More so than any other district in Istanbul, Perşembe Pazarı – the city’s hardware zone – brings together what we love most about this city: thriving street life, hard-to-grasp commercial enterprises, remnants of history and, of course, excellent hidden spots to eat. A chickpea and pilaf cart is pushed past a classic grilled fish dive into the rutted courtyard of an Ottoman-era han where nothing but springs are sold, hanging like heavy vines from pegboards outside tiny domed shops – that’s a typical Perşembe Pazarı moment.
We’ve made many excuses to get to know the shopkeepers of this enchanting area, spending days window-shopping for obscure industrial hardware. And we’ve always found excellent opportunities for a simple meal or a sundowner on the waterfront. To know Perşembe Pazarı is to love it. The following roundup of our favorite dining spots in the neighborhood is our love letter to this historic market and the people who work and eat here every day.
The neon sign in front of Kemal’in Yeri shines like a “Last Chance for Gas” sign on the highway before you enter the desert. In your rearview mirror are the crowded tourist traps of the Galata Bridge. Ahead lie the shipyards and decrepit warehouses of the Golden Horn. “Kemal’s Place” is not only the last place to eat on this stretch of the water; it’s one of the last places in Beyoğlu where you can eat reasonably well on a reasonable budget sitting outside beside the water. Giving new meaning to the word “garden,” the spot looks a bit like a clearing in a junkyard where you might stumble upon a hobo encampment. Electric wiring strung among the trees sheds light on giant wooden spools, now used as tables.
This is not yet the sort of place where a yacht may pull up and disembark hungry masses, so Kemal doesn’t stock any of the luxurious catches found at some of the fancier fish restaurants around town. He does keep a full pile of hardwood to fuel the grill and is always willing to procure a nice fish from the market if given advance notice. Otherwise, he keeps the offerings quite simple, from mezes like spicy ezme or fried calamari with a garlicky yogurt sauce to the standard offerings of small fish. We tend to leave Kemal’s with the feeling that we’ve spent the evening in a magical corner of the city that exists contrary to all logic, rules and regulations – a leafy, quiet, waterfront fish restaurant with very affordable prices that no one makes a fuss about.
Address: Makaracılar Caddesi 3, Karaköy
Telephone: +90 538 451 4417 (Kemal’s mobile)
[Editor’s note: We regret to report that Mutfak Dili has closed.]
Our tried-and-true lunch-hunting tips: 1) Wander into one of the city’s numerous districts of small tradesmen’s shops. 2) Enter one of these shops, preferably one where two old men are sitting at the counter looking at a horse-racing form or working a crossword puzzle. 3) Ask them where they eat lunch. If they try to send you to the place they think you should eat lunch, repeat clearly: “Where do you eat lunch?” 4) Follow their directions to the nearest esnaf lokantası, or tradesmen’s restaurant.
This simple strategy is how we stumbled upon Mutfak Dili (“Kitchen Talk”), a bustling spot near the Golden Horn that keeps local shop owners sated with cheap and tasty daily specials. The dark, paneled interior with pictures of the owner mugging for the camera brings to mind a Chicago dive bar, while the front patio, with its smattering of tables set against a bright blue and white-painted façade, reminds us of an unintentionally hip café in Barcelona. But the folks at Mutfak Dili are not just sitting around looking cool; they’ve got it going on in the kitchen, too.
Starters might include fresh stewed green beans served cold in olive oil or a bowl of cacık, chilled yogurt with diced cucumbers. The imam bayıldı, a cold dish of eggplant stuffed with tomatoes, peppers and onions, has the perfect balance for a dish that usually seems to give way to the onions and garlic. Mutfak Dili also serves esnaf lokantası classics like taş kebabı, a succulent beef stew. For dessert, the Antep fıstıklı yeşil yayla tatlısı is sort of the happy union of two of our favorite Turkish sweets, the syrup-soaked cake revani and the traditional pistachio baklava.
