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Our picks: Istanbul

Over the years we have shared countless times with Cuca’s customers our favourite restaurants from every city we know. The truth is that people in search of the tastiest food from around the world seem to trust chefs’ picks when choosing food, and since everyone asks our humble opinion, we have decided to start a proper “Our Picks” section where we give you our recommendations on where and what to eat. Go ahead, try for yourself and share these lists as you please, but just because we may help you find a new favourite, please don’t forget about your first love, Cuca!

Istanbul has been on our Gastronomic bucket list for years, and the rumours that surround its legendary status for unthinkable deliciousness are absolutely true, making it a must-visit destination for anyone who loves food. Albeit a meaty one, the cuisine is not only tasty but extremely healthy, with a huge variety of nutrient-rich fresh vegetables, fibre-packed legumes, incredibly aromatic olive oils, raw natural thick honey, vitamin-packed nuts and calcium-rich yoghurt and cheeses to merely scratch the surface of what lies ahead.

Balikci Sabahattin
Considered by locals as the best fish restaurant in Istanbul, this place is serious about seafood. We had absolutely no idea, we actually stumbled upon this restaurant by accident simply looking for a decent meal but were totally blown away. The extremely high quality, perfectly prepared seafood and deeply delicious meze are outstanding and served in a restored old Ottoman mansion from 1927.  What the well-seasoned wait staff may lack in friendliness is made up for with efficiency. In a city that leans heavy towards all things meat, this place is an oceanic gem!
Price: $$$$
What to order: Any of their daily catch whole fish, Rice with mussels, Shrimp casserole

Hamdi Restaurant – Eminönü
This place is so good! Just thinking about it right now we are salivating and upset with our current lunch situation. Hamdi is an extremely popular, huge multi-floor restaurant where grilled meats on metal sticks are absolutely perfected. We did not eat a single dish on their menu that we did not absolutely love! If you can, try to sit on the top floor as the views are spectacular.
Price: $$$
What to order: Pistachio kebab, Baklava

Çiğköfteci Ali Usta
So, I’m assuming raw meat on the street is probably not topping your culinary must-do list for Istanbul, but maybe it should. This place takes the absolute freshest lean cuts of lamb that are, grind them and knead them together with bulgur wheat, onions, spices and tomato into a magical mixture that is then splashed with pomegranate molasses, fresh lemon and crispy lettuce, and finally wrapped up in delicate flatbread…. oh boy! As you queue for this Armenian delicacy, the famous chef insults and teases his awaiting customers leaving more than a few offended… So be ready, toughen up, get in line and standby for guaranteed deliciousness.
Price: $
What to order: Cig Kofte

Karaköy Lokantası
Oh, this place is really something special. With over 80 different mezzes on the menu, we needed very little more information to immediately make the reservation. Dishes are superbly crafted from traditional recipes packed with flavour, all certain to satisfy. Dinner is booked at least 2 weeks out, so our tip is to go for lunch instead as the prices are much lower and food is just as good.
Price: $$$
What to order: Hünkar beğendi (juicy beef stew with eggplant puree), Lamb borek and, of course, the mezze

Kebapçı İskender – İskender İskenderoğlu
This was not only the best thing we ate in all of Istanbul but probably one of the best dishes we have ever eaten… anywhere on the planet! We greedily returned 2 days in a row to eat exactly the same thing and are currently planning a trip back to do it all over again. Here was created the famous dish “Pideli Doner Kebob”, which is now served not only all over Turkey but also throughout the world. Think charcoal grilled shavings cut from a spinning wheel of meat, splashed with tangy tomato and a mountain of yoghurt over crispy flat bread and drenched in melted butter tableside. Not an everyday meal indeed if you plan to survive the trip but, oh my god, it is absolute heaven.  Service is angry and uncaring but you’re not there to make friends. Keep to the mission, young Jedi!
Price: $$
What to order: Pideli Doner Kebob

Since 1960 this place has been serving traditional homestyle recipes that are masterfully prepared. This is the go-to place for many Turkish people who willingly travel great distances for the original, never-changing delicious taste of Tatbak’s food. What more can we say… Simple, unfussy, and straightforward great cooking for over 50 years without compromising on quality. A noble accomplishment indeed!
Price: $$$
What to order: Spicy Lahmacum (Turkish pizza), Minced mix lamb & beef Kebab

SADE Beş Denizler Mutfağı
This place has everything we love about a great restaurant: Homely unpretentious vibe… Check! Meticulously prepared homestyle food… Check! Caring and personable waitstaff… Check! Great value… Check! With a menu reading like an encyclopaedia of traditional Anatolian cuisine using old heritage recipes that have stood the test of time through pure deliciousness, I cannot think of any reason to not devour the menu!
Price: $$
What to order: Manti (Turkish ravioli), Tokat-style keşkek (pounded wheat and lamb)

Hafis Mustafa 1864
This chain is scattered all over Istanbul making it feel as though it may be some sort of fast-food uninspired waste of time, but we can assure you it is not! We would love to recommend instead some “Mom and Pop” sweet shop as we normally do and stay well clear of the larger dominating gorillas of gastronomy, but we can’t… This place is so damn good! With a dizzying display of artisanal baklava in every shape, colour and combination, we recommend to sit down, take a deep breath, order a tea and a few sweets to try, and then buy absolutely everything your suitcase can hold to take home.
Price: $$$
What to order: Baklava