Istanbul has stood the test of time. The Turkish city’s ability to endure has seen it rebuild and reinvent itself over the centuries. Sitting on the border of Europe, Asia and the Middle East, it is and has always been a mixing pot of cultures. Nowhere is this reflected more than in its cuisine. The best place to indulge in Istanbul’s diversity is its thriving restaurant scene.
The city’s position allows for cuisine inspired by international styles and ingredients, while exquisite seafood is regularly at the forefront of Istanbul’s best restaurants.
Feast like an Ottoman Emperor on fabulous traditional cuisine at Asitane or try cutting-edge fusion delicacies at Mikla. In summer, be sure to dine alfresco on the many rooftop and terrace restaurants that offer breathtaking views of Istanbul and the glittering Bosphorus Strait.
[See also: A Luxury Guide to a Long Weekend in Istanbul]
Maksut Aşkar is one of Turkey’s most famous chefs, so people come far and wide to sample his interpretation of traditional flavors. Aşkar has used the recipes cooked by his mother in his youth to inspire an accomplished menu. His aim is to champion recipes and ingredients that are at risk of being lost to modernity. Although looking back at tradition, Aşkar has also placed great emphasis on protecting food for the next generation, and as such uses hyper-local and seasonal ingredients throughout his menu. The presentation of every dish is Michelin quality without the price tag.
There is no better place to induct yourself into Turkish cuisine than Ocak. Located in the Old City, this sophisticated restaurant offers elevated versions of the most authentic and traditional Anatolian dishes. Start your evening with one of the restaurant’s popular colorful cocktails before diving into some of chef Omer Bozyap’s signature dishes. Be sure to try the ‘three shades of chickpeas’, which offers three delectable versions of the humble legume with a homemade lavash. For your entree, look no further than theslow-roasted lamb shank, a must when in this part of the world.
Spago by Wolfgang Puck
Istanbul has been an important site for several empires and in Wolfgang Puck, it now has a culinary edition to add to the history books. Puck’s influence spans the globe from Beverly Hills to London. Spago is the Michelin-starred chef’s flagship restaurant and serves a modern and imaginative seasonal menu inspired by his international tendencies. Located on the rooftop of St. Regis Istanbul, Spago boasts amazing views over the Bosphorus. Enjoy a locally-inspired cocktail or an amazing wine from the 500-label list while taking in a golden sunset view. Like the cocktails, the best food on the menu is locally inspired such as the sauteed cauliflower served with golden raisins and almonds, and the brussel sprouts with dates and chestnuts. Or, if you’re looking for some home comforts, the sushi bar serves some of the best in the city.
Opened in 1993, Ulus 29 is the perfect place to view the Bosphorus and the bridges of Istanbul from the restaurant’s terraces in the summer. Ulus 29 centers on gastronomic concepts with traditional cooking methods to offer regional cuisine with seasonal freshness. The restaurant makes its own dry-aged meats as well as ice cream and pasta for an authentic experience when searching for where to eat in Istanbul. Opt for gastronomy-focused dishes, classic Turkish fare or sushi. A wine list of roughly 4,500 bottles includes labels Enjoy cocktails at the Teras Bar, or choose a lively evening at the Ulus Club 29 to dance along to international DJs on the weekends.
At Râna, formerly known as Topaz, the best of Mediterranean and Ottoman cuisine come together. Overlooking the Bosphorus, the serene atmosphere of Râna recalls the stone it is named after in its geometric design that is complemented by modern decor. The restaurant offers two tasting menus: modern and traditional. The first comprises innovative dishes like goose liver terrine with cranberry marmalade and walnut, while the latter includes classics like Turkish ravioli with beef and strained yogurt. Râna’s wine list has acquired national recognition with an award from local magazine Gusto and the staff is happy to provide pairings on request.
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With Istanbul wedged between Eastern and Western influences, Banyan’s motto of “food for the soul” describes the Asian fusion fare it serves. Healthy cuisine with Asian roots is savored on the top floor of a historical building, offering striking views of the city below. Dishes like Sichuan pepper steak, duck satay and dim sum are just a few of the options on order to be enjoyed with tea, fresh juice or a cocktail. Whether dining indoors or outdoors, the lights of surrounding Istanbul are sure to dazzle from this local favorite.
