The Best Restaurants in Istanbul

Grilled meats, bite-size vegetarian meze, and grilled octopus and sea bass are some of the culinary delights that await in Istanbul, where Mediterranean, Turkish, and Ottoman cooking methods combine to deeply satisfying (and sometimes surprising) results. Our favorite places to eat in this magical city range from chef Mehmet Gurs’s fine-dining restaurant with a view to humble neighborhood spots for homestyle cooking.

The Marmara Pera Meşrutiyet Caddesi 15 34430, Beyoğlu, İstanbul, Asmalı Mescit Mahallesi, 34430 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
Known for its elevated approach to Turkish cuisine, as well as its elevated views of Istanbul from atop the Marmara Pera hotel, Mikla is ranked 51st in the World’s Best Restaurants and should be at the top of your list for a memorable night out in Istanbul. Mehmet Gurs, Istanbul’s most famous chef, draws from his Finnish-Turkish background to combine traditional dishes, ancient cooking techniques, and local ingredients with a forward-thinking and environmentally sustainable perspective on food. The menu changes daily but might include manti (ravioli) with smoked buffalo yogurt or lor (cheese curd) ice cream. Even if you can’t get a reservation for dinner here, the city views can be enjoyed along with a cocktail at the bar or out on the terrace.
Bebek Mh., İnşirah Sokağı No:13, 34342 Beşiktaş/İstanbul, Turkey
Chef Didem Senol’s pioneering spirit and contemporary take on Turkish dishes make her one of the most interesting chefs in Istanbul, and she shares her culinary talents at Gram, a sort of upscale deli of slow and seasonal foods in the posh seaside neighborhood of Bebek. Choose what appeals from the day’s menu of salads, meats, and other savory dishes, but save room for the baked goods and desserts, as well. Enjoy your picnic at one of the small tables, or take it outside and dine with a Bosphorus view. There are additional locations in the Kanyon shopping center and the Maslak business district.
Caferağa Mahallesi, Güneşli Bahçe Sk. No:43, 34710 Kadıköy/İstanbul, Turkey
One day, I dragged my travel companions—a German, a Turk, and two New Yorkers—to Kadıköy, a neighborhood on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, to dine at Çiya. Everyone was cranky and hungry by the time we found it, but I knew the second we walked in, the trek was worth it. The chef, Musa Daðdeviren, comes from eastern Turkey, and his dishes reflect the diverse traditions of the region. We shared many small plates we picked from the counters at the front: fresh salads flavored with seeds and unusual herbs, stewed beans, perfectly tender eggplant, Turkish meatballs, and hot pide bread. For dessert, we tried candied pumpkin, which had a taffy-like texture like nothing I’ve ever tasted. I could eat there every day.
7 Soğancı Sokak
5.Kat (Floor 5), in Istanbul’s upscale Cihangir neighborhood, boasts a menu of gourmet cuisine and magnificent views of the Bosphorus in an elegant setting. The prices are a little more than what you pay elsewhere, but then there’s not many places in Istanbul where you can enjoy high-quality dishes such as oven-baked lamb shank, sea bass, and seafood linguine from a rooftop location. Dine here during the day for a buffet brunch and you’ll enjoy the sights and sounds of the Bosphorus, while the evenings are spectacular, with the lights of Istanbul twinkling in the distance. The prix-fixe menu is three courses, with local drinks included.
Tomtom Mah. İstiklal Cad. No: 181 K: 5-6, Tomtom Mahallesi, Merkez Han, 34433 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
Every day millions of people walk down Istanbul’s famous Istiklal Street unaware of the nearby terrace restaurants offering magnificent cuisine and divine views of the Bosphorus Strait—among them, Divan Brasserie Beyoğlu. Opened in 2014, the restaurant excels in plating timeless recipes with modern touches. Take a seat here for lunch or dinner and peruse a menu of regional dishes such as the Albanian-style liver and pan-seared lamb served in eggplant puree along with gourmet pizzas, beef burgers, and seafood dishes. Istanbullus (Istanbul residents) will say you haven’t dined in Istanbul until you’ve dined at a rooftop terrace overlooking the city. Do them proud at Divan Brasserie Beyoğlu. To find it, look for Koć University on Istiklal Caddesi and follow the discrete signage and let the glass elevator take you the rest of the way.
