There is so much controversy, there are so many feuds, there is so much fire and passion in Istanbul.
In recent weeks this city has been in the spotlight, very unfortunately for tragedy, rather than for the beauty and energy that co-exists amongst its people, often times pledging to move forward, no matter what circumstances are that arise around them.
Istanbul is a moving, wonderful city, one which I would encourage anyone to go to and experience. It is also a juxtaposition of itself in so many ways; Old City versus New City, traditional versus liberal, European versus Asian.
The food too can be described in much of the same way; you can easily grab a customary simit (sesame seed crusted bread rings) for $1 or an incredible pide (Turkish pizza) for a mere $2, or you can indulge in a Michelin starred tasting menu high above the city and spend just as you would in NYC.
This last trip was my second time in Istanbul, and because of that I got to go a little further beneath the surface than the first time around, staying in an Airbnb and having drinks with the owner, stumbling onto streets I hadn’t previously seen.
Still, I know I’ve barely scratched the surface of this complex and varied city, both in terms of culture and of course, as well as food.
Here’s where I found the best food in Istanbul!
– Lades –
Menemen is a Turkish take on breakfast- eggs, onion, tomato, green pepper and spices, mixed together and served in a cast iron pot. I knew I wanted to try this, so I headed to this very basic, very traditional lokanta (another word for restaurant in Turkey).
Found, though not easily, on a side street off of the bustling Istikil strip, Lades serves mostly meats and eggs. It is no frills, but is a long-standing, tasty and reliable look into the way the locals do it in Istanbul.
– Ciya Sofrasi –
While I will travel to great lengths for food, it’s not everyday I hop a ferry in order to do so. To get to the Asian side of Istanbul, you need to travel by boat across the Bosphorus strait.
Many tourists do not make or have the time to cross the border when only visiting the city for a couple of days, so the area of Kadikoy maintains a very authentic feel, housing dozens of open air shops, markets, restaurants, fish stands and olive bodegas. The cuisine here mimics this semblance, with Ciya Sofrasi being at the forefront.
As is the case in a lot of Turkish restaurants, mezes are the main attraction. It’s a fun lunch experience here- you look at that day’s option, point at what you’d like, grab a table outside, and settle in to watch a very different sort of world go by.
– Halil Lahmacun –
Also on the Asian side, this is where I had my first taste of a $2 pide. Halil Lahmacun is a hole in the wall which makes these traditional treats on the spot, kneading the dough on demand and warming it in the brick oven as you watch.
Mine was made with cheese, parsley, and pesto- I’d eat one every day if I could.
– Limonlu Bache –
Recommended by the lovely woman who owed my humble AirBnB apartment, Limonlu Bache is a charming, albeit large garden space that you would never know existed from the steep streets of the Beyoglu area.
I went here to check out what she referred to as an “Istanbul hipster scene,” and not actually to have any food for once.
What I did have though was Ayran, a thick drink comprised of yogurt, mint and cucumber, that is traditional and refreshing and offered nearly everywhere. Essentially, it tastes like tzatziki in a glass- nothing wrong with that.
– Van Kahvalti Evi –
If I lived in Istanbul, I’d come here often. Completely simple, filled with locals and visitors alike, Van Kahvalti Evi offers a perfect take on the infamous Turkish breakfast. The traditional breakfast platter- eggs, honey, jams, multiple cheeses, dips, breads, simit- will not steer you wrong.
– Pandeli –
Despite my hours of research before I left for Istanbul, Pandeli was not initially in the mix. As often, amazingly, happens to me- when a friend from London realised I was this city she immediately connected me with a local friend, and to Pandeli he sent me.
I was kind of skeptical at first, as Pedali is located on top of the massive Spice Market on the Sultanahmet (Old City) side of the water. This to me, screamed touristy and stay away. I went anyway as he was persistent with his suggestion, and immediately upon walking in I knew it was a good move.
The bright blue tiled walls leading up a narrow stairway and continuing literally all over the interior of the restaurant itself were spectacular, and unbelievably striking and absorbing. I felt I had stepped back in time into a land I was completely unfamiliar with, and I loved it.
The food was simple but incredibly well done.
– Mikla –
20 stories high above the sprawling city, Mikla is on the top floor of the Marmara Pera Hotel in the hills of Beyoglu.
Before you sit, the well manicured staff is insistent that you go yet one floor higher and grab a drink at the rooftop bar. Doing this should not be optional.
Glass of red wine in hand, I could not get over the incredible 360 nighttime view of this dazzling, brightly lit scene in front of me. It puts you in a daze before you even begin to eat, and greatly sets the vibe for the evening ahead. I loved the food, which too delivered in richness, creativity, and display throughout the night.
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