With culinary influences extending from Central Asia clear through the Caucasus to the Mediterranean, the food in Turkey is justifiably world-famous. At the heart of the Sultanahmet district in Istanbul, however, you’re much more likely to find overpriced and under-spiced versions of Turkish favorites than anything else. For a more authentic and delicious experience, head a bit further afield to some of our favorite spots in town:
Balık Ekmek ($2-$3)
Literally “fish bread,” these sandwiches feature a fresh-grilled fillet on top of a gardens’ worth of fresh veggies, wrapped together into a crusty bread loaf and topped with a touch of lemon sauce. They can be found at countless waterfront stalls along the Golden Horn and Bosphorus, but one of the best spots is in the small restaurants midway through the Karakoy Fish Market.
Karaköy Güllüoğlu ($2.50-$7)
Once you’ve finished that balik ekmek, dessert at the Karakoy Gulluoglu shop is a quick walk away. In theory it should only cost a handful of Turkish lira to walk out of here with a quick bite, but in practice this rarely seems to happen. With over 20 types of baklava on offer and a handful of other desserts and savory options as well, Gulluoglu will call to you no matter the intensity of your sweet tooth (or your tummy’s fullness from a priori meal).
Ciğer Sarayı ($7-$12)
The “Palace of Liver” reigns supreme among the several similar restaurants that stand just outside the Aksaray Metro station. Ciger Sarayi is worth visiting whether you want a soup and salad or a full-on organ feast. The liver kebab is the obvious dish to order, but the eggplant kebabs are delicious as well.
Sur Ocakbaşı ($7-$11)
Located just behind the Valens Aquaduct in the middle of a market and dining street with a string of good restaurants, Sur Ocakbasi stands out just as much for its open-plan kitchen as for it does for its tasty grilled goods. The buryan kebap slow-cooked lamb is the star of the menu, but, especially for those new to Turkish food, the giant mixed grill plate is a good opportunity to sample a little bit of everything. Just make sure to show up with a big appetite.
While the rest of the restaurants on this list are pretty forward-looking favorites, Asitane takes a different tack. Styling itself as ‘fine Ottoman cuisine,’ Asitane claims to prepare dishes based on recipes from a 1539 feast hosted by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificant. Housed. In a renovated historic mansion directly beside the popular Chora Church Museum, this is indeed considered one of the top places in Istanbul to sample Ottoman-era cuisine.