Once a dodgy neighborhood filled with shady import-export agencies, today Karaköy has become a trendy haven for all. One of the very first restaurants to set up shop when the area was still only “the docks,” Karaköy Lokantası opened its doors in 2007. Husband and wife team Oral Kurt and Aylin Okutan took advantage of the pandemic to move their restaurant to a new location on the same street and remodel the interiors with a more contemporary design attitude, lining the walls again with custom-made tiles and reserving a large window at the entrance of the restaurant to display works and installations of modern Turkish artists.
The Turkish word lokanta can be translated as “restaurant.” However, lokanta also refers to a quick and casual eatery that serves home-style casserole dishes to tradesmen working in the neighborhood. True to the name, Karaköy Lokantası still prepares warm, homey lunches albeit for a different clientele. Midday at Karaköy Lokantası are filled, often with business people having a power lunch or guests lucky enough to visit. The most popular lunchtime dish (not offered at dinner service) is the restaurant’s signature Hünkâr Beğendi, literally meaning “liked by the sultan,” and for good reason, too. A national favorite, Hünkâr Beğendi entails chunks of slow-cooked beef on a bed of charred eggplant mash, with a drizzle of a gravy reduction.
By the time dinner rolls around, the restaurant changes gears into tavern mode. There, you’ll find the classic mezes prepared to perfection. However, there are a couple that stand out from the rest like the stuffed artichoke hearts or the flawlessly grilled octopus – charred, but tender. The menu usually plays on Istanbul’s many demographics. So that on one table you can find topik (an Armenian meze of sautéed onions and pine nuts covered in a chickpea paste) next to muhammara (a hot pepper dip with roots in southeastern Anatolia and Syria).
Despite the growing restaurant scene around it, diners continue to return to the restaurant time and again. With its cool and effortless aura, Karaköy Lokantası is one of the most respected restaurants of the city.
Hint: If you are around at noon, don't miss the lunch menu. It's a hidden gem -the food is superb as usual and lunch prices are much lower than dinner!
Note: We highly recommend you book your dinner table at least a week in advance. The restaurant only hosts children over the age of 12 at the dinner service.