Image taken and owned by Mademoiselle Meme at Arada cafe
by Editor | Mademoiselle Meme
Fresh off our 30 day trip through Istanbul, I’ve compiled a list of the best places to eat in the city. Istanbul’s food scene is decadent, with unique dishes I have not seen in the West nor the Middle East. The city encompasses the perfect fusion of East meets West, Asia meets Europe. This list, unlike some of our other city food guides, really dove into the nitty gritty of all food experiences. From street carts to Michelin-starred fine dining, we wanted to experience the city as locals, and not just stop at the hipster, trendy spots which many times do not lend to the authenticity of a city. My husband, friends and I had a lot of success, and like any tourist, found ourselves sometimes in tourist traps or overrated spots. We combed through our extensive list and picked what we would recommend to someone personally, leaving out some places that were just okay, places that had poor service/quality, and places that might be too adventurous for most tourists to enjoy. We could not eat at all the places we wanted to, but are happy with this list which includes traditional and modern takes on Turkish dishes, the glamorous fine dining of Galata and Nişantaşı versus the homey and unassuming spots of Fatih.
We attempted to try every Turkish specialty and delicacy, which we have listed below as highlight dishes and noted when certain restaurants are known for those dishes. It is not a proper city guide without a visit to the farmer’s market and street carts. Istanbul abides by the rule “eat the season”. We were able to try summer foods that would not be available if you visit in winter. If you happen to go in winter, we were told pomegranate juice and a hot cinnamon drink called salep (spellings differ) are proper street treats. For summer, we stopped frequently at juice stops selling citrus, most popular being orange juice. Another street food in abundance: roasted chestnut and corn on the cob. For the more adventurous, small trays of mussels stuffed with rice. We were unsure about this at first as the mussels are sitting out in the heat all day, but we saw so many locals stopping for a mussel or two after school and work and decided to give it a try. It was delicious! Other in-season summer foods to try include sour plums, stone fruits (peaches, apricots, cherries), mulberries (black and white) as well as wild forest strawberries.
Lastly, I am so grateful to my Turkish audience and avid travelers, apart of the Mademoiselle Meme crew, for all the recommendations, translations and hospitality during our stay. We only had an outdated Eater and CNN guide to go off of for our food recommendations, along with the website Culture Trip and a famous Palestinian Food Youtuber, but having local feedback was essential! Special thanks to Merve and Sevde for their constant help!
FOODS TO TRY:
- simit (sesame bread), dondurma (sticky, stretchy ice cream), turkish breakfast, döner (meat cooked on a spit), börek (phyllo dough with different fillings like cheese), pide (similar to pizza), pastirma (dry aged beef), iskender (döner served over bread w/ tomato sauce and yogurt), baklava, künefe (sweet cheese dessert), ayran (yogurt drink), lahmacun (thin flatbread with meat), dondumali irmik helvasi (ice cream with semolina), manti (stuffed dumplings), gözleme (stuffed flatbread like a quesadilla), turkish coffee
- Şirin Fırın
- Viyana Kahvesi – famous for their in-house St. Sebastian cheesecake
- Old Java Coffee Roasters* – our favorite locals-only coffee shop
- Arada cafe – Lebanese/Turkish breakfast
- Neolokal – fine dining Turkish with epic views
- Yeni Lokanta – featured on World’s 50 Best Restaurants, Anatolian dishes
- Another coffee shop
- Galata Simitçisi – better than the Simit stands, and made fresh hourly. Try the Simit and Tahinli çörek!
- Coffee Sapiens
- Baltazar* – better burger than Nusr-et burger!
- Namlı Gurme* – gourmet market that also serves customizable Turkish breakfast
- Karaköy Güllüoğlu – best baklava in the city, try the chocolate baklava for something different!
- Levent Börekçilik Karaköy* – all things börek!
- Karaköy Lokantası – Ottoman influenced dishes
- Buuzecedi بوزالجدي – traditional Syrian breakfast, well known in Damascus. Order the hummus, falafel, foul and tis’iye
- Dönerci Şahin Usta – our favorite döner spot, a hole in the wall by the Grand Bazaar. Expect a long line!
- Şehzade Cağ Kebap – small, lively kebap spot that cooks their meet on a spit over a wood fire, completely different taste and style compared to a shawarma or döner spit. not glamorous or pretty, but still delicious.
- Hafız Mustafa* – great for künefe and Turkish delight, along with other desserts
- Hacı Şerif – order the Dondurmalı İrmik Helvası
- Forno Balat – locals neighborhood spot with the best pide and lahmacun. Made to order so expect to wait a while for food. Order the apricot soufflé, you won’t regret it.
- Çeşme Bazlama Kahvalti – the best Turkish breakfast we had
- Ministry of Coffee*
- Petra Coffee Roasters Topağacı*
- Bröd – low key bakery and lunch spot
- Nusr-Et Burger
- Damla Dondurma – housemade ice cream, unlike most places that sell dondurma
- Iskender® – the original Iskender restaurant
- Nusr-Et Steakhouse – first restaurant location before #Saltbae became famous
- Inebolu market, a Sunday market in Beyoğlu’s Kasimpaşa district – this was our favorite, it was the smallest but it had the best variety and diversity of produce.
- Ferikoy market, a Saturday organic market with a flea market in the same spot on Sundays. The only organic farmer’s market we came across.
- Fatih market, a Wednesday market, probably the largest in Istanbul with 4800 stands located across several streets.