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9 best restaurants you must visit in Bilbao, recommended by top chefs

Black pudding, grilled hake and scrambled egg with spring mushrooms are just some of the mouth watering options at some of the best restaurants in Bilbao.

travel Updated: Jul 09, 2018 12:55 IST
Bilbao,Asador Etxebarri,Kate  Zaharra
Bilbao has a long and proud culinary history, and Bilbao is now home to many restaurants that celebrate it.(Shutterstock)

Bilbao isn’t the first city that trips off the tongue when you recommend international dining destinations.

It’s only in the past 20 years or so that Bilbaohasbecome much of a tourist destination at all. Before the Guggenheim Museum opened in 1997, some peoplejust knew it as the airport where you landed en route for the charming seaside city of San Sebastian.

Yet Bilbao has a charm of its own, from the walkways and bars beside theNerviónriver, through the parks, squares and plazas to hillside restaurants in the rolling countryside that almost reaches down into the city. The Guggenheim itself makes a visit to Bilbao worthwhile, but the city has much more to offer besides, and the food is a big part of it.

The Basque Country has a long and proud culinary history, and Bilbao is now home to many restaurants that celebrate it. Stroll the streets, pick a random bar and there is a good chance you will enjoy decentpintxossnacks and local wines whose low prices belie their quality. Weasked leading chefs for their recommendations, for both casual snacks and fine dining.

Here’s what they had to say:

AsadorEtxebarri

Beef chop at Etxebarri. (Richard Vines/Bloomberg)

If you are going to visit only one restaurant in the region, Etxebarrishould be the one, though it is a trek. It’s almost an hour’s drive from Bilbao, set deep in beautiful countryside and overlooked by mountains. ChefVictor Arguinzonizwas raised in this farming community in Atxondo and serves the most beautiful meat, fish and vegetables grilled over coals with minimal fuss. The tasting menu of about 15 courses is all about the ingredients, which may be as simple as scrambled egg with spring mushrooms or a beef chop. Chef VirgilioMartinez of Central, in Lima, which placed sixth in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards, is one fan; Enrique Valenti, of MareaAlta, in Barcelona is another.

Address: San Juan Plaza, 1, 48291 Atxondo

Contact: +34 946 58 30 42.

Kate Zaharra

Anchovies at Kate Zaharra. (Richard Vines/Bloomberg)

This restaurant is housed in a stone building on a hillside overlooking Bilbao. You go for the views and stay for the food and wine, which are way better than what you might expect in a place that looks like a tourist joint, complete with English-language menus. The Basque food is as simple as it is delicious. When I visited, the specials included one dish of boletus mushrooms in olive oil and another of anchovies, fried or grilled. There’s a separate wine cellar where you can enjoy local snacks. Kate Zaharrais recommended byChef Ignacio Echapresto, of VentaMoncalvillo, in Darocala Rioja.

Address: Zabalbide Kalea, 221, 48015;

Contact: +34 944 46 13 47.

RestauranteMarkina

It would be easy to walk past this inexpensive restaurant: With sports playing on televisions and drinkers lined up at the bar, it is deceptively casual. But this pintxosjoint is known for the quality of its local ingredients, including the freshest of fish. There’s no elaborate cooking because everything already tastes so good. The flavours are full on, from theJamón Ibérico de Bellota, through the anchovies with olive oil to options such as the black pudding and the grilled hake (22.80 euros/$27). It’s the pick of chefEneko Atxaof the three-Michelin-star Azurmendi. He says Markina is a longtime favorite of locals.

Address: Calle de Henao 31,48009,Bilbao;

Contact: +34 944 232 540.

