Devconnect is in Istanbul! I hope you are coming over and coming with an empty belly. Because Istanbul is a food heaven. And let's face it, life is already too short for bad food, and your time in Istanbul will be even shorter. That said, here is my humble guide to food in Istanbul.
Remember food and taste are subjective and can get controversial. So take these endorsements with a grain of salt. Most of these recommendations are places with regular and locals, authentic experiences focused on the food itself rather than touristic or fancy places. Some are off-the-beaten path, and can be too experimental for many.
I split the places into their respective districts for you to navigate easier. Still, this is only a few restaurants from the city's vibrant food scene. For that, I also included some other good food lists below: #alternative-lists
Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions. I’ll keep this guide updated as I get more questions.
You can find the Google Maps list here: https://goo.gl/maps/arCdo7cG5Uv1oqpt9
This is the old town part of the city and where most of the main touristic attractions are. For sure your path will cross this is full of history. Beware of the tourist traps and prepare to walk.
You probably know Döner Kebap. And no “Kebap” ≠ “Döner Kebap” but that’s for another time. Now take that döner kebap and flip it vertically. This beautifully marinated pile of fresh lamb, originating from the Erzurum city in the eastern Türkiye is cooked over wood and coal fire and something out of this world. As in the döner kebap, it is rotated but this is served in skewers. When you sit down, you’ll be served some appetizers and salad, but I also recommend getting the yogurt. When the skewers come, take the thin lavash bread (like tortilla), make your own dürüm (roll), and enjoy.
Two tips here:
The customs here is such that the skewers will keep coming until you tell them to stop, so don’t forget them to say stop when you’re full. But you know… you can always squeeze in one last skewer 😏
After cutting the meat into skewers, they normally cook further the bottom of the meat on a coal grill. This is because usually in Turkey people don’t like rare meat. If you are like me and love pink, juicy meat tell them to give you “Kosor” or “Tatari”.
Finally, enjoy the crispy dessert “Kadayıf Dolması” which is a rolled and fried vermicelli stuffed with walnuts and soaked in syrup. Of course with a tiny glass of çay (tea).
My intimacy with this place comes from my high school times when we ran to grab these delicious kebaps as soon as the classes end. The owner has been so kind and would never let us pay for drinks. Still, I think this is one of the best places to get the Adana kebap, which for me it is the “flagship” Turkish kebap.
Just grab one of the small tables and stools on the street and either order an “Adana kebap” or a “yürek kebap” (beef’s heart). Chicken and “kuzu şiş” (lamb) are also really good but I prefer the first two. Before the kebap arrives ask them for some grilled hot peppers. Now, if you get the red ones you’re lucky, they are not too hot and are delicious. Green ones are a little more on the hotter side. Either way, peel them and salt them to eat with the kebap. Normally they serve kebaps in thicker pita breads but if you are a big-time foodie like me order both Adana and yürek but in thin lavash bread. Of course, finish with tea.
This is not a restaurant but I think the perfect place to chill after a huge delicious kebap and to sip your Turkish coffee or tea. Originally a medrese (old college) called Çorlulu Ali Paşa Medresesi, the place and its courtyard today hosts a nargile (waterpipe, hookah, shisha) cafe. It has a really authentic atmosphere and filled with locals. If you like nargile go get one. Be a like local, and get a Turkish coffee, and a “soda” (carbonated mineral water) with lemon and salt called “Churchill”. Keep ordering tea as usual.
A real restaurant for locals, located in the Kadınlar Çarşısı (Womans’ Bazaar) right next to the historical aqueduct. This bazaar is full of kebap restaurants and shops from southeastern Turkey. One of them from Siirt is Şeref Büryan.
The specialty here is the “büryan kebabı” which is a whole lamb slow-cooked with wooden fire inside a 2-3 meter deep well. You will see these whole lambs when entering the restaurant. Definitely get one büryan kebabı. Besides my favorites would be “perde pilavı” (”curtain rice”, rice with chicken and nuts covered in dough), “mumbar dolması” (stuffed intestines). Otherwise, order anything that catches your eye on the menu, anything will be tasty here. Don’t miss the “ayran” (yoghurt drink) here as they serve in authentic copper bowls, the way ayran used to be drunk in old times.
