The doner kebab is a popular dish in Turkey, and it’s easy to see why. The meat is cooked on a rotating spit, so that the outside of the meat becomes crispy while the inside remains juicy and tender. It can be served as a sandwich with vegetables or fries piled high on top, or served over rice as part of an elaborate meal. Anyone who has ever been to Istanbul knows that you can find doner kebab stands on every street corner. There is no shortage of doner kebab restaurants in the city, but which ones should you visit to find the best doner kebab in Istanbul?
In this blog post I’ll give you best doner kebab restaurants in Istanbul including the locations on map and how to get there! This list will focus mostly on restaurants which serve doner kebab sandwiches- I love these for their simplicity! Another dish made with doner is Iskender kebab and you can find it served in some of the doner kebab shops.
Whether you’re a doner kebab expert or new to the dish, scroll down for an informative list of what’s in your meal. For those who simply want to get straight into the list, click here and skip ahead!
What is doner kebab actually?
If you know how great these tasty treats are but still need some more information on all that is inside one- then read along below! A typical doner kebab has meat (usually lamb) stacked vertically around a rotating cone shaped skewer which rotates slowly with charcoal heat coming from below. The vertical stacking allows slices at different thicknesses so when cut across the middle there’s plenty of tenderness no matter where your bite falls between pieces.
The skewer is usually topped off with a slice of bread which soaks up the delicious meat juices as it rotates around for about 30 minutes until cooked through. The result is an appetizing, juicy kebab that’s been expertly prepared in front of you – not to mention very tasty! You can also find doner from street vendors which are worth trying too but be mindful they might not have all the same fresh ingredients.
Doner Kebabs come served on their own or inside flatbread called `pide`. If you’re ordering one at your favourite Turkish restaurant then this will typically come with salad leaves and parsley garnish either side of the stack while a queue of sliced tomatoes, red onion and lettuce will make a colourful display on the side.
Is doner kebab a touristy food or is it also eaten by locals?
Doner kebab is a food that many people enjoy, and it’s not only for tourists. The dish has been around since the Ottoman Empire to give its subjects sustenance on their journeys through Anatolia and was popularized in other parts of Europe by Turkish migrants starting from the 1970s.
Doner kebabs have long served as an affordable meal option throughout Turkey (and much of Central Asia) due to being easily prepared with readily available ingredients like lamb meat, tomatoes, green peppers or onions; garlic; salt and pepper; parsley leaves all marinated together before cooking over pita bread on a rotating grill-plate known as donerci which means “turning spit” while you cook them.
What is the best time of day to eat a doner kebab?
In some countries, doner kebab is often seen as a late night treat and it’s the perfect choice for those who are feeling hungry after a night of drinking.
The Turkish doner kebab has become more than just your average fast food in Turkey and is not just a quick meal. The meaty dish can now also serve as either a satisfying lunch or a fancy dinner for those who are looking to have something filling yet healthy on their plate at all times of the day… This one beef patty will never get old because it doesn’t matter when you go out craving this awesome dish; they’ll always taste amazing no matter what hour it is!
How much does a doner kebab cost?
You can find a doner kebab in Istanbul for as little as 10 TL (US$1.3), but the price will depend on what type of meat is inside. Chicken doner is usually cheaper than beef or lamb and runs about 10-20 TL, while a beef doner goes for around 20-40 TL.
Not many people know that the red meat prices in Turkey are actually not far off from other countries like United States, Europe and Australia. This is why a basic (but very good quality meat) Turkish doner kebab sandwiche generally cost around 30-40 lira.
Words you better know before ordering doner in Turkey
PORSİYON DÖNER : Plain meat is served on a plate with some bread. You will use a knife and fork!
LAVAŞ ÜSTÜ DÖNER : Plain meat is served on a plate with flatbread (lavas). This is the perfect way for making your own wrap.
PİLAV ÜSTÜ DÖNER : Plain meat is served on top of rice on a plate.
