I first interviewed Mr. Garrido in December of 2019, to tap into his extensive restaurant knowledge and discover some of his favorite locales in Basque Country. (I worked as a kitchen intern at Mina for about six weeks in 2014.) Shortly after, the pandemic brought the hospitality industry to a sputtering standstill. Restaurants across Spain were forced to shutter by government mandate, some never reopened.
But some of the places on Mr. Garrido’s list managed to quickly pivot their businesses. Zarate, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Bilbao known for its pristine seafood, converted a street-facing slice of its dining room into a seafood counter with takeaway dishes. Others waited until outdoor dining was approved and doubled down on their terrace service. Because of the largely extroverted, deeply food-centered culture, local customers were eager to return.
Then, there was that characteristically Basque spirit of resilience, which helped restaurants to navigate during some of the bleakest moments of the pandemic — the people of the region are no strangers to persevering in the face of adversity. Amaia Garcia de Albizu, the manager of Arrea! and sister of chef-owner Edorta Lamo, told me, “when the crisis arrived, it reminded us of our grandparents during the Spanish Civil War.” Mindful of the hardships of their ancestors, they did their best to soldier on and maintain a sense of gratitude.
Ultimately, all of the restaurants on Mr. Garrido’s list pulled through the pandemic. The national tourism industry association, Exceltur, predicted in a January report that Spain’s tourism gross domestic product could reach about 88 percent of its prepandemic levels in 2022 (135 billion euros, or about $138 billion) — that’s about 47 billion above 2021, though that is still 19 billion euros lower than about 155 billion of 2019. With the return of tourism, the region has boomeranged back to life and the vibe among many restaurant owners is cautiously optimistic.