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 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 rak?, 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 Pa?a Caddesi (near the Beyaz?t tram stop, across Yeniçeriler Caddesi from the entrance to the Grand Bazaar) or to Hoca Pa?a Sokak near the Sirkeci train station. Overall, though, you'll have much better luck if you head across the Golden Horn, where the lively Beyo?lu 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 rak? 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 Rak?, a state-run monopoly until not long ago, has remained the most popular rak? brand despite a recent proliferation of new companies producing the spirit. Wine consumption in Turkey has traditionally lagged far behind that of beer and rak?, 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, Bo?azkere, and Kalecik Karas? 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 Beyo?lu, 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

    Chef-owner Musa Dağdeviren, who hails from the southeastern Turkish city of Gaziantep, is something of a culinary anthropologist, offering truly unique dishes made using recipes...

    Chef-owner Musa Dağdeviren, who hails from the southeastern Turkish city of Gaziantep, is something of a culinary anthropologist, offering truly unique dishes made using recipes from around Turkey. This restaurant, Çiya Sofrası—the original of the three no-frills branches along the same street—is known for its seasonal meat- and vegetarian-based daily specials that feature unusual flavor combinations. Nearby Çiya Kebap serves top-notch kebabs along with home-style dishes; Çiya Kebap 2 offers just kebabs.

    Güneşlibahçe Sok. 43, Istanbul, Istanbul, 34710, Turkey
    216-330–3190

    Known For

    • Innovative cuisine from different regions of Turkey
    • Seasonal ingredients
    • Unique desserts, including candied olives, tomatoes, or eggplant
  • 2. Giritli Restoran

    $$ | Sultanahmet

    Popular with locals and visitors alike, Giritli offers a prix-fixe multicourse dinner menu of well-prepared Cretan specialties that includes unlimited local alcoholic drinks (wine or...

    Popular with locals and visitors alike, Giritli offers a prix-fixe multicourse dinner menu of well-prepared Cretan specialties that includes unlimited local alcoholic drinks (wine or rakı). At least 15 different cold meze—such as sea bass ceviche, herb-covered cubes of feta cheese with walnuts and olives, and various uncommon wild greens—are followed by hot starters like fried calamari in olive oil; the main course is a choice among several grilled fish, followed by dessert.

    Keresteci Hakkı Sok., Istanbul, Istanbul, 34122, Turkey
    212-458–2270

    Known For

    • Oasis-like garden setting
    • Innovative meze on prix-fixe menu
    • In a quiet neighborhood

    Restaurant Details

    Rate Includes: Reservations essential
  • 3. Mabou

    $$$$ | Beyoglu

    This cozy eatery, a gastronomic gem near İstiklal Caddesi, is the creation of German-Turkish chef Cem Eksi. The seasonal menu, which includes an extensive wine...

    This cozy eatery, a gastronomic gem near İstiklal Caddesi, is the creation of German-Turkish chef Cem Eksi. The seasonal menu, which includes an extensive wine list, branches out beyond Turkish cuisine to explore dishes from the whole Mediterranean region.

    General Yazgan Sok. 8, Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey
    212-252–4753

    Known For

    • Seasonal ingredients
    • Intimate setting
    • Innovative take on Mediterranean cuisine

    Restaurant Details

    Rate Includes: Closed Sun. and Mon.
  • 4. Mikla

    $$$$ | Beyoglu

    With sleek, contemporary decor and a stunning 360-degree view of Istanbul from the top floor of the 18-story Marmara Pera Hotel, Mikla is the dramatic...

    With sleek, contemporary decor and a stunning 360-degree view of Istanbul from the top floor of the 18-story Marmara Pera Hotel, Mikla is the dramatic setting for prestigious American-trained Turkish-Finnish chef Mehmet Gürs's modern Anatolian cuisine. Sophisticated dishes of domestically sourced ingredients offer unique flavor combinations rarely seen in traditional Turkish cuisine, such as grilled dentex (a Mediterranean fish) served with olives, charred red peppers, and pistachio puree or a dessert of sour-cherry compote with bulgur wheat and lor cheese (similar to ricotta).

    Meşrutiyet Cad. 15, Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey
    212-293–5656

    Known For

    • Prix-fixe menu and tasting menus only
    • Extensive list of Turkish and international wines
    • Sweeping views

    Restaurant Details

    Rate Includes: Closed Sun., Reservations essential
  • 5. Yeni Lokanta

    $$$$ | Beyoglu

    Rising chef Civan Er puts a unique and contemporary twist on traditional Turkish dishes, using ingredients sourced from local producers in different regions of the...

    Rising chef Civan Er puts a unique and contemporary twist on traditional Turkish dishes, using ingredients sourced from local producers in different regions of the country. The menu consists mainly of small plates that offer innovative flavor combinations, as in sweet-and-sour kısır (tabbouleh) made with a sour-cherry infusion or spicy, rustic sucuk sausage with walnuts served atop borlotti bean puree.

