Out of the three main cities in the Basque Country, Vitoria is undoubtedly the least known. It doesn’t have San Sebastian’s beaches or Michelin-starred restaurants nor the proud pose of Bilbao, a city which has reinvented itself leaving behind its industrial past to become an international tourist destination thanks to the Guggenheim Museum.
As local band Potato sang, Vitoria is the “artificial capital of a singular country” in search of an identity and uniqueness to attract more visitors. Crowned Europe’s Green Capital in 2012 based on its environmental credentials, each of the city’s 240,000 inhabitants have at our disposal 42m² of parks and gardens to enjoy —one of Spain’s highest. In 2014 it was appointed Spain’s Gastronomy Capital backed by its pintxo tradition and penchant for good food proven with events such as Semana de la Cazuelita y el Vino (Pintxo and Wine Week), Ardoaraba wine festival or San Prudencio festival (28 April) and the main fiesta of La Blanca (4-8 August). While Rioja Alavesa is a stone’s throw away, the dozens of pintxo bars and taverns such as Erkiaga, El 7, La Riojana, Amboto or Jango in the Medieval Quarter undoubtedly help to maintain good foodie and wine loving habits.
While the city finds out how to get the best out of its charms, we vitorianos keep flocking to the markets, gastronomic societies, restaurants and pintxo bars that spring up across the Basque capital. Here are some useful addresses for visitors who are keen to discover what’s cooking and brewing in Vitoria:
El Clarete (Cercas Bajas, 18)
Unai and Patxi Fernández de Retana have been serving food and wine at their restaurant since 1998. Formerly a humble tavern, the brothers have turned it into one of the best restaurants in town thanks to a balanced mix of tradition, good ingredients and savoir-fare. Their €20 “spoon menu” recuperates old style dishes like chickpeas or potatoes in salsa verde (an olive oil, parsley and white wine sauce) whereas their tasting menu (€45) includes understated but perfectly thought-out dishes cooked with good quality ingredients. Patxi’s cellar includes 130 Spanish and international lovingly chosen references. El Clarete has undergone a revamp to bring back its old bar counter where punters can enjoy miniature versions of Unai’s dishes paired with a changing list of wines by the glass and homemade vermouth.
Kaskagorri (Plaza del Matxete, 6)
After spending some time at Ferran Adrià’s famous El Bulli, Iosu Sainz returned to his native Vitoria to open Kaskagorri, where he prepares traditional Basque dishes but with a dash of creativity at moderate prices. Pochas con almejas (white beans and clams) and lamb shank are two of his specialities and go down very well on the frequent cold winter days in Vitoria. In the wine list several Spanish varieties and regions are represented.
Zaldiaran (Avenida Gasteiz, 21)
With one Michelin star since 2003, Zaldiaran is officially the only representative of gourmet cuisine in Vitoria. Led by local businessman Gonzalo Antón, owner of Artevino wine group —with brands like Finca Villacreces (Ribera del Duero), Vetus (Toro), Izadi and Orben (Rioja)— it offers a notable seasonal tasting menu at €55, a reasonable and rather unusual price in star-rated eateries.
El Portalón (Correría, 147-151)
This 15th century stagecoach house is the city’s most historic and renewed restaurant, especially its building, a spectacular medieval construction with some original features like the big wooden entrance door. As well as the traditional-style restaurant upstairs, the ground floor has been turned into a bar at weekends where a short but interesting selection of wines by the glass is available (Erre Punto, by Remirez de Ganuza, Artadi or Zárate Albariño, among others) along with bottles which punters can choose from the cellar downstairs. It’s worth ordering some pintxos and platters from the counter —the grilled crystal bread with Iberico ham and green pepper or the croquettes are simple and utterly delicious.
The Bost (Florida, 5)
The three Santxotena brothers have recently opened this restaurant which offers two menus: an informal option with a short but accomplished selection of platters to share and a second one with traditional Basque dishes like oven-cooked mackerel or shredded beef cheeks in red sauce wine. The most interesting option to end a meal is Ramonísimo, one of the star desserts at El Portalón during the years that the Santxotena family ran the medieval restaurant. In keeping with its straightforward approach, the wine list is short but includes options for all tastes. A pleasant, hospitable eatery with competitive prices which is rapidly turning into a favorite for many locals.
PerretxiCo (San Antonio, 3)
This gastrobar run by self-trained chef José Merino has taken over from MarmitaCo, the restaurant which made him well-known for his creative and original dishes. PerretxiCo continues along this creative line, but it is now applied onto pintxos and informal dishes, presented in an original and unusual format rarely found in other bars in town. The space is pleasant and warm, with the grill and pintxos on view and a wine list focused on Rioja Alavesa but with some selections from other regions, particularly white wines.
Sagartoki (Prado, 18)
Notwithstanding the classic tortillas manchadas (omelette with chorizo sauce) from bar Deportivo, in Plaza de España, Sagartoki’s omelette and fried egg are arguably the most famous pintxos in town thanks to multiple awards and chef Senén González’s media ubiquity. The new cocktail counter in the restaurant brings the place a modern urban flair, in contrast with the traditional pintxos bar where Rioja Alavesa wines by the glass are on offer.
Vintage (Ramiro de Maeztu, 5)
Ángel and Mónica are the owners of this bar where wine culture is taken seriously with monthly tastings and presentations. According to their philosophy, Vintage has an ample list of wines by the glass which changes occasionally featuring different varieties, styles and origins, mostly from Spain. Pintxos and platters are served to accompany the wines.
Bericus (Areitio, 4)
Although a little distant from the city centre, Bericus is an interesting place for wine enthusiasts. Its large wine cellar is mostly focused on Rioja with some good selections from other Spanish, French and German regions. Wines are served in proper glasses and are sold at shop prices plus a corkage fee. Well known for the quality if its cured meats (Iberico ham, chorizo etc) it also serves excellent seasonal products like wild mushrooms or asparagus.