Unique Restaurants in Istanbul: 12 Coolest Places to Eat

by Jen
Unique Restaurants in Istanbul
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Are you on the hunt for cool restaurants in Istanbul? From the historic Sultanahmet to the vibrant streets of Beyoğlu, here are 12 of Istanbul’s best places to eat.

If you’re anything like me, a trip to Istanbul isn’t just about the sights. It’s about diving fork-first into a culinary scene that’s as diverse as the city itself. I’ve wandered through many a city in search of the perfect meal, but Istanbul? It’s in a league of its own, being one of Turkey’s most beautiful places. Here, every meal is a journey from the traditional to the trendy, and every dish has a story.

We’re going to zigzag across this city, from the hidden nooks serving up the best kebabs you’ve ever tasted to chic rooftops where the views compete with the plates. Whether you’re saving up for that one blow-out meal or looking to munch your way through Istanbul on a budget, there’s a spot here that feels like it was made just for you.

Without further ado, let’s lace up our walking shoes and hit these Istanbul streets. Our taste buds are in for a wild ride in some of the coolest places to eat in Istanbul—truly, a Turkish gem!

The top restaurants to visit in Istanbul right now

Unique Restaurants in Istanbul

Ready to check out what Istanbul has on its menu? There’s a whole bunch of cool places waiting for you, from luxurious dining experiences to charming, quirky eateries. Join me as we explore the unique places to eat in Istanbul.

Are you in the mood for a meal in a centuries-old cistern, or does a lively street food stand sound more appealing? Whether you’re seeking a taste of history or a bite of Istanbul’s vibrant street life, this city has it all. Here’s your essential guide to the most unique restaurants in Istanbul. Prepare to make every meal an unforgettable adventure!

1. Kebapçı İskender

Imagine biting into a slice of history with every mouthful. That’s Kebapçı İskender for you. Founded back in 1867 by Mehmet İskender, this restaurant is a slice of Istanbul’s culinary soul. Tucked away in Kadıköy, it’s the kind of place that locals whisper about, and travelers stumble upon like hidden treasure.

Now, let’s talk about what makes Kebapçı İskender a legend. It’s all about authenticity here. The İskender kebap, their crown jewel, is a masterpiece. Picture this: perfectly grilled, thinly sliced döner meat, lying on a bed of freshly baked pide, all smothered in a rich, buttery tomato sauce. If you’re still hungry, I recommend the aubergine salad. It’s a burst of freshness, and the homemade ‘şıra’ (a sweet grape juice) is like a hug in a glass.

Don’t even get me started on the desserts. Whether you go for the creamy cheese dessert or the famous Bursa candied chestnuts, it’s the perfect end to a meal that’s as wallet-friendly as it is delicious.

Kebapçı İskender offers a journey through flavors that have stood the test of time. It’s a must-visit for anyone looking for unique places to eat in Istanbul. Trust me, your taste buds will thank you!

Kebapçı İskender is one of the unique restaurants in Istanbul.
Kebapçı İskender, founded in 1867 in Kadıköy, is a taste of the city’s culinary history.

2. Murat Kelle Paça

In the bustling heart of Beyoğlu, amidst the city’s vibrant nightlife, you’ll find Murat Kelle Paça, a place that’s become an institution for both late-night party-goers and daytime workers. One of Istanbul’s unique restaurants, this spot serves up everything from Şırdan (stuffed intestines) to Beyin (brain soup).             

Murat Kelle Paça is famous for its hearty broths, a perfect remedy after a night out or a pick-me-up during a busy day. The atmosphere here is as eclectic as the crowd it draws – from rock musicians to Instagramming hipsters, everyone seems to converge at Murat’s for a taste of authenticity.

The star attraction? The Kelle paça soup. Imagine a spicy red broth brimming with pieces of sheep’s head, including bits of brain, reminiscent of a Turkish version of Vietnamese pho but without the noodles. It’s a dish that’s both daring and delicious, a must-try for the adventurous foodie.