Address: Tersane Caddesi, Ziyalı Sokak 10, Karaköy
Telephone: +90 212 254 1154
Hours: 10:30am-4pm; closed weekends
On a street of mostly demolished hardware shops, Köfteci Cemal makes its presence known with a bright yellow paint job and the word köfteci spray-painted on the front, back and sides of his building, in case patrons forget where the place is located. There’s little chance of that happening, though. “We’ve got history down here,” said grill master Hakkı Bey, reflecting on decades of slinging meatballs to hardware vendors and shoppers.
Hakkı Bey hand-pats his meatballs into large, loose nuggets, which are a precious commodity around lunchtime, when hungry shopkeepers come over for an order or call Hakkı on his phone for takeout. Shot through with parsley and spiced with black pepper, the meatballs are nothing unusual, but they are as uncommonly soft and as juicy as köfte can be. More than anything, they are an excuse for us to find ourselves amongst Hakkı Bey and his regulars, a group of men who wear coveralls, not Top-Siders.
Address: Yemeniciler Sokak 16, Karaköy
Telephone: +90 212 249 9640
Hours: Noon-4:30pm; closed Sunday
We generally wouldn’t recommend pulling yourself up into the back of a broken-down truck with no license plates that’s sitting in an empty lot down by the water, but Osman’s truck offers a rare glimpse of an Istanbul if there really were no rules and, not to mention, great views of the Golden Horn. “We are free down here,” says Osman from behind the counter in the back of the covered truck’s cargo area, now converted into a cozy café with low tables and padded benches, where he slings çay and cold beers on special request.
Osman’s roots in this spot go back three generations. His grandfather and father spent years piloting the water taxis that run between Karaköy and Eminönü. The small dock and its environs came to feel like an extension of the family’s living room. But to us, Osman’s truck feels just like the little bar in the finished basement of a beloved uncle – a fully stocked clubhouse. “In Istanbul, anything’s possible,” Osman says. Here, even a cup of tea in the back of a rogue tea truck with a priceless view is still possible.
Address: Golden Horn water taxi dock to Eminönü, Karaköy
Hours: Roughly 2pm-10pm; closed Sunday
Tarihi Karaköy Balıkçısı
The Turkish term usta, which means master in the Jedi sense of the word, seems to have lost its meaning in Istanbul, with plenty of unchaperoned apprentices passing themselves off as the master of their domain. Thankfully, this is not the case at Tarihi Karaköy Balıkçısı (aka T.K.B.), a Karaköy institution since 1923. A reliable supply of spanking-fresh fish helps, but the man at the helm – Muharrem Usta, who has spent more than 20 years in the kitchen – is the main source of inspiration here. In the decade we’ve been eating at this humble, laughably cramped restaurant, nothing has ever been short of excellent – and nothing has ever changed.
The fish soup is more like a hearty chowder, teeming with tasty chunks of fish, diced potatoes, carrot slivers, bay leaves and lemon. For the main course, kağıtta levrek, or sea bass baked in parchment, and dil şiş, plump little fillets of sole that are rolled up and grilled on a skewer, are Muharrem’s magnum opus, so that is what we always order. A meal at T.K.B. might cost more than at most rough-and-ready fish shacks on the docks, but craftsmanship and consistency cost a little extra.
Address: Tersane Caddesi, Kardeşim Sokak 45/A, Karaköy
Telephone: +90 212 251 1371
Hours: Noon-3:30pm; closed Sunday
Golden City Hotel Bar
For years, we had always wondered what was going on inside Golden City Hotel, the shabby tower in this low-rise neighborhood of shops and warehouse space. Despite the convenient location and spectacular views, this is not an obvious place to lodge. It is, however, an obvious place to have a cold beer on a rooftop bar as the sun sets behind the skyline of the Old City. We didn’t check out the rooms, but we can certainly say that the bar on the hotel’s terrace is a highly undervalued hospitality asset that would make a Kempinski blush.
Address: Tersane Caddesi 111, Karaköy
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Telephone: +90 212 254 7700