Istanbul is a magical city unlike any other, split between two continents and with a rich history. The mosques, bazaars, street-food, museums, alleyway shops, and Turkish baths are just a few of the attractions that delight visitors. The restaurants in the buzzing city center, called Taksim Square, offer magnificent views and flavorful cuisines. Here are the top 10 restaurants in the areas surrounding historic Taksim Square.
Gözleme is a traditional, savory flatbread that is hand made, most often right in front of you on the streets or in Turkish restaurants. Otantik offers just this, as well as other Anatolian influenced menu items. The prices are affordable, and the atmosphere and menu make for an authentic cultural experience. The lamb kebabs are succulent and soft and a customer favorite here. Some of the best traditional Turkish deserts on offer include güllaç, which is a milk based desert flavored with rose water and pomegranate; and the incir tatlısı, which is a sweet fig desert.
This rooftop restaurant-bar makes you feel like you are floating in the air, with its glass walls and the 360 degree view of Istanbul. The menu is a mixture of cuisines that lies somewhere between Turkish, Mediterranean, Indian, and Italian-inspired, with unique fusion options like Chilled Green Melon Soup with feta ice cream and mint extract; or hot mezes such as the Octopus Butter Bean Casserole. On some nights, they have a DJ playing music, and offer delicious drinks at the bar like the Bomb Baby cocktail, made with vodka, fresh watermelon, mint and cardamom; as well as a full list of European wines to accompany your meal. Even if you just go for the view and a drink, we are sure you’ll end up staying for the food, as this is one of Istanbul’s must-do dining experiences.
Located in the historic Mısır Apartments, The House Café is a western-style restaurant in the middle of Istiklal Cadessi with beautiful lighting, spacious seating, and fantastic music to create a welcoming atmosphere. The chef studied at the highly prestigious Italian Culinary Institute, and his food is fresh and the service wonderful. One of the most delectable items on the menu is the Herb Crusted Grilled Salmon, with baby spinach, potatoes, thyme, rosemary as its main ingredients. The simplicity of the ingredients allows for the succulent, fresh fish to melt in your mouth. While all of the menu items are delicious, the fish-based items are especially fresh, as the restaurant is quite near to the fish-market and the Bosphorus. The drinks, too, are fantastic at the House Cafe, with seasonal cocktails and homemade lemonade. Available for all three meals in the day, this place is a good choice at any time.
Eleos is a hidden gem on the 2nd floor of rather nondescript historic building near Tünel, at the Beyoglu end of Istiklal. The Greek restaurant offers complimentary ouzo, a traditional Grecian alcoholic beverage made from anise, along with cold mezzes before your meal. The space is cozy, with a view of the Bosphorus from the dining room, reminding you just how fresh the fish is. Depending on the menu, the offering of fish rotates, the horse mackerel, the sarikanat, or the baby bluefish, are some favorites. The main course is then followed by fruits and liquors. Be warned, the entrance is less than inviting, but once inside, the cozy dining room overlooking the Bosphorus welcomes you. If you are a seafood lover, but are not interested in soaking up the smells of the open fish market near Istiklal, this is the place to have a seafood experience in Istanbul.
Bar, Turkish, Wine, Beer, Cocktails, Pub Grub, $$$
Taksim Karaoke Bar is a restaurant-bar that is uniquely Korean themed, which is quite uncommon in Turkey. There are six side-dishes call banchan that are served with the main course of your choice. The portions here are generous, so plan to share if you aren’t starved when you arrive. One of the most interesting and delicious main courses is the Dakbbal, which is the chopped roast chicken foot with special sauce. As suspicious as that may sound, the special sauce is a delicious addition to a classic Korean dish. If you’re feeling a little less adventurous, go for the Korean Spicy Fried Chicken. Of course, don’t forget to try out the Karaoke on some nights and Quiz nights on others. Be warned that “spicy” really does mean spicy. Look out for the Taksim Karaoke bar near the Nippon Hotel in Taksim Square. Price: Mid-Range Watch out for: Karaoke
Faros is a quality Italian and Mediterranean restaurant that is especially well-loved for its breakfast buffet and its all-day breakfasts. The sucuk, or Turkish sausage, is juicy and flavorful with a generous spice level; and the vegetarian options are also plentiful. Buzzing with both tourists and locals at all times of the day, the home made, thin-crust, wood-fired pizza is a favorite for lunch or dinner, as is the moist and soft lamb shish kebab. Enjoy the view of the busy Taksim square, the prompt service, and fresh cocktails.
The winner of the Wallpaper Design Awards for Best New Restaurant, Changa is a glamorous restaurant located in an Art Nouveau townhouse that is over 100 years old. Renowned Kiwi chef Peter Gordon has been the main consultant and supervisor for this fusion restaurant since it opened. The trademark glass ceiling allows patrons to look into the cooking area and watch the chefs prepare the food. The decor is artful, with Eames chairs and tables and hand paintings on the walls. Changa also has a permanent collection of art work by Turkish artists. One of the vibrant and delicious dishes at Changa is the kenger, which is a Spanish oyster plant that is topped with poppy seeds and shiso leaves. For desert, try the Turkish coffee ice cream with biscotti and bitter almond liqueur.
Leb-i-Derya is a hip rooftop restaurant in Beyoğlu with an open terrace that offers a fantastic view over the Bosphorus. You can find traditional mezzes in the appetizer menu alongside American dishes like potato skins, spiced fries, nachos, and Cajun chicken. The main courses are mainly meat-based, including steaks and kebabs, so this may not be the best choice for a hungry vegetarian. For breakfast and brunch, you can find a traditional Turkish breakfast with a common street food in Turkey called a simit, which lies somewhere between a pretzel and a croissant, along with eggs, borek (flaky pastry), homemade bread, and kashar cheese. The craft cocktails are also a must-try at this upscale restaurant.
For your Mexican food fix, Picante is the place to go. Serving traditional Mexican foods with a bit of a western touch, Picante has burritos, tacos, nachos, and salsas that can be generous on the spice. The home-made hot sauce is especially exciting and can perk up any dish you order. The fajitas and the beef and mushroom burrito are special treats with high quality ingredients, as is the case with all items on the menu. The space is small but cozy, with dim lighting and strong margaritas and a must-try Sangria.
Meze by Lemon Tree is a meyhane, or a traditional Turkish restaurant, though this one has a modern touch. Across from the Pera Hotel, this cozy restaurant serves experimental dishes that are based on Turkish cuisine, but with a creative touch. The mezzes are plentiful in variety, and the waiters will helpfully guide you through the options. One of the most interesting mezzes on the menu is the şaman bayıldı, which is made of fried sweet green pepper filled with cheese, pistachios and onion. The traditional Turkish music in the background adds to the warmth of the ambiance.