Istanbul’us make eating fish an art form. Formal fish restaurants follow the same format as traditional meat meals – cold mezes, then hot mezes, then fish, washed down with plenty of rakı. But there is also delicious, fresh fish available without all the formalities, lira, or sometimes, even a proper table:
1) Who needs a restaurant? Along the Golden Horn, pick your favorite tricked-out boat and order up a balık ekmek (literally “fish bread”), which is as simple as it sounds – just grilled fish (usually sea bass) on a fluffy roll. Grab a stool at a low wooden table to wash down this ultimate fast food with a glass of Turkish tea.
2) Adem Baba: On the European shore of the Bosphorus, Arnavutköy’s alleys are chock-a-block with Ottoman-style villas (yalıs)-cum-seafood eateries.
Adem Baba is the tried-and-true favorite for bite-size fried hamsi (with traditional cornbread alongside) as well as simple grilled fish at reasonable prices. Those reasonable prices do have their downsides, though – no view, no alcohol.
3) Tarihi Karaköy Balıkçısı: Closer to the old city – just across the Galata Bridge into Karaköy – TKB opens only for lunch, when Istanbul’us descend for locally renowned fish soup (balık çorbası) and daily specials.
4) Tarihi Karaköy Balıkçısı Grifin: Upstairs from the original TKB, Grifin draws a well-heeled crowd to this dark block. Pick past the potholes and ride up to the 5th floor in the rickety elevator, and you will see why. Grifin focuses on the elements that we really care about: the view and the food. In a simple room, where the fading Ottoman-style floor tiles provide the only nod to decoration, wraparound windows frame the entire old city. Only their perfect kağıtta levrek (sea bass cooked in parchment) could ensure that you don’t spend the entire evening looking out the window.
5) Balıkçı Sabahattin: The place for a fish dinner in the old city – ask any local worth their sea salt. Its restored Ottoman mansion and large garden provide a perfect oasis from the mobbed streets of Sultanahmet, and the well-executed traditional fare explains the loyalty of its following.
6) Iskele Rumeli Hisarı: Iskele could not get closer to the water unless the dining room were actually submerged. Perched on stilts underneath the second bridge over the Bosphorus, Iskele’s intimate dining room provides an ideal setting for their long, lavish dinners.
7) Sur Balık: In Arnavutköy’s row of Ottoman style villas-cum-fish restaurants, one stands out, both visually and gastronomically. Sur Balık hosts diners inside a gleaming-white four-story mansion, with high ceilings and just enough creak still in the floorboards to feel authentic. In good weather, Sur offers three outdoor dining options – by the water, on the roof, and at a clever bar-style balcony. In whichever nook you find yourself, don’t miss the pesto-marinated sea bass, served chilled, or the balık mantı, a decadent take on Turkish dumplings with yogurt sauce. Sur’s lavish location, food and service, naturally, are reflected in your bill.
8) Lacivert: Housed in a villa on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, Lacivert is special-event location with service and prices to match. If you are staying on the European side, take advantage of the complimentary boat from Rumeli Hisarı to shuttle you across the water in style.