Iberian Traveler - Maribel's Guides
Maribel's Guide to Dining During Fiesta
Pamplona is a city blessed with more than 300 cafés, bars and restaurants from which to choose. It offers some of the finest cuisine in the north of Spain, on a par with the best the Basque country and Catalunya have to offer. More than 80 cafés, bars and restaurants, including a few from a far away as Tudela and Tafalla, participated in the annual pintxos competition, which celebrates the best of miniature haute cuisine in Navarra.
While most cafés, bars and restaurants outside of the Old City, in the 1st and 2nd Ensanche (Iturrama, San Juan and Ermitagaña neighborhoods), continue to offer their regular menus during fiesta, in addition to a special "Sanfermines Menu", pintxos bars and cafés within the Old City like Bar Gaucho, Baserri and Iru, simply cannot offer their normal award winning pintxos menu during fiesta because of the demand. The last night you will be able to sample this truly outstanding fare will be the on July 5, which is also the last night the famous Café Iruña in the Plaza del Castillo, a favorite of Papa Hemingway, serves pintxos at the bar.
Most restaurants in are smaller, family style. Reservations for lunch and/or dinner during fiesta are essential and should be made well in advance, and although the fiesta doesn’t officially begin until the 6th, you will need reservations beginning on the 5th as festival goers from throughout Spain and around the world begin arriving. Restaurants in the old quarter will also be busy from the 10th to the 14th when the city fills with revelers from the Pays Basque, the French Basque Country, celebrating Bastille Day.
Restaurants normally have only one seating at lunch, and some do offer a second seating at dinner during fiesta. It is extremely important that you do not break a reservation without first contacting the restaurant. Typically the restaurant will not give your table away if you are running late, as it is not unusual for Pamplonicas to arrive a little late during the festival, and are never in a hurry to finish a meal except when they are going to the bullfights, but now some restaurants, especially smaller ones, will cancel your reservation if you do not let them know you will be arriving late.
Note at group reservations are difficult during fiesta and should be made well in advance to be assured a table.
Breakfast is typically the lightest meal of the day and in Pamplona, it’s always "bulls before breakfast” but you will be able to find packaged pastries and espresso at some of the bars or cafés still open in the early morning hours. Those located along the route of the encierro must close their doors at 6:00 am so that the route can be cleaned. Be sure to try the churros (fried crullers) from Pamplona’s famous Txurreria, La Mañueta, a fiesta tradition for more than 140 years.
There is also a traditional mid-morning break, the Almuerzo, generally taken between 10:30 and noon, when you have your first pintxo (tapa) of the day.
Lunch is normally considered the main meal of the day and begins after 1:00, but closer to 2:00 or 2:30 for most Pamplonicas, and later in the afternoon on Sundays and holidays. This is typical of Spain in general.
Dinner, if you up to it, usually begins around 9:30 pm during the summer months, but it is not unusual to find people just sitting down to eat around midnight during fiesta, after the fireworks, similar to what you will experience in Madrid and Sevilla when you go out in the evenings.
Come for the adventure… enjoy the cuisine!