I’ll be honest, our first two trips to Istanbul, we weren’t all that impressed with the cuisine we were eating. That probably has to do with the fact that we kept ordering the same dish, kebap, hoping it would be similar to the incredible Persian kebap Shane grew up with. But once I got ahold of Biber Dolması, I feel like my life was forever changed. And the more we have sought out restaurants off the beaten tourist path of this ancient city, the more we have fallen in love with Turkish cuisine.

Staples of Turkish Cuisine
Wherever you go, you’ll be offered Apple Tea in a tiny tulip glass. It can be served hot or cold, and is often drunk after meals. It’s also offered to you if you enter a carpet shop, and even if you don’t buy a carpet, it would be rude to refuse their apple tea! Tea and conversation are an important part of Turkish culture. Lokum, or Turkish Delight, is a delicacy for which the turks are very proud. If you fly Turkish Airlines, you’ll even be welcomed with a piece of lokum. It makes a great souvenir to bring home as it keeps very well at room temperature! Below are a few more staples illustrated in photos:

Kebap
Kebap is a staple that is served everywhere, usually with rice and grilled vegetables.
Different varieties of Dolma, and Coban Salad on the right.
Different varieties of dolma, which are stuffed with vegetables and rice. Çoban Salad on the right.
Teste Kebap is cooked in a ceramic pot and usually served flaming.
Teste Kebap is a dish of lamb or chicken, vegetables and rice cooked in a ceramic pot and usually served flaming.
Turkish coffee is strong and thick.
Turkish coffee is strong and thick. Many of the tourist restaurants serve both Turkish and “American” coffee, so you’ll have to distinguish which one you prefer!
Raki
Raki is the national alcoholic beverage. It’s a strong aniseed drink that’s served with a glass of water, which you pour into the raki so that it becomes cloudy like you see above.
These fruit juice stands are everywhere and make the best fresh squeezed pomegranate juice!
These fruit juice stands are everywhere and make the best fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice!
You may see street vendors cooking this. I haven't tried it yet because it's Kokorec—lamb intestines.
You may see street vendors cooking this dish called Kokoreç (lamb intestines). I haven’t tried it yet!
Fatih District
If you’re only spending a few days in Istanbul, it’s likely that you’ll stick to the Sultanahmet and Eminönü neighborhoods which are located in the Fatih district. There are definitely a lot of tourist restaurants located here, but the good news is, there’s a ton to choose from and if you know which ones to look for, you can eat very good here. Seafood connoisseurs will enjoy the cuisine near the Spice Bazaar, where local fisherman sell their Bosphorus catches to the restaurants located under Galata Bridge. Don’t forget to stop into the Spice Bazaar for spices to bring home as souvenirs.

Sultanahmet is lined with beautiful restaurants.
Sultanahmet is lined with beautiful restaurants.
Sultanahmet restaurants.
Sultanahmet restaurants.

Seven Hills
This restaurant was on the pricier side but offered fantastic seafood and other international fare. Being located in the top floors of one of the tallest buildings in Sultanahmet, their rooftop terrace definitely offers the absolute best views with unobstructed sightline to the Blue Mosque on one side and the Aya Sofya on the other side. Eat here for dinner when the mosques are lit up—it’s breathtaking.

The rooftop level of Seven Hills has probably the best views in Sultanahmet.
Seven Hills Restaurant.
Rooftop of Seven Hills Restaurant, with a waiter serving a flaming salt-crusted fish.
Waiter serving a flaming salt-crusted fish with the minarets of the Blue Mosque behind.
View of the Aya Sofya from the rooftop.
View of the Aya Sofya from the rooftop.

Dubb Indian
This restaurant serves an Indian menu as well as a Turkish menu! It’s one of our favorite places in Sultanahmet, located very near the Aya Sofya, which makes it a  good stopping point on your walking tour of the area. Eat streetside for unending people-watching entertainment.

