Istanbul’s Best Turkish Restaurants - From Classic To Modern
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.
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 Restaurants, Istanbul | 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.
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 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).
Restaurant, Bar, Turkish, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Vegetarian, $$$
When respected chef Civan Er decided to open his own restaurant it became an instant success, with reservations still required to be made well in advance. Yeni Lokanta‘s minimal interior expresses the modern perspective that Er has bestowed upon the recipes and ingredients of Anatolia. Experimenting with his discoveries to create new flavor combinations that are always Turkish through and through, the lunch menu and evening tasting menus are always excellent. You’ll find olive oil braised dried peppers filled with tamarind rice and pine nuts, a lettuce-mint salad with sumac yoghurt and tangerines, and rakı flavored bass with Ezine cheese rocquette salad (just to name a few).
Meze, small made-to-share dishes served before the main meal, have become a staple of the Turkish kitchen and Meze by Lemon Tree has become an expert at serving experimental versions. Instead of the classic meze you’ll find sea bass ceviche with lime juice and grapefruit or fried sweet pepper filled with cheese and pistachios, as well as excellent grilled meats (lamb with beetroot and potatoes is the winner).
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Restaurant, Turkish, $$$
This haute cuisine restaurant has one of the most beautiful views of the Bosphorus imaginable and that’s because it’s located on the terrace of the Sakıp Sabancı Museum, overlooking the waters from the museum’s lush garden. There’s a light all day menu at Müzedechanga, but in the evening the fine dining options include Helloumi cheese wrapped in vine leaves and served with sweet chili sauce, grilled loin of lamb with roasted quince with peanuts and red cabbage salad with Sumac molasses, and chili pepper and red wine poached pear with mastic ice cream and sugar floss (to name a few).
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Alancha‘s Scandinavian aesthetic, research kitchen, and tasting menu, inspired by the history of Anatolia, make it one of Istanbul’s most unique restaurants. The Anatolian Tasting Menu is more of an experience and prepared with artisan ingredients from the seven regions of Anatolia. You’ll feast upon deconstructed and reinterpreted versions of classics such as stuffed mussels, chickpea hummus, pistachio kebab, lamb liver, fish sandwich, and baklava (to name just a few). The wine pairing also comes highly recommended with a sommelier at hand who will be happy to give you all the details. If the price of the tasting menu is a bit too hefty for your budget, try Beets, the more casual restaurant downstairs with an equally inspiring menu.