Istanbul has no shortage of places where you can experience fine dining. In fact, the variety is tremendous. Canteen-style restaurant, bakeries, street food, top-end cafes, hipster coffee houses and fast food joints. Turkey has it all. Your only task is to figure out what kind of dining experience you want and go from there.
Most restaurants employ a “convincer”. This is normally a young, well-dressed man who stands outside the restaurant doors and entices you inside. He does this by sweet-talking you, describing the delectable dining options or offering you a discount (sometimes all three). Be prepared to say no A LOT. Once you start looking at the menu, this is a sign for the convincer that you’ve almost bitten the bait and he will try to whisk you away to a table before you can say no.
If you’re looking for tasty, home-style cuisine then your best bet is a cafeteria. Normally these places display the freshly-prepared dishes in their windows and you can pick and choose there as well as from the menu once you’re seated. Don’t be put off by the idea that you’ll be carrying a grubby tray and choosing from yesterday’s soggy sandwiches. This food is rich, the portions are big and the cost isn’t as offensive as in the really fancy eateries. The best one we found was on Türkeli street called Yonka Restaurant Cafe. They will remember your face and your preferences.
Vegetarians will be spoilt for choice here too with both hot dishes (soups and bakes) and great salads. But watch out! You might need to explain that offal and pate is also meat.
If you’re feeling a little bit more upmarket than a cafeteria, you can find opulent restaurants anywhere. The best ones, we found, were those that weren’t on the main roads or close to the center. Ducking down a little back alley always pays off and you can enjoy some peace and quiet and a nice meal. One particularly nice establishment is Anatolia Restaurant & Cafe. The Turkish salad and clay pot chicken here are superb. If you’re after some well-priced kebabs (including vegetarian) but want to keep it simple, head to Kadirga Cafe. Be careful though, they don’t serve beer here.
Kadirga Cafe also does a great Turkish breakfast that is a must-try for any budding foodie. I liked this one the best because the breakkie came with beautiful white bread and honey.
If you are looking to spend big and find some taste sensations, then Hafiz Mustafa 1864 offers gourmet sweets and coffee that will give you a sugar hit fit for a jog to the moon and back.
If you want budget options, try a sumet from any small vendor or burek from a local bakery. Simple, good Turkish food.