Dubb Indian Cafe
Dubb Indian Cafe

Mesale Cafe
We like this place because it’s right at the end of the Arasta Bazaar, kind of in the crossroads between the bazaar and the steps that lead to the Blue Mosque. We frequently stop in to have pomegranate juice or tea with some snacks. The older local men play chess and backgammon here all day, and at night the place is packed with families smoking nargile. Sometimes, the stage hosts musicians or members of the Mevlevi order (whirling dervishes).

Mesale
Mesale
Dervish at Mesale.
Dervish at Mesale.

Sarnıç Restaurant
Possibly the most romantic restaurant in Istanbul, this one is located underground inside a renovated 1500-year-old Roman water cistern. While the food wasn’t worth raving about, the ambiance was simply unforgettable. There’s no better way to immerse yourself in the ancient history of the city! Reservations are required here.

Sarnic
Sarnıç Restaurant

Turkestan Asevi
I’ll admit that this one is a tourist restaurant, with large amounts of seating specifically to cater to tour buses. But, it’s located right at the southwest corner of the hippodrome so if you’re in the area and hungry, it’s a good place to stop! Our waiter, Mehmet, offered us a wonderful history of the Turkestan people who migrated all the way from Central Asia and for whom Turkey is named.

Turkestan
Turkestan
Mehmet, our waiter at Turkestan.
Mehmet, our waiter at Turkestan.

Virginia Angus
This one is located near the Grand Bazaar. Shane insists on eating here every time we’re in Istanbul, because he swears it’s one of the best burgers he’s ever had. And we should know—we are from Texas after all.

Virginia Angus, the tastiest burger in Istanbul!
Virginia Angus, the tastiest burger in Istanbul!

Spice Bazaar
No visit to Istanbul would be complete without a trip to the Spice Bazaar! Pick up some of the spices you’ve experienced so you can try your hand at cooking with them at home. And if you’ve decided you enjoy Turkish coffee, you absolutely must get a bag of roasted coffee from Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi, for which there will undoubtedly be a long line.

Spice Bazaar
Spice Bazaar
Coffee lovers should definitely stop by Mehmet Efendi's to grab some turkish coffee to take home! The line is always long, it's just that good.
Coffee lovers should definitely stop by Mehmet Efendi’s to grab some turkish coffee to take home! The line is always long—it’s just that good.
Beyoğlu
Beyoğlu is the artsy district of Istanbul, and a very cool place to hang out at night. After watching the sun set at Galata Tower, walk around to find some of the best restaurants in Istanbul before finishing your evening with a stroll down Istiklal Street, which is always bustling with foot traffic.

Istiklal Shopping Street
Istiklal Shopping Street
Lokum, or Turkish Delight, is a popular treat.
This bakery offers treats such as lokum and baklava.

Antiochia
We were very impressed with the menu and ambiance at Antiochia, a restaurant located just down the street from Galata Tower. Rated very highly and surprisingly affordable for the quality of the meal, this restaurant quickly rose the ranks on our favorite Stamboul stops.

Antiochia
Antiochia
Chicken Kebap
Chicken kebap at Antiochia. Best served with a glass of Efes, the national beer!
Mezze plate at Antiochia.
Mezze plate at Antiochia.
Great atmosphere at Antiochia.
Great atmosphere at Antiochia.

Babel
Babel is quite small and quiet, but is one of the highest rated restaurants in Istanbul with lots of options for vegetarians. If you’re looking for an intimate place near Istiklal to spend the evening, we highly recommend the food here.

We didn't get many good pics at Babel, but this mezze plate was one of the best we had!
We didn’t get many good pics at Babel, but this mezze plate was one of the best we had!

Beyoğlu Halk Döner
If you’re on Istiklal street and want to see what you’re ordering, go here! It’s cafeteria-style, so you can see everything they offer before you decide what to eat, making it a great introduction to Turkish food. We were pleasantly surprised at how good it was because it was one of the least expensive places we ate.

Fantastic point-and-pick restaurant right on Istiklal Street.
Fantastic point-and-pick restaurant right on Istiklal Street.
Great way to sample a lot of dishes.
Great way to sample a lot of dishes.
Doner sandwich with lots of mezzes.
Two doner sandwiches with a plate of mezzes to share, plus drinks, for $12USD.

