I wish I had seen this sooner! I have recs for Istanbul (AND Syria!) but this obviously won't help the original poster.
I would suggest picking up a copy of Time Out Istanbul. After 5 days of gorging ourselves on many of the suggestions therein, we spoke to locals who marveled at our "finds" and agreed they were some of the best spots in Istanbul.
Apologies in advance because I don't know how to do accents in this format.
Doga Balik--excellent, excellent fish place in Cihangir. Very fresh. There is no set menu because the available fish changes daily. You choose your own cold mezzes from a bar, then the waiters (who can speak English) will review the daily fishes and methods of prep.
Ciya Sofrasi--on the Asian side (Kadikoy). Unbelievably delicious and varied local cuisine from outside Istanbul. I don't think there is more than one waiter who speaks English, so if you meet him, he is WONDERFUL. He ended up choosing various plates for us, while I chose our cold mezzes and ordered an Iskender kabob. While of course this is a popular dish throughout the country and available for only a few dollars elsewhere, it wasn't expensive at Ciya and was the most sinful rendition I've ever had.
Only briefly mentioned in Time Out is Nevizade Sokak--a narrow alley of cute bars and mezze places off Istiklal Caddesi. I absolutely love Imroz, it's a crazy experience, very authentic (and SMOKY), really delicious mezzes. The short street is packed and lots of fun.
Do not miss Mado, the best ice cream in Istanbul. Locations throughout the city, including on Istiklal. Gooey traditional style but an endless variety of flavors to appeal to the Istanbul palate. In more traditional places usually only chocolate, vanilla, pistachio or lemon are available but Mado...is just heaven.
Outside of Istanbul it's harder to remember specific restaurants. Pide House in Goreme was wonderful--they taught me to make my own manti. Gaziantep had ridiculously good sweets, the most amazing baklava I've ever had. Urfa has good stuff too, it's not hard to find and it's such a small town anyway.
Hope this helps! Off to find Syria posts to answer :).
I've posted a detailed description of my last dining expedition in Istanbul here: http://www.nancychuang.com/journals/i...
For by far the most wonderfully unique and delicious dining in Istanbul go to Korfez. It is on the river about five miles up from the city center. To call my evening their magical would be an understatement. Korfez exuded the passions of the restranteur who checked on us at least three time during our meal. He was wonderful and warm. The experience felt like a wonderful dream, finally I was where I was supposed to be.
When in a Foriegn land searching for where to eat gernally overwhelms me as much as trying to decide what I want to do with my life. Though I eat at many great places and great valued places rarely do I feel that I have done the absolute best that I could. At Korfez Spades of this feeling englufed me.
The octopus blew away any I have ever had. It good koren barbecued octopus is 10 and shitty low end rubbery sushi ocotpus is a 3 then this was an eleven. (that didn't quite sound how I thought it would, but you get the point)It was soft and fragrant like a sea fruit should taste. When I finally swallowed it a pang of sadness rose in my belly as this amuse buche was over. For a main I had a salmon backed in a mound of sea salt form the caspian. The salmon was harvested from a river in the norhhern mountians of turkey, and was as tasty as fresh wild alaskan, but cooked to a greater standard. the view is heartbreakingly romantic. I am nearly in tears just thinking about the whole experience.
Hamid, great kabob restaurant in Eminonu
Haci Abdullah, traditional Turkish, Taksim
Mavi/Yesel, for fish, on the Bosphorus, just north of
Refik, mezes, in Beyoglu
Pandeli, traditional Turkish, lunch only, the food is nothing special but the restaurants is one of the most beautiful in Istanbul, upstair in the Spice Bazaar,
There are lots of options, but in general you want to stay away from the Sultanahmet area in Istanbul. Highly recommended:
1. Tike in Levent I. It has since expanded into a small chain, but the food is superb. The meze are the highlight, so order them all up. In the winter you can get cig kofte, or very spicy ground raw lamb balls that you wrap in lettuce and squeeze lemon over. yum.
2. Sunset Bar and Grill in Ulus. Great views and excellent Turkish and international food, including first rate sushi. Expensive.
3. Mede (I think that is the name), down Istiklal from Taksim square, left on the street right before McDonalds (don't stop!), and to the end. Cheap and tasty Kurdish place. Also on that street Musa Ustam used to be good. Get the Cop Sis.
On the street, don't miss the stuffed mussels.
Urfa has great food. Head to the market and eat at the stalls where they have chicken marinating in hot pepper emulsion. Great on the BBQ.