    Kumbaracı Yokuşu 66, Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey
    212-292–2550

    Known For

    • Contemporary vibe
    • Dishes prepared in a wood-fired oven
    • Tasting menu

    Restaurant Details

    Rate Includes: Closed Sun., Reservations essential
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  • 6. Adem Baba

    $$ | Bosphorus

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

    This is a Turkish version of a New England fish shack, with nets and crab traps hanging from the ceiling in two venues across the street from one other. Families and other groups come here to enjoy simple, fresh, well-prepared fish for much less than what they would pay at some of the fancier seafood restaurants along the Bosphorus (it's cheaper in part because no alcohol is served).

    Satış Meydanı Sok. 2, Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey
    212-263–2933

    Known For

    • In a scenic neighborhood on the water
    • Various fish dishes, including a catch of the day
    • Laid-back atmosphere
  • 7. Aheste

    $$$$ | Beyoglu

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

    A casual café by day and an inviting bistro venue by night, stylish Aheste (meaning "slowly" in Persian) offers a small but appealing menu consisting mainly of hot and cold meze with some Persian, Ottoman, and Middle Eastern influences with contemporary twists; the sea beans with smoked yogurt and rose petals and the wild rice with currants and herbs are particularly tasty. Prices are a bit high, but the friendly, laid-back service and hip-yet-cozy atmosphere make up for it.

    Mesrutiyet Cad. 107/F, Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey
    212-243–2633

    Known For

    • Innovative fusion cuisine
    • Extensive wine and cocktail list
    • Chef's tasting menu

    Restaurant Details

    Rate Includes: Reservations essential
  • 8. Aida

    $$$$ | Asian Side

    Housed in one of Kadıköy’s historic Moda apartment buildings, Aida’s dimly lit coziness brings the feeling of an Italian bistro to Istanbul. The Italian chef...

    Housed in one of Kadıköy’s historic Moda apartment buildings, Aida’s dimly lit coziness brings the feeling of an Italian bistro to Istanbul. The Italian chef creates authentic cuisine, and some nights, there is live piano music to accompany dinner.

    Ressam Şeref Akdik Sok. 10, Kadıköy, Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey
    544-851–5151

    Known For

    • Intimate atmosphere
    • Extensive list of Turkish and Italian wines
    • Seasonal menu

    Restaurant Details

    Rate Includes: Closed Sun., Reservations essential
  • 9. Akdeniz Hatay Sofrası

    $$$ | Western Districts

    Popular with locals, this restaurant specializes in the Arab-influenced cuisine of Hatay (originating near Turkey's border with Syria), which features delicious meze like hummus, baba...

    Popular with locals, this restaurant specializes in the Arab-influenced cuisine of Hatay (originating near Turkey's border with Syria), which features delicious meze like hummus, baba ghanoush, muhammara (a spread of mashed chile peppers and walnuts), kısır (a spicy version of tabbouleh), and a wide range of uncommon kebabs. The venue's famous "meter kebab" serves several people and requires advance ordering, as does the salt-shell-baked chicken and lamb.

    Ahmediye Cad. 44/A, Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey
    212-444–7247

    Known For

    • Lavish weekend breakfast spread
    • Less common regional cuisine
    • Tuzda tavuk, chicken encased in salt and set on fire
  • 10. Altın Fıçi Mercan

    $$ | Princes Islands

    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...

    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 or fried seafood. It's also a great spot to people-watch while sipping a beer, a glass or wine, or some rakı.

    Recep Koç Cad. 17/E, Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey
    216-382–3535

    Known For

    • Scenic location
    • Close to the ferry
    • Fresh seafood
  • 11. Antiochia

    $$ | Beyoglu

    This restaurant with exposed brick walls in the popular Tünel area of Beyoğlu offers specialties of Turkey's Arab-influenced southeastern Hatay province. The menu includes a...

    This restaurant with exposed brick walls in the popular Tünel area of Beyoğlu offers specialties of Turkey's Arab-influenced southeastern Hatay province. The menu includes a variety of meze and kebabs with intense flavors and served with Antiochia's uncommonly tasty chile pepper–rubbed flatbread.

    General Yazgan Sok. 3, Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey
    212-292–1100

    Known For

    • Regional cuisine
    • Cozy interior
    • Central location

    Restaurant Details

    Rate Includes: Closed Sun., Reservations essential
  • 12. Arada Endülüs

    $$ | Karaköy

    With ornate Arabesque decorations and mosaic lamps, this centrally located café is an atmospheric place to spend a long morning. The picturesque breakfast spread is...

    With ornate Arabesque decorations and mosaic lamps, this centrally located café is an atmospheric place to spend a long morning. The picturesque breakfast spread is expansive and includes a mixture of Turkish and Lebanese dishes. Arada has two other outposts, one a five-minute walk up the hill from this one and the other in Üsküdar.

    Kemeraltı Cad. 31, Beyoğlu, Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey
    544-170–0050

    Known For

    • Colorful atmosphere
    • Turkish-Lebanese fusion cuisine
    • Extensive breakfast spread
  • 13. Balık Dürüm Mehmet Usta

    $ | Karaköy

    Fresh-grilled fish with raw onions encased in a lightly grilled, oily wrap is the perfect lunch-to-go, and while the seaside is dotted with many balık...

