There is nowhere on earth quite like Istanbul. Heralded as the point where the Middle East, Europe and Asia meet, the Turkish city is as vibrant as they come, with a multitude of cultures seamlessly brushing against one another. The diversity of Istanbul is best epitomized in its food scene, with the restaurants here among the best in the world.
No matter what your stomach calls for, you can find it in Istanbul. For quick eats, there are some amazing street-food carts, and for bigger meals, you can’t go wrong with one of the many grill houses or traditional tavernas. Thanks to its oceanside location, seafood in the city is wonderfully fresh, while, like the rest of Turkey, vegetarian dishes warrant plenty of attention too.
Historically, other than (very trustworthy) word-of-mouth advice, fine dining was a little harder to categorize in Istanbul, but with the arrival of the Michelin guide – and its team of discerning inspectors – the city’s best restaurants are easier than ever to seek out.
When it launched in October this year, the guide bestowed stars on just five Istanbul restaurants, only one of which received two stars. No Istanbul restaurants received three stars, however, ten were granted the well-respected Bib Gourmand award, which recognizes excellent cooking at lower price points.
While the arrival of the guide hasn’t defined the city (locals and regular visitors will have been able to point you in the direction of the best restaurants in Istanbul without hesitation), it does act as a wonderful starting point for newer visitors, or for those with a penchant for the finer things. Just don’t forget to visit Istanbul’s more under-the-radar, rough-and-ready eateries too.
Turk Fatih Tutak
As the city’s sole restaurant to be awarded two Michelin stars, Turk Fatih Tutak is a safe bet when it comes to listing the best restaurants in Istanbul. The eponymous chef-owner works closely with local suppliers to ensure that his restaurant is not only as sustainable as possible, but also properly reflects the country’s landscape and the ingredients it produces. The dishes are rooted in traditional Turkish techniques and flavors, but the modern international influence is evident too. Each day, a single tasting menu is produced and served to all guests, with a carefully selected wine pairing on offer too.
Located on the roof of the fashionable Marmara Pera hotel, Mikla boasts sublime views over Istanbul including 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, and recently became one of the few Istanbul restaurants to hold a Michelin star. 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.
Nicole serves contemporary Mediterranean cuisine in 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, and were rewarded for their efforts with a Michelin star. 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.
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.
Râna by Topaz
At Râna 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.
The signature of Istanbul, Maiden’s Tower stands proudly at the intersection of the Bosphorus where the two continents of Asia and Europe meet. The tower’s history stretches back 2,500 years, with a wealth of legends surrounding its place in this extraordinary city. Now the tower serves as a café and restaurant, attracting guests from near and far for a romantic meal, business engagement, or even a wedding. With delicious breakfasts and international lunch and dinner menus, Maiden’s Tower can be enjoyed at any time of day. Live music and a friendly mood will accompany your meal, and with the Bosphorus on all sides, the views are magical. Indoors in the winter or outdoors in the summer, for a truly bespoke experience, ask for the exclusive booking options and enjoy Maiden’s Tower in unique style.
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.
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 restaurant in Istanbul. There is a wide-ranging menu of Turkish and international cuisine 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.