Tucked into the street behind the yet-to-be gentrified docks at Karaköy, among shops advertising boat tickets to Odessa and cubby-sized import and export offices, is the neighborhood’s culinary port of call, Karaköy Lokantası. With great food, personable service and tasteful décor, this family-operated eatery defiantly proves that a good dining experience doesn’t have to come with a shocker of a bill.
After they relocated from just two doors away to a much bigger, high-design space, we feared they might loosen the grip that established this place as one of the best restaurants in the neighborhood. A recent visit to the elegant new locale put our minds at ease; same classic menu, same painstaking attention to detail.
Karaköy Lokantası is best known as a power lunch spot, with the midday star of the menu being hünkar beğendi. A leftover from the Ottoman imperial kitchen, this dish is one of the specialties on the menu that is not to be missed. It starts with eggplants charred whole on a charcoal grill, then peeled, mashed and thickened with milk and cheese. On this bed of rich creamy eggplant beğendi, tender morsels of slow-cooked beef are drizzled with the thin red gravy they were stewed in. The smoky taste from the grill lingers long after the immediate flavors from the stewpot have passed. Make no mistake, beautifully roasted meat is always welcome, but it’s the beğendi experience that keeps us coming back come for more. Unfortunately, this dish is only served at lunch, but the dinner menu has a few star attractions of its own.
A casual dinner starts with a selection of mezes, or cold salads picked from a large tray. All are meze tray standards, but the stuffed artichoke heart dressed up zestily with lemon and olive oil is a particularly tasty pick. The Karaköy salad is a refreshing blast of greens spiked with beans. The thick yogurt in a small clay pot is irresistible as a side dish, or even a dessert.
From the hot side, you’ll see the kitchen’s skills at work on the grilled octopus, which features the desired char to tenderness ratio. If you are as into innards as we are, you’ll be happy to find a delicious hot starter of thinly sliced, lightly fried liver. If the catch of the day doesn’t grab you, the lamb chops are sure not to disappoint.
Traditional Turkish desserts like fruit compote, rice pudding and aşure, a curious blend of fresh and dried fruits, nuts, wheat and rosewater, are on offer. However, we recommend satisfying the sweet tooth with some of the best baklava in town, right down the street at Güllüoğlu . Otherwise, treat yourself to a walk through this interesting, slightly scruffy neighborhood of seemingly abandoned churches, scuba gear shops, Ottoman-era banks and even a couple of bordellos.
Address: Kemankeş Caddesi, Karaköy
Web: www.karakoylokantasi.com 
Address: Rıhtım Caddesi, Katlı Otopark Altı Karaköy
Web: www.karakoygulluoglu.com