Bistró Guggenheim Bilbao
The city’s chief attraction, the Guggenheim Museum also boasts one of Bilbao’s best restaurants. Access is via a separate entrance, so if you just want to come for a meal you won’t have to pay the museum entrance fee. As menu of innovative Basque cuisine reflects the versatility of the museum and draws in the rich and famous of the Basque area. The interior of the restaurant is modern and contemporary and the service excellent, while the wine list includes a wide selection of superb vintages. After dinner, sit on the exclusive terrace with views of the city.
To fully understand and appreciate the concept of Basque cuisine, head to Andra Mari. Not only does the restaurant serve delightful local produce skillfully transformed into traditional Basque dishes, its superb location outside of Bilbao – overlooking the Ibaizabal river valley and across to the mountains – is a wonderful setting for an evening meal. Andra Mari is part of a beautiful Basque country house next to a 13th century church from which it gets its name. With wooden furniture, a well-stocked wine cellar and a gorgeous view over the surrounding countryside, Andra Mari embodies the Basque spirit and is the perfect destination restaurant for elite travelers.
It would be hard to talk about Bilbao cuisine without mentioning pintxos, the Basque version of tapas. Pintxos differ from the tapas you may have experienced in Madrid or Barcelona. Much more than just a small bar snack, pintxos are never free, are served in bars all over the city and have evolved alongside the city’s cuisine to become gastronomic masterpieces in their own right. Irrintzi is one of the best places to sample these delightful dishes, and it offers traditional and innovative pintxos. The cozy bar is often packed with an eclectic clientele; from the beautiful members of the Basque elite to the artisans and hipsters who give Irrintzi its distinctive vibe.
The first restaurant in Bilbao to earn two Michelin stars, Azurmendi is where the rich and beautiful head to enjoy some of the finest cooking in the Basque area. Based in a traditional farmhouse, the restaurant is run by Chef Eneko Atxa, chosen as ’Le Chef del L´avenir’ by the International Academy of Gastronomy in 2010. With a penchant for pairing unexpected flavors, Atxa has taken the best from the Basque area and combined it with haute cuisine to create a selection of trendy dishes that will appeal to international gastronomes. Azurmendi is located in Larrabetzu, only a ten-minute drive from Bilbao. The restaurant topped the list of Elite Traveler’s Top 100 Restaurants in the World for 2017 by being named the number one restaurant by readers.
The short drive from Bilbao to San Sebastian is more than worth it to savor a meal at Arzak. Commonly regarded as one of the best restaurants in the world, Arzak is run by the father/daughter team of Juan and Elena Mari Arzak. Awarded three Michelin stars in 1989, the restaurant has remained at the top of its game since then, and has regularly appeared in the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Arzak serves New Basque Cuisine and exquisite flavors served with impeccable presentation. Expect classic dishes combined with innovation from Juan Mari; some of the dishes are not quite what they seem, and combine unusual ingredients with excellent results.
Located along the canal opposite the Ribera market in the heart of the city, Mina is the perfect place to stop for a bite to eat after a long day exploring Bilbao. The eatery is helmed by talented head chef Alvaro Garrido and his wife Laura Martin who runs Mina’s front of house. There is just one 14-course tasting menu (and a reduced option with 10 courses) which constantly changes with the seasons.
It didn’t take long for Mina to catch the Michelin inspectors’ eye and the gourmet eatery scooped its first coveted star in 2013. Expect inventive, flavor-packed dishes that showcase the region’s wonderful produce. As for the restaurant itself, the rustic interiors feature exposed brick walls and a beautiful bar carved from oak overlooking the open kitchen.