May 13, 2016

Local-Eats-In-Bilbao-Hero Pintxos can be found almost anywhere you go in Bilbao. Flickr user Katina Rogers

I’ve been to France many times over the years, and while I love tucking into a delicious parfait or fresh baguette with jambon, recently my taste buds have been tempted by something a little different. Not too long ago, I visited the Basque Country (an autonomous region in northern Spain) and I was wowed by the exceptional cuisine. Although similar in many ways to the rest of Spain, the food in the Basque Country is truly magnificent, and while I was there, I ate like a King! One of my favourite places, for the food and the culture, was Bilbao. Home to one of the world’s Guggenheims and overflowing with fantastic eateries, Bilbao is a foodie’s paradise. Eat your way around this delicious city with my guide to local eats in Bilbao.

Bistró Guggenheim Bilbao

Designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry and built in 1997, Bilbao’s Guggenheim will take your breath away before you’ve even stepped foot inside. Incredible sculptures surround the industrial-looking building, while some of the finest contemporary art can be found inside. As well as art, the Guggenheim houses two restaurants: Michelin Star-winning Nerua and the more casual Bistró.

Bistró Guggenheim Bilbao
The magnificent Guggenheim, where you’ll find Bistró Guggenheim Bilbao. © Flickr user Vicente Villamón

When we visited Bilbao, we opted to eat dinner at Bistró. The food was, without a doubt, exceptional, and as the menu is seasonal, everything tasted really fresh. Diners can choose from a three-course menu, which currently includes such delights as spider crab terrine and lacquered pork cheeks, a five-course tasting menu or the lunchtime express meal. Although the menu sounds simple, the dishes are incredibly complex and full of interesting flavours. My favourite dish was the hake, which is typical in Basque cuisine, in a green sauce with chard.


Pintxos, or pinchos, are the Basque Country’s version of Spain’s tapas. Delicious toppings are placed on small rounds of white bread creating the perfect snack, light lunch or drinking accompaniment. As you’d expect, pintxos can be found at almost every bar and restaurant in Bilbao, often placed on display at the bar or countertop, so you’re spoilt for choice.  

We ate pintxos at plenty of different places throughout our stay, but one of my favourites was Irrintzi. This casual bar is located in Bilbao’s beautiful old town and although it’s small, there’s a large range of pintxos to choose from – if you get there early enough – and they’re well priced, too! Try classics like tortilla de patatas (potato omelette) and cod croquettes, or try Irrintzi’s more unusual pintxos, such as frog’s legs and foie gras stuffed mushrooms. Wash it all down with a glass of txakoli, a sparkling dry white wine that’s produced in the Basque Country.

Restaurante Markina

No matter where you eat in Bilbao, you’re guaranteed to get a good meal. Whether I was grabbing a few pintxos, indulging in a six-course tasting menu or having a casual dinner at a low-key restaurant, every morsel of food I ate was delicious. During our stay, we fell in love with Restaurante Markina, which is just a short walk from the Guggenheim, and ate there several times.  

From the outside, and the inside for that matter, Restaruante Markina looks like your average, unassuming dinner spot. But the food is far from average. Enjoy a glass of rioja or txakoli as your peruse the large menu, which boasts typical Basque delights such as cured ham, hake and Basque black pudding. We began our meal with the Basque green peppers (small peppers which are charred and sprinkled with salt) and the black pudding – both were delicious. Then we sampled the oxtail stew and the fresh squid in black sauce. The oxtail was incredibly tender and in a delightfully rich sauce, while the squid, cooked in a sauce of its own ink, butter and garlic, was divine.

Charred green peppers
Charred green peppers are a popular menu item. © Flickr user Alexander Baxevanis


Drive to Bilbao from the UK with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle; the journey from Folkestone to Calais takes 35 minutes. From there, the Basque Country is just a drive away.

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