10 Amazing Places To Eat In Bilbao
Main image: Azurmendi/City Foodsters, Flickr
The Basque region has a remarkable density of Michelin Star restaurants; an impressively large number of listings in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants; and some of the most inventive nouvelle cuisine in the world.
So if you’re into food, consider this something of a pilgrimage.
Bilbao, its capital, is a real hub for great restaurants, alongside nearby San Sebastián. And while gastronomy is taken so seriously here that you can’t go too far wrong, it’s reassuring to know that you’re dining at one of the top picks. And so with that in mind – here are ours.
La Despensa del Etxanobe
Plush, intimate, and lit by a twinkling constellation of overhead lights, La Despensa del Etxanobe is one of the most romantic spots in Bilbao – something that can only be enhanced by the delicate, avant-garde menu, whose meat and seafood-heavy mains are capped off by desserts like hazelnut fluid; spicy chocolate with golden nuggets; and a fake fried egg made from sheep’s curd and mango.
Details: Calle Juan Ajuriaguerra, 8, 48009 Bilbao | ££££
Nido Bilbao may not look like your classic Basque eatery, with its cast iron columns, hand-painted murals and low-slung industrial bulbs looped across the ceiling. But the dishes here are all plucked from the area’s culinary heritage, arranged on the menu by the main ingredient – whether that’s Ibérico pork; free-range farm eggs; or indeed tripe. Don’t miss the beef carpaccio – it’s showered with flavoursome parmesan flakes, and is completely excellent.
Details: Calle Barroeta Aldamar 3, 48001 Bilbao | £££
Chef Daniel García’s cuisine is such a hit, it’s travelled as far as New York and Tokyo in pop-up form – but it’s possibly at its best here, where he’s been cooking for three decades. Another product of the 90s Basque nouvelle cuisine boom, dishes have their roots in local produce and flavours but are put together with mystical techniques, which you can enjoy in a variety of different tasting menus.
Details: Alameda Mazarredo 17, 48001 Bilbao | ££££
Victor Montes is one of the most popular spots in Bilbao – which means you’ll need to reserve (quite possibly weeks) in advance. But it also means that you can look forward to dishes made with the most distinguished local and imported produce, like acorn-fed Ibérico ham, Arbequina caviar, and Norwegian salmon dusted with gold powder. Book a table in their upstairs dining room if you can – it comes with views of the Neoclassical Plaza Nueva and a 150 year old wine and whisky collection for scenery.
Details: Plaza Nueva, 8, 48005, Bilbao | £££
Asador Horma Ondo
A little outside Bilbao is the nearby town Larrabetzu, home to 1917 inhabitants, an old historic quarter, and a mightily delicious asador by the name of Horma Ondo. An asador is essentially a traditional grill-house (the likes of which have inspired London’s Sabor and Morada Brindisa) that scorches fresh ingredients over a high-heat grill for fast cooking. Horma Ondo’s speciality is seafood – so don’t miss the region’s characteristic dish of grilled salt cod and peppers.
Details: Caserio Legina Goikoa s/n, 48195 Larrabetzu | ££££
Azurmendi is legendary not just locally, but globally – unsurprising, given its trio of Michelin stars and seemingly unflappable position on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. It’s less of a restaurant and more of a theatrical excursion through chef Eneko Atxa’s culinary genius – you’ll start your evening amongst the home-grown herbs and vegetables in the rooftop garden, slipping into the tree-filled greenhouse for snacks like asparagus cotton, before finally taking your seat in the dining room, whose projected walls shift with each increasingly creative course…
Details: Corredor del Txorierri Salida 25, Larrabetzu | ££££
Tucked down a cobbled side street in the Old Quarter, Taberna Basaras is a truly local-feeling pintxos bar famous for their trainera (prawns on toasted bread) and potato omelette. Hole up with the locals for the evening, order a bottle of whatever they recommend, and tuck into a stream of small plates in low-key, authentic surroundings.
Details: Pilota Kalea, 4, 48005 Bilbao | ££
Michelin-starred Mina is perched on the riverfront, a stone’s throw from the bustling Ribera market and therefore the city’s freshest produce. Every day they take their pick of the best seasonal ingredients and rustle them up into regularly changing tasting menus, made up of 7, 10, or 14 courses, which could involve anything from spider crab soup to seawater ice sorbet. Plump for the local wine pairings, take a seat up at the bar, and watch it all unfold.
Details: Muelle Marzana, 48003 Bilbao | ££££
The unveiling of Frank Gehry’s iconic Guggenheim building 20 years ago catapulted Bilbao into global cultural stardom – and it’s got the restaurants to match. Nerua is the most popular spot thanks to its Michelin star; but head to the lesser-known Bistro, and you’ll be rewarded with glorious views and an informal yet sophisticated take on traditional Basque cuisine.
Details: Avenida Abandoibarra 2, 48009, Bilbao | £££
Casa Rufo seems, at first glance, to be an adorably traditional deli, butchers and wine store, flanked by wooden shelves piled high with canned goods, jars and spices. In fact, it’s all a highly elaborate prelude to their restaurant, tucked away at the back amongst the bottles of wine. Pick one out and tuck into balsamic-drizzled asparagus; baked salt cod; and tuna belly salad.
Details: Hurtado de Amezaga 5, 48008 Bilbao | £££
…AND A BONUS WINE BAR ROUND
About 20km outside of Bilbao is a great little spot to sink a drink. Literally. Because Crusoe Treasure is a winemaker that ages all its bottles in Ancient Greek-style amphora at the bottom of the sea. Plump for one of their day trips, and you’ll be able to dive down to the artificial reef they’ve created, admire the marine life, then head up to the boat for an on-board wine tasting as the sun sets. Don’t worry though…
…There won’t be any drunken sailors.
Like exploring the food scene on holiday? Check out our Travel section for more recommendations