Wondering where to eat in Izmir? Here’s the (non-exhaustive) list of my favorite restaurants in Izmir. I always try to eat there every summer when I go back to Izmir to visit my in-laws. I lived in Izmir for 3 years so it was very hard to narrow it down to 5 restaurants! There are so many more I want to include, and maybe one day I will. I am not sure I can go back to Izmir this summer, so I decided to write this ‘guide’. If I stare at the photos long enough, I can almost taste the kebab you know (no the quarantine isn’t driving me crazy I swear).
When you’re in Turkey you should pick a place that specializes in just one type of meal. You can be sure they will be doing that one thing really really well. Sometimes they have been doing it for generations! Bonus points if you see the place crowded with Turkish people. Forget the tourist restaurants serving 30 different types of kebab.
Don’t worry about what time it is, most places are open and serve food all day long. Which, as a French person who was used to strict 12-to-2pm and 7-to-9pm rules, I found very weird at first but it’s so convenient! Another thing I found weird at first, was how quickly waiters come to clear your plate as soon as you put your fork down. It made me feel rushed, like they couldn’t wait for me to leave the table but I realized it’s a cultural thing. Since Turkish people don’t have 2 hours long family Sunday meals, they are not used to staying at a table with dirty dishes in front of them.
MAP: WHERE TO EAT IN IZMIR
BAZAAR OF KEMERALTI
If you’re in Izmir it’s probably because you’re making a stopover before visiting Ephesus, Pamukkale or maybe you are on your way to a beach resort on the Aegean coast. Whether you’re spending a day or just a few hours in Izmir, hitting the bazaar in Kemeraltı is a great idea. You can stock up on spices, get a feel for the local culture and sit down for a cup of warming salep (orchid milk) in winter, or freshly pressed juice in summer. As you can see on the map, most of my favorite places to eat in Izmir are located in the bazaar.
It’s fortunate since the bazaar and the clock tower, located at its entrance, are pretty much the only tourist sites in Izmir. In Izmir’s defense, a big part of the city burned down in 1922 during the Turkish Independence War. There are also a couple of places in different neighborhoods, which could be perfect for you if your hotel isn’t located in the city center. Maybe you are in Izmir for business reasons, or you could be a student like I was so you would have more time to roam around. In any case, I hope you’ll find something here that suits you and gives you ideas about where (and what) to eat in Izmir.
WHAT TO DRINK
I don’t really like the appellation best restaurants so I wrote a round-up of where to eat in Izmir if you want to eat like a local. Take your pick according to what you feel like eating. I encourage you to order ayran (a cold beverage made with yogurt, salt and water) to drink along with any meat, pilaf, or spicy dishes. It’s delicious and super refreshing!
After your meal, and if you order dessert, don’t forget to drink a glass of çay (tea). But when it comes to coffee, Turkish people tend to go to a coffee shop to sit down and drink a cup. If you order a Turkish coffee, don’t mix it with your spoon or you will have to wait for the unfiltered ground coffee beans to drop down at the bottom of your cup again.
If you want a drink say bir adet ayran (ayran), bir adet su (water), bir adet soda (sparkling water), bir adet çay (tea), bir adet kahve (coffee). Or just point on the menu in front of you 😉 .
WHERE TO EAT IN IZMIR
Öz Gerçek Bursa: for iskender döner
If there is something I deplore now that I moved back to France, it’s the lack of good döner. Look at this beauty! Don’t you want to lick off your screen? I am not big on meat in general but even I can’t say no to this place’s kebab. Öz Gerçek Bursa serves 4 different types of kebab but their Iskender döner is the main reason I go there. It’s off-this-world good!
Thinly cut grilled lamb is topped with hot tomato sauce and a good amount of sizzling melted butter is poured over the dish at the table when it’s being served. And under all of these, soaking up all the meaty and buttery juice, are slices of fluffy pita bread. The meat is so tender, it melts in your mouth! Also, the contrast between hot and spicy meat and cold yogurt is superb. What a kebab!
They will serve you some çiğ köfte (spicy bulgur balls), a salad, and a small dessert alongside your order. But if you still have room, I would advise you to try their künefe (pastry layered with cheese and pistachio), with a glass of çay of course. It’s the perfect sweet treat to end a perfect meal!
To order one kebab say: tek iskender kebap or buçuk iskender kebap if you are hungry and want a little bit more. To order dessert say bir adet künefe,lütfen.
