This chef-driven restaurant, in the heart of the Beyoglu district, is on the ground floor of a suite hotel but has its own entrance. Lively and hip, it's crowded on weekends. Working in an open kitchen, chef Maksut Askar does his take on modern Turkish cuisine with global influences. His ingredients are impeccable: He's a stickler for local resources. You can find dishes such as merguez sausage with romesco, slow-cooked octopus and sea bass ceviche, but if you have a hankering, you can also get a barbecue beef sandwich, a burger and shoestring fries, or a pizza topped with lamb and shallots.
Sekiz Istanbul, Kuloglu Mah. 1 Erol Dernek Sokak, Beyoglu, 011-90-212-249-8924; Meal for two about $100.
Tarihi Karakoy Balikcisi Lokantasi
Tucked in a back alley in Karakoy, in the working-class hardware district, this tiny fish kebab restaurant is as compact as a boat. A small window into the kitchen displays the day's kebabs on offer. Inside, grill master Muharrem Usta operates in a kitchen the size of a galley, deftly turning skewers threaded with prawns or sole over a charcoal fire. A drawer to his right holds the bread, another napkins and silverware. There is an upstairs, but you'll want to sit at one of the two tables downstairs to better catch the action. Add a green salad and maybe the sea bass in parchment paper.
Tarihi Karakoy Balikcisi Lokantasi, 30 Tersane Caddesi Kardesim Sokak, Karakoy; 011-90-212-251-1371. Lunch for two, $90
When visiting the Kadikoy market on the Asian side (a $2 ferry ride across the Marmara Sea from Karakoy), don't miss this tiny place turning out Turkish-style pizzas called lahmacun. It's fascinating to watch the assembly line in front of the wood-burning oven that takes up half the space. One guy rolls out the dough. Another garnishes it with spicy minced beef instead of the usual lamb. The third slips the rounds into the oven. The fourth stacks and plates them while the owner holds court in the corner. At about $2 apiece, these crisp flatbreads with the merest smear of beef are utterly addictive. Eat with a squeeze of lemon and some parsley leaves. Check out the pide (boat-shaped pie) with parsley filling too.
Halil Lahmacun, 26/A Gunesli Bahce Sokak, Kadikoy; 011-90-216-337-0123; no website. Lahmacun about $2 each.
Karadeniz Pide Doner Salonu
I'd almost given up, feet tired, but was determined to find the hole-in-the-wall doner kebab spot Satana had mentioned. We had walked along the Bosporus to Besiktas, a district of Istanbul, and finally found it on a nondescript street next to a phone store. The line was a block long, but it was worth the wait for the thinly sliced lamb and beef piled into a soft bun with tomatoes and slow-cooked peppers. We stood in the middle of the street eating our sandwich, juices dripping, unable to stop ourselves from groaning. It was that good.
Karadeniz Pide Doner Salonu, 6 Mumcu Bakkai Sokak, Sinan Pasa Mahallesi, Besiktas; 011-90-212-261-7693, no website.
Uc Yildizs Sekerleme
Every time I threaded my way through the crowds on Iskeli Caddesi, I had to turn off onto a side street and buy a bag of lokum, or Turkish delight, from this shop that dates to 1926. Flavored with pistachio, hazelnuts, rose or my favorite, a hauntingly musky mastic, the lokum here is less gummy than that at other perhaps more famous sweet shops, and with a meltingly tender texture. Now that I'm home and can't get my lokum fix, I wish I'd brought back a huge box of the traditional sweets.
Uc Yildizs Sekerleme, 15 Dudu Odalan Sokak., Beyoglu; 011-90-212-293-8170.
Kenan Usta Ocakbasi
There were no seats left around the charcoal brazier at this top grill restaurant, so we headed upstairs to the modest dining room, where every table, except the one we'd reserved, was full. I watched as two women talked and ate like crazy and couldn't believe it when they ordered yet another round of skewers. These women could eat. We tried valiantly but didn't come close — a few meze, rich fatty lamb sweetbreads threaded on skewers, and like all the meats here served with a pile of paper-thin flat bread, the better to collect all the juices. My favorite? The spiced beef. Like the practiced women, we liberally sprinkled our meats with smoky Turkish red pepper.
Kenan Usta Ocakbasi, 18 Kurabiye Sokak, Beyoglu; 011- 90-212-293-5611. Meal for two, about $50.