For those looking for something truly unique, try the şırdan – sheep intestines stuffed with spiced bulgur, boiled in broth, and served with a sprinkle of cumin powder. It’s a dish that challenges the palate and rewards the brave. And for those who prefer something more familiar, their mercimek (red lentil) soup is a creamy, perfectly seasoned delight, a comforting choice in the array of bold flavors.

Murat Kelle Paça is one of the most fun places to eat in Istanbul, where traditional flavors meet the modern palate. It’s a place that offers a dining experience that’s as memorable as the city itself.

Murat Kelle Paça is a vibrant spot blending traditional flavors with a modern touch.
Murat Kelle Paça is a vibrant spot blending traditional flavors with a modern touch.

3. Lades Menemen

If you’re wandering through Beyoğlu and your stomach starts rumbling, do yourself a favor and head straight to Lades Menemen. This place is a little gem in Istanbul that’s all about one thing: whipping up the most amazing Menemen you’ll ever taste. It’s one of the unique restaurants in Istanbul, hands down.

Menemen, if you haven’t had the pleasure yet, is this fantastic Turkish breakfast dish. It’s a mix of eggs, tomatoes, green peppers, and just the right amount of spice. At Lades, they’ve got this dish down to a fine art. The eggs are so fluffy that they practically melt in your mouth, the tomatoes are bursting with flavor, and the peppers give it just the right zing.

What’s really cool about Lades Menemen is how down-to-earth it is. You’re not just going to a restaurant – you’re stepping into a slice of Istanbul life. It’s the kind of place where you can kick back, soak in the vibes, and feel like you’re hanging out at a friend’s kitchen.

For anyone hitting the streets of Istanbul, Lades Menemen is a must-visit. Trust me, one bite of their Menemen, and you’ll see why this spot is a favorite for locals and travelers alike.

Lades Menemen is a gem renowned for serving some of the best Menemen.
Lades Menemen is a gem renowned for serving some of the best Menemen.

4. Karaköy Güllüoğlu

Ever dreamt of walking into a place where every corner oozes with sweet, buttery aromas and the sight of golden, flaky baklava? That’s Karaköy Güllüoğlu for you. This bakery is a slice of Istanbul’s sweet history, run by a family that’s been perfecting baklava since 1843.

Here’s the thing about Karaköy Güllüoğlu’s baklava – it’s ridiculously good. Imagine layers so thin and crispy, they practically whisper and pistachios so fresh, they pop with flavor. It’s like biting into a cloud of sweet, nutty perfection. And the man behind this magic? Nadir Güllüoğlu is a fifth-gen baker who knows his baklava like the back of his hand.

But wait, there’s more. Thanks to a collaboration with Shangri-La Bosphorus, you can now dive deep into the baklava world with their Baklava Butler Experience. Picture this: you’re rolling up your sleeves, learning the secrets of perfect baklava, and then sitting down to enjoy your creation with some killer Maraş ice cream and a steaming cup of Turkish coffee. It’s like a backstage pass to baklava heaven!

Karaköy Güllüoğlu isn’t just about getting your sugar fix. It’s about experiencing a piece of Istanbul that’s as authentic as it gets. For anyone who believes that the best part of traveling is tasting, this place is a must-visit. It’s one of the most unique restaurants in Istanbul that’s home to some seriously good sweets.

Karaköy Güllüoğlu welcomes you with enticing aromas and golden delights.
Karaköy Güllüoğlu welcomes you with enticing aromas and golden delights.

5. 360 Istanbul

Let’s talk about a place that’s not just a restaurant but an experience in itself – 360 Istanbul. Perched atop a 19th-century apartment building in Beyoglu, this rooftop spot is where Istanbul’s heart beats the loudest. And yes, the name says it all – you get a stunning 360-degree view of the city that’s nothing short of breathtaking.

Now, imagine sipping on a cocktail as you gaze over the Bosphorus, the city’s lights twinkling like a sea of stars beneath you. That’s an average evening at 360 Istanbul. This place is all about the vibe – it’s where cuisine, entertainment, and ambiance come together in a spectacular fusion. The menu is a delightful mix of Turkish meze and international flavors that’ll have your taste buds dancing.