Şahkulu Mah., Kumbaracı Ykş. No:57, 34425 Tünel/Beyoğlu/Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
Leb-i derya is one of those fabulous fancy restaurants perched high above the streets of Beyoğlu with amazing views of the Bosporus, Maiden’s Tower, Asia and old Istanbul’s peninsula. You could walk past the building so many times on its dimly lit street without realizing how magnificent the view from the top is. This light and bright sophisticated rooftop restaurant offers traditional Turkish flavors with a modern twist, as well as gourmet-style international favorites. In summer, management opens the doors to an open-air terrace ideal for sunset cocktails. It really is an iconic city rooftop for special occasions—or for saying good-bye to Istanbul on your last night in the city. Enter off the sloping Kumbaracı Yokuşu (street) which runs off Istiklal street near Tünel. Reservations are advised.
Harbiye Mahallesi, Mim Kemal Öke Cd. No:19, 34367 Nişantaşı/Şişli/Şişli/İstanbul, Turkey
Considerably more upscale than your average deli, Delicatessen is consistently packed with Turkish minor celebrities and society types in the fashionable neighborhood of Nişantaşı. While you might not appreciate who is sitting at the next table, you can appreciate the beautifully presented food and sleek design. The menu is a fairly typical mix of international bistro dishes and Turkish favorites, but always made with fresh and seasonal ingredients. They are especially known for their charcuterie and cheese platters, as well as breakfast, with both Turkish spicy sucuk beef sausage and actual pork bacon (a major selling point for many expats in Istanbul). As it is an actual delicatessen as well as a restaurant, there is a wide range of food for takeout.
Asmalı Mescit Mahallesi, OIivya Geçidi 7-A, 34435 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
Istanbul’s location at the crossroads of continents has made it the hometown for many cultures. In 1924, Russians fleeing the Bolshevik Revolution opened the Rejans restaurant on Istanbul’s İstiklal Avenue, and it acted as a meeting place for other refugees, artists, and intellectuals for eight decades. The restaurant was reopened in 2016 as 1924 Istanbul, restored to its original glory down to the silverware, with a table permanently reserved for frequent customer Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, complete with a bottle of raki. Today, the restaurant serves Eastern European and Russian favorites like pelmeni dumplings, stroganoff, and lemon-infused vodka. Weekends have live music for extra ambience; bring your own old Russian soul.
Rüstem Paşa Mahallesi, Hasırcılar Cd. No:14, 34116 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
If you need fuel in between bargaining at the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market in Eminönü, stop in for lunch at the restaurant above Namlı Pastırmacı. A language barrier won’t be a big issue, as you can point to whatever looks tasty; good bets are mercimek (red lentil) soup and stuffed eggplant. You can find edible souvenirs at Namlı’s downstairs deli, including charcuterie and all manner of cured meats. Namlı also has a gourmet shop in Karaköy, selling olive oil, honey, pickles, and other foodstuffs, and is a popular spot for breakfast.
Ömer Avni, İnönü Cd. No:50, 34427 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
Topaz is regarded as one of Istanbul‘s most elite upmarket restaurants and it’s the place to be if you wish to celebrate a special occasion. From their terrace restaurant you can indulge in their degustation or a la carte menus whilst the lights of Istanbul twinkle over the Bosphorus and the nightly lighting show aloft the first Bosphorus Bridge dazzles its audience. “Food is our passion and our pleasure. We are continually pushing the boundaries, developing a reputation for gastronomic boldness.” says Topaz’s website, and they achieve this. Their seven course degustation menus - the ‘Ottoman’ and the ‘modern’ - are highly sought after and unlike any other restaurant in town. The degustation dishes expertly prepared and presented fuse modern international flavours with authentic Turkish fare which will leave you talking about your meal for days on end. Pair your menu with Topaz’s wine selections and you’ve reached heaven for the senses! Check their website for menus and prices - as it’s not for everyone’s budget. Reservations will secure a seat with a view. Afiyet olsun! Bon appetite!