Karaköy Güllüoğlu Baklava
This baklava eatery claims to be the oldest in Istanbul, opening in 1820. I didn’t even know how many different types of baklava there could be until I came here! And if local crowds are any indication, I’m convinced this is the best baklava in the world. Don’t be scared if you have to ask a local for directions—it’s pronounced: kah-rah-kway goo-loo-uh-loo

The best and oldest baklava eatery in Istanbul.
The best and oldest baklava eatery in Istanbul.
If the place is so crowded you can barely find a seat, that's a pretty good sign that it's gonna be delicious!
If the place is so crowded you can barely find a seat, that’s a pretty good sign that it’s gonna be delicious!
Baklava with pistachios, served with tea of course.
Baklava with pistachios, served with tea of course.
Kadıköy
On our third trip to Istanbul we finally took the ferry to Kadıköy to experience the fish market. We also had our eye on a highly rated restaurant that specializes in authentic Ottoman cuisine. We got more than we asked for in Kadıköy—it’s potentially a foodie haven to which we can’t wait to return!

Kadikoy
Kadıköy market streets are lined with restaurants.
Kadikoy Market.
Kadıköy Market.
Kadikoy fish market.
Kadıköy fish market.
Kadikoy fishmongers.
Kadıköy fishmongers.

Çiya Sofrasi
This restaurant has revived the authentic Ottoman dishes of ancient times. If you’re spending the day in Kadıköy, this is the perfect place to have lunch or dinner. Don’t be afraid to try something new—it’s all good!

Ciya Sofrasi
Çiya Sofrasi
These chefs specialize in Ottoman-style cuisine.
These chefs specialize in Ottoman-style cuisine.
Mezze plate at Ciya Sofrasi.
At the counter, you can make your own mezze plate for an appetizer, priced by weight.
Lamb kebap on a plate of eggplant, which I ordered off the menu.
Lamb kebap on a plate of aubergines, ordered off the menu.
Iylana ordered a black carrot stuffed with lamb.
I was adventurous and ordered a black carrot stuffed with lamb. It may not look appetizing, but it’s probably the best meal I’ve ever had in Istanbul.
Lamb-stuffed black carrot.
Lamb-stuffed black carrot.

Baylan Pastanesi
You’ll find lots of Turkish ice cream vendors on the street. But the Cup Griye ice cream dish that was invented here at Baylan’s is so famous, it’s served worldwide!

Baylan
Baylan is located on Istiklal Street.
Walk all the way to the back for cute patio seating.
Walk all the way to the back for cute patio seating.
Baylan's famous Cup Gruye.
Baylan’s famous Cup Griye.

Walter’s Coffee Roastery
Fans of the TV show “Breaking Bad” will be tickled to discover Walter’s Coffee Roastery, which is decorated in a chemistry theme in homage to the show’s main character Walter White. Being fans of the show, and living so close to Albuquerque where the show is based, we simply had to stop in to check it out.

Walter's Coffee Roastery is a "Breaking Bad" themed coffee shop.
Walter’s Coffee Roastery is a “Breaking Bad” themed coffee shop.
Definitely a cool vibe at this place with lots of students hanging out.
Definitely a cool vibe at this place with lots of students hanging out.
The science theme is all over the shop.
The wall of elements honors the kickstarter backers who helped get the shop open!
Iylana pouring her deconstructed latte.
Pouring my latte which was served deconstructed in beakers.
Walter's
Walter’s Coffee Roastery

We’ve only covered three of Istanbul’s thirty-nine districts, and I still feel like we’ve only scratched the surface of those three! Istanbul is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, spanning two continents and home to 14 million people. With such a variety of cultures and cuisines to experience, there’s plenty for foodies to learn and discover in Istanbul. Do the work and research to get away from the tourist restaurants in Istanbul and you won’t be disappointed!

Get your foodie journey started here:
Beginner’s Guide to Istanbul

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Eating Your Way Through Istanbul

About The Author

Traveling as often as possible while also running a vintage shop from our home in Texas. Obsessed with ancient sites, Turkish carpets, and tacos.

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