A week's worth of Istanbul restaurants (long!)

Comments and recommendations for Istanbul restaurants

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A week's worth of Istanbul restaurants (long!)

Post by adampaul » Mon Jun 26, 2006 7:12 pm

Hi folks,

Although I've been back from Istanbul for nearly two months, I'm only now getting around to writing up my thoughts. Here is a summary of where we ate (mostly in Sultanahmet, since that's where we stayed). I'll followup later with links to my full reviews once I write them.

Our favorites were definitely Asitane, Galata House, Sofyalı No.9 and Rumeli Cafe.

Hope this is useful,

All told we quite enjoyed the food in Istanbul, although there's not nearly the variety we are accustomed to here in San Francisco. They're big into meat on a stick, but more refined fare is available (generally for a price), and quite good. Not a lot of alcohol is available, and again, unless you stick to the local hooch, you will pay through the nose for it. Fortunately I developed a taste for Raki (an anise-flavored liquor) and Efes (the Turkish beer) early on. Judging from a raid of our hotel room's wet bar, Turkish wine, at least the cheaper stuff, is quite awful, and is best avoided entirely.

Onto the list (arranged in order of our visits)!

Sofa Cafe
Mimar Mehmet Ağa Cadessi No:32, Sultanahmet, İstanbul
+90(0212) 458 36 30
We ate here on our first night in İstanbul. The menu is typical Turkish, quality was not great, but not awful either. Then again, one's first meal after a day-long flight isn't too likely to impress no matter what, I suppose! My first (but not last!) encounter with Raki was here. Service was casual and friendly, and the atmosphere was moody.

Cankurtaran Mahallesi Akbıyık Caddesi No: 40, Sultanahmet, İstanbul
+90(0212)517 37 50
Our lunch here was good enough to inspire us to return for dinner (and it is pretty close to where we were staying, which helped!). The İmam Baylıdı (YTL8.50), a stuffed eggplant appetizer, was excellent, and Sarah's İskender kebab (YTL15) was tasty too. The Rooster (TYL17.50) entree wasn't successful, however, rather generic. Nice ambience with many Turkish lamps on the ceiling, just like our hotel had. Service on both visits was warm and very friendly - our waiter recognized us from our lunch visit a few days prior and gave us all a free round of raki - a sure way to my heart! :)

Galata House
Galatakulesi Sok. No:61, Galata, Beyoğlu, İstanbul
+90(0212)245 18 61
One of our most interesting meals in İstanbul , if not the tastiest! Located in the old British consular jailhouse and run by a charming man (also a heritage architect) and his wife (a Georgian cook), this tall and narrow building houses a fairly elegant set of small dining rooms and a menu of Georgian and Russian food, which I was almost entirely unfamiliar with. The walnut leaf-infused vodka was a hit with our table - nutty and pleasantly bitter, with a dark brown color. Our cheese plate (YTL8.50) was good, but like almost all of the cheeses we had in İstanbul, was extremely salty. Diane's appetizer of eggplant with walnut sauce (YTL8) was excellent, and my dish of Osti (YTL16), a Georgian take on goulash, was flavorful and hearty. The S'Tatarashi, a ravioli-like entree was less successful, a bit on the chewy side for our liking. The Kuş Sutu (YTL6), a meringue and chocolate sauce chocolate cake was rich and decadent, however, the Blancmange w/mastika (YTL6) was awful, but that's probably more due to this being our first encounter with mastika rather than it being a poor example of the dish. If you haven't had the stuff, mastika is an extremely bitter, poisonous-tasting tree resin. The owner talked to us for a while, and was a gracious, charming, and worldly gentleman. Definitely worth checking out, just for the unusual experience of eating in a jail!

Arasta Çarşısı No:45, Sultanahmet, İstanbul
+90(0212)518 95 62
Trapped in a tourist trap! The "live whirling dervish" and english-language signage should have warned us off, but we were hungry, it was a pleasant night, and they had a nice outside eating area (<i>only </i>an outside eating area, in fact!). The food was average, both in price and quality, and the service was much worse than the extremely helpful and friendly service we experienced everywhere else we ate. It would be an alright place to have a lunch after visiting Ayasofya or Sultanahmet Camii, but I can't recommend it for dinner.

