You've strolled the 1.5km of Istanbul's famous Istiklal Street for a spot of shopping, but hunger sets in and the purse strings are tight. Where do you go for a bite to eat?
Answer: Helvetia, a modest lokanta (restaurant) tucked away on a quiet side street in Tünel. With its relaxed, no-frills atmosphere, this place is a local favorite for lunch and dinner. The food is deliciously fresh, generously served, and an excellent value for money.
For under 15TL ($8) you can get a plate overflowing with homemade mezes made from Turkey's home-grown produce—olive oils, yogurt, tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, spinach, kofte, chicken, and more. Select your mezes by pointing to the dishes lined up on the counter near the open kitchen. Vegetarian and meat options are available.
Seating is somewhat communal, and don't expect five-star table service—dining is simple here. It's well worth the visit to taste Turkish food that's beyond the normal kebabs of Taksim and Sultanahmet—it's food just like a Turkish mama prepares at home!
To get there: Follow the tram line on Istiklal to the Tünel funicular (tram) exit. With your back to the funicular exit, see a book shop on the other side of the road. Just to the left of this shop is the Tünel Pasaj, a pedestrian arcade lined with cafes and shops. Walk through the arcade to the end. You will see Helvetia on the corner as you exit the arcade.