Istanbul has one of the most dynamic culinary scenes in Europe, so it should come as no surprise that there are so many great restaurants to choose from when looking for your next meal. And meze bars are no exception.
This blog post will cover 10 Istanbul meze restaurants and meze bars that serve up some of the tastiest meze dishes I’ve ever tasted. The list includes everything from Turkish classics to modern takes on these traditional dishes.
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What is meze?
A meze is a small dish, typically eaten before the main course. It is a selection of hot and cold dishes, typically served as hors d’oeuvre. It’s considered an appetizer and can be anything from olives to fried zucchini.
Much like tapas, the meze is famous around the Middle East, North Africa, and the Balkans countries as the perfect snack. In some countries, the meze accompanies the main dishes, but in Istanbul, meze is an experience by itself.
Usually served in a meyhane – a type of Turkish pub that’s far more lively than its British or American counterparts – this is more than just a snack to accompany a drink. The meze is a symbol of bonding, of friendship, of that healthy yet illustrious Mediterranean cuisine.
If you want to celebrate your getaway with your newfound companions, here are the best ten meze bars in Istanbul that’ll transport you to a whole new world:
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1. Meze by Lemon Tree
In the heart of touristic Istanbul, Meze by Lemon Tree is the Turkish meze version of The British Afternoon Tea. Mezes made with bananas topped with cream, honey, nuts, and chili sauce far exceeds their motto of “good and honest flavors.” This is a once-in-a-lifetime menu that caters to the sensitive palates of those who eat with class.
Meze by Lemon Tree’s cuisine is sometimes innovative and other times traditional, but it is always delicious. Pick from a refrigerated display and select your cold meze options; the menu varies daily, but you may expect to find marinated fish dishes, bean and grain meals, and pickled vegetables.
Address: Asmalı Mescit, Meşrutiyet Cd. 83/B, Beyoğlu
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2. Barba Vasilis
Don’t be fooled by the elegant white Greek façade. Located under a hard-to-miss hotel, the Barba Vasilis is a Greek tavern with a friendly vibe that’s incredibly inviting.
The walls and ceilings house graffiti – a memento from visitors from the past. If the extraordinary Greek-inspired menu doesn’t make your mouth water, the live music will certainly make you feel like you’re home.
Grilled octopus, cheese sahanaki, and seafood wrapped in chard are our favorites at Barba Vasilis and shouldn’t be missed.
Address: Yavuz Sultan Selim, Abdülezelpaşa Cd. No:97, Fatih
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3. Duble Meze Bar
A swanky, upmarket meze bar located on the rooftop of a hotel, it would be a shame to leave Istanbul without popping in. If you don’t have an alluring stranger to tempt you into a surrealistic dream here, you’d best visit by yourself.
Aside from the self-pampering aspect – which you’ll need after a long day in Istanbul – there’s that captivating fairy-tale vibe here. If you’ve had your fill of wine, the expansive collection of cocktails or even the sophisticated whiskeys available here will hit that spot.
The panoramic views of Istanbul didn’t seem to be enough for the ambitious owners of this stylish restaurant. The Kubrickian atmosphere – minus, of course, the creepiness – seems to compliment the creative menu.
What about the meze? Do not worry; they are all flawless. Mezes are inspired by Middle Eastern, Anatolian, Greek, and Balkans cuisine and include dishes such as turmeric-infused fava, spicy butter shrimp, mustard seabass, lakerda, and beetroot tabbouleh.
Address: Palazzo Donizetti Hotel, Asmalı Mescit Mah Meşrutiyet Caddesi, İstiklal 7 No:85, Beyoğlu
Open sesame! In a tight alleyway, you may miss this treasure cave if you’re not actively looking for it. Like a wish from a magic genie lamp, the menu houses the kind of wonders that keeps Antiochia’s name plastered in magazine after magazine. For a good reason. The mezes are so authentic and flavorful that your mouth will water at just the memory.
Cold and hot mezes are equally delicious; the Antiochia meze platter is a good choice if you want to try multiple. The kebabs are exceptional, and the içli köfte, pides, and lahmacun are flavorful. Künefe dessert is also their specialty.
Antiochia’s dishes come from Antakya – a part of Anatolia famous for its Turkish-Arab fused cuisine. If you already know what Antakya is, Antiochia’s menu will re-teach you to the classics. You’ll never look at eggplants, meat, or even yogurt the same.
Address: Asmalı Mescit, General Yazgan Sk. No:3, 34200 Beyoğlu
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5. Barba Yani
Burgazada (Burgaz island) is a perfect place to spend half a day away from the hustle and bustle of Istanbul. One would start with visiting the house of the Sait Faik Abasıyanık, the most significant Turkish writer of the 40s – so great that he became an honorary member of the International Mark Twain society.
Followed by a walk around the ruins of a 9th-century monastery to fully take in the picturesque views. Then, when one’s stomach starts rumbling, they may find solace with the Barba Yani restaurant that takes hygiene, taste, and good service seriously.