St. Regis Brasserie
For expert French cuisine in Istanbul, look no further than St. Regis Brasserie. Housed in the luxury St. Regis Istanbul hotel, the intimate restaurant comprises both indoor and outdoor dining areas with elegant accents like oak, brass and onyx. The fare is seasonal, including contemporary, French-inspired dishes with a Turkish touch. An expansive menu includes a variety of salads, handcrafted pasta and sandwiches among appetizers and main courses. Try the St. Regis Brasserie meatballs or pan-fried black bream with a signature Bloody Mary from the cocktail menu. Be sure to leave room for dessert – the restaurant offers raspberry cake, rice pudding, tiramisu and mascarpone cheesecake.
Once an Ottoman police station, Feriye’s building is a rare example of 19th-century classical Ottoman architecture. An advocate for Turkish gastronomy, Feriye holds regular seminars and special food presentations. The restaurant draws on Ottoman cooking techniques from the 12th to 19th century and includes such delicacies as spicy cured beef and manti (filled dough pockets). Feriye can host a wide range of events: the à la carte restaurant caters for cocktail parties and sit-down dinners, and in summer the huge terrace can accommodate up to 2,000 guests.
Situated atop the Swissôtel, 16 Roof restaurant boasts stunning views of the Bosphorus. The interior is modern and minimalist with soft blue tones that reflect the hues of the river itself. The chef produces contemporary world cuisine with unique flavors as well as desserts; from refreshing lemongrass and ginger sorbet to mouthwatering caramelized banana and cinnamon tart with caramel ice cream. Each course of the tasting menu is complemented by an appropriate Turkish wine. There is also a private section with a capacity for 12 guests should you desire a more intimate gathering.
Located on the roof of the fashionable Marmara Pera hotel, its sublime views over Istanbul include the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace. With retro chrome furniture and a bar made from wooden railroad ties, Mikla is urban, sleek and stylish. The unique menu reflects the Turkish-Scandinavian background of chef-owner Mehmet Gürs, who pioneered the contemporary restaurant scene in Istanbul. Gürs skillfully merges Turkish and Scandinavian cooking techniques, producing delicacies such as raw grouper with olives and lemon, and a Turkish coffee vanilla slice with raspberry sorbet. The roof terrace bar of Mamara Pera is perfect for pre-dinner drinks. Take in soft jasmine scents and sip on a generously measured martini as you watch the sun set on this historic city.
Sunset Grill & Bar
Located on a hilltop in Ulus Park with spectacular views of the Bosphorus Bridge and Asian shoreline, Sunset Grill & Bar is the ultimate romantic dining establishment in Istanbul. The restaurant hosts a wide-ranging menu of cuisine from Turkey and beyond with a strong Japanese influence. A sushi bar opened here in 2000, in 2006 Japanese master chef Hiroki Takemura joined Sunset Grill & Bar, introducing a selection of new Japanese cuisine. In 2015, director of culinary innovation Fabrice Canelle joined the team, bringing the finest examples of Mediterranean cuisine to the menu. The cellar includes some of the finest rare wines in the world, from Petrus to La Tache, Château Latour to Sassiccaia, and Opus One to Château d’Yquem. Sunset Grill & Bar has been named as one of the best restaurants in Europe by Zagat, and Time Out Istanbul declared the restaurant of the best in Istanbul.
Contemporary Mediterranean cuisine served at a tranquil modern terrace overlooking the Old Town, Prince Islands and beyond. Couple chefs Kaan and Aylin head the kitchen, reinterpreting classic flavors with a light and modern touch. The contemporary array of dishes is designed around seasonal produce and changes accordingly. Choose from the six-course Discovery Menu or the seven-course Nicole Menu for dishes like summer salad with watermelon, tomatoes with lent cheese and lamb with kidney beans. Nicole’s wine cellar includes chateau style local wine producers from Aegean, Thrace and Anatolia regions as well as imported varieties.