Edirne Tava Ciğeri: for fried liver (yaprak çiğer)
I know some you might want to run as soon you read ‘liver’. Offal is hard to get into if you didn’t grow up eating it. But ciğer, and this family-owned restaurant, really deserve a try! The beef liver pieces are dunk into flour and spices before being deep-fried and oh my god are they flavorful! If there is one meal that could convert people to offal, it’s çiğer. Everything tastes better fried, am I right? Drizzle some lemon juice on your çiğer and sprinkle some extra cumin, you won’t regret it.
The, very friendly, owner is from Edirne so he cooks çiğer the way they do it there. The main difference is that they cut the liver very thinly (instead of cutting it into small cubes). That’s why it’s called yaprak çiğer, yaprak meaning leaves. The traditional side for çiğer is piyaz (cold white bean salad) and you should definitely order some. The meal wouldn’t be complete without it. One last note, be careful with the dried peppers, served on top of çiğer, they’re ex-tre-me-ly hot, and if you don’t have ayran to wash it down, you’re screwed.
To order one plate say: tek ciğer or buçuk çiğer if you are hungry and want a little bit more. To order the bean salad on the side say bir adet piyaz, lütfen.
Köfteci Okan: for meatballs (köfte)
Is there anything more comforting than a big plate of meatballs? These traditional Turkish meatballs are tender, perfectly flavored with hints of cumin and grilled just the right way. They are served with grilled green peppers, sliced tomatoes, and a tomatoey pilaf. But the grand prize of greatest accompaniment ever goes to the ekmek (bread) they bring along your plate of meatballs. They grill huge slices of soft white bread next to the meatballs and they soak up the meaty juice beautifully. Seriously amazing!
For the full Turkish experience ask for yogurt on the side (Turkish yogurt and köfte are a match made in heaven). You can also ask for piyaz (cold white beans salad). Köfteci Okan only has a small number of tables and they’re always busy but they definitely are worth a 10min wait. They also serve grilled marinated chicken but their meatballs really are the reason people keep coming back.
To order one plate say: tek köfte or buçuk köfte if you are hungry and want a little bit more. If you also want to try their chicken you should ask for karışık (mixed plate). To order the bean salad say bir adet piyaz, lütfen and if you want yogurt on the side say yoğurt alabilir miyim? .
Söğüşçü Cimbom: for offal wraps (söğüş)
Okay, this one is definitely weirder than the fried liver and you won’t find many tourists there, I’ll give you that. In this very filling offal wrap, you’ll find thinly chopped tongue, brain, and cheeks! Veggies, herbs, raw onions, lots of seasoning and pul biber cut through the fatty meat in the most wonderful way. All of this is bursting out of a very thick and pillowy flatbread. Come on, you must feel intrigued.
The friendly owner is a fan of Galatasaray football club, that’s why everything is painted in yellow and red. The place is full of Galatasaray memorabilia, you might find it kitsch but I think it’s a fun place. If you’re feeling adventurous and want to try something new, have a söğüş! I recommend drinking ayran alongside your söğüş.
To order 1 söğüş say bir adet acısız söğüş. If you want a spicy one say bir adet acılı söğüş.
Katmercim: for baklava and katmer
Katmercim is a small shop but boy are they worth the stop! You can choose from a variety of baklavas, and I always seem to spot some I never tried before. It’s a pastry, pistachio and syrup heaven! I used to live down their road, and I would always find the perfect excuses to treat myself to their baklavas. Midterms done? Baklavas. Birthday and anniversaries? Baklavas. Feeling a bit low? Baklavas.
But Katmercim isn’t only about baklavas! If you have time, you should definitely sit down and enjoy some warm katmer with a big dollop of maraş ice cream. Katmer is a pastry, a parcel made out of yufka (a sort of filo pastry) filled with kaymak (clotted cream) and sprinkled with a lot of ground pistachio. It’s super good!
To order, show them which baklava you want and explain how many you want; bir (1), iki (2), üç (3), dört (4), …, yarım kilo (1 pound), bir kilo (2 pounds). If you want to order 1 katmer, say bir adet katmer.
Meşhur Hisarönü Şambalicisi: for their semolina cakes, an institution in Kemeraltı
Meşhur Kemeraltı Turşucusu Tahsin: for their pickles and pickle juice (very refreshing), another institution
Now tell me your favorite places to eat in Izmir! I’ll happily go check them out next time I’m there 🙂 And maybe I’ll edit this list to add my favorite bakery or stuffed mussels restaurant.