The diversity of Turkish cuisine is on display everywhere in Istanbul, from the abundant street food to kebab shops to high-end dining. The city’s most celebrated restaurant, Mikla in the Marmara Pera Hotel, is run by a Turkish-Finnish chef, but if you don’t want to spring for an expensive dinner, visit the bar and take in stunning views of the Old City from the terrace. Around the corner, across from the newly restored Pera Palace Hotel, is two year old Meze by Lemon Tree, where chef/owner Gençay Üçok is reinterpreting classic Turkish dishes usually found in meyhane, traditional restaurants that specialize in small plates called meze served with raki, the anise flavored national spirit. The menu changes daily, just choose your appetizers from the display before digging into a main course of köfte (meatballs), sea bass steamed in paper with apricots and almonds or grilled lamb. A must stop for foodies is Çiya near the Kadikoy fish market on the Asian side of the city. Though three Çiya restaurants sit steps from each other, including two kebab shops, the main attraction is Çiya Sofrasi, which features seasonal dishes based on ancient Anatolian recipes. Don’t miss the housemade herbal drinks kept in large vats behind the display counter and kunefe, a warm dessert specialty from Antiochia made with fresh cheese.
Grilled meat is a staple of Turkish cuisine and the best place in town to get a variety of meats right off the grill is at Zübeyir Ocakbaşi. Walk through the tiny ground floor dining room and ascend the stairs, where you will find the chef sitting behind the grill methodically turning chicken wings, lamb and ribs over open flames. Everything coming off the grill is a delight, including the excellent kebabs. For a quick, more casual meal, try Cağ Kebabi, a tiny shop where marinated lamb slow roasts over a fire before the chef carefully slices it off the spit for your kebab. Between Galata and Istiklal Caddesi is Füreyya Galata Balikçisi, which specializes in inexpensive fish dishes (balik means fish). And don’t shy away from street food in Istanbul, which is safe to and can be very good. For a cheap snack, try simit, the Turkish version of the bagel sold around town for 1 TRY, or grab a fish sandwich from one of the bobbing boats in the Golden Horn near the Galata Bridge.
Turks are enamored with sweets, especially baklava. The best in town is made by Güllüoğlu Baklava, which has multiple locations including in the Spice Bazaar and at the airport. For Turkish coffee, try Hafiz Mustafa, either the original near Sirkeci Station or the new outlet close to the Hagia Sophia. The original dates back to 1864 while the new location is less crowded with three large seating areas and several display cases full of freshly made desserts.
While the city has a reputation as a vibrant place full of clubs and hookah lounges, it is now becoming a place for discovering quality Turkish wines as well, with several new winebars having opened in the last year. A great place to try out a variety of these up-and-coming wines is the year old Sensus in the basement of the Anemon Hotel, just across from the Galata Tower. Sensus is a retail shop as well as bar so just pick a bottle off the shelf and they will open it for you. Drink as much as you want and take the rest to go. Alternately, you can order from a small selection of wines by the glass and pair it with local cheeses. Near the Dolmabahce Palace, one of the country’s top wineries has opened Corvus Wine & Bite, where a delicious variety of small plates complements the large number of house brand wines available by the glass.
Meze by Lemon Tree
Meşrutiyet Caddesi 83/B Beyoğlu, Istanbul, +90 212 252 83 02, Website
Guneslibahce Sokak 43, Kadikoy, Istanbul, +90 216 330 3190, Website
Bekar Sokak 28, Beyoglu, Istanbul, +90 212 293 3951, Website
Füreyya Galata Balikçisi
Serdar – 1 Ekrem Sok 2, +90 212 252 48 53, Website
Hocapaşa Sokak 3/A
Sensus Wine Bar
5 Buyukhendek Caddesi, +90 212 245 5657
Corvus Wine & Bite
5 Sair Nedim Caddesi, + 90 212 260 5470 Website
Mulitiple locations including Kemankeş Karamustafa Paşa Mh., Karakoy Istanbul & the Spice Market, Website
Divanyolu Caddesi 14 or Hamidiye Caddessi 84 – 86, Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Website