Izmir does not get nearly as much love as bigger cities like Istanbul, but in my humble (and very bias) opinion it’s worth stopping by for its café culture and general laid-back attitude towards life.
As my home on and off for seven months, I got to do what I do best: find the good places to eat. When my mother-in-law was not spoiling me with her homemade cooking, I was eating my weigh in kebabs, pide and washing it all down with tangy ayran around town.
In Izmir the winters are mild and the summers are blazing hot. This means there’s a lot of sitting outside, eating seafood, and drinking ice cold Efes. Not a bad way to live if you ask me.
So without further ado, here are my favorite places to eat around Izmir.
Favorite café with attitude: Leman Kultur
So much love for this cartoon-centric café. Decorated after the political cartoon publication Leman Kultur, there is no shortage of cheeky touches from the novel-sized menu to its quirky décor. It feels like I’m stepping into a life-sized cartoon and being a fan of themed everything it makes me giddy every time. The menu is global cuisine (Mexican, Italian, American) and also serves traditional Turkish dishes with a modern twist. There’s also beer, wine and cocktails available.
Favorite burger joint: Friends & Burgers
If you are going to get burgers, this is the place to go. The interior is inviting and the ingredients are high quality and delicious. My all-time favorite is the garlic mushroom burger with the potato wedges and plenty of ketchup.
Favorite outdoor kebab restaurant: Kofteci Remzi
Complementary cheesy bread, scenic outdoor seating, and efficient service are all reasons why I go here when I crave kebabs. It is also open 24 hours, so it makes a great stop after the bars for the customary bowl of soup before going home. The last time I was in Izmir, they charged Mustafa’s card twice and when we went back the next day they had a bundle of cash waiting for him-down to the exact cent. I’m not sure I could be more in love.
Favorite late night place for pide: Kircicegi
This is another 24-hour restaurant that serves up delicious pide at all hours. Depending on the time, you will see a wide cast of characters grabbing a late night bite: from a bride and groom after their wedding to families snacking on pide (it’s normal for children to stay up really late in Turkey). There are other dishes like kebab available, but the pide is where it is at.
Favorite dessert destination: Ozsut
The first time Mustafa took me here, I keep pinching myself that this dessert heaven existed. First of all, they give you several menus filled with cakes, drinks, ice cream and other desserts. They also have a good Turkish breakfast, sandwiches and salads for those who want something savory. For me though it will always be #teamdessert.
Favorite sit down restaurant: 27 Gaziantep Mutfagi
We made the mistake of coming here during Iftar (the evening meal during Ramadan) and the place was packed. So the moral of the story is don’t come here during that time, unless you want to wait a really long time. But do come any other time because the food is excellent. Lahmacun, pide, kebabs, fresh salads-you cannot go wrong. Also, get the homemade ayran, which is light and extra bubbly, and if the weather is nice ask to sit outside.
Favorite coffee shop: Kahve Dunaysi
This coffee shop is spacious with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, and has a great selection of drinks and small bites. Ice cream in your coffee? Done. Craving strong, smooth Turkish coffee? Some of the best is here. Mustafa and I went on a staycation in nearby Movenpick hotel and we went there three times-it was that good.
Favorite place to get Turkish delights: Tugba
This is the place to fulfill any hankerings for Turkish delights, since they have them in many different flavors (rose is my favorite). You can also buy nuts and dried fruit in bulk-perfect snacks to go along with Turkish tea. There are also pre-packaged treats that are make a great gift to bring back to those friends and family back home.
Favorite baklava restaurant: Fistik Baklavalari
I didn’t know about this baklava shop until my most recent trip, and realized I was seriously missing out. The shop specializes in baklava and it is made with real sugar (instead of the fake sweeteners) so it has an addictive caramel flavor. The prices are a bit higher than other bakeries, but worth every bite.
Favorite breakfast spot: Café Agora
I could not make a list of my favorite food haunts in Izmir without including my favorite breakfast spot. This café is by the water and serves up a giant Turkish breakfast for 10 TL. There is nothing better than spending an hour or two lingering over a morning meal as you sit by the sea. Definitely a must when you come to Izmir.