I love giblets, if you haven’t figured it out so far, and this is one of the places to enjoy one of the weirdest ones. This place is not for fainted hearts. The specialty here is “şırdan” which is the lower stomach of sheep stuffed with bulgur and cooked in a stew. Others are “mumbar dolması” (stuffed intestines), “kelle paça çorbası” (lamb head and foot soup), and “beyran” (soup with slow-cooked lamb with rice and garlic). It has a low rating and some wouldn’t approve this, but I kind of like it. If you know a better similar alternative, let me know. Just look at the photos to have an idea, you’ll know what I mean 😄
These places are the ones I can directly endorse either because I haven’t been to or been quite a long time ago. I still believe they are worth a visit.
I've heard really good things about this place, but to my shame, I haven't been there yet. https://goo.gl/maps/ugz3j3Mm9vFyKWpP6
Hatay Haskral Sofrası
An all-around nice kebap restaurant from the city of Hatay. Anything should be delicious. I remember the “künefe” dessert here was gorgeous. https://goo.gl/maps/PQcKxfSbBWqFyFJf6
Featured in Michelin Guide. Nice decoration. One of the places I wanted to visit. https://goo.gl/maps/JGcVBCoDZgK4VgjV9
Also featured in Michelin Guide. Heard good things. https://goo.gl/maps/8Rsh68bEPP7kAZLG8
Not as a restaurant recommendation but for the atmosphere and maybe cocktails. This used to be an old inn now turned into a wonderful and fancy historical venue. https://goo.gl/maps/ZSEkRvAqLEmkR9yU6
This is where the co-working space is so I am giving this district its own section. So that you can grab quick bites in between the events around the main venue.
Along the main street you can find many good places by only looking at Google Maps. The Nişantaşı area is where more trendy and fancier places are. Look for the areas with the yellow background in maps. Still here are some of my picks:
Not a Turkish specialty but arguably the best burgers in town.
Just all around delicious, but especially famous for its lahmacun
I will be straight. I think this is the BEST Adana kebap in town (remember the flagship kebap?). This is one of the typical charcoal grill restaurants where the chef cooks in the middle of the place beside a huge grill. The place is small and the dishes can be better as a complete dinner but it is difficult to find a place, so if you do reserve ahead. In the evening this place becomes a place to dine slowly and for long time with friends and with “rakı” of course.
I mean it, this place has the best Adana. Maybe also try “küşleme” (lamb tenderloin), “uykuluk” (lamb thymus)
Ahhh the infamous “Salt Bae”s place. Isn’t this the most commercial place? Why do I even list it here? Yes it’s really blown up but still, I will argue they make good burger. The meat in general is also fine. And yeah, it’s close to the venue.
Haven’t had Turkish breakfast yet? You don’t need to go too far for a good one. I’d call it rather a brunch because you-will-get-fulllll. Usual way is to get a “serpme kahvaltı” which literally means spread breakfast, because you spread everything on the table. You should also get a classic “menemen” (egg with tomato and pepper) and “pişi” (fried dough). Hopefully, you will have enough time to enjoy this Turkish ritual slowly, as we do in a Sunday morning.
Not a restaurant but a trendy venue that used to be an old beer factory. Today it houses concert halls, a photo museum, hip bars, and a nice typical “meyhane” (rakı restaurant) that I like (called Kiva). It’s just a short walk away from the main venue! Pass by here to immerse in the locals.
This buzzing district of Beyoğlu is where Taksim Square and the famous İstiklal Street are, and it’s just next door to Osmanbey where ICC (the co-working space) is located. It’s the heart of the city.
This restaurant from the Black Sea region, makes a single, hearty dish: rice with beans and slow-cooked beef. A relatively cheap and local option. If you fancy, get the “turşu” (pickles), “hoşaf” (compote), and finish with the “sütlaç” (rice pudding).
This dessert shop for me is the place to eat the “ayva tatlısı” (quince dessert) whenever I visit and to our luck it will be the quince season! Just pass by here and get one quince dessert with a whopping cream on top, and take a second to appreciate its colors and jammyness. Their “ekmek kadayıfı” (syrup soaked bread) with cream is also decent. Of course, with tea.
A classic place to get a proper Turkish coffee
Not the fanciest or the most delicious food here, but if you want to see what a typical “home food” looks like, head here and pick the dishes that catch your eye. Cheap and authentic.
Giblet alert! But trust me, out of all the stuff I mentioned, you just have to eat here. This place makes one of the best “kokoreç” (sheep intestines) in town. Kokoreç is the go-to guilty pleasure after a night-out for me. Here, or wherever you order one, ask for an “İzmir” style sandwich or a plate. It will be stuffed with cumin and pure taste.
Also a really good charcoal grill restaurant, but for me comes after Adana Ocakbaşı. Still really good
This place is normally a restaurant on the terrace but they usually have a stand where they sell “içli köfte” (kıbbeh, fried bulgur balls). If you pass by, please grab one with a big squeeze of lemon and enjoy as a snack as you navigate through the buzzing İstiklal Street.