Kılıçali Paşa, Defterdar Ykş. 52/A, 34425 Beyoğlu İstanbul, Türkey
A proper Turkish kahvalti (breakfast) spread should cover the table with small, colorful dishes, including assorted cheeses, fresh tomatoes and cucumber, cured olives, and many varieties of jams and spreads. A proper Kurdish breakfast will be enjoyed at leisure and possibly not first thing in the morning. Van Kahvalti Evi serves both traditional Turkish and Kurdish breakfast dishes from Van (a Kurdish town in eastern Turkey) all day, with plenty of glasses of hot tea. Try menemen: scrambled eggs with tomatoes, peppers, and onions, or savory gözleme (flatbread) filled with cheese and potato. Be sure to save room for a side of kaymak (clotted cream), to be enjoyed spread on bread and drizzled with honey. It’s enough to make anyone a morning person, or at least a breakfast person.
Alemdar Mh., İncili Çavuş Sk. No:15, 34110 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
On arrival to Istanbul, many tourists order the chicken şiş (chicken kebab) for a meal because it’s familiar and safe, but they’re really missing out on some of the best food in the world! I encourage anyone visiting Turkey to gastro-travel through the country’s tasty cuisine and sample the many Ottoman dishes and succulent regional kebabs on offer. My favorite place to take guests is Fuego Cafe & Restaurant in Sultanahmet. Fuego opened in early 2012 and is fast becoming one of the most reputable restaurants in the tourism precinct. The outstanding service by owner-operators Can, Ali, Mehmet and Salih has earned the restaurant accolades. Try the Ali Nazik (minced beef on yogurt, eggplant and tomato mash), Hünkar Beğendi (tender lamb on a bed of smoked eggplant puree) or pilic dolma (stuffed chicken with a rich saffron sauce) and wash it down with a glass of Turkish wine from the comprehensive wine list. The restaurant is also open late, so pop in for a nightcap or two on your way back to your hotel. If you’re a coffee drinker, ask Can, a former barista, to brew you a cappuccino, latte, espresso, French coffee, Irish coffee, or even a herbal tea. Fuego welcomes guests for breakfast, lunch, and dinner all through the year and can accommodate people with food intolerances—just ask your waiter for recommendations.
Tomtom Mahallesi, Kumbaracı Ykş. No:66, 34433 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
Just off of Istanbul’s pedestrian shopping street, Istiklal Caddesi, Yeni Lokanta opened in 2013. Yeni means “new” in Turkish and the menu ventures in unexpected, surprising, and delicious directions, even if the décor, with its tiled floors and white washed walls, may look like that of many other restaurants in Istanbul. The sea bean salad is given a sour kick with the addition of green plums; the manti (Turkish ravoli) are prepared with a dried eggplant filling rather than minced meat; and bulgur salad takes on a red hue and fresh flavor with the addition of sour cherries. Order one of the meze selections to sample three dishes, in servings generous enough for two to share. Save room for dessert or you may miss your chance to try smoked buffalo milk ice cream—an unusual salty-sweet companion to the kadayif custard fritter.
