To put it simply, a pintxo is any snack served in the bars and restaurants of Northern Spain (the Basque region). They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, generally spiked by a toothpick or skewer (that’s what makes them different from tapas) and often on a slice of bread. They are served after 11 am for the lunch rush and until 10 pm when most people head home or out for dinner. There’s generally an unofficial break between 2pm and 5pm (siesta) but if you really look, you’ll always find a few places that stay open. Most restaurants lay out impressive displays of varying cold pintxos on their bar tops while also running a small “hot” menu featuring a couple specialties.
The idea behind eating pintxos is to socialize over a glass or wine or beer and refrain from being too intoxicated at dinner. They are absolutely not meant as a meal replacement and the locals really respect this rule. It is customary to walk into a locale, have a glass of something to drink and only ONE pintxo. Once both of these items are finished along with your visit with whatever friend you ran into, you move on to another bar and repeat the process. The locals visit about 4 or 5 different places in an evening before heading to dinner.
Pintxo toppings can vary significantly from bar to bar but there are a few classics that always reappear. Almost every place has slices of crusty bread topped by paper thin and glistening slices of Jamon (ham). The locals seem to enjoy this particular one more than others as it’s always the first to disappear out of the displays. Tortilla de patatas (an omelette stuffed with potatoes) is definitely a staple as are any mayonnaise based salads – fish, ham, egg. Croquettes and lightly seared fois gras often appear on the hot pintxo menus.