But 360 Istanbul isn’t just about the food or the views. It’s about the whole package. Think live DJs, performances, and a crowd that’s a blend of locals and travelers, all looking for a good time. On weekends, the place transforms into Club360, complete with live dancers and vocalists, which makes it one of the unique places to eat in Istanbul.

Whether you’re there for a laid-back lunch or a night out with friends, 360 Istanbul delivers an experience that’s as dynamic as the city itself. So, if you’re looking for a rooftop bar in Istanbul that combines great food, amazing views, and a vibrant atmosphere, 360 Istanbul should be at the top of your list.

360 Istanbul is a vibrant rooftop bar offering great food, stunning views, and a dynamic atmosphere.
360 Istanbul is a vibrant rooftop bar offering great food, stunning views, and a dynamic atmosphere.

6. Arch Bistro

Ever dined in a place that’s been around since the Roman Empire? Welcome to Arch Bistro, a spot in Istanbul that’s literally steeped in history. Picture this: you’re sitting under an arch that’s been standing since AD 361, munching on some amazing Mediterranean dishes. It’s like a time machine but with way better food.

Walking into Arch Bistro is like walking into a story. The walls have seen emperors come and go, and now they’re part of this cool, laid-back eatery. It’s a blend of old-world charm and modern chill vibes, perfect for a relaxed meal with friends or a romantic dinner that feels like you’re in a movie.

The food here is a journey through Anatolia’s culinary history. You get all these amazing flavors that have been passed down through generations, from spicy meze to the sweetest desserts. It’s like a history lesson for your taste buds, and trust me, it’s way more fun than reading a textbook.

Arch Bistro is truly a unique experience. It’s one of those fun places to eat in Istanbul, where you can soak up some history, enjoy great food, and just have a good time. If you’re a history lover or just hungry for something different, this place is a must-visit.

Arch Bistro is one of the unique restaurants in Istanbul.
Arch Bistro is a historic gem where you dine under an arch from AD 361, enjoying incredible Mediterranean cuisine.

7. Balıkçı Murat Abi

In the heart of Istanbul’s bustling streets, there’s a little corner that’s a haven for seafood lovers – Balıkçı Murat Abi. This unique Istanbul restaurant is an iconic fish sandwich stand that’s become a landmark for both locals and tourists. Here, the humble fish sandwich is elevated to an art form.

Imagine the freshest fish, straight from the sea, grilled to perfection and nestled in a fluffy bread loaf with a splash of zesty lemon juice and a sprinkle of crisp lettuce. That’s what you get at Balıkçı Murat Abi. Each bite is a perfect harmony of flavors – simple, yet so satisfying.

What makes Balıkçı Murat Abi stand out among the best places to eat in Istanbul is its unpretentious charm. It’s a no-frills, down-to-earth spot where the focus is all on the food. The atmosphere is always buzzing, with the sizzle of the grill and the chatter of happy customers.

If you’re grabbing a quick lunch or looking for a tasty snack while exploring the city, Balıkçı Murat Abi’s fish sandwiches are a must-try. It’s the kind of place that shows you don’t need a fancy setting to enjoy some of the best food in Istanbul.

Balıkçı Murat Abi is an iconic fish sandwich stand, elevating the humble sandwich to an art form.
Balıkçı Murat Abi is an iconic fish sandwich stand, elevating the humble sandwich to an art form. | Source: https://foursquare.com/

8. Tarihi Kalkanoğlu Pilavı

If you’re wandering around Istanbul and craving something truly authentic, you’ve got to check out Tarihi Kalkanoğlu Pilavcısı. Founded in 1856, this place is all about pilav (rice), but not the kind you might whip up at home. We’re talking about a dish steeped in history, going back to the Ottoman era.

Here, pilav is the main event. You’ve got options like Sade Pilav, which is deceptively simple but oh-so-tasty, or the Noğutlu Pilav, where chickpeas add a whole new dimension to the dish. And for something a bit different, their Ahtapotlu Pilav with octopus is a real treat.

The vibe at Tarihi Kalkanoğlu Pilavcısı is just as special as the food. You feel like you’ve been invited into a little piece of the past, where every dish has a story to tell. It’s cozy, it’s genuine, and it’s the kind of place where you can really soak in the local culture.

