Back in 2009 we were traveling through Europe at the same time as my friend. He was able to make it to the Basque Country where we couldn’t and he was lucky enough to encounter Victor Montes, a wonderful Pintxo bar in the middle of Bilbao. It’s not hard to find in the middle of the town square and it wonderfully designed.
If you have any trouble you can easily locate the place by their friendly waiter.
Locals have one or two bites at a place, wash it down with beer, wine, or Txacoli (highly recommended) and then move on to the next place. But we were enthralled and stayed for a while. We had a mixture of bacalao (salt cod), a traditional Basque dish, some olive and anchovy on toothpicks (called a Gilda), sardines, marinated anchovies, octopus etc. All washed down with a couple beers and white wines. What was amazing to us is that we are very familiar with tapas but the pinxto experience is so very different. A key component is the artistry and elegance of the dishes and each bar tries to outdo the others.
You order on the honour system, picking what you want and telling the bartender at the end of the session how many you had. One of the prettiest dishes we saw on the day was the marinated octopus. Just an incredible amount of work and artistry on a piece of bread!
By the time we were well into it I was a bit concerned as I could only see one price wall and it seemed to say each pinxto was well over 10EUR! But no, silly me, each were 2EUR and the beer and wine was about the same. Less than 30EUR for an amazing meal!
What’s beautiful about this is that the Basque believe that the pintxo culture perfectly matches theirs. Freedom of choice, frequent movement, and honesty are all key parts of their society. It’s a microcosm mixed with their intense love for food. When you’re in Basque country you must try the pintxo bars – if that brings you to Bilbao make sure Victor Montes is on your must-visit list!
BTW, I even snagged a top Spanish Pintxo book!