Straddling both Europe and Asia, Istanbul truly is a city where east meets west, and where there’s a cultural melting pot, good food is not hard to find. It’s Turkey, so of course there are kebabs, lahmacun and pide aplenty but there are other, less well-known specialities of Istanbul that you absolutely cannot miss. We’ve rounded up our fave places to eat in the city and have got a couple of in-the-know chefs to share their hot spots, so you can be sure you’re hitting the best of best on your next Istanbul adventure.


Hodan is a modern Turkish restaurant in the atmospheric Beyoglu neighbourhood of Istanbul. The restaurant is in a beautiful space, in the garden of an old classical building, and serves up fresh, modern takes on Turkish cuisine from all regions. The menu is in a small plates format, which makes a welcome change from huge dishes of meat! They also do a great Sunday brunch. 

Şehzade Cağ Kebap

So many kebabs to eat, so little time – it’s a common dilemma for any visitor to Istanbul. One of our favourites is a more unusual style – the Cag Kebap – which is thinly sliced lamb (but not as thin as Doner) that’s been horizontally spit roasted over charcoal. At legendary spot Şehzade Cağ Kebap, the juicy skewers are simply served with salad and a flat bread to tear up and make the perfect bite with – we’d recommend getting the ezme salad too. If you feel like you only have it in you for one or two kebabs, make sure this place is one of your spots. 

Lokal Kokoreç

Even if offal is something you normally avoid, you have to try kokoreç when in Istanbul. It’s a mix of sheep intestines rolled together and cooked over charcoal, which is then finely chopped and served in a roll or wrap. A great place to try it is the slightly hipster spot Lokal Kokoreç, which does a perfect kokoreç wrap that comes with lovely homemade pickles, as well as kofte that’s well worth a try.

Asmalı Cavit

Going to a meyhane is another must when eating out in Istanbul. These traditional, casual restaurants serve up a mix of meze, wine and raki and often include live music too. We loved Asmalı Cavit, a very old-school spot in Beyoglu. Any meal will begin with picking cold meze from a tray that’s bought around before moving on to hot meze or larger dishes. We especially loved the dips and Black Sea anchovies. They will also make you other dishes that aren’t on the menu if they can – we got them to rustle up a fresh tomato and onion salad just for us.

Halil Lahmacun

Taking a boat trip to over to the Asian side of Istanbul is on the hit list for most visitors, and it’s worth doing it just to visit Halil Lahmacun – this place serves the best lahmacun in town! After we’d had one, we immediately ordered two more, it’s that good. There is a spicy version, which is worth trying, but we actually reckon the regular is the best. Do not miss the incredible kunefe either. 


Combine your visit to Halil with a stop at Kizikayalar. Here you can get a wet burger – that’s kofte and tomato sauce in a soft bun soaked in doner fat juices. YES it’s as goods it sounds. 

Iskender Kebab

This family-run joint was founded in Bursa in 1867 and it’s still in the same family to this day, now run by Oğuzhan İskenderoğlu. They now have a smart new restaurant in Istanbul and it’s the place to go for an ALL OUT kebab feast. We’re talking a huge plate of bread topped with yoghurt, doner meat, tomato sauce and butter. Yep, this whole thing is topped with lashings of burnt butter. Enjoy – just don’t tell your doctor….

Chef’s Tips

Oğuzhan İskenderoğlu is the chef and owner of Iskender Kebab. We enjoyed Iskender so much, we asked Oğuzhan to give us some of us his favourite Istanbul spots.


Tatbak is a kebab restaurant in the posh neighbourhood of Nişantaşı that’s been there since 1960 and attracts a well-heeled crowd thanks to its location and beautiful, polished interiors. The spicy lahmacun and shepherds salads are must-orders, but pretty much everything on the menu is good.


Located above the famous spice market, Pandeli has been open since 1955. It’s a beautiful space with blue tiled walls and serves solid traditional Turkish fare. Though it should be a tourist trap, it’s anything but and the consistency of dishes and atmosphere mean locals still frequent the institution. The anchovy rice and eggplant pie topped with doner are favourites. 

Ciya Sofrası 

Famous for appearing on Netflix’s Chef’s Table, Ciya Sofrasi was opened in 1998 by chef Musa Dağdeviren. In a bid to keep recipes from the country alive, he serves authentic traditional dishes from all over Turkey in a casual restaurant located on the Asian side of the city. The dishes served in huge metal pots alongside a buffet of cold mezze that changes daily – don’t miss the mother and daughter soup if it’s on offer.

Selin Kiazim is the incredible chef behind hip Turkish eatery Oklava in London and also knows Istanbul like the back of her hand. Here’s three of Selin’s favourite places to eat in the city. 

Haçapuri Pide

A one-stop shop for all things pide, including the incredible cheese and egg version. Expect to wait a little while as the pides are made to order here and all come with a small slab of butter for rubbing on the pastry too. 

Zübeyir Ocakbaşi

One of the best ocakbaşi grill restaurants in the city and a great atmosphere too. Bag a seat around the grill if you can bear the smoke – though it’s Turkey so you need to get used to it – and watch the grill master in action. 

Lades Menemen

Come for the breakfast to try the traditional menemen – egg, pepper & tomato scramble or the fried eggs topped with pastirma served with big chunks of fresh bread, and the clotted cream and honey. It’s a super local spot, so expect no frills but great food at reasonable prices.