Cankurtaran Mh., Akbıyık Cd. No:26, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
In the early 1990s, a Greek family refurbished a charming Ottoman home and opened Albura on the cobbled streets of Akbıyık Caddesi. The quality had locals and travelers flocking, making Albura one of the most popular restaurants in Sultanahmet. In 2009, Kathisma, a streetside terrace restaurant next-door, was added. The original family went on to sell the place to current owners Abuzer and Alp, who oversee the menu of succulent regional cuisine and tried-and-tested Ottoman favorites. The chef’s specials include jumbo shrimp in the wok and cevizli kuzu (lamb with walnuts). You can choose to dine inside the cozy Ottoman abode or on the elegant streetside terrace, open-air in summer and enclosed in winter. When the belly is full and the plates are cleared, wander to the back of the terrace and find the entrance to one of Istanbul’s best-kept secrets—the well-preserved Byzantine ruins of Magnaura Palace. Take your time to explore this 4th-century basilica-like structure that inspired the design of Moscow’s Kremlin Palace and Venice’s Basilica San Marco. Back in its heyday, the palace was decorated in gold and silver, providing a grand setting for Byzantine emperors to welcome dignitaries to Constantinople.
Hoca Paşa, İbni Kemal Cd. No:13, 34110 Fatih, Turkey
Constantine’s Ark has racked up great reviews since its 2015 opening on a cobbled side street of Sirkeci, where it stands out amid the mostly casual dining options. Here, you can expect a polished experience along with a selection of regional cuisine from Turkey, Ottoman specialty dishes, and international favorites. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you have tickets to see a show at Hodjapasha Cultural Centre or need refueling before spending up at the Spice Bazaar, then Constantine’s Ark is an ideal place to stop. It also happens to be a five-minute walk from the Sirkeci Tram Station and Marmaray Train Station, meaning it’s easy to get to from anywhere in the city.
Beyazıt Mh., Tığcılar Sk. No:56, 34126 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
If you’ve been pacing up and down the passages of the Grand Bazaar contemplating that perfect purchase, chances are you’ll need refueling eventually. Hidden on a backstreet just outside gate 16 of the Grand Bazaar is the cozy and charming Keyf-i Mekan Cafe and Restaurant. “Keyfi” means “merriment,” but in Turkey keyfi is also a way of life, one that’s full of pleasure. So expect the small menu featuring delicious Turkish-style home-cooked food to fulfill both these meanings. The food will surely fill the belly and energize you to take those bazaar vendors head on! Choose from the menu of mezes, or meat dishes or peek at the mouthwatering “specials of the day” on the counter. The cafe is open every day, except Sunday when the rest of the bazaar is closed too.
Asmalı Mescit Mahallesi, General Yazgan Sk. No:8, 34430 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
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. Plates overflow with homemade mezes featuring Turkey’s home-grown produce—olive oils, yogurt, tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, spinach, kofte, chicken, and more. Choose among the mostly vegetarian mezes by pointing to the dishes lined up on the counter near the open kitchen. 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.
137 İstiklal Caddesi
Take a break from shopping along Istiklal Street at Hala, which specializes in authentic home-cooked Anatolian cuisine. You know you’ve found it when you see women with white headscarfs kneading dough in the front window. They’re preparing and cooking Turkish savory pancakes called gözleme. Hala is a great place to try gözleme along with other traditional staples like Ali Nazik kebabs and manti (meat dumplings served with yogurt and oil, caramelized with tomato paste, and seasoned with mint and red pepper). Wash it all down with a glass of Ayran, a salty yogurt drink adored by many Turks.
Caferağa Mh Moda Cd. &, Caferağa Mahallesi, Damacı Sk. No:4, 34710 Kadıköy/İstanbul, Turkey
When the crush of 14 million people (and what seems like an infinite number of rude taxi drivers) gets to you, Istanbul has a cure for what ails you: a peaceful ferry ride across the Bosphorus and a seat in the leafy garden at Viktor Levi wine house. The son of a fisherman, Viktor Levi started bringing back his favorite wines from the Aegean Islands more than a century ago, and his namesake restaurant, tucked into a side street in Moda in Kadiköy, now has more than a dozen house varietals, most under 100 lira. A meal by the fountain or inside the restored town house might inspire your own trip to Bozcaada, or just a return trip on the ferry.
