Istanbul Restaurants

This city is a food lover's town and restaurants abound, from humble kebab joints to fancy fish venues, with a variety of excellent options in between. Owing to its location on the Bosphorus, which connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, Istanbul is famous for its seafood. A classic Istanbul meal, usually eaten at one of t
This city is a food lover's town and restaurants abound, from humble kebab joints to fancy fish venues, with a variety of excellent options in between. Owing to its location on the Bosphorus, which connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, Istanbul is famous for its
This city is a food lover's town and restaurants abound, from humble kebab joints to fancy fish venues, with a variety o

This city is a food lover's town and restaurants abound, from humble kebab joints to fancy fish venues, with a variety of excellent options in between. Owing to its location on the Bosphorus, which connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, Istanbul is famous for its 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 cold appetizers called meze, then a hot starter or two, 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. The waiter will generally bring a tray over to your table to show off the day’s meze and you simply point to what you’d like. Note that the portions you get are often larger than the samples shown on the tray, so don’t over-order; you can always select a second—or third—round later. When it comes to the main course, fish can be expensive, so check prices and ask what's in season before ordering. In Istanbul, fall and winter are the best seasons for seafood.

Istanbul's dining scene, though diverse, was once mostly limited to Turkish cooking, but a new generation of chefs is successfully fusing local dishes with more international flavors and preparations. Some are trained in the United States and Europe and bring home the contemporary culinary techniques they've learned abroad, and the result is a kind of nouvelle Turkish cuisine. Interest in little-known specialty foods and regional dishes from around Turkey is also taking hold, as chefs increasingly look at home, rather than abroad, for inspiration. Over the past few years, a handful of restaurants have opened where the chef-owner defines the vision and personality of the venue—though this may be old hat in Europe or North America, it represents an exciting new trend in Istanbul.

Istanbullus take their eating seriously, holding establishments to a very high standard; they expect their food to be fresh and well prepared at even the most basic of eateries, and are likely to feel that few places can hold a candle to "Mom’s cooking." That said, at restaurants catering to a trendier, more upscale crowd, style sometimes seems to pass for substance, and consistency can be elusive; the fanciest venues may not necessarily offer the best food.

Sultanahmet might have most of the city's major sights and many hotels, but sadly, these places cater mostly to tourists and are the ones most likely to let their standards slip. Save for a few standouts, the area is sorely lacking in good dining options, though you can find some good food if you follow the locals to the no-frills eateries lining Gedik Paşa Caddesi (near the Beyazıt tram stop, across Yeniçeriler Caddesi from the entrance to the Grand Bazaar) or to Hoca Paşa Sokak near the Sirkeci train station. Overall, though, you'll have much better luck if you head across the Golden Horn, where the lively Beyoğlu district has everything from holes in the wall serving delicious home cooking to some of Istanbul's sleekest restaurants, while Karaköy and Galata also have an increasing range of dining options. Or head to some of the small, charming neighborhoods along the Bosphorus, which are famous for their fish restaurants; while these establishments tend to be more upscale and expensive, there are some affordable options as well.

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 locals enjoy dressing smartly when they're out. You may feel terribly underdressed if you show up in a restaurant dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, even in summer.

Despite Islamic proscriptions against alcohol, beer, wine, and the local spirit rakı are widely available, and at more upscale venues you can also find cocktails. Because of high taxes, however, alcoholic drinks—particularly anything imported—tend to be considerably more expensive than in North America or Europe. The national lager Efes is the most widely available beer; venues may carry two or three other domestic and international labels, but don’t expect a wide selection. Yeni Rakı, a state-run monopoly until not long ago, has remained the most popular rakı brand despite a recent proliferation of new companies producing the spirit. Wine consumption in Turkey has traditionally lagged far behind that of beer and rakı, but that’s been slowly changing in recent years as the quality of local wines has started to improve. The local wine industry is still in its fledgling stages compared to other parts of the world, but there are some very drinkable domestic wines on the market, most priced at only a fraction of what you’d pay for an imported label. Turkish wines are made from foreign grapes as well as indigenous varietals, of which the most noteworthy are the reds Öküzgözü, Boğazkere, and Kalecik Karası and the whites Emir and Narince.

During the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, restaurants that cater primarily to tourists, and most venues in cosmopolitan parts of Istanbul such as Beyoğlu, continue to operate normally. In more traditional neighborhoods some restaurants close altogether or change their hours of operation. In recent years, it has become increasingly popular to go to restaurants for iftar—the evening meal that breaks the daily fast—instead of having it in the home, as was traditionally done.