Kariye Camii Sokak. no 18 Edirnekapi, İstanbul
+90(0212)635 79 97
Our only other two-peat besides Turquoise above, and definitely the fanciest place we ate in İstanbul. Located in the Kariye Otel, next to the fabulous Kariye Camii (not to be missed!), Asitane specializes in traditional Ottoman cuisine, and makes something of a deal about how difficult it is to find recipes or records of what the Ottomans ate. Whatever the case, Asitane's food is fantastic, but not at all cheap. For mezes, the Bazar B&ouml;reği (YTL10), a pastry stuffed with pumpkin, cheese and scallions was out-of-this-world good, as was the Arefe K&ouml;ftesi (YTL12), a cracked wheat roll stuffed with minced lamb, almonds, pistachios, currants and spices. The Hibesh (TYL8) wasn't remarkable, however - a bit bland, especially in comparison. My favorite entree of our dinner visit was the Mutancene - Tenecere Yemeği (YTL20), diced lamb with dried apricots, raisins, honey and almonds in a casserole. It was sweet, but deeply-flavored and wonderfully rich. Everyone else's dishes were excellent too, and the service was good, if a bit stiff, but beverages were brought and refilled frequently. There was a YTL2 service charge per person, and this was the only place we dined that had one. Although pretty expensive, especially by İstanbul standards (our meal for 4 including (a lot of) drinks was YTL211), it was the tastiest meal we had, and should definitely be visited especially if you're going to Kariye Camii!

House of Medusa
Yerebatan Cad. No:19, Sultanahmet, İstanbul
+90(0212)511 41 16
Just a few doors down from our hotel, this was a basic, but decent cafe-style place. One nice touch was the blankets at every table to cozy up on the chillier evenings. The K&ouml;fte was good, no-frills, but good. Our favorite were the zucchini fritters served with yogurt dill sauce - mmmm! Pastrami & cheese rolls were too salty, but otherwise alright. Service was okay, but our lunch was a little expensive at YTL40 for 1 entree, 2 mezes, a beer and a tea.

Divanyolu Cad., Sultanahmet, İstanbul
This wasn't our favorite dinner in Sultanahmet, despite the friendly service and nice decor. Once we found it (it had been recommended on a Turkey travel forum) we were offered a YTL25/ea fixed meal, so had that. Despite a laundry list of good-sounding ingredients, the food was overall rather bland, and the promising service vanished as the evening wore on. We were also not thrilled by the foil-wrapped desserts that had obviously been brought over from another store (in fact we saw the women from said store deliver them!). Our final bill was a bit confusing - we'd expected YTL100 for the four of us, but instead found 3 dessert charges, but no drink charges. It was YTL120 all told, before tip. Although it wasn't bad, I wouldn't return here - Rumeli (below) was a much better value in the area, and about the same price.

Gani &Ccedil;elebi Sokak No:3, Kapalı&ccedil;arşı, İstanbul
+90(0212)527 33 46
Simple and hectic, befitting a place in the heart of the Grand Bazaar! You can point-and-order, or try out the menu. We opted for the menu, having at least some experience with Turkish menus. Their İskender kebab (YTL10) came recommended, so I had that, while Sarah had the D&ouml;ner Kebab (YTL9). The ıskender was the best I had in İstanbul - tender and juicy, with flavorful meat, a nice light sauce, and yummy fried potatoes atop a bed of crutons with yogurt on the side. S's d&ouml;ner was good, but if you go, get the İskender - it's just the ticket to rejuvenate yourself before an afternoon in the bazaar!

Sofyalı 9
Asmalımescit Cad. Sofyalı Sok. No:9, T&uuml;nel/Beyoğlu, İstanbul
+90(0212)245 03 62
Excellent, fun and affordable! a meyhanerie (?sp), Sofyaı specializes in small plates (mezes) and raki (booze). Everything we had was great, and the place had a warm camraderie about it. Get anything - it's great! We were shocked that our bill for the 4 of us, with a number of double rakis, was only YTL85, an excellent deal! This was one of our favorite restaurants of our visit to İstanbul.

Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi Selim Usta
Divanyolu Caddesi No:12, Sultanahmet, İstanbul
+90(0212)520 05 66
Excellent basic K&ouml;fte and a very small menu (vegetarians take note - you'll starve here!). My lamb took a while to arrive, and was a little fatty in places, but everyone else's Izgara K&ouml;fte (YTL6) was great. The Piyaz (YTL3), a salad with beans, was good and very cheap. S & I split a Kemalpaşa Tatlısı, dough balls in syrup. Good but not nearly as good as Havuzlu's (above). Service was as one would expect for this type of place. Note that we saw tourist buses unloading here, so they're obviously crushed at those times. When we were there, however, we were the only non-Turks present. Prices are quite reasonable.

