Best restaurants in Istanbul: Rejuvenated food city
Fat kebabs sweating on spits near Taksim Square; mussels stuffed with rice and sprayed with lemon from a mobile street stall along Istiklal Avenue; sandwiches stuffed with fish plucked from the Bosphorus -- this is Turkish street food in all its glory.
But over the past decade the best restaurants in Istanbul have proven themselves on a par with most other foodie cities, with a diverse offering from international super-brands to cafes catering to Istanbul’s growing community of young, creative, fine-dining professionals.
Here's a sampling of the best restaurants in Istanbul.
Mikla has been at the forefront of the city’s contemporary food scene since it opened in 2005.
Chef-patron Mehmet Gürs -- a regular on Turkish television -- claims that his food is a reflection of his Turkish-Scandinavian background. He places an emphasis on local produce.
Aegean octopus, salted and dried beef with humus and pistachio “birdsh--” paste and warm mulberry soup with cinnamon crumbs and tahini ice cream are all featured on an inspired menu.
Views over the city from the restaurant’s terrace, taking in the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace, are astonishing.
The hotel’s rooftop bar makes great pre-dinner drinks and the views from here are even more spectacular.
Mikla, The Mamara Pera, 15 Mesrutiyet Caddesi, Beyoglu; +90 212 293 5656
In the pretty neighborhood of Arnavutköy, Antica Locanda is one of Istanbul’s best-kept secrets.
Unlike most so-called Italian restaurants in the city, Antica Locanda offers a genuine Italian menu, prepared by the charming chef-owner Gian Carlo Talerico.
If you have a few days to spare and want to get a taste of Istanbul’s revived dining scene, mark Antica Locanda as a must-try restaurant.
It's best on a sunny day if you get a table at the tiny outdoor seating area that looks over the church next door.
Everything on the menu is good, so the best way to enjoy this restaurant is to go in large group and sample as many dishes as possible.
Antica Locanda, Satış Meydanı No.12, Arnavutköy; +90 212 287 97 45
Pronounced "chok chok" ("plentiful" in Turkish), this superb Thai restaurant in Beyoglu is just off the main drag.
Not afraid to turn up the spice levels, the kitchen, overseen by chef Nuch -- a celebrity in her native Thailand -- produces favorites, such as stir-fried beef and curried duck with the addition of dishes like house-made ice cream, poached pear and lobster in garlic sauce.
The décor (all light wood and glass) is clean and contemporary and the small split-level restaurant (it seats 60 in winter, or 70 in summer when the terrace is open) exudes a warm and welcoming glow in the evening.
Cokcok, 51 Mesrutiyet Caddesi, Beyoglu; +90 212 292 6496
Sunset Grill & Bar
Istanbul’s first restaurant to add a sushi bar, Sunset Grill & Bar isn't just any upscale restaurant in the city.
The restaurant grows its own herbs in the garden, produce wines in its vineyard in Bozcaada and has Turkey’s most precious wine collection in its possession.
Executive chef Hüseyin Arslan and chef Hiroki Takemura form a force that creates some of the best Turkish, Mediterranean and Japanese dishes in town.
If you have cause for celebration, Sunset is the place for it, with a great menu and astounding views of the Bosphorus.
Sunset Grill & Bar, Adnan Saygun Caddesi Yol Sokak No. 2 Ulus Parkı, Ulus; +90 212 287 03 57
Once feted as one of the best places to eat in the Turkish capital, Pandeli, located just inside the main entrance to the Spice Bazaar, has become less ostentatious in recent years.
Don’t expect fine dining or consistency from the vast, traditional Turkish menu, but do expect huge servings of meat and lots of bread, with an astringent glass of fresh pomegranate juice.
Accessed via a cramped and winding stone staircase, the restaurant is basic, comprised of a smattering of simple wooden tables -- the one next to window overlooking the market is the best -– but its turquoise tiles and domed ceiling lend it an air of majesty.
Pandeli, 1 Misir Carsisi, Spice Bazaar, Sultanahmet; +90 212 527 390
Meze by Lemon Tree
Meze are small, appetizer-like dishes filled with local deliciousness.
Most Turkish taverns and kebab restaurants feature a long list of these classics, from pureed eggplant and stuffed vine leaves to deniz börülcesi (samphire greens) and fava (mashed broad beans).
Across from the historic Pera Palace Hotel, the chic Meze by Lemon Tree offers innovative creations that change with the seasons.
Classics include sea bass ceviche and şaman bayıldı (fried sweet green pepper filled with cheese, pistachios and onion). There's rakı and a heart’s desire of dishes to choose from.
Meze by Lemon Tree, Asmalımescit Mahallesi Meşrutiyet Caddesi 83/B, Beyoğlu; +90 0212 252 83 02
If you're in search of Istanbul’s most elegant, modern and chic restaurant, Changa is the place to go.
The menu is contemporary Turkish and international, created by celebrity chef Peter Gordon with Changa’s chef-owner Civan Er.
Some say to starve yourself during the day then opt for the tasting menu for dinner.
Changa, Sıraselviler Caddesi No. 47/1, Cihangir; +90 212 251 70 64
Ulus 29 is an Istanbul classic, with great food, proper cocktails, stunning views of the Bosphorus and a wild club scene.
In the upscale neighborhood of Ulus, far from the crowds of Taksim or the tourist spots of Sultanahmet, this trendy restaurant/bar/club serves contemporary Mediterranean cuisine fusing international selections with Turkish specialties.
Come for dinner, stay for the party.
Ulus 29, Adnan Saygun Caddesi Ulus Parkı İçi, Ulus; +90 212 358 29 29
Popular with Istanbul’s beautiful people, the large deck area at this Bebek seafood restaurant floats above the waters of the Bosphorus, offering superb views of Bebek Marina -- the ideal setting in which to enjoy simple, fresh calamari, sea bass and whatever the catch of the day happens to be.
Summer is the best time to visit, as the place goes al fresco, but food quality and atmosphere are guaranteed all year round.
Poseidon, 58 Küçük bebek Cevdetpasa Caddesi, Bebek; +90 212 287 9531
Many food-savvy globetrotters will have sampled Zuma’s cosmopolitan twist on traditional Japanese izakaya cuisine -- there are branches in London, Hong Kong, Dubai, Miami and Bangkok -- but the Istanbul outpost is special.
Located beside the waters of the Bosphorus and boasting a sake bar and lounge, a private jetty for guests arriving by boat, as well as a 140-seat water-side terrace, the setting is stunning, even by Istanbul’s high standards.
The ground floor restaurant serves a menu similar to Zuma’s other branches, with the focus on high-end ingredients and innovative presentation and flavor combinations.
There's a sushi counter and robata grill, as well.
Zuma, 7 Salhane Sokak, Ortakoy; +90 212 236 2296