Italian cuisine is the most popular cuisine after the local traditional fish and meat restaurants. If it is not for meat or fish that the locals are going out for dinner, then it is most probably for Italian. For a long time, Italian food was associated with pizza only. Thus, there were many pizza and salad only restaurants around the city. The definition has now been broadened to include the pasta and the risotto as well. With the newer niche restaurants, the image of Italian restaurants continue to change. Yet for now, the best pasta-risotto and pizza restaurants are below…
For a long time, between 1995 and 2003, the Italian scene in Istanbul was dominated by the Mezzaluna Restaurants. Mezzaluna lost some of its appeal in the interim and has diversified its scope and services by opening its express-food branch, the Mezzaluna Express, delivery of express Italian meals for those in a hurry. That said, Mezzaluna continues to maintain the quality of its services and meals. Nowadays, any Mezzaluna Restaurant around the city is a fairly good choice for an informal and casual meal, lunch or dinner, before seeing a movie at the cinema. Many Mezzaluna Restaurants are found in a corner in shopping malls. The oldest and the most original, also the most romantic, remains standing in Nişantaşı.
Da Mario of the Doors Entertainment Group, received the flag from Mezzaluna and proved itself to be an upscale, romantic Italian Restaurant on the hills of Etiler. The menu, too, is designed to offer plenty of Italian tastes, including the Osso Bucco, as well as oven-baked pizzas and good Italian wine. Some diners shy away from the heavy spices used in the pasta sauces, which have turned my stomach upside down more than a few times. Some also comment that, “it used to be a cool place” but is now frequented by business people for business lunches and by families or middle-aged couples on weekends. Still a possibility on the list of date, business, romantic and serious dinner restaurants, it has been chosen as the “Best Restaurant in Istanbul” by the Financial Times in its special Turkish edition.
Another enterprise of the Doors Entertainment Group, A’jia Hotel Restaurant, also offers very good Italian cuisine samples, for which I have no criticism to offer. This restaurant has flawless service, an unbeatable location on the Bosphorus, and bewildering delicacies. The prices are much higher than the standard and also higher than other “A” class restaurants in Istanbul, but the food and the ambiance are worth it. Make sure you reserve ahead of time and ask as you reserve whether there would any special celebrations on that date. A’jia, because of all its virtues, is much preferred as a special occasions place, such as weddings. Another useful tip is that in winter, the best table is number 30. That is a nice corner table inside. In summer go for any table on the river terrace.
Ristorante Il Padrino is one of the oldest Italian restaurants in Istanbul. The first of its branches, which at the time was also the first Italian Restaurant in the city, was opened in 1990 in Caddebostan on the Asian side, on the Bagdat Street. A new branch has been opened later in Atasehir, followed by a kebab restaurant –also in Istanbul- and then a fish restaurant in Cesme/Izmir. Il Padrino was often talked for its ravishing pizzas. It has, nevertheless, lost some of its popularity in the modern day.
The Doors Group dominates the Italian food market in Istanbul with its mid-size Italian Café Restaurants, such as the Mama and the Gina. Unless you are a resident, you may want to avoid these places, not because they are bad, but because there are more interesting places to see in your limited time. You could still consider these places as your lunch options. If you were walking along the Bosphorus coast and and came across Mama in Emirgan, that might be an option for lunch. Or, if you were at Kanyon and shopping and you need to stop for lunch and if you were yearning for a good glass of wine and fresh pasta, then Gina too might be an option.
Yet another old-standing Italian restaurant is also the pearl of Kurucesme: Mia Mensa Restaurant. Mia Mensa has also opened its second branch in Suadiye Park on the Asian side. Whilst, a nice, elegant place, Mia Mensa lacks the atmosphere of a true Italian Restaurant, and its Kurucesme branch remains to be a favorite hang-around place by young adolescents. Service also tends to get sloppy and rude from time to time. However, it still has the most unbeatable location next to the sea/canal.