Where To Eat in Istanbul: Where East Meets West You Can Dine Like A Sultan or Snack on Street Food

Discover where to eat in Istanbul, Turkiye with this in-depth guide to the culinary backstreets and epic restaurants of Istanbul.

Where to eat in Istanbul

Where in the world can you enjoy breakfast in Europe, lunch in Asia, and enjoy a dinner cruise on the Bosphorus Strait afterward?

Discovering where to eat in Istanbul, Turkiye (formerly known as Turkey, this country changed its name in 2021) is an adventure. The city, once known as Constantinople was the capital of the Byzantine and then Ottoman Empires. It’s a destination that boasts a plethora of architectural marvels from elegant mosques and risque harems to buzzing bazaars.

The hub of food in Turkiye is Istanbul, a sprawling city of unique neighborhoods and cultural contrasts. Girls sporting mini-skirts stroll the streets arm in arm with hijab-clad friends. Whirling dervishes spin and meditate in universal harmony while folks party ‘til dawn at the clubs on trendy Istiklal Street.

Whether you want to splurge like a sultan or snack on street food, in Istanbul your choices are vast.

As the locals say, “Hadi gidelim” (let’s go)!

Culinary Backstreets Tour

Baklava food in stanbul
Baklava in Istanbul – Photo credit: Anita Draycott – Photo credit: Anita Draycott

To begin our tour of the best places to eat in Istanbul, My group and I met our guide, Benoit, for the Two Markets; Two Continents tour at the Galata Bridge in the trendy Karakoy neighborhood.

Our tour began with a traditional Turkish breakfast, a spread of tomatoes, cucumber, cheeses, salted yogurt, jams, honey, simit (Turkiye’s answer to the bagel), and the ubiquitous little glass cup of hot black tea. (Turkiye may be famous for its strong coffee, but tea is even more popular with locals).

Turkiye is one of the few countries in the world that sits on two different continental plates. Our moveable feast of food in Istanbul covered both the European and Asian sides of the city via a ferry ride across the
Bosphorus Strait.

During our tour of Istanbul food, we enjoyed a smorgasbord of tastes at places I would never have found on my own. I learned about Turkish coffee (never stir it), Baklava (the real stuff isn’t made with honey), flatbreads, kebabs, manti, and much more.

Food in Istanbul was a rich stew of Turkish history and diversified dishes. We also learned about the meaning behind the city’s “evil eyes” and how to find a convenience store that sells alcohol.

Our Istanbul food tour ended with samples of Turkish Delight at the shop where it was invented by the confectioner at the Royal Palace during the Ottoman Empire.  Come hungry.

Want to experience the best places to eat in Istanbul through this tour? You can check it out here.

Turkish Viagra and the Spices of Life

Istanbul Spice Market-Places to Eat
Istanbul spice market – Photo credit: Anita Draycott

Enter the vaulted 17th-century Spice Market (also known as the Egyptian Bazaar) and your nose will be assaulted by the heady aromas of exotic spices, tea mixtures, nuts, perfumes, and more.

When it comes to where to eat in Istanbul, the spice market is a goldmine. Where to start? I suggest the Hayfene stall where owner Ahmet will demonstrate how to identify top-grade saffron and give you a sample of some of his spice mixtures. Martha Stewart is a fan of the place.

At Kalmaz Baharat, located in the market’s side wing, you can buy an aphrodisiac dubbed Turkish Viagra. Mesir macunu, made from over 40 different ingredients, is a sweet toffee paste regularly used as a tonic in Turkiye. It’s renowned for its aphrodisiac effects on both women and men.

For lunch, climb the tiled stairs to Pandeli restaurant for fine Turkish-Ottoman dishes. This Istanbul “institution” has been serving politicians and celebrities for more than 100 years, including Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founding father of the Turkish Republic, Audrey Hepburn, Sean Connery, and Sarah Jessica Parker.

Try the eggplant pie or slow-stewed lamb and finish with a uniquely Turkish dessert of caramelized pudding made with chicken breast. No kidding.

Istanbul Street Food 101

Istanbul ice cream show places to eat in Istanbul
Istanbul ice cream show – Photo credit: Anita Draycott

The variety of cheap street food in Istanbul that you can buy from various peddlers, stalls, and carts all around town is remarkable. You can identify the licensed food sellers by their certification numbers displayed on their carts or stands.

Köfte ekmek (sometimes called “Kofta”) are grilled spicy meatballs served on bread with fresh sliced tomatoes, onions, parsley, and grilled green peppers. It’s a similar dish to the Kofte that Flavor the Globe founder Kevin Wagar dined on while exploring the food in Morocco. You can find our traditional Turkish beef Kofta recipe here.

Balık ekmek is a sandwich of grilled mackerel, fresh lettuce, and onions with a squeeze of lemon. Be careful of the bones!

Wet burgers consist of beef patties and soft white buns flavored with a garlic/tomato sauce and steamed in a box.

Not for the faint of heart are kokoreç, finely chopped grilled sheep intestines mixed with oregano, red pepper salt, and sometimes tomato. This and many other dishes are served with traditional Turkish pide bread, a crisp and fluffy favorite found throughout the country.

If you’re on the prowl for some late-night street food, head to Midyeci Ahmet, for fresh mussels stuffed with spicy rice and a squeeze of lemon juice. Istanbul has several branches; most are open until about 4:00 a.m.