Rüstem Paşa Mahallesi, Erzak Ambarı Sok. No:92, 34116 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar may be a global tourist trap, but isn’t nearly as rage-inducing as the squawking group tours inside the Grand Bazaar. Here, a remnant of authenticity lives on in this 17th century building, created by commission for Sultana Turhan Hatice. Visually-arresting piles of spices and Turkish delight, and rows of pushy men, make for a wild afternoon of souvenir shopping and colorful conversation. Inside the Ucuzcular stall the sellers are friendly and happy to let you browse. A bag of “love tea” ensures romance in a pot. In that vein, on my way through the bazaar, a man trotted up to me and said, “Excuse me. I think you dropped something...” I looked puzzled. He smiled and theatrically clutched his chest, " heart.” He probably does that for all the Westerners, but I pretended it was as real as the magic in the spices.
Teşvikiye, Vali Konağı Cd. No:40, 34365 Şişli/İstanbul, Turkey
If you’re keen to experience the medieval practice of “kahve falı" or “fal” (fortune telling with Turkish coffee) then make an appointment at Symbol Café in Nişantaşı with Tunc, one of the few English-speaking coffee readers in the city. Once there, order a Turkish coffee with “sade” (no sugar), “az” (little sugar), “orta” (medium sugar), or "şekerli” (sweet), and savor the flavor of a rich aromatic coffee as you ponder your life’s ambitions. When the last drop leaves your lips and all that is left are the grinds sunk deep in the demitasse (small cup), take the saucer and gently seal it atop the cup. Swirl the cup and saucer clockwise three times and then flip them both toward you, holding them firmly so as not to spill the grinds. Relax as the grinds dry out, and wait for Tunc to find you in the cozy café filled with locals who are also eager for readings. When Tunc hypnotically gazes at the grinds to interpret the patterns before his eyes, expect to hear about your past, present, and future with uncanny accuracy (or at least that’s what happened to me). Facts about your life, love, career, money, family, and travel will spill out of the cup for Tunc to interpret without you mentioning a word. Symbol Cafe is at Valikonağı Caddesi (Street) No: 34 Nişantaşı - İstanbul - Telephone: (0212) 291 75 40. The closest train stop to Symbols Cafe is Osmanbey Metro Station, one stop from Taksim Square.
Yıldız Mh., Çırağan Cd. No:32, 34349 Beşiktaş/İstanbul, Turkey
The five-star Çırağan Palace Kempinski Hotel, right on the Bosphorus near Ortakoy, boasts some the most expensive and elegant hotel rooms in town. A-listers swoon to stay here to make the most of the hotel’s luxurious offerings all housed in the walls and gardens of a restored 19th century Ottoman Palace. For those of us who can’t afford the room rate, there is another somewhat affordable option to take in the hotel’s services and location. Save up those pennies to partake in a long Sunday brunch at Çırağan’s Laledan Restaurant. With over 250 exquisite items to indulge in, a late breakfast and early dinner is possible by slowly grazing from 12:00 noon to 4:00 pm. Regional cuisine, organic produce, vegetarian options, seafood (even sushi), desserts, and endless cups of tea, coffee and juices are on offer. Just make sure you leave enough room to sample the goodies from the chocolate room. Simply follow the aromas of cocoa emanating from the room fit for the sultans who once lived here. This legendary Sunday brunch costs 195 – 210 TL (as of April 2015) and reservations are a must.
Hold off on that second bite of pistachio baklava, and re-think that serving of semolina halva, because there’s another dessert to try in Turkey that never disappoints. It’s called künefe. This sugary, crunchy slice of sweet goodness is made of white unsalted cheese, strips of phyllo dough, butter and milk. It’s baked and drizzled with a generous pouring of sugar syrup and topped with the vibrant color of pistachio nuts. The best künefe is found in south eastern Turkey, but there’s plenty of restaurants in Istanbul that serve this delightful dessert to guests. Best served hot with a dollop of Turkish sticky ice-cream, sharing with others is advised - that’s if you can bring yourself to do so after your first spoonful.
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