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 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. 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

  • 2. 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

  • 3. 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

  • 4. 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

  • 5. 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

  • 6. 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

  • 7. 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

  • 8. Dai Pera

    $$ | Beyoglu | Eclectic

    Proprietor and chef Arzu Gürdamar likes experimenting with food, and her menu includes traditional meze like köpoğlu (fried eggplant with...Read More

  • 9. Fıccın

    $ | Beyoglu | Turkish

    Occupying a number of rooms and storefronts on both sides of narrow Kallavi Sokak, this down-to-earth restaurant is best known for Turkish standards...Read More

  • 10. Hala Mantı

    $ | Beyoglu | Turkish

    As its name suggests, this restaurant on a side street not far from İstiklal Caddesi specializes in ravioli-like mantı, small pockets of pasta...Read More

  • 11. Hayvore

    $ | Beyoglu | Turkish

    This informal restaurant just off İstiklal Caddesi turns out hearty specialties of Turkey's Black Sea at very affordable prices. There's no...Read More

  • 12. Helvetia

    $ | Beyoglu | Turkish

    The menu at Helvetia changes daily but there are always at least a dozen home-cooked dishes on offer at this very affordable restaurant. They...Read More

  • 13. Kafe Ara

    $$ | Beyoglu | Contemporary

    This popular, cozy hangout, named after famous Turkish photographer Ara Güler, whose black-and-white photographs of Istanbul line the walls...Read More

  • 14. Mandabatmaz

    $ | Beyoglu | Turkish

    On a tiny alleyway off İstiklal Caddesi, Mandabatmaz makes what many regard as the thickest, tastiest Turkish coffee in Istanbul—indeed, the...Read More

  • 15. Meze by Lemon Tree

    $$$ | Beyoglu | Turkish

    The meze selection in this trendy and attractive spot changes seasonally and even daily, and puts a clever international spin on traditional...Read More

  • 16. Sofyalı 9

    $$ | Beyoglu | Turkish

    With Greek music playing in the background, photographs of old Istanbul on the walls, and friendly, laid-back surroundings on a lively backstreet...Read More

  • 17. Zübeyir Ocakbaşı

    $$ | Beyoglu | Turkish

    This ocakbaşı , or grill house, is popular for its delicious food, authentic feel, and especially lively atmosphere. The wide variety of kebabs...Read More

  • 18. Doğa Balık

    $$$$ | Seafood

    Owner and chef Ibrahim Soğukdağ knows fish—he was a fisherman before he got started in the restaurant business—and this is one of the best places...Read More

  • 19. Changa

    $$$$ | Beyoglu | Eclectic

    The sister venue of Müzedechanga occupies a three-story, early-20th-century Art Nouveau townhouse near Taksim Square and is only open mid-October...Read More

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