32/309 İstiklal Caddesi, Mısır Apt., 8th floor
Tel: 90 212 251 1042
A number that has become synonymous with trendoid Istanbul, 360 is the city's quintessential fly spot: A restaurant complete with summer terrace, bar, a strong nightclub element with regular DJs and live music, and, of course, the crucial circular view, it's pretty packed any night of the week. Located halfway along İstiklal Caddesi near the Galatasaray school, in a classic old Pera apartment building, its cool may by now be a little too well-worn, especially with the likes of the cozier Leb-i derya a few minutes down the street. However, 360 remains a contemporary Istanbul classic: South African chef Mike Norman has created a varied international menu with an amalgam of influences. There's duck carpaccio and calamari stuffed with cheese and tomato as well as "East" and "West" pasta dishes comprising Pad Thai or fettuccine with short rib. It's all good, but never much better than good.
1 Seyit Hasan Kuyu Sokak, off Cankurtaran Caddesi
Tel: 90 212 458 1824
A refreshing change from the mass of touristy establishments in the neighborhood, this is one place that you'll find brimming with Turks and visitors alike on any night of the week, so be sure to book ahead. A fish joint based on the meyhane tradition but with a more formal standard of service, this restaurant has an excellent reputation for its very simple output of meze and the catch-of-the-day menu. You'll find it at the end of an alley down a flight of steps off Cankurtaran Caddesi, in the quiet, rustic backstreets of Sultanahmet, with outdoor seating set among copious foliagecovered for warmth during the winter. Inside, the decor is no-nonsense and the atmosphere spirited. The mullet and sea bass are recommended, as is the house salad with shrimp, feta, arugula, and tomato, though be prepared for prices to be slightly over the odds.
Muallim Naci Caddesi, 3 Salhane Sokak
Tel: 90 212 259 9060
Asian fusion may be le dernier cri by Western standards, but it's still finding its feet in Istanbul, in tandem with the city's farouche flirtation with health food. So by local standards, Banyan is a pretty novel concept: a creative take on Eastern cuisine combined with organic ingredients, all harvested to the button of political correctitude. But by far the biggest check mark in Banyan's box is its remarkable waterside location in the Bosphorus village of Ortaköy: A terrace area garnished with bonsai trees basks in the light of the lively Ortaköy Square and its striking neo-Baroque mosque, which are in turn set off by the huge suspension bridge glowing in the background. You might want to kick off your evening with a fresh-fruit cocktail at the notoriously exuberant House Café next door and upstairs (1 Salhane Sokak; 90-212-227-2639), followed by some dim sum and satay at Banyan, and the highly recommended sake-marinated filet mignon to wind up.
43–48 Güneşlibahçe Sokak
Tel: 90 216 330 31 90
If you're serious about Turkish food, it's worth making the ferry trip across the Bosphorus to Kadıköy for a meal at Çiya. Chef Musa Dağdeviren collected recipe ideas from Turkey's farthest corners for his meze, stews, and kebabs. Look for the lentil kofte, the seasonal ayva çıvığı (quince stew), or the nizip yoğurtlusu, a dish of meatballs served in garlic yogurt with soaked pita bread. The restaurant, situated in the middle of a bustling market area, is very casual, with diners perched on benches outside in warm weather. Be aware that alcohol is not on the menu, with the exception of beer served discreetly in mugs.—Vanessa Able
Open daily noon to 10 pm.
Fatih Sultan Mehmet Mah
6 Atatürk Caddesi
Tel: 90 212 277 8860
This carnivore's dream is located in a somewhat obscure location north of the city center, just off the motorway in Etiler (a bit inland from the Bosphorus-side neighborhood of Bebek). However, if all things fleshy are your thing, it's worth the schlep to the hillside butcher-cum-restaurant, which indisputably grills up the best dry-aged T-bone in town. Seating is casual, at long wooden tables usually shared with the hefty lunch and dinnertime mass, and the day's bill of fare is chalked up on a blackboard, although it's good to take recommendations from the very knowledgeable maître d'. Vegetarians beware: It's quite literally a meat market, with ham and bacon sausages (a rarity for the mostly Islamic community) served as amuse-bouches and a huge glass-fronted cabinet showing off the steak. These dry-aged cuts are presented on large wooden platters, but the free-range veal is also excellent, while the hamburgers topped with ham and cheese are grilled to perfection. The burgers proved so popular that Dükkan Burger bars are now open in Bebek and Tünel.
Open daily 12 to 9 pm.
