Josean Alija

Spanish chef Josean Alija is the creative mastermind and owner behind one Michelin-starred Nerua Restaurant. Housed inside the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Basque Country, the artistic setting is the perfect backdrop to Josean’s modern and vibrant take on Bilbao’s gastronomic culture. For The Local Tongue, the acclaimed chef shares his tips on where (and how) to experience Basque cuisine like a local, as well as advice on how to spend the perfect day eating your way across Bilbao.

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A Wine And Pintxos Bar For The Locals

Bilbao is a city that invites you to stroll the streets and find authentic places with identity. There are different areas and each has its own personality. A bar that I have always loved is Basaras, a tavern that has remained loyal to its start, and the only thing that rejuvenates is the staff. They have good wines and only a few pintxos but they’re all very good and elaborate, keeping with respect for the specialties like anchovies or omelette.

To Experience The True Hospitality Of Bilbao

Mugi – which is a bodeguilla – is a place you can go either with family and friends, or you can happily visit alone without a plan. It’s a very informal atmosphere where family is created and you can feel the typical atmosphere and character of Bilbao. This is the kind of place where you go for a drink and end up spending the whole day – always a wonderful day – and sometimes even a crazy day. The owner Juanma has created a kind of wine and good mood fan club. They have good wines and traditional grilled dishes like black pudding, Iberian pork and txistorra: the most famous sausage from the Basque region made with pork leg and belly.

To Enjoy Good Food With Great Friends

Another favorite restaurant of mine is Asador Indusi. It’s the type of restaurant you go to when you are meeting with friends, or when you just want to enjoy simple and very good food. Their menu is very popular, the service is attentive and it’s in a relaxed and very informal space.

Traditional Dishes, Reimagined

There are several places that never let you down and with which your guests will always be satisfied. A place with traditional good food but with a modern touch is Bistró Guggenheim Bilbao. The traditional recipes of Basque cuisine are valued but adapted to suit the avant-garde space that is the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

Where To Eat Our Famous Txuleta

If we talk about traditions, Txakoli Simon, is a great place to enjoy a good selection of wines and an excellent txuleta (delicious Basque-style rib steak).

Basque Cuisine And Spectacular Views

Asador Hormaondo is a classic asador that is actually an old food house. Here you can feel the essence of Basque cuisine. It is located on a mountain from which you can enjoy beautiful views. Both Mikel and Jayne make you feel very special.

Acclaimed Seasonal Seafood

For every moment there is a place and if what we want is to enjoy good fish, you have to go to Elkano for a wonderful selection of grilled fish and products from our coasts.

The Evolution Of Bilbao’s Dining Scene

Bilbao is changing. There is a generational change with young chefs who bring the lessons learned from cooking with great chefs together with their own unique style. One good example of this evolution in Bilbao’s dining scene is Kimtxu, a Basque tavern with a fusion of Asian cuisine. The new generations must work hard and smart, so that Bilbao adapts to the new times, but at the same time be careful not to lose the essence of our region; what makes us different and that which makes the city occupy a special place in the memory of those who visit.

My Favourite Bars In Bilbao

My favourite bar in Bilbao is Saltsagorri; a rogue bar where you can find the essence of Bilbao in four square meters. It has good pintxos and a great atmosphere. If you are a lover of champagne, without doubt you have to go to Corto Maltés for great cava in a calm environment. If what you are looking for is a little party got to Sumerian Club. It’s a really fun place where there are always people, it feels like a very caring environment and you are sure to have a good time.

‘The Legend Of Rock Bars’

For rock-and-roll lovers who want to know the essence of a city closely linked to heavy rock, Katu Zaharra is the legend of the rock bars in Bilbao. For me, being there is going back to my youth and meeting many people with whom I have wonderful memories.

How To Spend A Day Eating In Bilbao

In Bilbao we are not sweet-toothed, so start the morning with a good omelette in the bar Loren, in Calzadas de Mallona. From there you can also experience unique views of the Old Town. Then go to Basaras to eat anchovies; to Saltsagorri to discover traditional pintxos (grillo, bilbainito, felipada) and enjoy cazuelitas in Rotterdam Tavern. Also visit one of the asadors (Txakoli Simon, Indusi, Horma Ondo or Elkano) mentioned above.

Produce And Dishes You Shouldn’t Miss

Basques are constantly thinking about eating. There are many things that you cannot miss when you come here. This tight relationship with nature offers us wonderful products, and it’s with these products that we have created our culture and traditions.

During spring you should not miss lágrima peas, little broad beans, asparagus, anchovies and perretxiko. If you come in summer, dishes to try are: squid with onions or black sauce, bonito in marmitako, green peppers from Gernika and piparras. In winter there are very special things to eat: thistle, artichoke, hunting meat (the woodcocks, mainly), barnacles, elvers (baby eels). Other produce not to miss is the different elaborations of cod, salted anchovies and Idiazabal cheese. And of course, no matter the time of the year, everyone must experience the sauces that have given name to the Basque cuisine: green sauce, bizkaína sauce, black sauce, pilpil sauce.

For those who have a sweet tooth, there are three unique things that have an emotional meaning for all Bilbainos: bollo de mantequilla (butter bun), Carolina and rice cake. You can only find these sweets in Bilbao.

Guide last updated August 2019

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