So, if you’re in Istanbul and want to taste something that’s been a local favorite for generations, head over to Tarihi Kalkanoğlu Pilavcısı. It’s a place where you can experience some of the best Turkish food in Istanbul.

Tarihi Kalkanoğlu Pilavcısı offers an authentic taste of Ottoman-era pilav.
Tarihi Kalkanoğlu Pilavcısı offers an authentic taste of Ottoman-era pilav.

9. The Sarnıç Fine Dining Restaurant

For a touch of history with your fine dining in Istanbul, Sarnıç Restaurant stands out. Located between Topkapı Palace and Hagia Sophia, this dining spot takes you back in time. You’re eating in a 1500-year-old Roman cistern, under a high dome supported by massive stone columns. It feels like stepping into a different era.

Sarnıç combines medieval charm with modern dining elegance. The ambiance is extraordinary – dining in an ancient water cistern adds a unique flavor to the experience. Once essential for storing water, the cistern now sets the stage for an unforgettable evening.

The menu at Sarnıç complements its historical setting. It offers a creative fusion of traditional Turkish cuisine and contemporary culinary techniques. The acoustic environment enhances the dining experience, which makes every moment special.

A meal at Sarnıç goes beyond the palate. It engages all your senses, enveloping you in Istanbul’s rich history. For an exquisite meal in a setting that echoes centuries of stories, Sarnıç Restaurant is a destination in itself.

Sarnıç Restaurant is fine dining in a 1500-year-old Roman cistern between Topkapı Palace and Hagia Sophia.
Sarnıç Restaurant is fine dining in a 1500-year-old Roman cistern between Topkapı Palace and Hagia Sophia.

10. Resto Han

Right in the heart of Sultanahmet, there’s a spot that’s become a favorite for both locals and travelers – Resto Han. This isn’t just another unique restaurant in Istanbul. It’s a place where food, music, and culture come together to create something really special.

Located near the iconic Hagia Sophia, it’s in a spot that’s as convenient as it is historic. At Resto Han, the menu is a vibrant mix of Anatolian and world cuisine. If you’re in the mood for a classic Turkish kebab, fresh seafood, a juicy steak, or just want to indulge in some Turkish desserts, they’ve got you covered. And let’s not forget the cocktails and hookah – they’re the perfect way to unwind after a day of exploring the city.

But what really sets Resto Han apart is the atmosphere. It’s cozy and welcoming, like you’re being invited into a family gathering. The live music is the cherry on top, adding an extra layer of enjoyment to your meal.

Resto Han is the kind of place where good food, good mood, and good times are guaranteed. It’s perfect for a night out with friends, a family dinner, or even a romantic date. So, if you’re around Sultanahmet and looking for a place to eat, drink, and just have a great time, Resto Han is waiting for you.

Dine at Resto Han, where food, music, and culture blend into something truly special.
Dine at Resto Han, where food, music, and culture blend into something truly special.

11. Gala Kokoreç Eminönü Merkez

In the heart of Eminönü, Gala Kokoreç Eminönü Merkez proudly showcases Istanbul’s rich street food culture. Here, kokoreç – a beloved Turkish specialty – is the star of the show. For those eager to explore the authentic flavors of the city, this spot is a culinary landmark.

Gala Kokoreç is where Istanbul’s traditional tastes come alive. Kokoreç, a seasoned and grilled offal dish, is an adventure in flavor. The experts at Gala Kokoreç have perfected this dish, balancing spices and grilling techniques to create something truly mouth-watering.

The atmosphere at Gala Kokoreç is as real as it gets. It’s straightforward, bustling with energy, and filled with the sounds and smells of Istanbul’s streets. The moment you step in, you’re part of the city’s vibrant food scene. The staff welcomes you warmly, and the tantalizing aromas from the grill promise a memorable meal.

One of the most unique places to eat in Istanbul, Gala Kokoreç Eminönü Merkez is ideal for a hearty lunch or a flavor-packed dinner that’s easy on the wallet. If you find yourself in Eminönü with a craving for something uniquely Istanbul, Gala Kokoreç should be your go-to destination.