20 Karaköy Balık Pazarı
Tel: 90 539 747 09 57
Ask any Istanbullu about the best place to get fresh fish in the city, and he or she will likely direct you to the Galata Bridge, where a small market on the north side in Karaköy sells everything from sea bass to squid, mackerel to mullet. Pass through the market, and you'll come to a little park at the very edge of the Golden Horn, where three establishments almost overlap one another. For fish straight from the market and hot off the grill, Furkan Balık Evi—with tables right at the water's edge—is a good choice. Ask for the fish of the day, or go for hamsi (anchovies) while they're in season during the winter months.—Vanessa Able
Open daily 10 am to midnight.
28 Asmalımescit Caddesi
Tel: 90 212 244 4846
This Parisian-style bistro opened in March 2008 and is doing such a good job of serving up convincing French fare that it's become immensely popular: Book a couple of days in advance. Conveniently located in the center of Beyoğlu, around the corner from the Marmara Pera Hotel, La Brise is a small but bustling venue with a couple of tables outside in the warmer months. The menu offers everything français, from soupe à l'oignon to moules to five variations on the classic steak frites. The desserts are also fabulously French, and include a mille-feuille, a lemon tart, and a chocolate mousse to die for. It's owned by North Shield, a chain of Irish pubs, and the restaurant's almost gaudy abundance of too-new-to-be-true wooden panels, brass, and stained glass bear a striking and disappointing resemblance to the faux-Gaelic interiors of its brethren. But don't let the furnishings put you off your chicken liver pâté; instead, sit back and think of the glamorous Euro buffs from the days of Old Pera.
Open daily 10 am to midnight, September through May; 5 pm to midnight, June through August.
115/7 Kumbaracı Yokuşu
Tel: 90 212 293 4989
A chic, glassless greenhouse stands in the middle of this hip but unpretentious rooftop place, with a bar counter lined with slatted white wood chairs round the roof perimeter. Though the point of the place is the setting, food is international, meaning that all-Turkish dishes mix it up with all-not-Turkish dishes. In the appetizer/meze region, the latter include potato skins and spiced fries, nachos, and Cajun chicken (in case anyone's homesick for the sports bar). At dinner, steak of all kinds—spiced and grilled; with eggplant and Tulum cheese—dominates alongside entrée salads and a few uninteresting pastas. Consider coming for Sunday breakfast with simit (a kind of croissant with sesame), eggs, borek, kashar cheese, and homemade bread—and the fab Bosphorus views in daylight. The same owners recently opened Leb-i derya Richmond, a similar concept on the top floor of a hotel on İstiklal Caddesi (445 İstiklal Caddesi, Beyoğlu; 90-212-243-4375; www.lebiderya.com).
1 İncili Çavuş Sokak
Tel: 90 212 512 4177
Despite being overrun with hotels and guesthouses to accommodate the majority of the city's visitors, Sultanahmet is relatively short on decent places to eat: The once-famed restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel has become little more than a tepid dining room for holidaying retirees, and the insistent hawking of touts off the main stretch of the Divan Yolu is enough to make you lose your appetite. However, the Mozaik restaurant and its sister Rumeli next door are an exception to the rule, with a high culinary standard, excellent, friendly service, and a charming Ottoman theme that's very cozy in the winter, especially in the basement dining room. The menu is a patchwork of influences, including Western-style T-bone steak, Mediterranean and Aegean salads, and a host of creative Turkish and Anatolian dishes, including the spectacular Abant kebab, incorporating lamb cubes with sautéed eggplant, peppers, mushrooms, and onions in a creamy tomato sauce.
22 Sakıp Sabancı Caddesi
Tel: 90 212 323 0901
It's a fair trek up to the Bosphorus village of Emirgan, but a worthwhile journey on many counts. A 30-minute (traffic-contingent) cab ride from the city center, Emirgan is a leafy whistle-stop set on the water, home to the debonair Sakıp Sabancı Museum, which itself is the namesake former residence of one of Istanbul's most affluent businessmen. The museum earned a name in the last couple of years with two moderately well-executed retrospectives (Picasso and Rodin), as well as the opening of Müzedechanga, a spin-off of the once-legendary Changa restaurant in Taksim that has recently swirled down the culinary plug hole. This is much more than a museum café: Winner of Wallpaper magazine's 2007 award for best-designed restaurant (in the world!), the glass-enshrouded venue, conceived by architect Ayşen Savaş and designed by the local Autoban group, serves up a concise but delicious menu of international dishes coordinated by Kiwi chef Peter Gordon, such as deep-fried zucchini flowers stuffed with the special Turkish lor cheese, and cinnamon-scented lamb with eggplant. Highly recommended for a sunny day out.
