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. 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. 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

  • 3. 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

  • 4. 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

  • 5. 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

  • 6. 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

  • 7. 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

  • 8. 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

  • 9. Corvus Bite & Bistro

    $$ | Besiktas | International

    The tasty, distinctive fare (“hummus” made with green peas and mint, risotto with Jerusalem artichokes, or salmon with orange juice–infused...Read More

  • 10. 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

  • 11. Darüzziyafe Restaurant

    $$ | The Bazaar Quarter and Environs | Turkish

    The former soup kitchen of the Süleymaniye Camii has been returned to its original use, serving traditional zeytinyağlı (vegetables cooked...Read More

  • 12. Hamdi Restaurant

    $$ | The Bazaar Quarter and Environs | Turkish

    This longtime grill house is an Istanbul institution, with its huge selection of kebabs, as well as appetizers like mini lahmacun (thin flatbread...Read More

  • 13. Heyamola Ada Lokantası

    $$ | Princes Islands | Turkish

    One of the best places to eat on any of the islands, Heyamola offers a daily selection of fresh vegetable and seafood meze (including affording...Read More

  • 14. 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

  • 15. Karaköy Lokantası

    $$ | Karaköy | Turkish

    This popular dual-format venue is a bustling daytime spot offering a changing menu of reasonably priced vegetable and meat dishes from the Turkish...Read More

  • 16. Secret Garden Restaurant

    $$ | Princes Islands | Turkish

    The meze, meatballs, salads, grilled fish, and other mainly Turkish fare are fresh and well prepared but the hospitable service and lovely,...Read More

  • 17. Sıdıka

    $$ | Besiktas | Turkish

    An unassuming local favorite not far from posh Akaretler Row and downtown Beşiktaş, Sıdıka offers stellar Aegean-influenced starters and fish...Read More

  • 18. 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

  • 19. Sultanahmet Fish House

    $$ | Sultanahmet | Seafood

    There are no obsequious waiters at Sultanahmet Fish House and no fancy dress code—just good, well-prepared seafood served in a friendly atmosphere...Read More

  • 20. The House Café

    $$ | Bosphorus | International

    The largest and one of the most popular branches of this chain of chic eateries is directly on the waterfront, with stylish furnishings and...Read More

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