İSKENDER : Doner meat is placed on sliced pide bread topped with butter and tomato sauce. Served with yoghurt on the side.
DÜRÜM DÖNER : Doner wrap. The wrap is made from lavash or yufka flatbreads. The wrap may have tomatoes, pickles, fried potatoes, lettuce and onions inside.
KAŞARLI DÜRÜM DÖNER : Doner wrap with graded yellow cheese. The wrap may also have tomatoes, pickles, fried potatoes, lettuce and onions inside.
TOMBİK DÖNER : Meat is served in bun-shaped pide flatbread with toppings.
SANDVİÇ EKMEK DÖNER : Meat is served in sandwich bread with toppings.
What do you drink with döner kebab?
Ayran: Turkish people love to eat doner kebab with ayran, which is made from yoghurt, water and salt.
Salgam: This is an uncommon complementing drink, but if you’re feeling adventurous then we highly recommend trying this out! Salgam is usually spicy, salty and sour when prepared in the traditional way. It is made with the salty brine of sour purple carrot pickles. There are also some spices that give it a strong flavor.
Want to order a coke or another soft drink with your doner? That’s ok :)
List of restaurants for best doner kebab in Istanbul
1. Dönerci Şahin Usta at Grand Bazaar
Dönerci Şahin Usta is a place whose name is often mentioned when people are asking where to eat the best döner in Istanbul.
The scent of spices, the hustle and bustle of people going about their daily lives on every corner of Grand Bazaar. That is what you will find in walking through old Istanbul’s streets with Dönerci Şahin Usta as your destination–a place where good food awaits to satisfy your hunger for a mouth-watering meal while also giving joys that come from being immersed in such an historic setting.
If you’re looking for a place that offers an extensive menu, this isn’t it. But if all you want is to chow down on some doner kebab meat or pide bread with your hands and wash it down with a soft drink , then you’ve found just the spot!
The first time I walked into donerci Sahin Usta, my jaw dropped at their simplicity – there was no such thing as a “menu” here. You see they only offer one product: doner kebabs served either inside of fresh baked flatbread called pides or without one just the meat and the seasoning. There is no place to sit, table or service. One queues in front of it and then takes one’s order after which they can eat standing up.
When you order your food they ask if you want onions or tomatoes on top! My humble opinion would be that there should not be an onion because it has such a strong taste and can steal some of the flavors from this meat dish.
As of May 2021, doner-pide is 40 TL (US$5). Is it expensive? Yes. But trust me when I say that this meaty meal will be worth every penny!
Is Donerci Sahin Usta closed or too full? Try these local tasty food shops nearby:
-Nusr-Et Steakhouse Sandal Bedesteni (famous saltbae Nusret Gökçe branch)
-Tarihi Kapalı Çarsı Day Day Pastanesi (local bakery with mostly sweets)
-Meşhur Dönerci Hacı Osman’ın Yeri (alternative kebab restaurant)
2. Metet Közde Döner in Kuzguncuk
This restaurant in Kuzguncuk is one of the best places to get a delicious doner kebab. You will love this place because they have all sorts of mouth-watering meat dishes and it’s located on an adorable street that reminds you more than anything else why Istanbul is such a magical city.
After ordering at Metet Doner located in Kuzguncuk, salad and yogurt are served as a treat. I was absolutely floored by the taste of their doner kebabs- they were truly out of this world! The restaurant isn’t very luxurious – it’s not too big, but you will enjoy your visit there immensely if all you’re looking for is good food. Plus, the friendly waiters make sure that everyone who walks through those doors feel welcome; whether or not your path passes through Kuzguncuk on any given day doesn’t matter because once you try one bite from Metet Doner you’ll want to come back day after day.
After a tasty lunch at Metet Doner, before you hop back on the ferry and leave the neighborhood behind, do not forget to explore Kuzguncuk’s historic streets. A quick walk down these cobbled lanes will transport you back in time and make your stomach grumble for more food!
