Try The Catch Of The Day At Istanbul’s Best Seafood Restaurants

Diners at a fish restaurant next to the Karakoy Fish Market in Istanbul near the Galata Bridge
Diners at a fish restaurant next to the Karakoy Fish Market in Istanbul near the Galata Bridge | © Have Camera Will Travel | Europe / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Mindy Yartaşı
30 December 2019

Nestled between the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea and split by the iconic Bosphorus, Istanbul is an epicentre for amazing seafood restaurants.

A trip to Istanbul isn’t complete without sampling what its nearby seas have to offer but with each catch-of-the-day menu mirroring the next, finding a unique fish restaurant in the city can be an overwhelming task. The best restaurants take their menus one step further to offer interesting appetisers, creative twists on the classics and enticing desserts. Longtime Istanbul native Mindy Yartaşı compiles a tried-and-tested list of excellent restaurants that offer unique dishes.

Istanbul is renowned for its fresh seafood | © Marco Arguello / Culture Trip
Street food is big business in Istanbul, particularly when it comes to fresh fish sandwiches | © Marco Arguello / Culture Trip
For the freshest fish and seafood, you’ll want to head for the docks | © Marco Arguello / Culture Trip

Kıyı Restaurant

Restaurant, Turkish, $$$
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Kıyı has it all: ambience, a panoramic view of Sarıyer’s marina with a Bosporus backdrop and the freshest fish the city has to offer. Specialising in a wide variety of appetisers, their tarama, a Greek meze of salted and cured roe mixed with olive oil, lemon and breadcrumbs, is an excellent choice. Kıyı’s octopus carpaccio with celery (kerevizli ahtapot carpaccio) and thinly sliced sautéed liver (yaprak ciğer) are also highly recommended as starters. When in season, Kıyı’s best-selling fish includes throat mullet (Boğaz tekiri), bonito (palamut), bluefish (lüfer) and turbot (kalkan). A dinner for two runs an average of 350 Turkish Lira, or around £45.

Cıbalikapı Balıkçısı

Restaurant, Turkish, $$$
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This restaurant offers views of the Golden Horn and Beyoğlu neighborhood’s Galata Tower on the far shore. It also offers some of the best appetisers in the city, namely its baby octopus, Crete puree (Girit ezme), seaweed salad (kayak oruğu), tarama, samut salad, sea bass with dried tomatoes (kurutulmuş domatestli levek sarma) as well as their specialty topik, chickpea-based vegetarian “meatballs” filled with onions, nuts, currents and spiced with herbs and tahini. This venue offers a nice variety of in-season fish as well. Be sure to leave room for a caramelised artichoke after dinner. Served drenched in caramel sauce and scoops of vanilla ice cream and raspberry sorbet on the side, this unusual twist on a normally savoury vegetable is a must-try. A dinner for two here averages TL 350 (£45).

Istanbul Municipality Restaurants

Restaurant, Turkish
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Scattered throughout the city are 19 alcohol-free restaurants run and owned by the city called Istanbul Büyüksehir Belediyesi Sosyal Tesisleri, which were established in 1994 to offer citizens of all incomes the chance to enjoy a nice meal with great views. Each branch offers the same menu and pleasant white linen tablecloths, so you always know what to expect. Their creamy fish soup with mushrooms and onion and their appetiser sampler with classic Turkish starters like green beans in olive oil, stuffed artichokes, peppers stuffed with spiced rice and haydari, a mint and garlic yogurt spread, are highly recommended. Their menu includes a variety of grilled, fried or baked fresh fish dishes, including salmon and sea bass. Two of their branches are located near popular tourist spots, namely Haliç Sosyal Tesisi, a few kilometres up the road from the city’s ancient Spice Bazaar, and Kasimpaşa Sosyal Tesisi, just down the hill from the Galata Tower. Both offer views of the Golden Horn. A dinner for two here is an affordable TL 90 (£11.50).

Milto

Restaurant, Turkish, $$$
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If you’re feeling adventurous and head to Istanbul’s biggest island Büyükada for the day, choosing a place to eat along the waterfront can be daunting. Milto, nestled on the island’s shore, offers great views of the comings and goings on the Marmara Sea and, if you time it right, spectacular sunsets. For starters, the tarator, a refreshing salad with yogurt, tahini and a touch of garlic, is a great choice paired with cheese croquets that melt in your mouth and fresh mussels. Their prawns are also superb and fresh fish is always available. A dinner for two here runs around TL 250 (£32), including drinks.

Balıkçı Kahraman

Restaurant, Turkish, $$$
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Turkey is known for its fresh produce, and this restaurant’s simple tomato salad (domates salatası) is perfection, especially when paired with their famous homemade corn bread that arrives whole, baked half plain and half sprinkled with a Turkish favourite – hamsi (tiny anchovies). For appetisers, their specialty is lakerda (a pickled fish dish) made from prized one-year-old binoto caught while migrating through the Bosphorus. Fished mainly in the winter, their grilled turbot (kalkan), a flatfish native to the Black Sea, is fabulous when in season, and if you’re feeling adventurous, fried turbot livers (kalkan cığeri) are also on the menu and a favourite of regulars. Their scorpion fish kebab (İskorpit şiş) also comes highly recommended. A dinner for two runs about TL 300 (£38).

Classic Fish Sandwich

Restaurant, Turkish
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Eminönü square – next to the river – is a hotspot for street food, particularly Balık Ekmek, Turkish fish sandwiches | © Marcio Arguello / Culture Trip

Few street foods are as iconic in Istanbul as a fish sandwich. Always served on a fresh roll, the sandwich is perfect in its simplicity with a fried filet of white fish, usually bluefish or perch, sliced onions and shredded lettuce. The best place to grab one is right off the boats docked in the Golden Horn in Eminönü, just across the street from the Spice Bazaar. At around TL 12 (£1.50) and paired with the ice-cold yogurt drink ayran for TL 2 (25p), it makes a great snack or light lunch on the go.

Balıkçı Abdullah

Restaurant, Turkish, $$$
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Balıkçı Abdullah embodies fine dining with its linen tablecloths and charming fireplace, making it the perfect spot for a quiet, romantic evening near the Bosporus. Out of their wide variety of starters that include shrimp, lobster and mussel dishes, their grilled octopus and melt-in-your-mouth calamari are favourites of regulars. A unique starter here is their raw picarel filets, and the restaurant’s fried sol (dil balık) is also a great choice. Their buttery date dessert (hurma tatlisi) served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or their poached quince topped with clotted cream (ayva tatlisi) with a cup of tea are excellent ways to end your meal. A dinner for two here runs around TL 350 (£45) with drinks.

Kör Agop Restaurant

Restaurant, Turkish, $$$
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The neighbourhood of Kumkapı is famous for its lively fish restaurants. Out of the dozens lining its narrow streets, Kör stands out with its dark wood decor, live fasil music and warm atmosphere. For 70 years, this establishment has been offering excellent seafood and drinks, most notably its appetiser menu featuring topik, four-cheese red peppers and a variety of eggplant dishes. It’s a trustworthy place – in other words, they won’t overcharge tourists like other restaurants in the neighbourhood are known to do – so go here if you’re looking to add some colour to your evening in an unforgettable, classic Turkish setting. A dinner for two, including drinks, runs around TL 250 (£32).

These recommendations were updated on December 30, 2019 to keep your travel plans fresh.