Edited by Jessica Wright
When it comes to delicious food adventures, Istanbul is a Mediterranean Mecca thanks to an influx of culinary influence from the Anatolian, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Aegean regions, as well as a growing taste for global cuisine. With the Sea of Marmara on one side of us, and the Black Sea on the other you can be sure that fresh seafood is always on the menu, so there is no question of what to eat in Istanbul. Out and about in the city, you’re sure to find a rich spectrum of inexpensive not-to-be-missed street eats, but if home-made food is your dish then you’ve chosen the right destination because Turkish people – the women in particular – love to be in the kitchen making all the traditional favorites! All you need is a friendly Turkish family to take you in for dinner... Failing that, I’ve compiled a list of the best places to eat in Istanbul for you to try out. Being vegan I have a slightly more niche palate than your average foodie, but that doesn’t mean I can’t point you in the direction of some omnivore-friendly feeding spots.
Ara Cafe in Galatasaray
Nothing captures the zeitgeist and modern history of this eclectic, multicultural city quite like the photographic works of the recently deceased Turkish-Armenian photographer Ara Güler – nicknamed the “Eye of Istanbul” – who opened the cafe and whose inspired works line the walls. While the great artist himself no longer occupies his favorite chair in the cafe, his spirit is still very much present in the space, embodied in the portraits of famous figures such as Dali and Sofia Loren. And the famous works aren’t the only drawcard to this little spot; a mix of Turkish and international dishes, the food is something special. Not cheap, but certainly worth the asking price for the delicious renditions of Turkish must-eat favorites such as balkan köfte – balls of minced meat beef, chicken, lamb, or pork, mixed with spices and onions and cooked to form a delicious crispy shell made of bulgur. With inside and outside seating choices, the cafe is also a perfect spot to soak in the atmosphere of the city.
Cunda Mezze Balık Evi in Gayrettepe
If seafood is what you’re after then this is one of the best local restaurants in Istanbul for it! Tucked away in Beşiktaş away from the main city bustle this little gem is a hard find, but well worth the search offering all the things you might expect from an off-the-trodden-path joint – good service, decent prices and the most delicious spread of seafood this side of the ocean. The fish soup is to die for, and pairs perfectly with the selection of Black Sea style bread, while the calamari is some of the best you are likely to find. Frankly, any of the seafood is a sure bet and will have you coming back for more – it’s all fresh, expertly prepared and served by staff with an exceptional flair for service. To top off a winning recipe, Cunda Mezze Balık Evi allows you to bring your own drinks so grab a bottle of raki or your favorite cold pint and settle in for some binge-worthy ocean offerings.
Borsa (branches across the city)
This very typically Turkish food chain makes it to my list because of the sheer variety of traditional Turkish food on offer, and the quality of each an every dish. For traditional Turkish food in Istanbul you can’t go wrong here, thanks to the high-quality buffet style setup serving a selection of döner (a kebab rotisserie of meat) and sumptuous Mediterranean dishes, as well as a wide range of Turkish wines. The authentic dishes all have a modern-twist to them, elevating the level of food to near fine-dining experience while maintaining very reasonable prices.Though there are several branches of Borsa, all equally good, I suggest the one in Kandilli for a lux experience with an insta-worthy view of the Bosphorus river and a venue as glorious as the food. Nothing beats their thin, crispy based lahmacun, topped with tasty mince and a squeeze of lemon, best eaten on a sunny day sitting out on the terrace.
Çin Büfe in Taksim
It might not be your typical Turkish tavern, but Çin Büfe makes for an excellent alternative when in the mood for something Asian. Seasoned travelers know that when on the hunt for something yummy to eat, look to the locals; if it’s popular with the people in the know, you can be sure of a good meal and this spot is a perfect example of that rule! They make some of the cheapest food around, and being particularly kind to those – like me – of herbivorous inclinations, the simple vegetable noodles are a personal favorite! Nothing fancy, this cozy little restaurant is a convenient hit for take-out or dining in, with friendly staff and quaint touches like fresh cut flowers on each table. A small but cleverly laid out space, here you can expect all the best of Chinese dishes cooked up Chinese chefs.