    Fresh-grilled fish with raw onions encased in a lightly grilled, oily wrap is the perfect lunch-to-go, and while the seaside is dotted with many balık dürüm (fish wrap) vendors, this small storefront on a Karaköy side street is the best of the bunch.

    Mumhane Cad. 37, Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey
    535-788–8968

    Known For

    • Family-run business
    • Traditional Turkish street food
    • Sidewalk seating
  • 14. Brew Coffeeworks

    $ | The Bazaar Quarter and Environs | Coffee

    This large, airy café on a main street near the Spice Bazaar has a large selection of cakes and sandwiches to accompany its coffee and...

    This large, airy café on a main street near the Spice Bazaar has a large selection of cakes and sandwiches to accompany its coffee and tea.

    Hamidiye Cad. 60, Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey
    212-520–9642

    Known For

    • Central location
    • Extensive dessert menu
    • Stylish decor
  • 15. Casita

    $$$ | Nisantasi

    This charming little restaurant is best known for its mantı—a ravioli-like Turkish pasta traditionally stuffed with ground meat—and specifically Feraye (a name the restaurant has...

    This charming little restaurant is best known for its mantı—a ravioli-like Turkish pasta traditionally stuffed with ground meat—and specifically Feraye (a name the restaurant has trademarked), a fried variation filled with cheese and spinach, potato and cheese, or chicken. The atmosphere is casual, and diners can either sit at sidewalk tables on a lively pedestrian side street lined with other restaurants and shops or at tables looking onto a quiet garden in the back.

    Atiye Sok. 3, Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey
    212-327–8293

    Known For

    • Outdoor seating
    • Laid-back vibe
    • Café food with a modern Turkish twist
  • 16. Çınaraltı

    $$$ | Bosphorus

    In business for three decades on Ortaköy's waterfront square, unpretentious Çınaraltı ("under the sycamore") has a massive sycamore tree growing up through its center and...

    In business for three decades on Ortaköy's waterfront square, unpretentious Çınaraltı ("under the sycamore") has a massive sycamore tree growing up through its center and shading its upstairs terrace. The balık böreği (a spring roll-esque fish pastry) is a highlight of the wide though fairly standard meze selection, and the fish is mainly served grilled or fried (make sure the price quoted is per fish or serving, not per kilo).

    İskele Meydanı 28, Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey
    212-261–4616

    Known For

    • Relaxed atmosphere
    • Reasonable prices
    • Traditional Turkish cuisine

    Restaurant Details

    Rate Includes: Reservations essential
  • 17. Cuma

    $$$ | Beyoglu | Turkish

    Tucked among the antique stores of Cukurcuma, Cuma is a casual café by day and a cozy place to sip wine at night. Its seasonal...

    Tucked among the antique stores of Cukurcuma, Cuma is a casual café by day and a cozy place to sip wine at night. Its seasonal menu uses local produce and offers a range of day-to-night options, along with fresh-baked bread and a comprehensive wine list.

    Çukurcuma Cad. 53, Beyoglu, Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey
    212-293–2062

    Known For

    • All-day dining
    • Retro, casual atmosphere
    • Outdoor seating
  • 18. Cup of Joy

    $ | Nisantasi | Coffee

    This airy café-bakery, filled with lush green plants and big greenhouse-style windows, has an extensive menu of coffees, sweets, and brunch foods....

    This airy café-bakery, filled with lush green plants and big greenhouse-style windows, has an extensive menu of coffees, sweets, and brunch foods.

    Şair Nigar Sok 11, Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey
    212-231–4831

    Known For

    • Spacious outdoor seating
    • Stylish atmosphere
    • Fresh-made brunch selections
  • 19. Demeti Meyhanesi

    $$ | Beyoglu

    The cozy, homey atmosphere of Demeti, with its cabinets filled with antiques, opens up to a small balcony with an excellent view of the Bosphorus....

    The cozy, homey atmosphere of Demeti, with its cabinets filled with antiques, opens up to a small balcony with an excellent view of the Bosphorus. The menu is meze-heavy, with the traditional small dishes prepared fresh every day, including such unique choices as domates turşusu (pickled tomatoes), pomegranate salad, and a börek filled with fish, eggplant, and cheese.

    Şimşirci Sok. 6/1, Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey
    212-244–0628

    Known For

    • Outdoor seating with a view
    • Home-cooked meze
    • Daily fresh fish options
  • 20. Doy-Doy

    $ | Sultanahmet

    Doy-doy serves a fairly standard array of kebabs and pide—a type of Turkish pizza baked in a wood-burning oven—with different toppings, but at lunchtime, local...

    Doy-doy serves a fairly standard array of kebabs and pide—a type of Turkish pizza baked in a wood-burning oven—with different toppings, but at lunchtime, local workers come for the cheap daily specials, such as meat-and-vegetable stew or baked beans (displayed on the steam table to the left of the entrance). The two-level rooftop terrace, open in summer, has fine views of the area, but don't expect to savor them with a drink in hand, as no alcohol is served.

    Şifa Hamamı Sok. 13, Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey
    212-517–1588

    Known For

    • Cozy atmosphere
    • Traditional Turkish food
    • Blue Mosque and Sea of Marmara views

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