To fully understand the scope of Turkish cuisine, you have to visit the country. Turkey has incredible cheeses, mouthwatering pastries, elaborate desserts and so much more. Istanbul is a great city for your Turkish culinary tour since the megalopolis has a bit of everything to sample.
Here are some Istanbul restaurants that stand out from the crowd for their remarkable local offerings:
Kebabs: Hayri Usta Kebap
Hidden away off a side street near the famous Taksim Square and Istiklal shopping street (Katip Mustafa Celebi Mah. Cukurlu Cesme Sok. No:15 Taksim, Beyoglu) is one of the best kebab shops you’ll ever find.
Furnished with rustic wooden stools and exposed brick, this no-frills local joint serves delectable kebabs and accompaniments. For a few dollars, you’ll get a metal plate with fresh village-style bazlama (a flatbread), a few skewers of chicken or beef seasoned with sumac, bulgur pilaf and a fresh salad of parsley, onions and seasonal vegetables. It’s simple and divine.
Hayri Usta also serves made-from-scratch soups and lahmacun, a type of Turkish flatbread pizza.
Afternoon Tea: Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet
It’s hard to believe that the palatial Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet was once the most notorious prison in Istanbul. After renovating the grand old building, all that remains of its past life are the ancient, intricate locks that decorate the walls of the winter garden, where you can enjoy a magnificent afternoon tea.
Amid elegant chandeliers and Turkish carpets, sit down to luxuriate over the Four Seasons’ afternoon spread. There are two choices of tea sets — traditional and Turkish — and a selection of blends, the Turkish tea being the local option. Along with tea or coffee (with refills), the meal includes savories, sweets and a scone or muffin. Turkish savories include cheese pastries and pies, the sweets are typically fruit tarts and baklava, and the scone or muffin comes with housemade Turkish jam.
All-Day Turkish Breakfast: Cafe Privato
Cafe Privato is the one-and-only spot (Timarci Sokak, off Galip Dede Caddesi near Galata Tower) for an authentic koy kahvaltisi, or village-style Turkish breakfast. It has a retro vibe with antique-looking sofas, lace tablecloths and vintage china plates.
Arrive hungry and get cozy for the enormous feast. Made from scratch, the breakfast set includes several different Turkish cheeses; delicious, fresh bread; a selection of housemade jam; hot Turkish and Georgian pastries; fresh eggs; marinated olives and salad; farmhouse butter and rich honey. Tea, coffee, fresh juices and housemade lemonade are served in beautiful glasses and cups.
Turkish Comfort Food: St. Regis Brasserie
The St. Regis Brasserie in Nisantasi offers a chic and minimalist indoor bar and a verdant terrace for alfresco dining when the weather is fine. This elegant establishment has a no-nonsense menu of simple, carefully crafted local and international dishes. The Turkish plates are classic meals that you would find in any home — but they are prepared to St. Regis’ standards.
One local favorite is manti, a Turkish meat dumpling, smaller than a ravioli, served with yogurt, mint, chili flakes and tomato sauce. Kofte are the meatballs that a Turkish mother would serve with rice and grilled vegetables. The harira soup (lamb, chickpeas and coriander) is wonderfully filling with fresh bread.
When you’ve sampled the classic home-style cooking, let loose in the bar, where the Turkish wine list is impressive. Or try a Misty Mary, The St. Regis Istanbul’s signature cocktail made of raki (Turkey’s national drink, it’s an anise-flavored brandy) and local juiced vegetables.