Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but Istanbul is a definite knockout. Centuries of history, an impossibly photogenic waterway and gorgeous, gregarious locals make other European capitals pale in comparison. (Here’s looking at you, Bern.) The continent-straddling city also happens to have one of the most diverse dining scenes in the East (and West). Mediterranean produce, ancient wine lands and diverse populations come together in Istanbul, giving its food scene worlds of flavor. Here are 8 places to eat well in Istanbul right now.

1. Ulus 29
Istanbul’s pretty people come to this riverfront hotspot to sip house cocktails like gin and celery juice or bourbon Old Fashioneds, as well as endless plates of mezze like spiced kofte, slow-cooked eggplant and puffed pitas with sheep’s milk cheese. The menu serves elevated Turkish fare like yogurt-braised lamb and freshly caught blue fish, served whole with a squeeze of lemon. Don’t miss the desserts, which update traditional sweets like kadayif, a kugel-like noodle dish soaked in syrup and served here with pistachio puree, crème fraiche and house-made ice cream. In colder months, you can dance off any indulgences in the Bosphorus-facing side room-turned-thumping nightclub. Adnan Saygun Caddesi Ulus Parkı İçi, +90 212 358 29 29

2. Mikla
Celebrity chef Mehmet Gurs opened this ode to his Turkish-Swedish heritage in 2005, and it remains one of the hottest restaurants in Istanbul. Located on the roof the Marmara Pera hotel, Mikla pairs unstoppable city views with inventive dishes like cherrywood-smoked lamb loin, Aegean octopus and mulberry soup with crumbled cinnamon tahini ice cream. Meşrutiyet Caddesi 15, Tünel, +90 212 293 5656

3. Kale Café
Since 1982, this waterfront eatery has been serving impeccable traditional Turkish breakfasts out of a former private home in the Rumeli Hisari neighborhood. Join the line of locals waiting for an outdoor table, and get ready for some serious breakfast bounty: the serpme kahvalti includes cold salads with olives, tomatoes and cucumbers, plus fried eggs, salty cheese from Cyprus, a few borek, or warm pastries made with flaky phyllo-esque dough, and fresh kaymak, or Turkish buffalo milk made into a clotted cream-like concoction and topped with local honey. Linger over a few cups of tea, or jumpstart your morning with freshly brewed Turkish coffee. Yahya Kemal Caddesi No: 16, Rumelihisari, +90  212-265-0097

4. Shang Palace
Istanbul might not be the first place you think of for stellar Cantonese fare, but well-heeled locals flock to this swish restaurant in Nisantasi’s Shangri-La Hotel. Twenty-something urbanites and Chinese ex-pats sip private reserve Turkish wines and traditional Cantonese teas while spinning lazy Susans laden with coconut shrimp, lightly battered eggplant and crispy Peking duck, which is carved tableside and served with flaky pancakes and sweet hoisin sauce. Sinanpasa Mah, Hayrettin Iskelesi Sok, No.1, Besiktas, +90 212 275 8888

5. Karadeniz Pide Doner Salonu
Carts selling simit, the Turkish answer to a bagel, dot every district of the city, but those looking for heartier street snacks should seek out this Besiktas kebab shop. Outside of a blink-and-you’ll-miss it storefront, a long line of locals eagerly await Karadeniz’ sandwiches, piled high with stewed tomatoes, green peppers and paper-thin slices of lamb and beef. Those with restraint carry their sandwiches in juice-soaked bags back to nearby offices or apartments, but many simply dig in the sidewalk outside. No rules, just right. 6 Mumcu Bakkai Sokak, Sinan Pasa Mahallesi, Besiktas, +90 212 261 7693

6. Peranostra
After shopping the food stalls and boutiques of Beyoglu, do like locals do and decompress at a casual café with cocktails, mezze and endless cups of black tea, served in elegant glass cups on porcelain saucers. A short walk from the more touristy Nevizade strip, Peranostra serves satisfying lunch fare like nutty grain salads and crunchy bruschetta in a sunny indoor/outdoor space with oak-topped wrought iron tables and charmingly mismatched chairs. Tünel Meydanı No: 4/A, +90 212 2514303

7. Nar Lokanta
Dining in the historical district of any major metropolis can unfortunately equate choosing from overpriced, underwhelming fare. Nar Lokanta is a happy exception. Located on the top floor of Armaggan, a five-story contemporary arts institution in Sultanahmet, Nar serves Anatolian and regional dishes from a sleek rooftop favored by power lunchers and the occasional Turkish television celebrity. Gaze at the tops of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia while sampling tender lamb chops, freshly baked flatbreads and mezze like wild oregano salad, studded with pomegranate seeds and dressed with organic, locally sourced Nar Gourmet olive oils. Nuruosmaniye Cd Armaggan No:65, +90 212 522 2800

8. Tatbak
If you’re wondering what a Turkish soul food joint might look like — and who isn’t? — then Tatbak is your jam. At three locations across the city, this democratic spot serves ludicrously addictive lahmucun, or flatbread “pizzas” made with minced lamb, onions and spices. Patrons add a squeeze of lemon followed by a few sprigs of parsley and arugula, and then roll the lahmucun up into a handheld wrap. It’s the Levantine equivalent of a New York City folded slice. Order yours with a glass of ayran, a tangy yogurt drink made in-house, and don’t be ashamed to ask for lahmucun seconds. Or thirds. Rumor has it, during Ramadan, those breaking fast will place delivery orders for 20 lahmucun at a time. Akkavak Sokak 28/a, Nişantaşı, +90 212 246 1306. Şht. Muhtar Mh.Beyoğlu, +90 212 250 1329. Dumlupınar Mh. Mandıra Cd No:139, Fikirtepe, +90 216 418 5406 

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