Why isn’t love enough: It’s hard to compete with Rakı while overlooking the Bosphorous. It’s even more difficult to suggest that your taste buds might need something more than Kavaltı on rare occasions. Who (could’ve imagined) that more than gozeleme, menemen, cilbir, or Turkish coffee was necessary to sustain life. Then there is that rare occasion, once in a blue moon, at the turn of the vernal equonix, when fairies come out to play, that one desires something other than the culinary treasures of Turkey. On those occasions, a search for more exotic cuisine can be somewhat difficult in Istanbul. In order to help with that search I have listed my five favorite ethnic cuisines within the city limits.
Itsumi: The most immediate desire I need to fill when in search of exotic food is my need for sushi. Towards this end I have invested (much )time and money into two establishments. If you just need a fix take a look at SushiCo, this will quiet the dragon. But for the more (discerning) addict, a more authentic experience may be necessary. Allow me to introduce you to Itsumi, a sushi enclave in the Levent area of Istanbul. A set menu price including rolls, tempura, soup, and fish will set you back about 40TL. This alone would not seal (its’) place in my heart, but the Fatty Toro Tuna and Mackeral that melt in your mouth are the things that still my beating heart. While you may have (to see) your first born to afford the nigiri menu, it’s well worth it for the (discerning-repeat) addiction. In addition to a traditional sushi menu, Itsumi has other offerings. (while) I did not try them I plan to return soon and will report on the experience.
Cafe Nico: Cafe Nico located in the heart of Aksaray is possibly the love of my life. It offers the kind of down home cooking that I am accustomed to in the heart of the deep south. Located in a bus station right off of the Mamaray, Cafe Nico has a flavor that is uniquely its own. The hustle and bustle of life are seen through the microcosm of the bus station. Peeking through the window off the the patio, you can watch the chef throw back beer to cool off on hot summer days while she creates Georgian culinary magic. Lobio, a bean dish reminiscent of Southern Mississippi Red Beans and rice would have (be) crawling back to Aksaray on my hands an knees. But the Kinkali, the original pork soup dumplings as big as your fist, would have me doing the same trek through broken glass and burning coals. I cannot extol the virtues of Cafe Nico enough to put into works. If the description hasn’t persuaded you, the price tag will. Nothing on the menu is over 8 TL. I’ve gone with parties of 6 people, ordered everything on the menu twice, chacha (Georgian grape moonshine), and wine and still not paid over 30TL per person. If you’re into rustic culinary adventures, this is the spot for you.
Tandori: Turkey is obsessed with the natural flavor of food. The taste of meat should speak for itself unhindered by excessive sauces and spices. Indian food is the exact opposite. In my mind the obvious love of India for spices is rivaled only by Cajun food in the deep south. The love affair between food and spice has no greater example. If the complicated layering of spices associated with Indian food is what you’re craving, look no further than Tandoori in Besiktas. The curry is immaculate and when you ask for something (spicy), be prepared to be impressed. Everything we ordered was next level (spicy-repeat), yet so delicious we couldn’t refrain from eating more.
Burger House: Sometimes you gotta have a burger: a big, juicy, greasy burger American style. Usually burgers would not be exotic enough to deserve a presence on an international food list, but given the offerings in Istanbul it (could not) be ignored. If you’re craving a burger there is of course Fat Burger and Shake Shack. These will quench your thirst. However, if I may be so bold, Burger House hits the nail on the head beating both of these places out in terms of quality and taste. A relative of mine visited, and not only went (o) Burger House twice, she compared its offerings to the best burgers in the DC area. The onion rings are amazing and the salads are large enough to (fee) a small cow. Specialty burgers are available. I have only been disappointed once by their (offering) and that was (by? because of? the) quesadilla burger. Stick with the mushroom onion burger or the chef’s special burger and all will be right with the world.
Thai: I was fortunate enough to visit Pera Thai in the Pera region of Istanbul. The restaurant is nice and cool with fancy decor. We ordered the beef satay with peanut sauce for an appetizer. The beef was delicate and peanut sauce was some of the best I’ve had. I ordered the red curry duck which was a delightful fever dream of spices, while my friend had the stir fried chicken with mushrooms. Both dishes were astoundingly delightful not to mention quite authentic.