Istanbul is a great destination for meat eaters, particularly those who love kebabs. The Istanbul Eats bloggers select the best restaurants to savour Turkey’s signature dish.
Siirt Şeref Büryan Kebap Salonu
Kadinlar Pazari, a pleasant, pedestrianised square in the Fatih neighbourhood, is the closest Istanbul has to a “little Kurdistan”. This superb restaurant specialises in büryan kebab; a kind of Turkish version of the Texas pit barbecue. A side of a small lamb is slowly cooked over coals in a deep hole in the ground, resulting in exceptionally tender meat covered in a thin layer of crackling, crunchy fat. Be sure to also try the perde pilavi, a fragrant peppery pilaf made of rice, chicken, almonds and currants wrapped in a thin pastry shell and baked until the exterior turns golden and flaky.
• Itfaiye Caddesi 4, Fatih, +90 212 635 8085, serefburyan.org, mains TL10 (£4). Open 10am-11pm daily
This small restaurant, which serves the tasty food of southern Turkey’s Hatay region, exudes cool without sacrificing flavour. Antiochia’s meat dishes are simple, recognisable dishes, set to a higher frequency. Şiş et is a plate of marinated cubes of beef skewered and grilled over a charcoal fire. On any given evening in the Beyoğlu region, there must be thousands of skewers of şiş et coming off the grill, but none are quite as tender and succulent as at Antiochia. And the minced meat dürüm (wrap) with onions and tomatoes is among the best in the city.
•Minare Sokak 21, Beyoğlu, +90 212 292 1100, antiochaconcept.com, average main dish £6. Open Mon-Fri noon-midnight, Sat 3pm-midnight
Zübeyir, a fantastic grill house near Taksim Square, is a refreshing find. It serves seriously good food, but without taking itself too seriously. The cosy restaurant is dominated by an ocakbasi a long hearth with a copper hood, where the meat is grilled over coals. It’s a bit like Turkey’s answer to the sushi bar, with a few seats grillside, where you can watch the chef do his thing. Their Adana kebab – spicy minced lamb – has just the right combination of meat, fat and red pepper. Chicken wings (kanat) and lamb chops (pirzola) are also superbly grilled. It’s not easy to stand out in a city of kebab restaurants. Zubeyir does it effortlessly.
• Bekar Sokak 28, Beyoğlu, +90 212 293 3951, zubeyirocakbasi.com, mains £7. Open noon-midnight daily
Don’t let the setting – a restored 19th-century mansion and with an elegant interior – fool you. Despite the upscale digs on the Asian side of the city, Mabeyin features the earthy but intricately spiced food of Turkey’s southeast, which has a strong Middle Eastern influence. The mezes and kebabs are expertly made but even more interesting are the stews, such as one made with rice and meat dumplings in a warm yogurt broth, or another that has two kinds of bulgur dumplings in a tomato-based sauce. Mabeyin is a quick cab ride from the Üsküdar ferry terminal and serves guests in its splendid garden during warm weather.
• Eski Kisikli Caddesi 129, Kisikli, +90 216 422 5580, mabeyin.com, mains £10. Open noon-11pm daily
Though köfte may seem like nothing more than grilled meatballs to non-locals, Turks – like New Yorkers with pizza – take their köfte very seriously. Some of the best in town comes from Köfteci Hüseyin, a humble purveyor in Beyoğlu who got his start selling meatballs from a pushcart grill some 40 years ago. Though Hüseyin has since passed on, he bequeathed his tongs to his son, who now works the grill at a tiny storefront just off Taksim Square and maintains a winning recipe combining quality, consistency and low prices. While some places lard their köftewith breadcrumbs, his distinguish themselves with their unusually high meat content.
• Kurabiye Sokak 14, Beyoğlu, +90 212 243 7637, portion £3.50. Open Mon-Sat noon-5pm
This place is best known for the sublime dishes it serves in its sister restaurant across the street, but Çiya is also one of Istanbul’s finest kebab-makers. The menu at this branch reads like a listing of kebab’s greatest hits, with regional specialities from throughout Turkey’s south-east region, the country’s kebab-making heartland. Fistik kebab, made of minced lamb and chopped pistachios, and hashasli kebab, with poppy seeds, are two standouts. Some of the seasonal kebabs, such as those grilled with quince, loquats or cloves of fresh garlic, are simply divine.
• Güneşlibahçe Sokak 43, Kadiköy, +90 216 330 3190, ciya.com.tr , mains £7. Open noon-10pm daily