A heavyweight when it comes to seafood, the charming menu will teach you that the famously healthy ‘Mediterranean diet is far more scrumptious than advertised. You’ll find the typical Turkish seafood dishes available as well as new delights such as stuffed calamari.
Only accessible by ferry, you’ll find the sweet caresses of the sea air immersing you into an adventurous world you never knew existed.
Address: Burgazadası, Yalı Cd. 8/A, Adalar
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6. Yakup 2
If you enjoy reading on-the-run pre-WWI thrillers like The Thirty-Nine Steps, you’re going to love Yakup 2. Congruently located within a stone’s throw from the Museum of Illusions, entering this restaurant is like entering another world. With the historic alarm clocks and walls decorated with art, images of artists, and newspaper clippings, this place almost feels like a figment of one’s imagination.
Our favorite mezes at Yakup 2 are humus, ezme (hot spicy salad), eggplant salad, and köpoğlu (smoked vegetables and yogurt).
Although there are plenty of other meyhanes and eateries stuffed together on that narrow, cobbled alleyway, Yakup 2 offers more than just-food. It offers a moment, a memory, that you can keep forever.
Address: Asmalı Mescit, Asmalı Mescit Cd. No:21 D:B, Beyoğlu
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7. Giritli Restaurant
Hidden in the cobbled backstreets of Istanbul, this is the place you’re dying to discover. The understated elegant design, the stunning views, the enticing menu – Giritli can only be described as spellbinding. If the sophisticated interior is not your thing, they have a courtyard that’ll remind you that you’re in a Mediterranean country.
Their specialty is Mediterranean herbs and plants such as stinging nettle, cheeses, dandelion, and fennel. They turn these fresh herbs into delicious mezes, main courses, and salads.
One for the tourists and the serious cooks, they do have an English language menu that’ll teach you all about the different types of fish that the locals enjoy. If fish isn’t your thing, this is one of the rare places that’ll offer you both vegetarian and vegan choices. If the organic vegetables don’t sound appetizing, you’ll be relieved to know that the fish options are all fresh – none of them are frozen. If you’re feeling frozen, however, the desserts will warm you up.
Address: Cankurtaran, Keresteci Hakkı Sk. No:8, Fatih
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8. Tuana Meze Evi
Serving the traditional type of finger food that you’d find in any meyhane but for a more reasonable price, at Tuana Meze Evi you’ll find the buffet filled with a range of delights.
You need to stop by if you’re thinking about something traditional like champagne and caviar or if you’re feeling funky, you can pair Tuana’s octopus’ arm with rakı. This is the place where you add your creative touch to the traditional meze.
The only thing this spot doesn’t have is somewhere to sit. You’ll have to pack your meze, go home and enjoy your night with a couple of mates. Think of this as a cost-effective spot to help you unleash your gastronomical muse.
Get there early on festive days such as New Year, and you can be as French (the mustard gouda with red wine), Turkish (the stuffed vine leaves), Italian (Italian prosciutto with white wine), or as Avant-Garde as you wish to be.
Note: This is not a restaurant but a meze shop.
Address: Feriköy, Kurtuluş Cd. No:58 D:1, Şişli
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9. Mila by Roka Pera
A minute’s walk away from the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, this restaurant has more than just an artsy feel to it. There’s a Byronic air of restrained decadence. It’s not just the decor that’ll bring forth the Romanticism from an era long passed; the menu itself is brought alive by choices such as artichokes marinated with oranges.
There are vegetarian options you can pair with white wine if you wish to recreate the diet of Lord Byron. Alternatively, if you’ve only touched a pea once, like Beau Brummell, there are plenty of meat and seafood options to satisfy your palate.
Mila by Roka Pera is not one to go alone. Bring a date or a friend to sip wine with. The candlelit dinner may just spark a kind of magic that Tinkerbell would be jealous of.
Address: Asmalı Mescit, Meşrutiyet Cd. No:103, Beyoğlu
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10. Sakar Zeybek
Translated as the Clumsy Zeybeks, there is nothing clumsy about this particular meyhane. The décor transport you into a world where the Zeybeks – a type of bandits/guerrilla fighters – still exist. The escapist fantasy is not just of the quaint décor, but it’s from the outside in; the streets outside will remind you of a coastal town much like the Aegean region within which the Zeybeks used to operate.
Considering the Zeybeks were operating during the late stages of the Ottoman Empire, it makes sense that the Sakar Zeybek has a touch of Greek and Armenian in their menu. The foodies will be impressed with the creative options like the Sour Apple Chicken. If you just can’t decide, they have a fixed menu for both drinkers and teetotallers.
Address: Koşuyolu Mah, Kalfa Çeşmesi Sk. No:20, Kadıköy
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Now that you know the best meze restaurants in Istanbul, it’s time to take a food tour! We have tours on offer for those looking for an informative and culinary experience. Join us as we show off these top-tier eateries while tasting delicious traditional dishes at each one.
You will be sure to leave full and satisfied after our three or six hours of eating your way through this fantastic city with its rich culture and tradition. Select from different types of tours depending on what interests you most – whether if it is history or cuisine, there are options available for all appetites. Book your food tour today!
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