The Turkish word for breakfast, kahvalti, is a contraction meaning “under coffee,” and you’ll definitely want something lining your stomach before sipping on a cup of the rich, almost chocolaty Turkish brews here. Locals are mourning the passing of longtime coffee usta (or master) Cemil Filik, who died in early 2019, but his sons are ably keeping up the tradition of making brew so thick even “a water buffalo wouldn’t sink” in it, as the name translates. They’ve opened up a larger cafe space next door, but the narrow alley out front is still the prime place to sit.
BTW: Cups are made to order with the amount of sugar you request: “sade” (plain), “az” (little), “orta” (medium) or “sekerli” (super-sweet).
Mandabatmaz, Olivia Gecidi 1A, Beyoglu, Istanbul, 34430
Cesme Bazlama Kahvalti
Bring your biggest appetite to breakfast at this Aegean-inspired spot, an offshoot of a restaurant in the Turkish resort town of Cesme. The waiters will fill your table with dozens of small dishes — olives, cheeses, homemade jams, honey with thick cream, tahini with molasses, creamy eggplant dip, spicy pepper paste — and plenty of village-style bread to scoop them up with. The turquoise-and-white decor accents are redolent of a seaside cafe. It’s pricey, but you can have as much as you want of any items served.
BTW: Come early and avoid weekends, when the lines can be an hour long.
Cesme Bazlama Kahvalti, Ahmet Fetgari Sokak 40, Tesvikiye, Sisli, Istanbul, 34365
It’s hard to choose from among the array of home-cooked dishes on display at the entrance of this cheery lokanta, a kind of cafeteria-style Turkish restaurant popular for a quick lunch. Run by a mother-daughter team, Elde Borek has a nicer atmosphere, and more fresh, unusual salads on offer than you’ll find at many lokantas, which can be a bit bare-bones. Just point at whatever looks most tantalizing under the counter glass and the staff will plate it up and bring it to your table.
BTW: Want to try more dishes? Order yarim porsiyon (half portion). This trick works at most lokanta-style eateries.
Elde Borek, Ihlamurdere Caddesi 23, Besiktas, Istanbul, 34022
With its wrought-iron spiral staircase and airy dining room swathed in turquoise tiles, this is one of the most elegant settings in town for the hearty home-cooked Turkish dishes typically served cafeteria-style at humble lokantas. It’s a popular spot for a business lunch over a plate of meatballs, a bowl of stewed white beans and rice, or slow-cooked beef atop an eggplant puree. The restaurant bustles noisily at midday, but tables usually turn over quickly as customers on their lunch break head back to the office.
BTW: At night, the restaurant turns into a top-notch meyhane (tavern); you’ll need reservations.
Karakoy Lokantasi, Kemankes Caddesi 37A, Karakoy, Beyoglu, Istanbul, 34425
It won’t win any ambiance awards, but the welcome is warm and the food delicious at this lokanta just off Istiklal Caddesi. The specialties of the house are its Black Sea-style dishes, such as karalahana corbasi (kale soup with beans), karalahana sarmasi (kale leaves stuffed with meat, rice and spices and served with yogurt), and misir ekmegi (cornbread). When hamsi is in season, look for the little anchovy fish served up all kinds of ways: fried in a light corn batter, draped over seasoned rice, even cooked into the omeletlike kaygana.
BTW: The cream-stuffed phyllo-dough pastry laz boregi is a decadent way to top off a meal.
Hayvore , Turnacibasi Sokak 4, Beyoglu, Istanbul, 34433
One of Turkey’s best wineries has created a surprisingly sophisticated and secluded space within the Kanyon shopping mall to taste the fruits of its Gallipoli Peninsula vineyards along with a refined food menu. Pair a glass of wine — maybe a crisp kinali yapincak or soft, plummy karasakiz, both indigenous grapes — with a cheese or charcuterie plate, followed by a starter of oven-roasted beets with hazelnuts and local goat cheese, or grilled shrimp in garlicky olive oil. Mains run the gamut from pizzas and clam linguine to grilled liver with orange segments, quinoa and fresh herbs.
BTW: The tricky-to-find entrance is via an elevator in the back of the mall’s movie theater.
Suvla Kanyon, Kanyon AVM, Buyukdere Caddesi 185, Levent, Istanbul, 34394
Unlike many in Istanbul, the bartenders at this tiny cocktail bar in Cihangir have a firm grasp on mixology — and aren’t stingy with their pours. The stiff and well-made cocktails include a full range of classic tipples, served with popcorn or other bar snacks. On weekends, the crowd spills out the door, but don’t let that dissuade you. The sidewalk is the most popular spot with the city’s many smokers, so there might still be space in the stylish, intimate interior.
BTW: Don’t like anything on the menu? Let the bartenders make something based on your alcohol and flavor preferences.
Geyik, Akarsu Yokusu 22, Cihangir, Beyoglu, Istanbul, 34425
There’s no shortage of kebab stands where you can grab greasy late-night food, but for something higher on the culinary food chain, head to this 24-hour establishment in the Kadikoy district, on the city’s Asian side. The Gaziantep-style eats include the namesake durum, or wrap, stuffed with lamb, liver or chicken, as well as other kebab dishes. The spicy beyran soup, with bits of lamb floating in a garlicky, peppery broth, cures any ills. Save room for dessert if you can, such as a crepelike katmer filled with pistachios and thick cream or a cheese-stuffed, sugar-syrup-drenched kunefe.
BTW: It’s hidden away on a side street across from the Kadikoy fire station.
Durumcu Emmi, Mahmut Baba Caddesi 11, Kadikoy, Istanbul, 34722