Best Food in Istanbul
We will be in Istanbul for 6 dinners (and lunches) (staying for 3 nights in Sultanahmet and 3 nights on the Bosphorus). We are New York foodies who would like to sample the best Istanbul has to offer, regardless of price or ambience. We've gathered a few names: Ulus 29, Balikici Sabahattin, Antiocha, Abracadabra, Datli Maya, Zubeyir, Mucver, Yesil Ev, Grifin, Sehzade Erzurum Cag Kebabi, Siirt Seref Buryan Kebap Salonu, Hayvore, Would love comments on this list as well as additional suggestions.
A good resource is : http://istanbuleats.com/
Our favorite restaurant was Ciya Sofrasi. It's on the Asian side of the Bosphorus and requires a ferry ride but the food was hands down the best meals of our time in Istanbul. We returned almost every night. It's modern Turkish food, very much based on traditional Turkish cooking but with a lighter hand and some very interesting mix of flavors.
Try to have kaymak at some point. It's not served everywhere but is an old Turkish breakfast dish. It's essentially a sweet cheese (similar to marscapone) with honey poured over it and served with rustic bread. Simple and yet so very good.
Hunkar is no more Ottoman or Turkish than most of the other restaurants: you can easily pass on that one. If you don't go with kebabs in Ciya then you should definitely sample South-Eastern Turkish fare - Akdeniz Hatay Sofrasi in Aksaray is fantastic (despite the unsexy location). In Istanbul you can't miss on fish and if you are serious about it - take a cab to Set Balik in Tarabya (reservation and cash only). For great view and food you may want to check out Mikla - it's one of few world-class restaurants in this city.
Happy eating in Istanbul!
We went to Istanbul in January. I have been to Istanbul before but it changed so much in recent years. The two areas, Sultanahmet and Beyoğlu (Taksim square) are so different today. You made a smart decision to stay on both sides.
A few restaurants deserve special attention as they serve incredible food and some earn high points as the service is absolutely impeccable and that made our experiences unforgettable.
Sultanahmet Fish House was our favorite for fresh seafood. The owner created a very cosy dining atmosphere. He is concerned with customer satisfaction and cares about his food. His fish is delivered fresh daily. It is a little more expensive that fish you can get on the other side of the bridge but the experience was well worth it and fresh seafood was superb in quality and preparation. Reservation is required during busy season.
Kayikci restaurant was the winner of a dessert dish. “Wow” is the only word I can use to describe it. Roasted caramelized pumpkin slices with green preserved walnuts was an experience in itself. The service was outstanding and the place so inviting and unique that we will return there again next time we are in Istanbul! Oh, forgot to mention a little gift box of Turkish delight that you get on the way out ☺
One of the most memorable meals was a mackerel sandwich by the Galata bridge. You will see old fishing boats by the bridge. Fresh mackerel grilled right on the boat. Locals eat it with fresh bread, onions and lettuce. Try the drink that is made of fermented cabbage, pickles and vinegar. Simple and outstanding meal for only 5 TL. Can’t beat that.
We stopped at Sirena restaurant with a romantic view. Its on the lower level of Galata bridge. You can also get fresh fish there for a cheaper price. Two brothers renovated this place recently. Nuri speaks good English and made his place attractive for upscale clientele. Here you can observe a wonderful sunset or just watch boats passing by.
Sirena is almost at the end of the bridge if you walk from Sultanahmet side and the sign is clearly visible. It’s a perfect escape corner if you are looking for one. Just ask for Nuri… We’ve had interesting conversations with him about life in Istanbul. If you have questions, he is your guy. There is a bar and a restaurant upstairs.
Walking Istiklal Avenue…
The other side of the bridge… What a difference! By the end of our stay we honestly got tired of hearing that same question “where are you from?” ☺. It was such a relief finally to end up on Broadway of Istanbul. Shops, restaurants, old book and antique shops. The street is generally closed to traffic (trams only). Food looks simple and freshly prepared and most places are busy.
I wrote in my previous blogs that it is very hard to stick to a schedule, even for a seasoned foodie. More, there are excellent choices of restaurants that did not get on the blogs yet and your food experience will depend on your mood, atmosphere of the place and people that surround you. The food quality is generally very good in the places visited by locals. So, have your eyes opened and enjoy the ride!
You should not miss:
Galata tower. You will not find a view similar to what you can capture from Galata tower. All Istanbul opens up in one grand panorama. Best time is at dusk.
Koska Turkish delight stores. If you are a Turkish delight lover, there is no better place to visit. You can sample all the delights you want before you decide which one to buy…
I agree with @Longroadahead about the memorable mackerel sandwiches at Eminonu Port near the Galata Bridge, but there's even better (and cheaper) fish at the bazaar on the other side of the bridge at this place:
ISKELE BALIK EVI: If you love seafood and like to eat with locals, skip the fancy fish and go to the seafood bazaar at the northeast corner of the Bridge, in the Karikoy neighborhood.
A few stalls past the fish vendors, you’ll find two cheap restaurants that serve fish fresh from the market. The second of the two, Iskele Balik Evi, fries the finest salt fish filet (dil baligi) I have ever tasted – and it only costs 7 Euros. If you go after 7:30pm, the staff may be able to find some (off-menu) wine for you, but only if the police aren’t around. (Iskele Balik Evi, Fish Bazaar Stall #11, Karikoy / Istanbul)
And this is a place I will go back to every time I visit Istanbul:
TURK OCAGI CAY BAHCESI: Between the Blue Mosque and the University of Istanbul, this Turkish tea house and shisha bar sits off the street, in back of a garden that resembles a graveyard. It may not be the best place in Istanbul to drink Turkish coffee (even if you ask them to go easy on sugar, they make it very sweet), but it’s my favorite place in Istanbul to drink Turkish black tea (40 Eurocents a glass) and smoke shisha (apple tobacco, 5 Euros, with free refills).
Even though it’s on the Lonely Planet trail (we saw quite a few foreigners there with this guidebook in hand), this café is also very popular with locals, who sit and chat and smoke for hours. Watching the staff here is like watching a Turkish version of a Henry Ford assembly line – every person does only one job (serving tea, distributing water pipes, refilling tobacco, clearing tables) and does it very well. (Türk Ocagi Cay Bahcesi, Cemberlitas Divanyolu Cad. No 82, Eminonu / Istanbul)
Have a wonderful trip!