Istanbul Restaurants

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Istanbul Restaurant Reviews

Istanbul is a food lover's town and restaurants abound, from humble kebab joints to fancy fish restaurants, with lots of excellent options in between. Istanbullus take their food seriously, holding dining establishments to a very high standard: they expect service to be prompt and polite, the restaurant to be spotless, and most importantly, the food to be made with the freshest of ingredients; the places that cater mostly to tourists are the ones that might let their standards slip.

Turkish cuisine varies from region to region, and Istanbul, owing to its location on the Bosphorus, which connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, is famous for seafood. A classic Istanbul meal, usually eaten at one of the city's rollicking meyhanes (literally "drinking places"), starts off with a wide selection of tapas-style small appetizers called mezes and then moves on to a main course of grilled fish, all of it accompanied by the anise-flavored spirit rakı, Turkey's national drink. Fish can be expensive, so check prices and ask what's in season before ordering.

While Istanbul's dining scene, though large, was once mostly limited to Turkish cooking, recent years have seen a new generation of chefs successfully fusing local dishes with ingredients and flavors from other parts of the world. Some chefs, trained in the United States and Europe, are bringing home the contemporary cooking techniques they've learned abroad, and the result is a kind of nouvelle Turkish cuisine.

The Sultanahmet area might have most of the city's major monuments and many hotels, but it's lacking in good dining options, save for a few standouts. You'll have better luck if you head across the Golden Horn to the lively Beyoğlu district or to some of the charming, small neighborhoods along the Bosphorus, famous for their fish restaurants. Beyoğlu, with its small backstreets, has everything from hole-in-the-walls serving delicious home-cooking to some of Istanbul's sleekest restaurants. The Bosphorus restaurants tend to be more upscale and expensive.

Since Istanbullus love to go out, reservations are essential at most of the city's better restaurants. In summer, many establishments move their dining areas outdoors, and reservations become even more important if you want to snag a coveted outside table. For the most part, dining is casual, although Istanbullus enjoy dressing smartly when they're out and about. You may feel terribly underdressed if you show up in a restaurant dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, even in summer.

Despite Muslim proscriptions against alcohol, beer, wine, and the local spirit rakı are widely available, and you can sometimes find cocktails, too, particularly in more upmarket restaurants. Because of high import taxes, however, nonlocal alcoholic drinks will usually be considerably more expensive than in North America or Europe.

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