Turkiye’s most popular street food has to be the doner kebab.  Made of lamb, beef, or chicken that is slowly roasted on a rotating vertical skewer, the meat is wrapped in a pita and topped with veggies, including tomato, lettuce, cabbage, onion with sumac, fresh or pickled cucumber and various types of sauces.

Turkish ice cream, made with goat milk and a dash of wild orchid root has a chewier texture than American ice cream or Italian gelato. At Maras Dovne Dondurmasi stalls all over town pick your flavor and be entertained as the vendors play tricks with the scoops of dondurma and their customers.

More Things To Do in Istanbul for Foodies

Every amazing foodie destination is replete with magical experiences that bring together culture, architecture, and people with the food that brings it all to life. If you’re exploring where to eat in Istanbul, there are a few things you shouldn’t miss along the way.

Gorge On The Views Amidst Istanbul Palaces and Mosques

Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkiye
Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkiye

Immerse yourself in Istanbul’s fascinating architecture starting in Sultanahmet Park where vendors sell simits, roasted corn, and chestnuts, kids play tag under the palm trees, women in veils mingle with men in suits and tourists snap selfies.

You are at the crossroads of the world and just steps from a modern tram stop. At one end of the square is the peachy-colored Hagia Sophia, once the greatest Christian church in the world; now a mosque.

Behind it sits the sprawling Topkapi Palace, the fabled home to Ottoman sultans and their harems. The dagger set with three whopper emeralds and diamonds in the Treasury is but one example of the staggering wealth of the sultans.

Nearby is the eerily beautiful Basilica Cistern, a vast underground reservoir lined with columns where colored lights are projected. At the far end of the square stands the imposing Blue Mosque, famous for its six minaret and blue tiles. You are standing in the middle of the 2,000-year-old saga of Istanbul. (Note: for entry into all mosques knees and shoulders must be covered and women should wear a headscarf. Shoes must also be removed prior to entry.)

Taste Your Way Through the Grand Bazaar

Teas and spices at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul for foodies
Teas and spices at the Grand Bazaar – Photo credit: Anita Draycott

Sultan Mehmet II ordered the Grand Bazaar to be built in 1461. This labyrinth of shops and pushy vendors is the world’s oldest mall that bustled during Byzantine times, and Ottoman eras and still thrives today with more than 4,000 shops.

The jewelry store windows are blinding, the carpets shops beguiling and the plethora of fake designer bags and scarves overwhelming. Take a deep breath and be prepared to get lost for a few hours. At Havuzlu Restaurant, which opened in 1959, you’ll find traditional Turkish and Ottoman fare such as lentil soup, stuffed peppers, and a dizzying array of mezes (appetizers).

Explore the Coffee Labs, A New Generation of Coffee

Istanbul coffee labs
Istanbul coffee labs

I must confess I am no fan of traditional thick Turkish coffee. I am an expresso girl. Thankfully, one can find Coffee Labs all over Istanbul. This new-generation coffee is served up in every way-from traditional cappuccinos to caramel lattes. Herbal teas, frappes, and myriad other drink options make Starbucks look bland.

Coffee Labs also serve tempting homemade pastries and sandwiches.

The Best Hotels In Istanbul For Food-Lovers

Enjoying a magical tour of where to eat in Istanbul is exhausting work. To make the most of your culinary journey through the city, these incredible Istanbul hotels are a dream for food lovers in the city.

Sip on High Tea at the Pera Palace

Ceiling at Pera Palace Istanbul hotel for foodies
Ceiling at Pera Palace Istanbul hotel – Photo credit: Pera Palace

By the late 19th-Century luxury train rides from Western Europe to Istanbul on the Orient Express were all the rage. The Pera Palace Hotel was built in 1892 to provide train travelers with the posh amenities they expected.

Pera was the first hotel in the Ottoman Empire to have electricity. Another incredible claim to fame is that Agatha Christie is said to have written Murder on the Orient Express here.

Enjoy high tea in the Michelin-rated Kubelli Lounge during the afternoon from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. Turkiye, believe it or not, is the world’s largest tea consumer per capita. Sip a perfectly brewed cup of Earl Gray and nibble on smoked salmon sandwiches and other savories. Scones, tarts, macarons, and more will satisfy those with a sweet tooth.

For your musical enjoyment, the pianist at Pera Palace takes requests. You can also enjoy a night (or more) at the Pera Palace. You can check out their rates and availability here.

Enjoy A Michelin-Starred Fairmont Experience

Recognized as the “Best Luxury Contemporary Hotel” in the Globe by World Luxury Hotel Awards 2022, Fairmont Quasar Istanbul provides a sophisticated haven from Istanbul’s maddening crowds. Its Aila restaurant made the first edition of the Michelin Guide Istanbul 2023.

Sip a raki after dinner. This national drink of Turkey, also known as Lion’s Milk, is a twice-distilled grape brandy laced with aniseed (similar in taste to ouzo). The hotel’s concierge has an encyclopedic knowledge of his city and its culinary finds. Allow plenty of time to graze at the hotel’s bountiful breakfast buffet.

You can find their current rates and availability here.

Discover The Best Places To Eat In Istanbul For Yourself

Exploring the multi-faceted cuisine in Istanbul, Turkiye, is an incredible experience. This world-class city will delight food lovers. Discovering where to eat in Istanbul is just the beginning of countless thrilling adventures from magical sites to coastal delights. 

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