Navigating Istanbul’s restaurant scene can be a pricey indulgence if you choose, but eating well in the city doesn’t require breaking the bank. Quality culinary experiences here are not limited to fine-dining restaurants, and it’s easy to experience authentic Turkish food on a budget. Longtime Istanbul resident Bala Gürcan lists some of the best restaurants in her city that serve delicious food at reasonable prices.
Havuzlu Restaurant, Fatih
Restaurant, Turkish, Middle Eastern, Vegetarian
Located within the Grand Bazaar, Havuzlu Restaurant is a historical esnaf lokantası (tradesman restaurant) that has been in operation for almost half a century. The restaurant is named after the small marble fountain pool in front of it (Havuzlu means “with pool” in Turkish). Find a wide range of authentic Ottoman-Turkish food options here, including vegetable dishes such as eggplant moussaka, chickpeas and dolma (stuffed green peppers); and meat dishes like Iskender kebabs, döner, lamb skewers and meatballs. It is possible to enjoy several dishes here for around 20 TL (£2.70) per person, but keep in mind that food service ends in the afternoon.
Found on a side street just off bustling Istiklal Street, Lades Menemen offers a great variety of breakfast foods in the heart of Beyoğlu. The restaurant serves their famous menemen (eggs scrambled with tomatoes and green peppers) as well as delicious fried food until late into the night. A meal here costs 15-20 TL (£2-£2.70) on average; however, this price goes up with additional ingredients. Their esnaf lokantası (tradesman restaurant) with the same name is just across the street and is more popular with tourists.
A well-known brand with branches in Turkey and abroad, the original Sultanahmet Köftecisi in Sultanahmet has been serving quality food for good value since 1920. This restaurant is always packed, in part due to its central location in the city’s historic peninsula. Boasting a simple yet effective menu including their signature köfte dish (beef meatballs) that only costs 15 TL (£2), Sultanahmet Köftecisi is a great option to grab a quick and filling meal at any time of the day. To further enjoy your köfte, pair the meatballs with a serving of salad, soup or piyaz (bean salad), or the classic irmik helvası (semolina dessert).
Also known as Asım Usta’s, Karadeniz Pide ve Döner Salonu has maintained its 35-year reputation as one of the best places to get a meat döner in Istanbul. A tiny shop in the Beşiktaş Bazaar, Asım Usta delivers high-quality meat served with grilled tomatoes and garlic, wrapped in either warm lavash (24 TL, £3.25) or pita bread (16 TL, £2.15). The venue gets crowded at noon, but their fast service makes up for it.
Housed in a boat, Tarihi Eminönü Balık Ekmek is one of the many floating restaurants found on the southwest end of Galata Bridge that serve balık ekmek (fish sandwiches) made with grilled mackerel, raw onions and lettuce on bread. Follow the aromas of freshly cooked fish and the staff’s yells of “balık ekmek!” to find the restaurant’s stalls, which are almost always full. Although prices have been on the rise, “balık ekmek” in the Eminönü district costs 15 TL (£2) and is a must-have cheap eat in Istanbul. Try the classic pickle juice alongside your sandwich.
In Istanbul, the name Kızılkayalar is associated with tasty and affordable street food. A chain restaurant in the middle of Taksim Square, their ıslak hamburger (an Istanbul speciality that literally means “wet” hamburger) is a beef patty between steamed buns, slicked with a special red sauce. The hamburger only costs 5.75 TL (£0.78) but other items on the menu, such as the well-liked mixed fruit presses, are slightly costlier. Its central location makes it easy to quickly grab a burger and get back to sightseeing.
Made with grilled sheep or lamb intestines that are chopped, seasoned and served on bread, kokoreç is a Turkish dish that might not appeal to everyone’s tastes. However, for those willing to give this popular dish a try, the 38-year-old Şampiyon Kokoreç shop in Taksim is the place to go. The food here is reasonably priced – kokoreç served on half a loaf of bread costs 20 TL (£2.70). Those who are not interested in offal (organ meats) can enjoy another crowd favourite, the stuffed mussels.