With a few summertime exceptions, most of Turkey’s innovative restaurants are located in its largest and most cosmopolitan city: Istanbul. From Michelin star-worthy tasting menus to Turkish classics with a modern twist, these are the best restaurants in Turkey.
Restaurant, Turkish, French, $$$
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Nicole, Beyoğlu | Courtesy of Nicole Restaurant
A restaurant truly worthy of Turkey’s first Michelin star, Nicole Restaurant is run by chef Aylin Yazıcıoğlu, who gave up her doctoral studies at Cambridge University to pursue her true passion in the kitchen. After finishing her education at the Cordon Bleu Institute in Paris, she worked with many esteemed French chefs before opening Nicole Restaurant. The perfect confluence of her French skills and Turkey’s freshest ingredients are represented on a seasonally altered tasting menu, accompanied by wines from Turkey’s boutique vineyards. Did we mention the amazing Istanbul view from the elegant terrace floor dining room?
An Istanbul classic, Hünkar has been serving an upscale version of esnaf (tradesman) dishes in the sophisticated Nişantası neighborhood since 1950. Once you enter you can walk right to the cafeteria-style display to choose from the day’s freshly made dishes. Our favorites include the kuzu incik (slow cooked lamb wrapped in eggplant) and kadınbudu köfte (meatballs with rice and herbs dipped in egg and flour and fried).
A true Istanbul classic, Borsa’s fine dining room has been serving the best of Turkish cuisine since 1927. The restaurant hasn’t changed much since then, in terms of its sophisticated demeanor and perfect culinary execution. Here you can try everything from yaprak sarması (stuffed vine leaves) to kuzu tandır (Konya-style roasted lamb shank with eggplant puree).
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One of Bodrum’s best restaurants, Orfoz is an expert in all things that come from the sea. The tasting menu is a fantastic journey that includes dishes like smoked eel, sea snails with wine sauce, fresh clams with lemon, and fresh mussels in the oven (just to name a few). Make sure to order a great Turkish white wine for the full experience.
Another tradesman restaurant gone modern, Karaköy Lokantası has become famous, with its classic dark turquoise tiles and changing art installations in the window. During the day you’ll find classic Turkish home-cooked fare, while in the evening the menu changes, with meze, fresh fish and plenty of rakı.
Restaurant, Bar, Turkish, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Vegetarian, $$$
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Another favorite among Istanbul’s gourmet crowd, Yeni Lokanta takes the best Anatolian recipes and ingredients and presents them with a modern interpretation. Celebrity chef Civan Er’s tasting menus are always delicious, and offer taste combinations you won’t easily find elsewhere.
One of Istanbul’s most unique restaurants, Alancha is experimental in nature. From the dimly lit dining room in minimal tones to the tasting menu that’s inspired deeply by Anatolian history, an experience at Alancha is quite memorable.
Another of Bodrum’s best restaurants, Memedof serves some of the freshest seafood in town, explaining why it’s always full in summer. You’ll have to make a reservation in advance, especially if you want to sit right by the beach. Everything from the meze to the daily catch (on display as you enter) is excellent, every time.
Istanbul’s favorite seafood restaurant, Bebek Balıkçısı is located right on the Bosphorus, in the upscale Bebek neighborhood. In a sophisticated setting, you’ll enjoy excellent meze and fresh fish (preferably grilled), as well rakı to set the mood.
A true representative of the former Ottoman palace kitchens, Asitane has been reviving more than 200 historical recipes since 1991. It has a serious scholarly mission: to keep the unique tastes of the sultans and their courts alive. The famous restaurant is a must-visit to try the tastes of true Ottoman palace cuisine.