Behind Çiçek Pasajı and Balık Pazarı
Tucked away behind the fish market just off İstiklal Caddesi, Nevizade Sokak is possibly Istanbul's liveliest street. On weekend nights you'll literally have to shoulder your way through the crowd moseying along the narrow passage that's full to the gunwales with cafés, bars, and meyhanes. A meyhane is a Turkish tavern, evolved through the country's centuries-long proximity to Greek culture, and a night at one basically involves the marathon consumption of the trademark anise-flavored tipple Raki, along with the protracted ingestion of meze (starters, usually displayed on a large tray that's brought to your table), salads, fish main dishes, and a fruit dessert. Most places do a fixed-price menu, so it's worth asking in advance. The meyhanes here are virtually back-to-back, with almost year-round outdoor seating. Neyle Meyle is consistently good (12 Balıkpazarı Nevizade Sokak; 90-212-249-8103), although they're all more or less of the same standard, so use your instinct and sit wherever you can find an empty table. Book ahead or get in early for summer evenings and weekend nights.
Asmalımescit Caddesi, 9 Sofyalı Sokak
Tel: 90 212 245 0362
In the center of the once-bohemian but now increasingly commercial Asmalımescit area just behind Tünel Square, Sofyalı 9 sits like a brightly colored vestige of old Pera, when the neighborhood was a hotbed of European influence (this is where passengers on the Orient Express trains would put up). This multistory building is one of the favored of the many meyhanes (taverns) on the street, along with the ever-popular Refik a bit farther down (10/12 Sofyalı Sokak; 90-212-243-2834). Begin your meal here with Raki or wine, accompanied by cold meze from the large tray that will be ceremoniously presented to your table upon seatingthere's patlican salatası (eggplant salad), enginar (artichoke in olive oil), and dolma (stuffed grape leaves). By the time the traditional hot appetizers have done the rounds (we recommend the meat-stuffed house borek or the kaşarlı cheese alternative), most diners can't find any room for a main course. For the large-bellied, however, there is a good selection of fresh fish and grilled meats.
1 Kireçhane Sokak, Adnan Saygun Caddesi, Ulus Parkı
Tel: 90 212 265 6181
One thing Istanbul is not short of is fine-dining establishments with a view; the likes of 360 Istanbul, Leb-i derya, and Mikla are teeming year-round with the city's cosmopolitan cast of affluent models, actresses, moguls, and tycoons. Ulus 29 is no exception to the trendin fact, it's the leader. Conceived in a stylish modern Turkish theme by restaurateur-designers Metin and Zeynep Fadılloğlu, the restaurant and its adjoining bar contain among the most inventive and outrageous chandeliers in a city obsessed by cut-glass lighting. Situated in a far-flung residential hillside neighborhood overlooking the Bosphorus, Ulus 29 is surrounded by a small terrace garden that accommodates diners in clement weather, who otherwise peer at the sparkling view of the Asian shore from behind floor-to-ceiling windows. The menu covers a variety of cuisines, from a wide sushi selection to fresh lobster, plus in-house interpretations of indigenous dishes such as the Köfte 29 (meatballs) and the lamb medley with stuffed eggplant. The grouper carpaccio and duck and chicken liver parfait are worth a whirl, and two courses should be light enough to leave room for dessert.
13 Çukurlu Çeşme Sokak
Tel: 90 212 293 5480
A meyhane is a Turkish tavern where alcoholic drinks and plates of traditional meze (appetizers) are served. Zarifi is a meyhane with a twist that, for better or worse, captures the essence of contemporary nightlife in Istanbul. Run by the descendants of a prosperous and philanthropic Greek merchant family from the 19th century, the restaurant's menu reflects Istanbul's varied European influence, with Jewish, Greek, Armenian, Arabic, and Turkish fare, beginning with meze, and accompanied by copious Raki. The food is a cut above that served in most local meyhanes, both in quality and pricetry the lamb shish kebabs with eggplant and béchamel, or Cretan-style octopus meatballs. Go on a Friday or Saturday if possible, and make a reservation for before 9 pm. This should give you enough time to finish your meal before midnight, when crowds of carousers arrive to dance around and on the tables to anything from contemporary Turkish pop to live traditional tunes.
28 Bekar Sokak
Tel: 90 212 293 39 51
On a busy backstreet parallel to İstiklal Caddesi, Zubeyir Ocakbaşı is where locals go for top-notch barbecued meat. A casual, inexpensive joint, there are two floors, each with its own enormous grill charring lamb chops, chicken wings, and spicy Adana kebab to perfection. Share the mixed grill plate, a crafty way to try a bite of everything. Though you won't be able to watch your dinner sizzling on the grill, take a seat in the garden during the warmer months.—Vanessa Able
Open daily 11 am to 11 pm.