It is impossible to visit Istanbul without tasting the most classic flavours of traditional Turkish and Ottoman Cuisine during your stay at some of the best local Istanbul restaurants.
But, what are traditional Turkish dishes and where do locals savour the delicious flavours of their homeland? That’s easy if you know where to go! In order to feel (and eat) more like a local Istanbullu than a tourist you must plan a visit to esnaf lokantalari (tradesman restaurant). For the most part, these restaurants are reasonably priced, making them popular among students, tradesmen and even white collar workers. But the attraction doesn’t only lie in the value for money; the dishes served at esnaf lokantalari are healthy and, as such, hold an important place in Turkish daily life.
All esnaf lokantalari have three things in common: a variety of healthy dishes to choose from, which are already cooked and ready to serve, along with a warm and inviting atmosphere devoid of unnecessary luxuries. For these reasons alone they are a big part of Turkish food culture.
Our Recommendations for the Best Local Istanbul Restaurants:
Kanaat Lokantasi, Uskudar
Kanaat Lokantasi is a family-run business and many people in Istanbul have formed fond memories over their 80-year long history. Locals and visitors alike agree that their food is still delicious even after such a long time, which gives many people an excuse to visit Uskadar just for this reason alone. Olive oil dishes (mostly known as light and vegetable-based dishes in Turkey) and desserts are famous at this restaurant. Some other dishes you can find here are traditional Turkish dish ‘chickpeas with meat’, stuffed celery, green beans and chicken pudding. Please note that the credit cards are not accepted at this restaurant and you can only pay in cash.
Address: Selmanipak cad. no:9 Üsküdar
Tel: 0 216 341 54 44 – 0 216 553 37 91
Nato Restaurant, Karakoy
This restaurant is one of the best local Istanbul restaurants and it was opened in 1952 to celebrate Turkey’s inclusion in NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation). NATO is quite a popular restaurant and it can be difficult to find a table at lunch time. The restaurant closes once all the food is sold, so you should arrive early to ensure you try their fantastic traditional Turkish food. If you are a carnivore do not forget to try their ‘sac kavurma’ and doner kebab.
Address: Necatibey caddesi. Karanlıkfıran sokak. No.4 Karaköy / Beyoğlu / İstanbul
Tel: 0 212 249 64 24
Yanyali Fehmi Restaurant, Kadikoy
It is very easy to reach Yanyali Fehmi restaurant as it is a just a short walk from Kadikoy ferry station. This local restaurant continues to serve some of the best examples of Ottoman and Turkish food, as they have been since the very early 1900s. Their menu still represents Ottoman and Turkish food culture accurately. Not only you can find the traditional pot-style Turkish food here, but you will also be blessed with a variety of soups, grills and kebabs. Their desserts are worthy of a mention, too, and you shouldn’t conclude your meal without tasting one. Their specialty is Yanya kofte – a special meatball wrapped in thin slices of fried eggplant before being grilled with a slice of tomato on the top and served with a delicious sauce.
Address: Osmanağa Mah. Yağlıkçı İsmail Sok. No:1 Kadıköy / İstanbul
Tel: 0 216 336 33 33
Hunkar Restaurant, Nisantasi
Hunkar Restaurant has been serving up delicious Turkish food since the 1950s. Although it is commonly referred to as one of the most expensive and luxurious tradesmen restaurants in Istanbul, we can’t help but add it to our list of best local Istanbul restaurants. Nisantasi is already one of the priciest suburbs of Istanbul with design shops, luxury world brands and expensive housing. At Hunkar you will still find traditional Turkish food such as lamb shoulder dishes, a variety of soups, pastries and vegetable dishes. The iconic Ottoman dish ‘Hunkar Begendi’ is also one of their specialties. Be sure to finished your Turkish food tasting experience at Hunkar with ‘sutlu kadayif’, a light dessert consisting of milk and shredded wheat.
Address: Mim Kemal Öke Caddesi No:21 Nişantaşı
Tel: 0 212 225 46 65
Sahin Lokantasi, Beyoglu
One of the most popular traditional tradesman restaurants in Beyoglu, Sahin restaurant serves a great variety of Turkish food, including soups, eggplant kebab, chickpea and dried beans dishes, stuffed peppers, dolmas and other vegetable dishes. To put it plainly, Sahin Lokantasi will be the delicious answer to your question, ‘where shall we eat in Beyoglu today?’.
Address: Asmalı Mescit, Orhan Adlı Apaydın Sk. 11/A, 34430 Beyoğlu/İstanbul
Tel: 0 212 244 25 43
Bankalar Lokantasi, Karakoy
The menu at Bankalar Lokantasi changes daily, depending on what seasonal produce the restauranteurs are able to source. You’ll find a never-ending variety of fish and kebabs in addition to the traditional pot style Turkish food. One of the most popular restaurants in Karakoy for tradesman and bank workers, the restaurant’s design is just as simplified as their traditional dishes. If you are in search of traditional Turkish food close to Istanbul’s touristic areas, Bankalar Lokantasi is a great option as it sits just a 15-minute tram ride from Sultanahmet. While you are in search of best local Istanbul restaurants, Karakoy can also offer you a great time exploring the popular suburb.
Address: Perşembe Pazarı Caddesi No: 6 Beyoğlu / Karaköy – İSTANBUL
Tel: 0 212 245 09 49 – 0 212 293 81 73
Bahar Havuzlu Restaurant, Grand Bazaar
Bahar Havuzlu restaurant has been serving tradesman and customers inside the historic Grand Bazaar for more than 50 years. While you will no doubt pay a visit to the Grand Bazaar during your stay in Istanbul, you should make sure you make time for lunch at Bahar Havuzlu for some traditional Turkish food. They serve more than 20 different pot style dishes everyday, as well as soups, doner and other kebabs, including their specialty, ‘Begendili Kebab’.
Address: Gani Çelebi Sok. (PTT yanı) No: 3 Kapalıçarşı İstanbul – Türkiye
Tel: 0 212 527 33 46
Paçacı Mahmut, Kiztasi
Pacaci Mahmut Restaurant was founded in 1978 with only 4 tables as Mahmut Usta Restaurant. If you enjoy trying offal dishes (which are very popular in Turkey), this restaurant will be one of your favourites in Istanbul. Offal has a long and special history in Turkish cuisine and Pacaci Mahmut Usta specialises in offal soups. Offal soups are considered healing soups in Turkey and eaten across the country in homes as well as served at restaurants. Popular offal soups are tripe soup and beef cheek and lamb trotter soup, and this restaurant serves some of the best in the city.
Address: İskenderpaşa Mahallesi, Kızanlık Cd. No:16, 34080 Fatih/İstanbul
Tel: 0 212 635 46 08
Karaköy Lokantası, Karaköy
Karakoy Lokantasi serves a great variety of food, from beef cheek soup to grilled octopus. You will find pot-style Turkish food for lunch and mezzes for dinner. You will need a reservation (especially for dinner) and can you can also order alcoholic beverages.
Address: Kemankeş Karamustafa Paşa, Kemankeş Cd. No:37 A, 34425 Beyoğlu/İstanbul
Tel: 0 212 292 44 55
We hope you found our list of best local Istanbul restaurants helpful!