House Cafe in Ortaköy
For a more swanky experience with a view, I’d recommend House Cafe – a picturesque dining experience with the feel of an old-world courtyard, complete with an ornately carved wooden bar and fresh flowers. Here you’ll have a view of the intricately-made Ortakoy mosque off to one side and the Bosphorus river flowing beneath the bridge along with the other; a true mix of cultures that perfectly reflect the cultural melting-pot that is Turkey. The menu is a trendy mix of international and local cuisine cooked up by a world-renowned chef, with dishes made from high quality, fresh ingredients. For an intimate eating experience, opt for the tiny two-person deck table, where on a hot day out you can wet your feet in the cool river waters. For cooler, rainy days, there is ample indoor seating. Be sure to sample the Turkish meatballs served with aubergine puree for a hearty, healthy meal.
Çağrı Büfe in Nişantaşı
If you’re busy sightseeing (as you no doubt will be!) and are in search of an on-the-go quick bite, look no further than the distinctly local buffet takeaway joints dotted around the city. Istanbul has many such places but my utmost favourite – balancing price, quality and speed and offering some great specials – is Çağrı Büfe in Nişantaşı. Çağrı Büfe is considered (quite strangely to foreigners) a fast-food toast shop, with a buffet of all manner of cheese, meat, and doner served on your toast (or bread) of choice. While the tiny spot is ideal for grab-and-go meals, at wonderfully modest prices, sitting at one of the small tables outside on the pavement offers a unique opportunity to people-watch, gaining you true insight into the lives of the people living in Valikonağı Caddesi. Located in the heart of Nisantasi, you can expect to sample some delicious soujouk (beef sausage) perfect with cheese on toast, and truly scrumptious ayran (a savoury yogurt drink).
Of course, as with many countries the world over, some of the best food in Istanbul can be found out on the streets. If ever at a loss for where to eat in Istanbul, Turkey hit the streets where you’re sure to find a street food culture perfectly representing the city’s cultural diversity. Some of my recommendations for the best street food in Istanbul would have to include the iconic Istanbul simit, balık-ekmek – best sampled along the Bosphorus – and a favorite from my meat-eating days, midye dolma. Simit, perfect for a quick breakfast, is a decadent version of the bagel – freshly baked before being dipped in molasses and sesame seeds. A more savory, fishy affair balık-ekmek, better known as the fish sandwiches, ar among the most popular street foods in the city and are hard to miss near the Karaköy or Eminönü shore and are undoubtedly best enjoyed while exploring. The other fishy street snack that I highly recommend is the popular and widely enjoyed midye dolma - a delicacy of tasty stuffed mussels found just about everywhere across the city, but definitely best eaten in one of the seaside neighborhoods, possibly stumbling home from a midnight adventure!
Widely agreed upon as one of the best places to eat in Istanbul and among the best restaurants in Istanbul, Mikla is where you go when food comes before being able to pay your rent. It costs a pretty penny but for the true lovers of all things foodie this 20th story spot serves up nothing less than edible art. On the top floor of the Marmara Pera Hotel high above the city in the hills of Beyoglu the restaurant offers mind-blowing 360º views, and an even more sublime menu that reflects the Turkish-Scandinavian background of the restaurant’s award-winning chef. Start off with pre-dinner drinks on the roof terrace bar, where you can sip on an artfully poured martini as you watch the sunset over the city. This, budget willing makes for a magical night-time experience and is only enhanced by descending to the retro chrome and wooden interior of the restaurant to sink into a decadent food extravaganza, delivered with a wealth of creativity and flair. Finish off your meal – likely almost too pretty to eat – with one of several signature desserts such as the Turkish coffee vanilla slice with raspberry sorbet. A true culinary gem in Istanbul, Mikla has made the list of best 50 restaurants in the world, so as you might imagine, reservation is recommended for this popular eatery.
Hello, curious traveler!
Embark on a unique experience with Hello, curious traveler!
Embark on a unique experience with Our personalized, private tours, led by local hosts, make you feel like you’re exploring the city with a knowledgeable friend. We’ll take you to well-known sights and reveal Istanbul’s hidden gems, unveiling stories typically missed by traditional tours. So unscript your journey, and see Istanbul through the eyes of our local hosts!
Top private experiences in Istanbul
We’ll pair you with the perfect host
There is no better way to see a city than with a friend who lives there. This is why we carefully match guests with their perfect host based on interested, personality and type of experience so they can discover a city beyond the tourist trail.
Make your inbox happy with our travel tips and inspiration as well as exclusive offers and first access to new services.