Perhaps you broke the piggybank on the plane ticket to Istanbul. Perhaps you just want to know what the locals eat. Perhaps your palate is itching for a different kind of flavor. You’re in luck. Istanbul is the city of adventure, and that also applies to the culinary world.
Known internationally as the city of kebabs and lahmacun, the reality of Istanbul is like a parallel universe filled with a variety of cheap eats; seafood, vegetables, meat, and grains – all at an affordable price. If you’re crazy about street food or if your wallet is looking a little thin, here are the traditional Turkish foods that you’ll recall fondly even in 20 years’ time.
Beneath the list of delectable but cheap street food, you’ll find a list of budget restaurants that’ll blow your tastebuds away with the intensity of flavor yet will be easy on the purse.
10 Best Cheap Eats in Istanbul:
1. Balık ekmek – in Eminönü (Fish sandwich)
Sweet memories are made of these humble sandwiches. Located right in the center of the touristic attractions on the European side, these sandwiches consist of a hint of raw onion, green herbs, and grilled fish. Even those who hate seafood will be craving the taste, the sights, and the experience of fish by the sea.
Related content: Fish Sandwich in Istanbul (Balik Ekmek) – Popular Street Food
2. Çiğ köfte – all around Istanbul (Bulgur meatballs)
Vegan and vegetarian friendly, these ‘meatballs’ don’t contain meat in the fast-food version. Made with bulgur, this traditional Turkish food is often consumed with crispy lettuce and sweet yet sour pomegranate molasses. Sweet, sour, savory, spicy, crunchy, soft… this healthy fast-food will target your palate like no other.
You can find tiny Çiğ köfte shops in all corners of Istanbul. This is one of the most popular cheap street food in Istanbul and just look for the name and restaurant windows and signs.
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3. Lahmacun – all around Istanbul (Turkish pizza)
The notorious lahmacun has been exported around the world. Think of a spiced, meat version of the authentic Italian pizza – with its thin, crunchy crust – but without the cheese. Throw in finely chopped onions, tomatoes and parsley, and so forth, and you have the flatbread that has been the marvel of the world.
Lahmacun is sold at most kebab shops and pide shops in Istanbul. There are also many places specializing in cooking only lahmacun.
Related content: The Best Lahmacun in Istanbul: 6 Outstanding Lahmacun Places
4. Kumpir – in Ortaköy (Jacket potato)
More colorful than a hotdog with more flavors and textures than a pizza, the Turks do the jacket or baked potato much differently than the rest of the world. First, they start with potatoes that is the daddy of all potatoes. Sliced open, you’re encouraged to throw in as many fillings as the vendor can fit in.
Ortaköy is famous for its numerous Kumpir shops but don’t be surprised if you stumble upon one as you wander the streets of Istanbul.
Related content: The 6 Best Tantuni in Istanbul – Complete Guide w/ Maps
5. Pide – all around Istanbul (A different kind of Turkish pizza)
Each place has its own variety of this flatbread. Some places offer more colorful varieties, some try to fit in as many flavors as possible, and some just like to incorporate different textures. This is the Turkish version of the artisanal Italian pizza: the same adept cooking methods for a fraction of the price.
Some pides will be more expensive than the others; avoid ordering pastırmalı (cured beef), sucuklu (dried beef), and kavurmalı (canned meat) pide if you want to survive the day with some money in your pocket.
Related content: 8 Absolute Best Pide in Istanbul | Complete Guide w/ Maps
6. Tavuk Döner Dürüm – all around Istanbul (Chicken döner wrap)
You may find some versions of this delicious food more extravagant than others, but this beloved street food packs such a powerful protein punch. Bodybuilders looking for a scrumptious meal on the go or those who feel hungry every two seconds will find this dish so satisfying and filling.
You can’t walk more than 5 minutes in Istanbul without coming across a döner shop selling chicken döner kebab.
Related content: Istanbul’s Top 8 Doner Kebab Places: A Complete Guide w/ Maps
7. Haşlanmış ve Közde Mısır – touristy, crowded and seaside parts of Istanbul (Boiled and grilled sweetcorn)
It may be difficult to figure out whether the boiled version is a meal or a dessert. The grilled version, however, has that barbeque vibe that’ll satisfy both vegans and carnivores alike.
