As most of you know, I’m beginning my second year working as an English language assistant and living in Logroño, La Rioja. I’ve already described different reasons why I love this city, but I’ve put off writing about a major reason: the food! When I mention Logroño to any other Spaniard from a different area (Valladolid, Galicia, Córdoba… really anywhere) their first comment is “mmmm… Calle Laurel.” It’s probably Logroño’s biggest draw for tourists besides the Camino or bodegas.
Calle Laurel is La Rioja’s most famous pintxo street for visitors. Pintxos (pronounced pin-chos) are pretty much Northern Spain’s equivalent to tapas with a few differences. Pinxtos are not free with a drink, but they are bite-sized, full of flavor, and inexpensive.
I finally had the idea to do a blog post series about pintxo hopping in Logroño after reading Lauren’s mouth-watering post about a DIY pintxo crawl in San Sebastián. The wonderful thing about Calle Laurel is that it’s actually just one option in a compact area of several streets full of pintxo bars and restaurants. In the next five posts I’ll be pointing out my favorite pintxos on: Travesia de Laurel, Calle San Agustín, Calle Laurel, Calle San Juan and Calle Albornoz. So before that, I need to state the rules: here’s how it works!
How to pintxo hop in Logroño:
Pull together a bote. Going out for pintxos is a big social gathering. Collect your group of friends or family and create a bote. To create a bote, everyone decides how hungry they are and how much money they would like to contribute. Everyone puts in an equal amount of money. Let’s say 10euro. One person is the banco or the jefe and keeps track of the money and ordering. You continue pintxo hopping until the money runs out!
If you’re only a few people, we usually alternate each person paying for each “round.” You should come out spending pretty much the same at the end. This is to your benefit because on crowded nights, the bartender won’t want to think about how your order was divided and won’t ever split your check.
Know what you want. There aren’t a lot of available menus in each of the bars. Instead, the main pintxos are usually featured outside of the restaurant with photos and the name of each. In some bars you will see a written menu of pintxos or different types of wine available, but again, on crowded nights it’s best to decide what you want before going inside because you may end up shouting your order over a crowd of people at the bar.
A lot of people don’t even bother to go into the bar. Many places have installed a sort of “drive thru” window where you just walk up to the window and tell the bartender what you want. You may have to wait longer to get their attention, but afterwards you can eat and drink in the street.
*For beginners: If you’re like me when I moved here, you won’t have a clue what the menu says because it’s not the Spanish you learned in school. In this case, push your way to the bar, look at the displayed pintxos, and point out to the bartender which one you want. Problem solved.
Throw your napkins and toothpicks on the floor. I know, this goes against everything your momma ever taught you. In this area, when you’re out for pintxos, dropping your napkins onto the floor on your way out is similar to saying “That was good.” I’ve watched bar workers sweeping the floor at night but making sure to leave just a few napkins and toothpicks here and there. That’s because a restaurants popularity can be judged by the amount of people or trash on the floor. If a restaurant is spotless, it probably isn’t very popular.
*For beginners: This doesn’t apply to every bar you may enter. It’s fun to do it once or twice if you’re just passing through Logroño, but don’t feel like you must every time.
Drink slowly. If you’re going out in true Spanish fashion, you’ve already begun drinking before you leave to go pintxo hopping. Spaniards like to meet to tomar algo at our normal American dinner time (7 o’clock or so) and go to Calle Laurel after 9 o’clock for dinner.
The food servings and beverage sizes are usually smaller because the idea is to have a bite, a sip, and then move on to the next. This helps to pace yourself, but just remember to go slow because midnight is only the beginning of a night out for Spaniards. If you’re already drunk you’ll miss half of the fun.
When ordering drinks, the most common options are, of course, Rioja wine (vino tinto or vino blanco), beer (una caña or un corto), or maybe mosto, a sweet, non-alcoholic grape juice served with olives.
Pay before you go outside. I’ve had different experiences at different times, but I would say as a general rule that if you plan on eating outside you should pay the bartender before you go out. I also like to pay upfront on busy nights so I don’t have to push my way to the bar a second time. However, it’s usually okay to just take your food and go. You can go back to pay before you leave. Keep track of what you have had if the bartender doesn’t remember, but they probably will.
Just as alluring as the food near Calle Laurel is the atmosphere. Young and old come out together, so you’ll see babies in the bars and 60-somethings staying out longer than you. Ha! With all the music, delicious smells, and laughing groups of people, you’re in perfect position for a good time. If you haven’t experienced pintxo hopping in Logroño, you should plan to come on a weekend. It’s more fun when it’s packed to the brim!
Last but not least is the price. Drinks will be under 1euro (beer from the tap or house wine) and with pintxos ranging from 1euro to 3euro, you’ll be full before your wallet is empty.
Stay tuned for my next post in the series about my favorite bars and pintxos on Travesia de Laurel.