Istanbul is fun to explore for many of reasons, but food is definitely not one of them. Although the city’s food scene is very diverse, finding great restaurants in Istanbul is not really easy. From traditional to modern, you’ll find all kinds of restaurants in Istanbul, so deciding where to eat can be really difficult.
Food is not my first priority when I travel. Nonetheless, I always take time to research the best places to eat in a city I am about to visit. However, this time around the culinary aspect of our trip to Istanbul wasn’t well researched. I have to say this in defense of all the good restaurants that may be hiding somewhere in Istanbul. That being said, here is my experience with eating in Istanbul.
How Is Food in Istanbul?
I think it would be just fair to start by saying that I am not a big fan of the Mediterranean food. I enjoy it all right if it’s prepared in a good restaurant, but finding a good place to eat in Istanbul posed a real challenge for us. Most of the restaurants we ate at were less than mediocre, except for maybe a couple.
Food prices are higher in Istanbul compared to other Eastern European countries ($20-$40/main course). Many of the items that a restaurant serves are not listed on the menu and as such their prices are not visible.
What to Expect in Istanbul’s Restaurants
The waiter will bring you a cart with all kinds of dishes, or fresh fish for instance, but not tell you how much each costs unless you specifically ask. Don’t assume that a 15 inch Red Snapper can’t be too expensive. You may be surprised with a $200 bill at the end that is not even itemized. And speaking of the bill, some restaurants will add a hidden service charge without advising you that a tip is no longer necessary.
Service is relatively poor. Waiters try to please you, but they don’t seem to have the culture of serving. In most places we received a rushed service, which is equally unpleasant to having to wait forever for your food.
In many restaurants dishes seem to be prepared in advance, so when you order something they just reheat it. Bread is almost always cold. In one restaurant I ordered some flaky pastry that sounded great from the description, but I was brought something that looked more like deep fried dough.
Wine in Restaurants
Turkey is a strongly Islam-oriented country, so the consumption of alcohol is strictly regulated. Many restaurants don’t even serve alcohol. The ones that do serve alcohol are mainly located in the tourist areas. However, they have a very reduced selection of wines. They mostly serve Turkish wines and at very high prices (between $45-$200/bottle).
Where to Eat in Istanbul
Restaurants in Sultanahmet
Most of the restaurants in Sultanahmet have very beautiful terraces overseeing the Bosphorus, Golden Horn, Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, which is most likely why people put up with their mediocre food and poor service.
Restaurants in Beyoglu
However, in our quest to discover good restaurants in Istanbul, we found a couple that I think are worth mentioning. One of them is Y-Pera, on Mesrutiyet Cad. Oteller Sok. Y-Petra a newly opened bistro style restaurant located in Beyoglu, close to Istiklal Caddesi street. They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and serve all kinds of delicious salads, soups and other international dishes.
We went there for dinner. The food was very tasty, the service was excellent and the music was outstanding – traditional jazz from the 1920’s played by the Uninvited Jazz Band. The owner, Ahmet Aytaç, came to greet us and after a little chat he offered us to taste his favorite wine.
Restaurants in Eminönü
The other restaurant we liked is CaféKat 4, located in one of the historical buildings of Eminönü, in Faith (Hobyar Mh., Yalı Köşkü Cd No:64, 34112 Eminönü, İstanbul, Tel: +90 212 514 6688.) The significant advantage of this restaurant is its location that offers a unique panorama.
The terrace atop of the building is facing the Bosphorus and Istanbul’s most important historical symbols, such as Topkapı Palace, Bosphorus Bridge, Dolmabahce Palace, Galata Tower, Galata Bridge and Golden Horn.
The restaurant serves local and international dishes. The food is good, but not excellent. Prices are relatively high, especially for wine. Atmosphere is extremely relaxed and pleasant and service is very friendly.