This may be the blandest food on this list but also one of the cheapest. Peddlers usually sell it on their mobile carts in touristy, crowded areas.
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8. Simit, Açma and Börek – all around Istanbul (Turkish bagel and pastry)
The favorite of all workers, every patisserie has its own version. The simit is like a sesame round bread baked to perfection and typically enjoyed with blood-red Turkish tea. Plain. It needs no toppings.
Açma is a soft, brioche-like bagel that’s available sweet or savory.
The börek is a savory yet stuffed pastry, a lighter, fluffier version of a pasty or a pie. Although the choice of stuffing tends to be very conventional, there are hundreds of different types of böreks.
These are sold at bakeries, pastry shops, and street peddlers all around Istanbul.
Related content: 12 Best Bakeries in Istanbul For Cakes, Pastries, and Bread
9. Tavuk Pilav – all around Istanbul (Chicken and rice)
Far more interesting than its name, this creamy, buttery rice will melt in your mouth. Some restaurants may add chickpeas; others will spice up their dish with a colorful variety of ingredients.
You can find street peddlers and also restaurants serving this delicious, cheap, and filling food.
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10. Halka Tatlısı and Tulumba – all around Istanbul (The ring dessert)
Shaped like a bagel, these are the Turkish version of churros. Add a little sweetness to each step with these Turkish donuts. These are sold by street peddlers and can also be found at most dessert shops and some cake shops, and they are one of the cheapest Turkish desserts.
Related content: Best Desserts in Istanbul: The 12 Sweetest Dessert Shops in Town
8 Best Budget Restaurants in Istanbul:
1. Balkan Lokantası
Mistakes made by tourists number one: walking past one of the most amazing restaurants due to its plain exterior appearance.
Hosting a stunning, polychromatic array of main dishes and desserts, an English/Turkish menu with a large selection of dishes from all around Turkey, with an intense flavor that’ll knock you into next week, this budget-friendly place is as secret as the recipe for cola.
Grab a tray, point to the most alluring dishes before chilling with the locals. You may even find authentic Turkish treats and meats that you’ll never stumble across in fancier places. Those with dietary requirements like vegans and coeliacs are likely to ruin the secret by shining a spotlight on the variety of scrumptious choices through their social media.
Address: Katip Mustafa Çelebi, Büyük Parmakkapı Sk. No:1, 34433 Beyoğlu/İstanbul
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Home to the most delightful kebab wraps, one visit may turn you into a repeat customer. Like most normal people, if you hate liver, this is the restaurant that’ll change your mind. However, if you’ll rather die than try liver, their menu offers a selection of dürüm options like chicken, Adana, Urfa, and lamb kebab. If you’re going in a group, you can just order the mixed grill and stuff yourself like a Christmas turkey.
Bright red, like a British telephone box, this place may remind you of that Yeşilçam vibe. Those whose introduction to Turkish cinema starts and ends with the meme of the villain in the “Karate Girl” taking an hour to die will still find this chic spot to be extraordinarily fashionable.
Address: Hüseyinağa, Kamer Hatun Cd. 26/A, 34435 Beyoğlu/İstanbul
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3. Şeyhmuz Kebap Salonu
Calling all carnivores – specifically those with a tight budget. Who says you need to pay high prices to be able to taste the chef’s passion? Certainly not anyone who has visited this kebab saloon that has that by-the-sea Mediterranean vibe without losing its fast-food feel. Too good to stay as a local secret, the tough-looking chefs are actually very agreeable, and so too are their dishes.
Address: Mollafenari, Atik Alipaşa Medresesi Sokak 4/A, 34120 Fatih/İstanbul
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4. Palukçu Balık Lokantası
Have a tight budget? Stay away from most fish and seafood restaurants in Istanbul. Especially the ones without prices on their menus. Do not worry though, Palukçu Balık Lokantası is not one of those, and the decoration is so cute you’ll either squeal or you’ll feel like you’re in a cabin in a boat, floating on the sea.
