Istanbul foodie guide: where locals eat and drink
Bridge old and new in the Turkish city, where lamb kebabs and syrupy baklava meet modern meze
Looking for the best Istanbul kebabs? Want to know where to get the best Turkish breakfast in the city? Check out the best foodie things to do in Istanbul and Istanbul restaurants below, or discover where to stay on the Turkish coast here.
Dürümzade – for kebabs
No-frills kebab shop Dürümzade is where tourists and locals head after a night out in the centre for meat skewers grilled over coals. Use blistered lavash bread to soak up juices from huge mixed-grill platters, and zingy salads, or order a wrap to take away.
26 Kamer Hatun Caddesi
Cuma – for café vibe
Settle into Cuma café with a linden ginger tea and a plate of pistachio-trimmed profiteroles. Stay for lunch to try yogurt-coated Georgian dumplings stuffed with porcini, grilled octopus with olive paste or little grilled meatballs on silky hummus.
Misir Çarsisi – for spice shopping
Buy a pot of syrupy lokma donuts and haggle your way around the Misir Çarsisi spice bazaar. Prepare to barter if you want to get the best price for everything from pepper, sumac and fenugreek to dried figs, pistachios and jewel-like lokum.
Galata Simitçisi – for bagels
Queue up for still-warm bakes at Galata Simitçisi. This tiny takeaway, open for 30 years, is a bastion of tradition in trendy Karaköy, serving sesame-covered bagels from a brick oven. Try blackcurrant bakes and tahini rolls, or keep it simple with a twisted bagel and tea.
47a Mumhane Caddesi
Aheste – for date night
Duck into atmospheric neighbourhood restaurant Aheste, where white tablecloths contrast with bare-brick walls. The £20 meze tasting menu includes dishes such as caramelised roast aubergine, leek patties with smoked yogurt, and fishcakes topped with sage and crisp vine leaves. Or order à la carte and follow your meze with grilled umbra fish with zesty orange salad and chicken confit on olive-studded pilaf.
Karaköy Balik Pazari – for fish sandwiches
Bypass the touristy restaurants beneath Galata Bridge and head to the renovated fish market, Karaköy Balik Pazari. Once a clandestine collection of fishmongers, this renovated wet fish market is a slick corner where vendors display glistening fish. Stroll past stalls then pick up freshly barbecued mackerel in a warm wrap and eat it as you walk along the Golden Horn.
35 Fermeneciler Caddesi
Yigit Sofram – for Turkish breakfast
Stop off at café Yigit Sofram, where knick-knacks clutter lace-trimmed shelves, and tables are laid with green gingham cloths. Order halloumi cooked in butter, with little dishes of salad, honey, Turkish cream and warm pockets of bazlama bread. Or go for cheesy gözleme pancakes stuffed with spinach, mushrooms and minced meat.
Moretenders’ Cocktail Crib – for cocktails
Follow the locals and head to the Moretenders’ Cocktail Crib bar. Its apothecary-like wall of bottles contains homemade concoctions made with Turkish ingredients (basil and black pepper rum, sage syrup, orange blossom liqueur). Try gin-forward All Good in the Hood with cinnamon-laced vermouth, ginger and homemade red plum syrup.
Yeni Lokanta – for wood-fired Turkish
Try seasonal dishes from the wood-fired oven at modern Turkish restaurant Yeni Lokanta. This pretty tiled space is where chef Civan Er serves pan-fried goat’s cheese drizzled with chilli honey, oven-roast lamb shanks with samphire, and sumac steak tartare. Fish of the day is all caught wild – try monkfish “en papillotte” with raki and ezin cheese, or mersin prawns on artichoke purée, pistachios and zaatar.
Karaköy Güllüoglu – for baklava
Hunt down baklava at Karaköy Güllüoglu bakery. Choose from hundreds of syrupy, frilly bakes neatly displayed on the many counters. Add some clotted cream and a delicate glass of Turkish tea before taking your tray to join local families in the glass-fronted seating area.
Where to stay in Istanbul – Karaköy Rooms
Within a stately 19th-century building, Karaköy Rooms sets contemporary and mid-century Turkish design off against elegant period details. Its 12 bedrooms are light and spacious (book a studio if you want a kitchenette) and below it sits a pretty turquoise-tiled restaurant, Karaköy Lokantasi (desserts are especially good – think pistachio semolina cake or poached quince with cream).
Photographs by Jeff Heger/Getty, Alex Crossley