Locals favourite cafe in the area, The Cinaralti Cafe has a very welcoming atmosphere with its historic roots. They have plenty of seating and you can rest under the shade of the famous huge plane tree while drinking your Turkish Coffee or Tea (Cay).
Is Metet Doner closed or too full? Try these local tasty food shops nearby:
-Asude Ev Yemekleri (Turkish home-made food)
-Kuzguncuk Balıkçısı (seafood restaurant)
-Kuzguncuk Cinaralti Cafe (relaxed cafe with tasty breakfast & fast food)
3. Karadeniz Döner Asım Usta in Besiktas
For one of the best doner sandwich in Istanbul, visit Asım Usta. This old-school shop has been serving delicious Black Sea style meat for over 50 years and is always crowded with locals looking to get their hands on one of these tasty sandwiches before they’re gone!
The queue outside the restaurant is like a rite of passage. Nearly every day, you’ll see eager patrons clutching their stomachs and rubbing their hands together with that hungry look in your eye as they wait for hours on end to get inside and order up some doner kebabs made from 100 kg lamb or veal meat hung fresh each morning!
The meat is so good and fresh. The owner, Asım Usta has been maintaining the same quality for years in this tiny shop in Beşiktaş, Istanbul. He spends four hours a day choosing only top-quality veal to create his signature döner kebab sandwich with all of its nuances: cutting it just right, marinating it correctly using yogurt, salt and pepper before grilling on oven until juicy perfection!
Besiktas neighborhood also offers an interesting waterfront suburb with local streets that are worth exploring if you have some extra time on your hands during your stay!
Is Karadeniz Döner Asım Usta closed or too full? Try these local tasty food shops nearby:
-Midyeci Ahmet (stuffed & fried mussels)
-Sinop Mantı (Turkish ravioli)
-Ist Too (Shangri-La restaurant, smart casual dress code)
4. Zümrüt Büfe in Eminonu
As a tourist exploring Istanbul, one of the most rewarding experiences is journeying to Eminonu’s Spice Bazaar. When you arrive in this enchanting destination and take in the sights, it becomes clear that your time travel will be incomplete before exploring the backstreets. In one of those charming little streets not so far away from Spice Market is Zumrut bufe–a great shop where you can enjoy a delicous doner kebab!
Zümrüt Bufe was established in 1961. Tahtakale craftsmen and connoisseurs know that it’s received a lot of appreciation and is one preferred place for people to eat at. It has the name “Buffet” but not like other buffets you might be thinking about because they only serve doner kebabs here- nothing else can come out from their kitchen!
Locals love Zumrut Bufe because it’s one of the best restaurants in Istanbul for doner. You can have your meal with mashed potatoes on the side, and most customers opt to get a wrap instead of just eating off their plate.
You will not want to miss this little kebab shop if you are around the spice market feeling hungry!
Is Zümrüt Büfe closed or too full? Try these local tasty food shops nearby:
-Bizim Lokanta (traditional Turkish restaurant with many food options)
-Kral Kokoreç Sirkeci (grilled lamb intestine sandwich)
-Lezzet-i Şark Antep Sofrası (kebab restaurant with adana kebab, lamb shish kebab, Çöp şiş)
5. Dönerci Engin’in Yeri near Galata Tower
It’s not easy to stumble upon a good doner kebab place in Istanbul with affordable and quality meat. Especially most of the buffets are bad as they make it from ready-made and frozen meat.
The secret to a good doner is simple: You will choose the best meat. Its oil and salt will be in place. You’ll cook it on wood fire, but do not burn! And finally all that’s left of this delicious delicacy is for taste buds to decide what they like most with toppings- as there are no rules when it comes down to those preferences!
I hope you’ll love this restaurant, because they are doing everything right as I explained above.
Tail fat is the secret ingredient in this delicious kebab (actually it is the secret ingredient for many of the kebabs on this list). You can even tell by looking at it, with its wonderful glossy sheen and crackling crisp skin – that’s due to a lot of time spent being cooked over open flame, not cooked on gas ovens like most fast-food places do! The meat tastes great too; seasoned perfectly so you know it won’t be bland or dry when you bite into your sandwich.