The seafood is incredibly fresh and tasty. If you have a friend who can read Turkish, bring them along: the placemat will have you giggling with phrases like: “If your dad isn’t rich, it’s not your fault. If your father-in-law isn’t rich, then that’s your fault”.
This jovial, friendly restaurant is nothing short of exceptional for seafood lovers, health-conscious visitors, and those hosting a group of friends. This place is the definition of a quirky date, and you’re guaranteed a good time here.
Address: Şehremini, Büyük Saray Meydanı Cd. No:13, 34104 Fatih/İstanbul
5. Erzincanlı Ali Baba
If you’ve ever enjoyed the hearty yet delicious dish of beans and rice, you may wish to know that this restaurant is synonymous with that time-honored dish. Putting aside the seductive desserts and the femme-fatale salads, the view of the 16th-century Suleymaniye mosque from the restaurant will stay with you forever.
Address: Süleymaniye, Süleymaniye NO 7, Prof. Sıddık Sami Onar Cd., 34116 Fatih/İstanbul
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6. Lades Menemen
A popular restaurant with a historical touch, the prices in this authentic place are unbelievable. Its décor has that classy time-traveler vibe, and the service is impeccable.
Considering how important and prevalent Turkish breakfast is, it’s not easy to be well-known for breakfast dishes. Particularly, with the knowledge that menemen (Turkish omelet with tomatoes, green peppers, and onions) is beginning to capture the imagination of international chefs, it’s no easy feat to be in the top-ten list of menemen producers. Yet, this restaurant has captured the hearts of its guests so much so that it’s often a star feature in the gastronomical sections of newspapers.
Lades Menemen is incredibly inviting that you may feel like you’re at home.
Address: Katip Mustafa Çelebi, Mahallesi, Sadri Alışık Sk. 11/12 11/12 11 D:12, 34435 Beyoğlu/İstanbul
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7. Fahri Usta
Almost next door to the Grand Bazaar, this cozy spot serves hearty, healthy, and price-conscious food. If you can navigate the narrow streets, you will find a mountain of rice, colorful vegetables, succulent meat, and what may be the most delicious beans you’ve ever tasted.
The very definition of a ‘hidden gem,’ it may be difficult to find Fahri Usta even with a map or a satnav. However, this place is so famous amongst the locals that any shopkeeper will be happy to guide you in the right direction. Further, this place is so small, and the price so reasonable, that you may have to wait for a table. You may even need to share a table that makes this place wonderful to meet locals and practice your Turkish.
Address: Taya Hatun, Aynacılar Sk. No:36, 34126 Fatih/İstanbul
Related content: 20 Best & Most Famous Turkish Kebabs (w/ Authentic Recipes)
8. Şahin Lokantası
Tucked away in a narrow alleyway brimming with artistic graffiti, this is the kind of street that has that old-fashioned, film-like Istanbul vibe. Though the inside is slightly more minimalistic, there are beautiful expressionist paintings as well as newspaper clippings in relation to the restaurant. If your budget is limited and you want to take your companion somewhere impressive, this place is your best friend.
Established in 1967, even your grandmother’s warm kitchen may not measure up with Şahin Lokantası. The cuisine is done in that authentic Anatolian style. You don’t have to sacrifice your health or finances when hungry.
Address: Asmalı Mescit, Orhan Adlı Apaydın Sk. 11/A, 34430 Beyoğlu/İstanbul
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When it comes to food, Istanbul is a city that’s always on the go. There are plenty of budget-friendly options for those who want to eat well without breaking their wallet, so you can splurge on souvenirs or other activities for yourself.
And with the Turkish lira being at an all-time low against the USD and Euro, now’s as good a time as any to dine out in style! In this article, we’ve listed some of the best cheap eats and budget restaurants in Istanbul so you can make your way through our culinary hotspots while sticking within your spending limit.
We also offer food tours that will show you how locals eat when visiting different regions throughout Turkey with a local guide who speaks English fluently. With over 8 years of experience under our belt, we know what it takes to make sure your trip goes smoothly and leaves you feeling satisfied both stomach-wise and wallet-wise too!
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