Restaurante Mina

Lunch at Mina. (Richard Vines/Bloomberg)

It’s surprising that this restaurant has only a single Michelin star. ChefÁlvaro Garridodeserves more for cooking that is inventive and accomplished, with many ingredients coming from the local market. The dining room is housed above a former mine and overlooks theNerviónriver. You can sit at the counter and watch the mostly female chefs turn out tasting menus (85euros for 10courses) of pretty dishes that may include cod-liver cream and crunchy cod skin; and smoked txitxarro mackerel, cauliflower and cider. Chef DavidMuñoz, who holds three Michelin stars at DiverXO in Madrid, is one fan; Enrique Valenti of MareaAlta, in Barcelona, is another; Ignacio Echaprestoof Venta Moncalvillo, Darocala Rioja, is a third.

Address: Martzana Kaia, s/n, 48003;

Contact: +34 944 79 59 38.

Nerua

Dinner at Nerua. (Richard Vines/Bloomberg)

Chef JoseanAlija’s restaurant inside the Guggenheim Museum serves modern Spanish dishes with clean flavors that center on a single ingredient. The localguisantes lágrimatear-shaped peas, for example, are simply served with a squid juice; crispy pig’s ear comes topped with salted herbs and garlic. There’s an 80 euro lunch, but it’s worth going for the 14-course option at 145 euros if your budget stretches to that. Chefs who recommend Neruainclude Enrique Valenti of Marea Alta; and Virgilio Martinez of Central.

Address: Guggenheim Museum, Av. Abandoibarra 2, 48001

Contact: +34 944 00 04 30.

El Puertito

Lunch at El Puertito. (Richard Vines/Bloomberg)

This tiny oyster bar in the center of Bilbao is worth seeking out. Sit outside with a dozen oysters (18 euros and up)from around the world and a bottle of local Txakoli wine and life is sweet. There are only four stools inside and two or three tables on the pavement, so it pays to arrive early to beat the queues. The oysters are shucked to order, while the service is friendly and well-informed. “I always go here,” says chef EnekoAtxa of Azurmendi, who likes to grab a beer and sit outside to soak up the local atmosphere.

Address: Poza Lizentziatuaren Kalea, 22, 48011 ;

Contact: +34 944 02 62 54.

San MamésJatetxea

Charcoal roasted vegetables at San Mames. (Richard Vines/Bloomberg)

This gastronomic restaurant is inside theSan Maméssoccer stadium, with a dining room that overlooks the pitch. The menu is based on Basque culinary traditions: It’s slow food for a fast-moving game. There are tasting menus, or you can go a la carte, withoptions such as charcoal-roasted micro-vegetables in their juices (9.50 euros). I went for lunch and I have to say the place was lacking in atmosphere as Isat alone at a large table overlooking the deserted stadium. But I’d go back for chef Ion Gómez’s cooking.San Mamésis recommended by chef Ignacio Echaprestoof Venta Moncalvillo, who says his two loves are food and soccer.

Address: Estadio San Mamés, Puerta 14, C/ Rafael Moreno Pichichi, s/n, 48013;

Contact: +34 946 412 432.

Txakoli Simón

This traditional Basque restaurant, a 15-minute drive from the city center, is known for serving some of the best steaks in Bilbao, as well as for its large wine cellar. TxakoliSimón is the choice ofEnekoAtxa of Azurmendi, wholikes the quality of the meatand enjoys eating outdoors on a sunny day, with views over the countryside. There are set menus at 45 euros and 50 euros, featuring options such asLodosa piquillo peppers with Cantabrian anchovies;and grilled chop.

Address: Camino San Roque 89, 480150

Contact: +34 944 45 74 99.

Zarate

Chef Sergio Ortiz de Zarateis known for his love of fish and seafood. Thatpassion is on display in his restaurant, where there are several menus, including the eight-dish Zarate, at 62 euros. Plates may include crunchyasparagus with almonds; tuna tartar and oyster, yuzucreamy gel anchovy; and begihaundi(squid) noodles, carbonara of mushrooms. “I recommend accepting the chef’s daily recommendations,depending on what the sea gives him,”says EnekoAtxa. “He worked on the coast for years and knows fishermen well.”

Address: Poza Lizentziatuaren Kalea, 65, 48013

Contact: +34 944 41 65 21.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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First Published: Jul 09, 2018 12:42 IST