Types of Turkish Restaurants In Istanbul

Types of Turkish Restaurants In Istanbul

April 21, 2014
  • Safa Meyhanesi | Photo by Elif Savari Kızıl
  • Karaköy Lokantası | Photo by Elif Savari Kızıl
  • Hünkar Etiler
  • Ali Haliç
  • meze by lemon tree
  • 6/6

As part of our Turkish food special in the March/April 2014 issue of our magazine, we took a look at Turkish food beginning with it's history, before moving on to regional cuisine. In this section we looked at particularly Turkish-style eateries that we’ve classified below, and selected a few of our favorites from each category.


These establishments are held dear to the hearts of many locals. They are places for long conversations and heart-to-hearts.  Glasses of rakı are raised ‘to honor’ (şerefe) meaning that whatever is said at the meyhane table, stays at the meyhane table. Traditionally a range of cold starters, hot starters, a main of fish or meat are chosen, followed by a simple dessert. Set menus are often available and include unlimited drinks. The aniseed drink, rakı, is pretty much the only beverage consumed, and often the atmosphere is sometimes enlivened by roving musicians playing traditional fasıl music



Walking into Safa Meyhanesi, one of the oldest in Istanbul, is a little like stepping back in time. Despite an unassuming facade, the inside is wonderfully grand but in a modest manner, and the very air is nostalgic.


Regarded not only for its endless flow of rakı but also for its delicious mezes, Asmalı Cavit is a typical meyhane offering good service, great food, and a friendly atmosphere.


Made famous by the Turkish TV series ‘Ikinci Bahar,’ (Second Spring), Ali Haydar’s earnest warmth is complemented by tender kebabs cooked on the ocakbaşı and expertly made fresh meze dishes.



Meze by Lemon Tree’s forte lies in the imaginative meze spread, which changes on a regular basis as well as fresh fish and made to order salads.


MaNa is a modern meyhane serving a classic Turkish kitchen lunch menu, and meyhane style dinner menu with a rakı list of more than thirty options.


Fish Restaurants

With the Black Sea to the North, the Marmara to the South, and the Bosphorus both dividing and defining the city, fish has   become a firm fixture in the diet of Istanbullites. Fish restaurants are often equipped with the luxury of a Bosphorus view. Traditionally fish is selected from the counter, then fried, grilled, or baked in paper according to preference. A tray of seasonal meze is also brought to the table, with rakı as the drink of choice.


Balıkçı Sabahattin is a family-run restaurant housed in a wonderfully restored Ottoman mansion, serving a delicious   range of cold and warm starters, salads, and fish, to be rounded off with light desserts and drinks.


One of the top locations for seafood in the city, Kıyı serves an excellent selection of seafood based appetizers and some of the best-cooked fish in the city. It has a cozy interior with paintings by local artists on the walls and an outside terrace.


On the Asian side, Suna’nın Yeri is a humble seafood restaurant that is very popular for its great food, wonderful views right by the water, moderate prices, and casual atmosphere.


Kebab Restaurants

We may have begun this article hoping to introduce visitors to the wealth of Turkish cuisine, and show that there is more than just kebabs, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the hype.


Hamdi one of Istanbul’s premier kebab restaurants, with a menu of 17 different varieties of kebab, in addition to various meze (cold appetizers) and desserts.


Established in 1912 and serving Southeastern Anatolian cuisine, the original Develi is located in Samatya. Specialties include simit kebab made with fine bulgur and mixed spices, an Antep dish, Ali Nazik and kebab made with keme, the Antep word for truffles.


The Günaydın chain of meat focused restaurants have perfected the art of cooking meat in various forms including an impressive 21 varieties of shish, fillet, cutlet, rib, or wing cuts.


Focusing in Antep cuisine, everything on ZerafEt’s menu is a specialty in its own right, from the salads to the grand kebab dishes.


At Şeyhmuz, all meat is prepared to order with a special method of mincing via a zırh, a double-handled rounded knife. The kebab, mixed with herbs and spices, arrives with an array of cold and warm starters.



Also a type of kebab restaurant, these are defined by the existence of a large open grill, called ocakbaşı, meaning ‘head of the hearth,’ and if you have the opportunity to take a seat beside the grill, do. You’ll get to watch a master at work and usually be the recipient of all kinds of extra scraps of perfectly cooked meat.



Adana Ocakbaşı serves traditional dishes from the Adana region including Adana Kebab and Urfa Kebab and many other meat centered delicacies. This is also the place for offal, including uykuluk (lamb sweetbread), böbrek (kidney), yürek (heart) and ciğer (liver).


Zübeyir Ocakbaşı, serves traditional ocakbaşı fare, specializing in grilled meats including several kinds of şiş as well as other kebabs (Adana, Urfa, Beyti) in addition to a selection of meze. Since the restaurant gets very crowded on weekends, a visit during the week is recommended.



The kebab at Ali Ocakbaşı is some of the lightest meat you will taste in the city. Accompanied by paper-thin lavaş and salad, lamb and chicken kebabs, and meze all arrive fresh.


Esnaf Lokantası

Literally translated as ‘tradesmen restaurant’ these no-frills eateries are the backbone of every Turkish neighborhood. Serving  hearty home-style food in a cafeteria style setting, this is where locals go to enjoy a meal that reminds them of their mother’s cooking.



Mutfak Dili, is a small but charming restaurant where the home cooked Turkish meals are prepared by the skilled and loving hands of Hayguhi Hanım and change everyday according to seasonal ingredients.


Aslan is a modest sized tradesman’s restaurant which is located steps away from the Grand Bazaar has been serving food since 1988. Located on the 2nd floor of a commercial building, overlooking the Grand Bazaar, it offers a welcome


Kanaat has the typically large portions and cheap prices of most esnaf restaurants with the added perk of high-quality food.



Although Istanbul is filled with these restaurants, the emerging trend is an update on the classic with a more modern décor while maintaining the quality of food and reasonable prices.


Founded in 1950 and owned and managed by the Ügümü family, Hünkar is an upscale version of a classic tradesman restaurant that specializes in home-style Turkish and Ottoman cuisine.


What sets Karaköy Lokantası apart from the regular esnaf is the upscale interior, as well as the fact that the food is lighter, alcohol is served, and that you can sip your espresso after lunch. In the evenings, it transforms into a modern meyhane.


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