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If Lades, which means “wishbone” in Turkish, provided an actual wishbone alongside the usual post-meal wet wipe and toothpick, we’d close our eyes and make a wish that we could eat their tandır, or oven-roasted baby lamb, seven days a week. These large knots of tender, fragrant meat lined with a soft cushion of fat are the sort of high-calorie lunch that we might save for a special occasion, but Lades regulars take for granted.

Lades is an old-school spot, a classic lokanta serving stews and steam-table favorites day in, day out. The condition of the monogrammed flatware, which is faded from decades of use by diners sopping up that last bit of stew with a fresh piece of white bread, is indicative of the sort of customer approval that we seek in a lunch spot. On one of our very first visits, we tried the Hot Pocket-like talaş kebabı, a stew of beef, carrots, currants, onions and pine nuts wrapped in puff pastry. A bowl of lentil soup, a side of okra and, for dessert, kazandibi (“burnt pudding”), helped us determine that just about everything at Lades is highly soppable and dependably good.

Indeed, if Lades were an automobile, it might be an old Volvo station wagon – nothing exotic, but safe and extremely reliable. (Equally dependable is the highly recommended, diner-like Lades 2 across the street, which serves eggs, chicken soup and puddings.) “Most of our customers are regulars. They know exactly what is served on which day of the week. How could we possibly change anything?” said manager İlker Bey from his post at the cash register.

Over time, we’ve become regulars too, and now find ourselves stopping by Lades on an almost weekly basis for their excellent döner. Unlike most of the döner meat sold on the street on Istanbul, which is usually assembled in a factory, frozen and then shipped to merchants, Lades has theirs prepared fresh by the butcher next door.

As it is written (on the window out front), on Mondays and Thursdays you shall eat döner kebap in succulent ribbons served over rice. Tuesday is a day for Arnavut ciğeri, lightly fried lamb’s liver ramped up with red peppers. Smothered okra, spinach with rice, roast chicken, various stews and our beloved tandır kebap are available everyday but Sunday, when the restaurant is closed. They may be dependable, but even the guys at Lades deserve a day of rest.

Ansel Mullins

Published on December 17, 2012

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