Nearing the end of our exploration of the Spanish and French Basque Country, we journeyed from Rioja, Spain’s nearby wine country, back to the capital of the Spanish Basque region, San Sebastian. On our way, we stopped at Asador Etxebarri, one of the best restaurants in the world.
“Where the hell are we?” I asked my wife as we turned onto our third unmarked road somewhere between Bilbao and San Sebastian. She gave me a look, which could only mean, “I told you to get the GPS at the car rental.”
We were trying to find Asador Etxebarri, one of the best restaurants in the world, the old fashioned way—with maps and hand-written directions. All the unmarked roads did not help. After some backtracking, and then backtracking again because we had been going the right way to begin with, we found ourselves driving up a narrow road towards beautiful mountains with rolling hills of farm and pastureland on all sides. Just Google Map this to see for yourself. After passing the restaurant, which had no sign visible from the street, and backtracking one final time, we turned into Etxebarri’s small parking lot.
The restaurant looks like an old elegant farmhouse set in Medieval times, complete with its own bell tower. The whole operation seemed to operate in a different time than the fast-paced New York restaurants where they try to serve as many people as possible as quickly as possible. Etxebarri is only open for dinner once a week, with lunch being the only service the other days. They’re closed Mondays and, of course, the entire month of August.
I wondered how Etxebarri filled their weekday lunch crowd, being in the middle of nowhere, 45 minutes to an hour from Bilbao. “After Tony Bourdain, we’ve had a lot of visitors,” replied the waiter, matter-of-factly, alluding to the New York Times interview in which Bourdain answered the question “Where exactly would you like to die?” with “Etxebarri.”