It’s sometimes stressful when I travel because I get dead-set on building a must-try restaurant list and figuring out how to make sure we have enough meals in the trip to tackle it. Rather than finding a spot near the sights I want to see, I tend to revolve my activities around the location of some interesting food establishment that I’ve deemed worthy during my weeks of research. Fortunately, it pays off — in Istanbul, my trusty guidebooks and friends’ recommendations led me to some of the best places the city has to offer. Check out some of the highlights below if you’re planning a trip or just curious about what the city has to offer…
1. Sultanahmet Koftesi [Sultanahmet]: This legendary Turkish meatball shop is, according to locals, the only decent place to eat in tourist-covered Old City. The menu is short and sweet and the space and service is completely no frills. Don’t be confused by the nearby impostors that claim to be the original (a la Ray’s Original Pizza in NY).
halva at Sultahanamet
2. Dicle Balik [Kordakoy]: The best place for simple fresh fish – any kind, any way – on the Asian side. Casual but absolutely fresh and delicious.
flattened fried Hamsi (anchovies) at Dicle Balik
3. Sofyali 9 [Beyoglu]: One of the well known-mezze restaurants on a busy bar-lined street in Beyoglu, this 3-story place is always packed. Call ahead for a reservation. When you arrive, you hand select the mezzes from a platter brought over by your waiter, sort of like the Turkish dim sum. Be sure to get the Borek, which was some of the best we tried in Istanbul.
4. Fürreyya [Galata Balikcisi]: Looking for a simple fish restaurant close to the Old City? Then this local favorite is your place. Tiny, quaint, and on top of the hill past the Galata tower, it’s easy to miss, but worth finding for the insanely fresh sea bass, addictive fried anchovies and bountiful Mediterranean salad.
sea bass at Furreyya
5. Dibek [Cappadocia]: This one’s outside of Istanbul..in fact, only accessible by plane. But if you’re in the Goreme area of the enchanting Cappadocia, be sure to stop by Dibek for the only authentic clay-kebab experience in the area. I can’t say that the food is remarkably flavorful, but the experience of sitting with your shoes off on pillows while eating meat that’s been broken out of a clay pot is worth the unusually high price tag.
clay pot kebab at Dibek
6. Delicatessan [Nisantasi]: Located in the Upper East Side of Istanbul, Delicatessen is many cuts above Istanbul’s traditional “meyhanes” (drinking taverns) in terms of style – in fact, it’s downright gorgeous. The food is beautiful too, and reminiscent of the food served in the many well-designed cafes in London. Coming here at the end of the trip was perfect timing; after days of borek and gozleme I was craving cold salads and fresh veggies more than ever. Don’t forget to stop by the baked goods counter for a massive $7 brownie.
bountiful salads at Delicatessen
7. Lucca [Bebek]: The Meatpacking / Soho / really posh area of Istanbul is home to a ton of the city’s most modern restaurants serving “global” cuisine. At Lucca, don’t expect to find hummus and kofte – our meal consisted of tuna tartare, duck spring rolls, quinoa salad and baked brie. While the food wasn’t necessarily better than what I could find in NY, the scene was a fresh of breath air just as I was starting to get homesick for the big city.
Lucca – posh and pristine
8. Vogue [Besiktas]: The perfect spot for drinks, but the food is quite expensive. The restaurant, which takes over the entire top floor of what looks like an office building, has floor to ceiling windows for a 360 degree view of Istanbul. Delicious pickled cauliflower and cucumbers served with every drink make the $3 mark up on cocktails easier to swallow.
View from Vogue restaurant
9. 5 Kat [Cihangir]: On a side street behind the local hospital, through a random entry way and up a tiny elevator, you’ll find the most beautiful country French restaurant overlooking the Bosphorus river. I can’t speak for the food since the place was closed when we visited, but the gorgeous furniture and the expansive view of the city would make any tier of food worth trying.
10. Chilai [Bebek]: Just blocks away from Lucca, this massive club-like restaurant pumping dance music also focuses on international cuisine, like sushi and pizza. Again, the food isn’t what brings you here as a New Yorker; it’s the glass walls that start at sea level that make you feel like you can reach out and touch the bosphorus. There’s nothing like it in New York (except for the clientele, whom all looked like they were straight out of Real Housewives of NYC).
11. Mikla [Beyoglu]: A well known spot for fine-dining and gorgeous views, this restaurant at the top of the Marmara Pera hotel serves some of Istanbul’s most refined food. While the food is creative and gorgeously plated, I would have rather had the kebaps served down below to accompany these views. Still, if you’re looking for a fine dining experience in this wonderful city, this is the place to do it.