I am always searching for authentic Turkish restaurants that will impress visiting guests, appeal to diverse culinary tastes and offer a unique dining experience. I must admit: when we go out to dinner, we rarely go out to Turkish meals. We seek out Japanese, Thai, Italian and other unique flavors, simply because we are lucky enough to taste a variety of different Turkish foods on a regular basis. Thus, the conundrum Where do you take guests who are visiting Istanbul and want to eat Turkish, and only Turkish food. Here are my recommendations:
Also located in Taksim, this restaurant is down Bekar Sokak at the top of Istiklal, 5 minutes from Taksim Square. It is famous among Istanbullians, foodies and sadly, it is probably in every major guide book by now. The Ocakbasi refers to the traditional grills that kebaps are prepared upon. Immediately upon walking inside, you will see (and smell) their large grill, and notice the photos on the wall which showcase all of their famous patrons. This place has a very special place in my heart because it is where we brought our two families together before our wedding. The service is spectacular. The environment is lively. Everything on the menu is fresh. And, every bite melts in your mouth. Be prepared to splurge a little bit to truly experience this place. It is best to come here with a large crowd. Select at least 6 of the appetizers from the appetizer plate. Order a big bottle of Raki. Drink and be merry! Be sure to make reservations or go early…
Located in Kadikoy, this restaurant has become the gem of the Turkish culinary scene. It was founded by a chef who wanted to reintroduce Turkish cuisine to the world, and show the diversity of ingredients and flavors that exist within Turkey’s borders. There are numerous things that make this restaurant unique. I will share 4 of them with you. First, there is a buffet of various Turkish appetizers. You will be given a plate and you can (and should) fill your plate with each and every dish. The plate is weighed to determine the price. Secondly, the menu is comprehensive and informative. Next to each item, you will find the city it originated from. It is wonderful to see the diversity and learn about regional specialties we rarely get to experience in Istanbul. Thirdly, the walnut dessert (Ceviz Tatlisi) is the most incredible and indulgent thing I have ever eaten. Be prepared for your mouth to water. Finally, Ciya is located in Kadikoy, a lively neighborhood on the Asian side. Come early to walk along the waterfront, explore its lively food market and to sip coffee at any one of its cafes. You will observe a young, hip and liberal crowd that call Kadikoy home. After dinner, stop for a beer and sit outside for some excellent people-watching.
Asmali Cavit has the best Turkish mezes (appetizers) in the city. Each and every dish is fresh and flavorful. The waiters are friendly and helpful. The atmosphere is lively and warm. It is the perfect place to go if you are looking for a traditional Turkish restaurant with GREAT food. You will start by being summoned to the display case, where you will select the cold appetizers that appeal to you. Once you select them, they will be brought to your table in small plates. I predict you will quickly devour them and want more. Next, move on to the hot appetizers. I recommend the borek and some fried hamsi (small fish). If you still have room, tackle the menu. Oh, and do not attempt to drink anything but Raki for this meal.