This doner kebab has salt, black pepper, allspice, and just enough cinnamon mixed into the meaty mixture to make it taste great without being too spicy for those who prefer mild food. You can order your doner kebab on a plate–they’re typically served like that at Dönerci Engin’in Yeri, rather than wrapped up like they would be at home; however you can still get them by bread if desired or needed! Bon appetit!
Is Dönerci Engin’in Yeri closed or too full? Try these local tasty food shops nearby:
-Mahkeme Lokantasi (traditional Turkish restaurant with many food options)
-Köşkeroğlu Karaköy (pide & kebap restaurant)
6. Kasap Osman in Sirkeci
Kasap Osman has been a favorite among locals for years in Sirkeci, Istanbul. It is located on Hocapaşa Street, which houses some of the most popular restaurants around. The diverse menu includes great Turkish dishes such as pide, meatballs and cag kebab that will make your mouth water just reading about them!
Pide, meatballs, cag kebab and lahmacun are just a few of the delicious Turkish dishes you can try at this eatery.
One of the best doner kebab in Istanbul is also served up here and it is very close to Sultanahmet hotels district. If you’re staying at a hotel near Eminonu, or Sultanahmet your location is very accessible and should be reachable within 20 minutes!
Is Kasap Osman closed or too full? Try these local tasty food shops nearby:
-Şehzade Cağ Kebap (cag kebap is a variety of Turkish kebap)
-Meşhur Filibe Köftecisi (serving kofte meatballs)
-Bitlisli (lahmacun, pide and adana kebab)
7. Dönerci Celal Usta in Sirkeci
Dönerci Celal Usta was a stop recommended by many people, and I went when I first had the opportunity. When you find out that they serve doner, iskender, lamb şiş kebab, chicken kebab, beyti kebab, lamb chops and rice pudding in one restaurant it’s an easy decision to go back again later.
I was pleasantly surprised by the delicious doner meat I ordered on on my first visit. It’s flavorful and well-cooked, unlike other places that serve their meat dry instead of juicy or burnt to a crisp.
Complimentary, small, crisp pickles will be a refreshing delight to munch on while you wait for the doner kebab platter that is sure to come.
When I was on my second visit, I ordered Iskender after a long wait. When it came out the plate looked amazing and when you tried it-it tasted even better! They make their own pita bread which is really good with meat that tastes delicious! The doner from yesterday had already impressed me but this one surpassed the former.
The Dönerci Celal Usta is a true gem for those who want to have an authentic taste of Turkey, you should stop by right away! They serve one of the best doner kebab in Istanbul in the heart of the city – Sirkeci.
Is Dönerci Celal Usta closed or too full? Try these local tasty food shops nearby:
-Şehzade Cağ Kebap (cag kebap is a variety of Turkish kebap)
-Meşhur Filibe Köftecisi (serving kofte meatballs)
-Bitlisli (lahmacun, pide and adana kebab)
8. Sedef Büfe in Sultanahmet
Sedef Bufe is a well-established, family run doner kebab place in the heart of Istanbul’s tourist district. It has been operating for decades and its signature dish combines modern Turkish cuisine with classical Ottoman flavors to create hearty plates that are perfect after a morning exploring Sultanahmet or Topkapi Palace – visit this hidden gem for lunch!
You can have a doner as either a wrap or sandwich for lunch, but I would recommend ordering it on the plate. The sliced meat of this delicacy is served with some chips and fresh vegetables to create an yummy meal that will satisfy your hunger in no time flat!
Is Sedef Büfe closed or too full? Try these local tasty food shops nearby:
-Tarihi Sultanahmet Köftecisi Selim Usta (Turkish kofte meatballs)
-Fuego Cafe & Restaurant (modern Turkish cafe)
-Matbah Restaurant (kebap restaurant in historic building)