Where to Eat, Drink, and Shop in Istanbul, According to Turkey's Favorite Chef
Chef Mehmet Gürs’ Istanbul Food & Beverage Group runs so many restaurants, cafes, and coffee spots that he can't quite count them—"It's a very vibrant company," he says. As Turkey's most recognizable chef, Gürs has been so wildly successful, in part, because he knows the country and its food culture very well. In fact, with the development of every new space and every single dish on his menus, Gürs and his team works to answer a single question: How can we preserve the past by looking into the future? Gürs even employs a full-time anthropologist to help with that answer.
It's no surprise, then, that his deep knowledge of Istanbul is as palpable as the black on the mulberries featured on the menu of his award-winning restaurant Mikla. Next week, Gürs will bring his signature style to New York City, where he’ll be captaining Studio dinners at Chefs Club on February 20th and 21st (you can still book tickets to the event here) and headlining in the main dining room on the 22nd (book here). But just in case you’re planning on heading to Turkey sometime soon, here, Gürs shares a true insider's guide to eating, drinking, and shopping throughout Istanbul.
Gürs compares Kantin's longtime chef, Şemza Denizsel, to American chef Alice Waters—they’re both dedicated to using organic, all-natural ingredients to create what he dubs as "delicate food.” Think: salmon gravlax, milk wire kadayif, ancuez, or housemade yogurt cream. But no matter your choice, you can order confidently knowing nothing on Kantin's updated-daily chalkboard menu contains "shady ingredients," as Gürs says. Akkavak Sokak 30, Istanbul
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The Kadiköy Market
Across the Marmara Sea, on Istanbul's Asian side, you'll find the Kadiköy market, a maze of stands, stalls, and vehicles selling everything from "sheep's head and super fresh fish just caught off the Bosporus," Gürs says. He suggests you take your time weaving through the market, munching as you go. There's no need to rush. Away from the hustle and bustle of the city, it's "not touristy yet," Gürs says. "It's the place people go to for their everyday shopping." Explore the market by starting on a side street off of Söğütlü Çeşme Caddesi, Kadıköy
Petra Roasting Co.
Despite Turkish coffee's reputation for being a velvety, bubbly brew, Gürs says it's surprisingly difficult to find a decent cup—or brass pot—of coffee in the country's capital. "Turkish coffee can be really exciting, but very often it's not done in a good way," Gürs warns. But at Petra Roasting Co., located inside the Muse Istanbul art gallery, Gürs says you can sip on a sumptuous house-roasted blend while wandering a gallery spanning everything from for-sale canvas art pieces to a sailboat. Hoşsohbet Sokak Panorama Residence Mağaza 1, Istanbul, Turkey
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This cozy restaurant pays homage to "the southeastern Turkish way of cooking, where one chef cooks everything over a charcoal grill," Gürs describes. As long as you maintain eye contact with the chef, he'll give you another serving of lamb chops, chicken wings, or even lamb spare ribs. "It just keeps on coming until you tell him no—you have to tell him you're full up to here," Gürs says, lifting his hand to his chest. But this laid-back spot isn't all about food. "A lotof drinking goes on there," Gürs laughs. "It's a jolly good time." Bekar Sokak 28, Istanbul, Turkey
The food at Kilimanjaro is fantastic, Gürs says, but you'll come for its "cool vibe" and stay for its long list of fresh and inventive cocktails. Set inside a warehouse, the restaurant boasts exposed brick walls and a winding, 3D geometric patterned wood-panel bar that could make you dizzy—depending on how many drinks you've had. Gürs recommends the GinGin 35, a perfect-for-summer blend of Beefeater gin, salatalık, sweet and sour mix, and zencefil. Birhane Sokak 1, Istanbul, Turkey
Located just north of Istanbul on the Bosporus, it's easy to see why this restaurant focuses its menu on fish—though Kiyi Lokantasi offers a mean selection of mezes, too. "It's my favorite place to eat straightforward and good fish," Gürs says. A selection of sardines, squid, octopus, bonito, and sea bream—prepared simply with fresh vines, salt, or a hint of lemon—are just a smattering of the seafood options you might find on its fresh-catch menu. Kefelikoy Caddesi 126, Istanbul, Turkey
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One Last Tip
No matter where you go, Gürs says the real key to eating, drinking, and shopping like an Istanbul insider is being laid back in your attitude toward food and service. "Don't seek out the three-star Michelin restaurant," he encourages. "Go somewhere that breaks the rules—and don't be stressed if the food doesn't come out on time. Feel the vibe of the region, relax, have a drink, and get into the mood."