Right next to the Galata Tower, Kiva benefits from a perfect location for visitors, yet it seems like only Turks eat there. Adnan Şahin, the impresario, is another great food theorist who serves ethnic Anatolian food. He finds ingredients such as the rare sirken, a mildly bitter valley green. Japanese plums stuffed with meatballs also hail from the region, as does fellah köfte, meatless bulgur dumplings steeped in spicy tomato broth. So meticulous is Şahin that he has fine snow delivered from mountain caves to top off his sherbets. “There’s no question of interpretation,” he says. “The food tastes exactly as it should.” Dinner for two $45.
In a shopping mall near Levent, the center of upscale modern Istanbul, Osmani has a fresh and sharp range of Turkish food flavors. This is where health-conscious, time-strapped professionals dine in efficient comfort. From the cafeteria-style selection, start with a mixture of barely steamed wild greens and herbs from the Aegean area. Eat the yuvalama, a yogurty soup from the south, or the kadinbudu köfte, granular lamb balls with a fried crust, and you’ll feel as if you lived in Turkey in a past life. Also on the menu: keshkek, a pulpy comfort food made of lamb, served at traditional Turkish weddings. Dinner for two $40.
You might call Zarifi the first postmodern meyhane with a mission to revive lost elements of Beyoğlu’s past as a drinking, fun-loving ghetto from Byzantine days. Not to mention the food that went along with the mayhem. Owner Fehmi Yaşar worked as a filmmaker before launching the Byzantine cistern-like location right off Istiklal Street, the main pedestrian thoroughfare. (A waterfront location in Çubuklu, on the Asian side, is open from July through September.) Yaşar says he created the menu as a tribute to the old Ottoman minorities of the Beyoğlu area: Sephardic Jews, Armenians, Greeks, and others—and their dishes. Yaşar directed me to the Hungarian honey eggplant, an unprecedented sweet-savory flavor, and the Bosnian smoked meat cooked in oiled butcher paper. And eating the islim kebab—lamb on the bone wrapped in lush eggplant—felt like a homecoming on a winter’s night. Dinner for two $40.
Melik Kaylan, a frequent contributor to the Wall Street Journal, is also a columnist for Forbes.