Gala Kokoreç Eminönü Merkez is a culinary landmark spotlighting the city's street food culture.
Gala Kokoreç Eminönü Merkez is a culinary landmark spotlighting the city’s street food culture.

12. Keyfeder Künefe Katmer

When in Istanbul, a sweet stop at Keyfeder Künefe Katmer is an absolute must for dessert lovers. One of the best places for dessert in Istanbul, this place is a haven for those who appreciate the finer, sweeter things in life. Located in the heart of the city, Keyfeder is where traditional Turkish desserts are given the spotlight they deserve.

Keyfeder is all about künefe and katmer, two of Turkey’s most beloved sweet treats. Künefe, with its layers of crispy kadayıf (a type of noodle-like pastry) and melting cheese, all soaked in sweet syrup, is a taste sensation. And the katmer? It’s a flaky, pistachio-filled delight that’s both rich and satisfying.

The vibe at Keyfeder is warm and welcoming. It’s the kind of place where you can relax after a day of exploring, savoring each bite of your dessert. The staff are friendly and love to share their passion for Turkish sweets.

Keyfeder Künefe Katmer is a place where you can immerse yourself in the sweet side of Turkish cuisine, enjoying flavors that have been cherished for generations. If you’re a künefe connoisseur or trying it for the first time, Keyfeder promises a dessert experience you won’t forget.

Keyfeder Künefe Katmer is one of the unique restaurants in Istanbul.
Keyfeder Künefe Katmer is a dessert haven showcasing traditional Turkish sweets.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Unique Restaurants in Istanbul

Searching for more information to help you decide where to eat in Istanbul? Here are some common questions (and answers) I get asked a lot about Istanbul’s unique restaurants.

What food is Istanbul famous for?

Istanbul is renowned for its diverse and flavorful cuisine. The city’s signature dish is the Döner Kebab, thinly sliced meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie. Another must-try is İskender Kebab, which is döner served over bread, topped with tomato sauce, melted butter, and yogurt. For seafood lovers, Balık Ekmek, a fish sandwich sold near the Galata Bridge, is a delight. Also, don’t miss out on trying Baklava, a sweet pastry made of layers of filo filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey.

What is a typical Turkish breakfast?

A typical Turkish breakfast, known as ‘kahvaltı’, is a lavish spread. It usually includes fresh bread, a variety of cheeses (like Beyaz Peynir), olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, honey, clotted cream (kaymak), various jams, and boiled eggs. Sucuk (spicy Turkish sausage) and Menemen (a Turkish-style scrambled eggs with tomatoes, green peppers, and spices) are also popular. Pair it with Turkish tea served in tulip-shaped glasses.

Kahvaltı is a Turkish breakfast dish including cheeses, olives, bread, and spreads.
Kahvaltı is a Turkish breakfast dish including cheeses, olives, bread, and spreads.

What is the national drink in Turkey?

Turkey’s national drink is Raki, an anise-flavored alcoholic beverage. It’s often consumed with water and ice and is popular during meals, especially with seafood. Turkish tea and coffee are also integral to Turkish culture. Turkish coffee is strong and served in small cups, while Turkish tea is brewed in a two-tiered teapot and enjoyed throughout the day.

Can I eat street food in Istanbul?

Definitely! Street food in Istanbul is not only delicious but also an integral part of the city’s food culture. Try Simit (a sesame-encrusted bread ring), Kumpir (baked potato with various fillings), and Gözleme (a flatbread filled with ingredients like spinach, cheese, or meat). Street vendors selling roasted chestnuts and corn are also common. Just look for stalls that are busy with locals for the freshest and best options.

What is the most unique restaurant in Istanbul?

For a unique dining experience, I recommend visiting the Sarnıç Restaurant. It’s set in a 1500-year-old Roman cistern, offering a blend of history with fine dining. The ambiance is extraordinary, and the fusion of traditional Turkish cuisine with modern touches makes it a memorable experience. Another unique spot is 360 Istanbul, known for its panoramic city views and vibrant atmosphere, blending great food with entertainment.

The top restaurants in Istanbul for all types of travelers
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