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By Chris | February 3 2007
The Basque country of northern Spain is well known for its culinary delights; indeed San Sebastian has long been considered one of the finest gastronomic cities in Europe. However, recent years have seen the emergence of Bilbao as a foodie haven. The city is packed full of Michelin-starred restaurants, and charming Basque eateries that perfectly showcase the region’s wonderful cuisine.
Helmed by famous Spanish chef Daniel García, Zortziko regularly rates as one of the finest restaurants in the Basque country.
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.
Bermeo has the honor of being regarded as the finest hotel restaurant in Spain; no mean feat considering the country’s plentiful supply of award-winning gastronomic offerings.
Just a short walk from the Guggenheim, Bermeo is located in the Hotel Ercilla, a modern high-rise in the center of Bilbao. Thanks to its delightful authentic Basque cuisine, Bermeo is now the hottest place in town. Try its signature dish of European lobster sautéed with melon slices and bacon in sweet wine cream. The interior décor is a charming blend of wood panel walls, repro antiques and bright white linen; and service from the smartly turned out staff is excellent. Elite travelers can expect to dine alongside a mix of local celebrities and the cream of the city’s social scene.
The city’s chief attraction, the Guggenheim Museum also boasts one of Bilbao’s most sought after 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.