This district is especially dear to my hear because it’s been my home in my university years, and, although it changed a lot since then, it is still one of the liveliest districts of the city. It’s a place for crowded bars, and endless cafes, and a buzzing young crowd not only on weekends but also every single night. It’s just a 15 min bus ride to the venue district.
Ok döner kebap, finally… I hear you. Even though we are famous abroad for döner, other kebaps are actually the thing here, not döner. But still, if you know where to look, you can find authentic döner. For my Berlin folks, no this is not the one you get in Berlin. This is pure high-quality meat, (cough) as it should be (cough).
This place opens around 11:30 in the morning and will be open until they finish the whole Döner, which is usually around 16:00. You’ll see a long line in lunch hours but don’t worry it moves fast, and you can actually just sit down upstairs if you don’t want to wait. They also have decent “pide” (like pizza). I’d usually get one sandwich but dürüm with lavash bread is also ok.
I’ll be honest, I think there are better döner places but this comes really convenient with its proximity to the venue area, and for personal nostalgic reasons. If you want to know them, just ask me.
Ok you had your döner, and now its dessert time. This dessert shop’s specialty is “sütlü nuriye” which is like a baklava but soaked in milk instead of pure syrup. Their baklava is also really good. Here just order a take away and sit down at the tea house right on the street across the place with small stools, and enjoy your desserts with some bitter Turkish tea.
Dumplings. I feel every single nation on earth have some sort of a dumpling dish. This place from the northernmost city in the Black Sea region has basically two types: with walnuts and with yoghurt. But good news, you don’t need to choose. Order a mixed plate (if hungry a 1.5 portion) and thank me later.
Another place to end a nightout with giblets. Yes eating giblets after heavy drinking is a thing. Here just walk in and get a “söğüş dürüm” which is made with the various parts of the lamb’s head and a whopping pinch of cumin. Perfect night food.
Balkan Lokantası (Balkan Restaurant) is similar to Şahin Lokantası above, in the sense that it's where local's would eat typical home food. It's cheap, and convenient for a quick healthy homemade meal. Just pick the dishes that catch your eye at the counter. Again, similarly, not the wow food, but really local and authentic. This place is where I used to eat every single day when I was a student.
Not the best place to get “midye” (stuffed mussels) but a popular one. Stuffed mussels with a big squeeze of lemon are also the typical nightout food. The person serving will give you until you say stop. When you’re done you’ll count how many you’ve eaten and pay accordingly. They are typically consumed with “kokoreç”. https://goo.gl/maps/UMzDk7wLPJEbBJtj7
This food from the city of Bursa literally translates to “Alexander kebap” and is basically a döner kebap served on bread, yoghurt and a big splash of boiling butter. They will call the ambulance for you if you ask them, don’t worry. It’s a bit commercialized and expensive in this place but if you don’t plan to travel to Bursa, it’s a good place to give a try. And yes it’s founded in 1867. https://goo.gl/maps/uLktjHnaq1mYUG1f7
At the heart of the Asian side, this district with its Moda district has become my favorite place (sorry Beşiktaş) and of many students and young working adults. The center close to the pier is buzzing with local markets, restaurants, and shops. Moda district is where the “cool kids” hang out. It has a buzzing nightlife, trendy bars and cafes, various restaurants, and a lovely coastline to walk on the along the southern side. I have to warn it is far away from the venue but it’s 100% worth a visit if you want to immerse yourself into the local life. Here are my fav eateries:
No foodie list for foreigners is complete without Çiya Sofrası. This place hosting endless dishes from every part of Anatolia and I can confidently say this place authentically represents the rich Turkish cuisine as a whole. Here is also one of those place where whatever you order will be delicious. I particularly can’t go without the “kuru patlıcan dolma” (stuffed dried eggplant) and “mumbar” (stuffed intestines). For others, peek at the dishes on the counter or ask them what’s on season.
Note that they have several shops on the street. The chef is also featured in Netflix’s Chef’s Table series: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9058410/
A really good place to get the classic “lahmacun” (Turkish pizza)
A small street food restaurant with small twists on the typical street foods. The lamb wrap and “kokoreç” are quite good.
I am keeping the Kadıköy places short here but really the Moda district is the loveliest neighborhood in this city. You just need to experience it.
As I said this is just the tip of the iceberg and more niche authentic choices of mine. It can get really difficult to navigate the vibrant food scene and here I gather some lists/people whom I trust their taste: