The Turkish food scene is hotter than ever. So much so that the people from Michelin have announced that the first-ever Michelin Guide to Istanbul will be published next month.
Michelin’s selection will be unveiled on October 11. But, if you’re hungry in the meantime, here are seven sizzling hot Istanbul restaurants to check out now.
One of the hottest trends among Istanbul’s chefs is to take traditional Turkish recipes and reimagine them with a contemporary twist. Nobody does this better than Fatih Tutak. A charismatic young chef, Tutak is just as comfortable creating a haute-cuisine take on the classic döner kebab as he is crafting delicate dishes of red shrimp from Saros Bay and combining them with seaweed cream, isot (Turkish chili) and black Turkish caviar. No wonder, then, that his TURK is one of the hottest tickets in town.
Few restaurants in Istanbul have been blessed with a location more enviable or a chef more creative than Neolokal. Chef Maksut Aşkar’s creations are bold and contemporary, yet deeply rooted in Turkish tradition. He describes his mission as being a bridge between the old and the new, presenting dishes from the past in a modern way. Make sure you arrive early enough to enjoy an aperitif—or a carefully selected vintage from the extensive Turkish wine list—while watching the sun set over the Old City.
This hip restaurant with its post-industrial decor represents much of what we love about Istanbul. Sophisticated, yet affordable, trendy, yet welcoming, traditional, yet contemporary, Aheste’s chef Sara Tabrizi has taken classic Turkish/Mediterranean mezes (or sharing plates) and given them a modern makeover. Order the tasting menu to explore the full range of her talents—from the lamb’s neck with figs and eggplant purée, to the vine leaves with cashew cream and the dudi Persian rice.
Local favorite Yeni Lokanta is a no-frills spot delivering superb service and what Chef Civan Er calls traditional Turkish cuisine with a twist. Sourcing local, seasonal ingredients from across the country, Er combines old-school cooking techniques with his own unique approach. Popular dishes include the “çiğ köfte tartare”, a take on the traditional raw meat çiğ köfte, and “yeni mantı”, an interpretation of Anatolian mantı dumplings. There’s also a second outpost in London, appropriately named Yeni (“new” in Turkish).
Situated in the elegant waterfront district of Kuruçeşme, Alaf is the brainchild of pioneering chef Deniz Temel. Giving free rein to his innovative spirit, the menu is inspired by the terroirs of Turkey. Temel’s family is descended from the Yörüks, a nomadic ethnic subgroup, and his ingredients often hark back to his home region in the Turkish Mediterranean, mixed with produce from across the country. Don’t miss the selection of Anatolian cheeses, the seasonal artichokes served Aegean style, or the sardines from the Dardanelles Strait.
Set on the rooftop of The Marmara Pera hotel, Mikla is stylish with a funky retro décor and views across the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace. If the setting alone makes it worth a visit, the food is an even bigger draw. Turkish-Swedish chef-owner Mehmet Gürs’ sources his ingredients carefully and treats them with the utmost respect. His dishes include the cured bonito served with almond milk, and okra, and the tasty mantı dumplings, filled with slow-cooked lamb shank and topped with roasted tomatoes and raw buffalo-milk yogurt.
Since Istanbul’s classic Bebek Hotel reopened as part of Turkish hotel group The Stay in 2018, its eye-popping waterfront terrace has become quite the late-night hot spot. And while the dinner menu is nothing short of excellent, the morning is when the real magic happens. Turkish breakfast is famous the world over but few can rival the magnificent spread set out by Chef Demir Ozkal at the Bebek Terrace Restaurant. Add a fresh breeze off the Bosphorus and some of the best views in the city, and you know you’re onto a winner.