Restaurants in Istanbul
In spite of rich Central Asian, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean influences, restaurants in Istanbul aren't known for excellence. But what many Istanbul restaurants lack in culinary innovation they tend to make up for extensive menus and excellent views of the city and beyond.
Some of the best restaurants in Istanbul with such panoramas include the chic 360 Istanbul, in Beyoglu, and Ulus 29, set back in a beautiful hillside neighborhood. In general, it's best to avoid dining out in the Old City, or Sultanahmet, where the restaurants cater to tourists. For a more traditional meal, consider Asitane, which offers a selection of lamb dishes (bonus: the large menu is written in English).
Another option in a similar vein is Ciya Sofrasi, which serves more exotic combinations such as mumbar, or sheep intestine filled with rice and lamb. If you're a less adventurous eater and in the mood for standout seafood, try the modestly decorated Balıkçı Kahraman. Also consider checking out the district of Ortakoy, near the Ciragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul, which has some peaceful spots.
The meyhane (drinking house) is the Turkish version of a tapas bar, where small mezes and fish are washed down with glasses of raki, a bracing anise-flavored liquor. The city is full of them, but Bonçuk, where strolling fasil musicians entertain diners, is one of the best.
To sample the ultimate meat wrap, grab a succulent döner, near the Nuruosmaniye Gate.
The Tugra was the calligraphic seal of the Ottoman Sultans. No doubt the restaurant of the same name now located in the sumptuous 19th-century Ciragan Palace on the western shore of the Bosphorus would get one of approval.
Full of bright-green Eastern Barak pistachios, fragrant with syrup, brushed with sheep’s butter—yet somehow light—the baklava at Karaköy Güllüoglu Baklavalari sets the gold standard. Eat it at the nearby Karaköy docks while gazing at the magnificent mosques across the water.
Famished after haggling for kilims at the Covered Bazaar? It’s worth tracking down to this macho kebab dive colonized by gaggles of mustached vendors.
Kasibeyaz is one of three restaurants operating in a complex next to the Istanbul airport. It specializes in high-end versions of Turkish classics like cig kofte (raw meatballs), kebabs, and alinazik (puree of roasted eggplant with diced lamb).
At the picturesque Cebeci Han caravansary, this spot serves the city's tastiest kebabs.
The average day in Turkey is punctuated by round after round of tea and coffee, and shopping is no different. Since accepting a cup from a seller in the Grand Bazaar is regarded as interest in doing business, it may be better to stop in the few cafes inside the Grand Bazaar.
In the waterside Arnavutköy area, Dilara Erbay dishes up grilled fish at Abracadabra, housed in a wooden mansion.
Squeezed between two ramshackle buildings on the western shore of the Golden Horn, Cipalikapi Balikçisi serves traditional Turkish fare with a focus on meze and fish.
Beyoglu is known for its raucous drinking houses, or meyhane, where meze are an excuse for rivers of raki. This is the insiders' favorite: a brick-walled dining room illuminated by chandeliers that sets the scene for house specials like ficin, a spiced meat pie. The best part?
Since 1920, this workingman’s dive has remained hugely popular despite serving only two main dishes: meatballs and lamb skewers.
Thirtysomething owner Batur Durmay speaks fluent English and guides diners through his extensive list of dishes. Durmay’s family funded painstaking research in Ottoman archives to reproduce former sultans’ fare.
In the Beyoglu district of Istanbul, the Pera neighborhood has staged a comeback of recent years, reclaiming its title of the hippest neighborhood. Adding to the neighborhood's bohemian vibe is Nu Teras, a rooftop dance club for the young and well-to-do.
Quality sushi is an exceptionally rare find in Istanbul, but thanks to international chain Zuma, it now can be had opposite the Radisson Blu hotel in Ortakoy.