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  • 1. Çiya

    $$ | Asian Side | Turkish

    Three no-frills branches on the same street comprise one of Istanbul's most popular foodie destinations, and the reputation is well deserved...Read More

  • 2. Giritli

    $$$$ | Sultanahmet | Seafood

    Popular with locals and visitors alike, Giritli offers a prix-fixe multicourse dinner menu of well-prepared Cretan specialties that includes...Read More

  • 3. Gram

    $$ | Beyoglu | Turkish

    Opened in Şişhane by the chef-owner of Lokanta Maya, Didem Şenol, this casual restaurant and bakery is a delightful place to stop for breakfast...Read More

  • 4. Kantin

    $$ | Nisantasi | Turkish

    A sort of Turkish Alice Waters, Şemza Denizsel finds the freshest ingredients for her daily menus, written on chalkboards, that feature simply...Read More

  • 5. Lokanta Maya

    $$$ | Karaköy | Turkish

    At her highly regarded restaurant, New York–trained chef Didem Şenol offers what could be called "nouvelle Turkish" cuisine, based on seasonal...Read More

  • 6. Mikla

    $$$$ | Beyoglu | Contemporary

    With sleek, contemporary decor and a stunning 360-degree view of Istanbul from its perch on the top floor of the 18-story Marmara Pera Hotel...Read More

  • 7. Münferit

    $$$ | Beyoglu | Turkish

    Owner Ferit Sarper's menu gives traditional meyhane fare a twist that's as contemporary as the upscale surroundings, creating dishes that are...Read More

  • 8. Müzedechanga

    $$$$ | Bosphorus | Eclectic

    A beautiful, lush setting just a stone's throw from the Bosphorus, a Mediterranean-inspired menu, and a sophisticated ambience makes this restaurant...Read More

  • 9. NAR Restaurant

    $$$ | The Bazaar Quarter and Environs | Turkish

    Focused on preserving traditional, authentic recipes from around Turkey, NAR ("Natural and Regional") Restaurant is located on the top floor...Read More

  • 10. Nicole

    $$$$ | Beyoglu | Mediterranean

    Young French-trained chefs Kaan Sakarya and Aylin Yazıcıoğlu have quickly earned a reputation as among the best in town since opening Nicole...Read More

  • 11. Yeni Lokanta

    $$$ | Beyoglu | Turkish

    Rising chef Civan Er (formerly of Müzedechanga) puts a unique and contemporary twist on traditional Turkish dishes, using ingredients sourced...Read More

  • 12. Adem Baba

    $$ | Bosphorus | Seafood

    This place is the Turkish version of a New England fish shack, with nets and crab traps hanging from the ceiling in two venues across the street...Read More

  • 13. Aheste

    $$$$ | Beyoglu | Eclectic

    A casual café by day and an inviting bistrolike venue by night, stylish Aheste (meaning "slowly" in Persian) offers a small but appealing menu...Read More

  • 14. Akdeniz Hatay Sofrası

    $$ | Western Districts | Turkish

    Popular with locals, this restaurant specializes in the Arab-influenced cuisine of Hatay (originating near Turkey's border with Syria), which...Read More

  • 15. Altın Fıçi Mercan

    $ | Princes Islands | Turkish

    This cluster of small tables under a spreading tree not far from the ferry dock is a friendly place to have an inexpensive meal of grilled meat...Read More

  • 16. Antiochia

    $$ | Beyoglu | Turkish

    This restaurant in the popular Asmalımescit area of Beyoğlu offers specialties of Turkey's Arab-influenced southeastern Hatay province. The...Read More

  • 17. Asitane

    $$$ | Western Districts | Turkish

    One of Istanbul's most distinctive restaurants serves seasonally changing menus based on the traditional cuisine of the Ottoman court, which...Read More

  • 18. Casita

    $$ | Nisantasi | Turkish

    This charming little restaurant, established 30 years ago and now one of several branches in Istanbul and Bodrum, is best known for its mantı...Read More

  • 19. Çınaraltı

    $$ | Bosphorus | Turkish

    Named after the massive sycamore tree growing through the center of the restaurant and shading the upstairs terrace, Çınaraltı ("under the sycamore...Read More

  • 20. Çorlulu Ali Paşa Medresesi

    $ | The Bazaar Quarter and Environs | Turkish

    Just off the main road between Çemberlitaş and the Grand Bazaar, the courtyard of this café has a tea and water pipe garden that is quite an...Read More

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