Istanbul’s Best Turkish Restaurants - From Classic To Modern

Breakfast in Istanbul is a varied affair
Breakfast in Istanbul is a varied affair | © Dorling Kindersley ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
Feride Yalav-Heckeroth

Whether it’s a classic restaurant offers the best of Turkish cuisine, or a more modern approach that has reinterpreted the traditional, Turkish food is anything but dull in Istanbul. Among the regular additions to the city’s restaurant scene, only a few truly stand out. Here’s some of the best on offer in the city of Istanbul.

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Hünkar

An esnaf lokantası, is a restaurant that only serves up classic home cooked dishes for the working man. Hünkar has been around since 1950 serving the best examples of these esnaf dishes in a clean and modern atmosphere. Walk up to the cafeteria style display and choose from the day’s dishes, with favorites including kadınbudu köfte (meatballs with rice dipped and fried in egg batter), su böreği (moist pastry filled with cheese), and patlıcanlı kuzu incik (tender leg of lamb enclosed in eggplant).

Borsa

Courtesy of Borsa Restaurant

A true classic since 1927, Borsa forever pays respect to the pillars of the Turkish kitchen by consistently serving up the same excellent dishes year on year. It has very modern dining room and outside terrace look-out over the city and their Ramazan dinner is probably the best in the city. Try the döner, kuzu tandır (pit roasted lamb), içli köfte (pan fried cracked wheat shells stuffed with meat and walnuts), and the date and fig pudding (Borsa style) for dessert. You won’t regret it.

Hamdi

When it comes to kebab, Hamdi leads the way with a menu that boasts seventeen varieties. Owner Hamdi Arpacı came to Istanbul from Urfa and began cooking up his specialty in Eminönü square in a small stand. Years later, his restaurant has its own building with several floors serving up his delectable kebabs the traditional way. Make sure to reserve a table on the top floor for a great city view.

Karaköy Lokantası

Enjoy some köfte in Istanbul

Karaköy Lokantası has been packed every weekend since it opened in 2000. Their secret is simply to serve traditional Turkish fare with a more modern twist, using excellent ingredients. With two separate menus for lunch and dinner, the restaurant features a home cooked classics lunch menu and a more tavern-like dinner menu featuring various meze and grilled fish. We’ve always been fonder of lunch at Karaköy Lokantası including the gorgeous hünkar beğendi (slow cooked beef on a bed of smoky eggplant puree), the ızgara köfte (grilled meatballs), and the tahinli muhallebi (mastic pudding with tahini).

Yeni Lokanta

When respected chef Civan Er decided to open his own restaurant it became an instant success, with reservations still required to be made well in advance. Yeni Lokanta‘s minimal interior expresses the modern perspective that Er has bestowed upon the recipes and ingredients of Anatolia. Experimenting with his discoveries to create new flavor combinations that are always Turkish through and through, the lunch menu and evening tasting menus are always excellent. You’ll find olive oil braised dried peppers filled with tamarind rice and pine nuts, a lettuce-mint salad with sumac yoghurt and tangerines, and rakı flavored bass with Ezine cheese rocquette salad (just to name a few).

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