Regulars at Aloña Berri -recently named the best bar in Spain by the prominent guidebook Gourmetour- used to tease its owner, José Ramón Elizondo, that they had to cross the desert to eat his alta cocina en miniatura. Actually, just a river.

His place is a short walk from San Sebastian's Old Quarter, on the other side of the Urumea river, in the emerging neighbourhood of Gros. Once the province of working families and car-repair shops, Gros has become a drae for locals looking for an alternative to the city's popular pintxo (tapas) bars. And besides, ¨everyone knows the best pintxos are in Gros,¨says Elizondo, whose txirristra de mar (anarchitectural concotion of mackerel, vegetables and foie gras) took first prize in the National Tapas Competition in 2006.

Around the corer at El Lagar (above), a modern dark-wood-and-chalkboard wine bar, you can have an excellent blood sausage croquette or seared foie gras with a hard-to-find bottle of Aalto from the Ribera del Duero or Vega Sicilia. When Enrique García Cáceres opened El Lagar in 2004, he had in mind a rustuc, quiet place, But actually, he helped put Gros on the map.

Aloña Berri: Calle Bermingham 24

El Lagar: Calle Zabaleta 55

Christian L. Wright.