Topkapı Saray Cafe
Topkapı Saray, İstanbul
Pretty good, given the highly touristy location, but ouch, the prices! Their terrace has superb views, however, and the quality sucks less than one might think. Still YTL6 (about US$4.50) for a can of Coke is sky-high!

Asmalımescit Cad. Sofyalı Sok. No:10, T&uuml;nel/Beyoğlu, İstanbul
+90(0212)243 28 34
Our last meal in İstanbul with Sarah's parents was, alas, not our favorite. Another meze & raki joint like Sofyalı No.9 above, but Refik failed to charm us. Service wasn't great, and my order of lamb şiş arrived nearly half an hour after Jim, Diane and Sarah's k&ouml;fte and chicken şiş came, with no explanation. The food was fine, and our cold meze of roasted red pepper was very good. Although smoking is allowed pretty much everywhere in İstanbul, we found it overpowering at Refik and our eyes were watering as we left. Especially with the cheaper and better Sofyalı No.9 just next door, I wouldn't come back to Refik.

Rumeli Cafe
Divanyolu Cad. Ticarethane Sk. No:8, Sultanahmet, İstanbul
+90(0212)512 00 08
Sarah and my last meal in town proved to be our favorite dinner in the Sultanahmet area. The interior is rustic and romantic, with faux (I assume) stonework and white tablecloths. We were the only diner there at 7pm on a Thursday, and there was an overabundance of servers, mostly standing around talking amongst themselves for lack of any work to do. Our starter of M&uuml;cver (YTL10), an eggplant, carrot and bulgur(?) patty somewhat reminiscent of falafel, was excellent, served with a simple salad on the side, and a delicious thick yogurt. Sarah's Manti (YTL12), meat-filled ravioli in yogurt sauce, was great. We only saw this dish at one or two other places, which is too bad, as it's very good! My Rahibe Kesesi (YTL20) was a tasty pastry packet, stuffed with peppers, lamb, raisins and the like - very tender and flavorful. One of the many included sides was a bit odd, though - mushrooms with sliced cured meat in a marinara sauce. The other sides were generally good, however. Steamed vegetables were a nice touch in this meat-heavy cuisine, but they were a tad mushy. The pilav was good, and the fried potato wedges, which had a tandoori-like barbecue seasoning, were very good. Our dessert of Kızarmış Dondurma (YTL11) was delicious, a fancy breaded and baked ice cream atop an orange slice, which was atop a brownie with sugared strawberries and jam around it. Service didn't seem quite used to semi-fine dining, but was friendly enough and got the job done. Our bill was only TYL77.50 - not bad at all, as we had a few raki!

Posts: 13
Joined: Fri May 19, 2006 11:52 pm
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Thanks for the grest post on restaurants

Post by lullah75 » Wed Oct 04, 2006 10:22 pm

I just wanted to thank you for your post. I printed it out and my friend and I used it like a Bible for our stay in Istanbul.

Posts: 13
Joined: Sat Oct 07, 2006 6:13 pm

Post by LemonLady » Sat Oct 14, 2006 12:21 am

8) Thanks for the great review on restaurants. I want to mention one spot in Sultanahmet that is super for lunch, Baran at 54 Diwan Yolu, lots of food choices, you go over and pick them out, my plate of rice, cigars, beef stew and a wonderful garlicky cacik was filling and more so, delicious, I was definitely a member of the "clean plate club". I had a fresh orange juice but beer is available. It was the aroma of food wafting onto Diwan Yolu that attraced me to this place. All this for a mere 13YTL. Also if you want to break open the piggy bank go to Kordon Fish Restaurant in Cengelkoy, a fish restaurant to rival any other in the world in a setting fit for a queen. It is said that celebrities come here (I didn't see any on the night we dined there) but it doesn't surprise me. The perfect mix of gastronomy and ambience. It's not cheap, dinners begin at 50USD but it's definitely worth the money. In Taxim I liked TaximOda, a sleek, NY style place directly across the street from the Ataturk Statue Park, lots on the menu but Mexican specialities are very good. My veggie quesadilla was dynamite. About 15YTL with my nescafe. Afiyet Olsun

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