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Delicious Delights at Pandeli Restaurant.

Roasted Lamb and Grilled Sea bass with mashed spinach Pandeli Restaurant

Delicious Delights at Pandeli Restaurant, Istanbul.

October 2020 & August 2022.

Turkish food is incredible. Over the course of our 18 nights in the capital Sladja and I enjoyed countless culinary thrills. In fact, towards the end of my Istanbul series I’ll be dedicating an entire post to the wonderful breakfasts, lunches, dinners and bites we enjoyed during our stay. However, there was one restaurant that proved so special I simply had to do a single article on it. Step forward…. Pandeli.

Dinner at Pandeli Restaurant Istanbul.

Outside Pandeli Restaurant.

Pandeli Restaurant is not your typical eatery. It has great cultural significance in Istanbul history and is therefore held in high esteem throughout Turkey. How strange then that it occupies such a discreet location on the second floor of the city’s famed Spice Market.

Indeed it would be easy to miss its small entrance door, positioned just to the side of a jewellery shop. Excited by the prospect of the experience that awaited us, we entered one afternoon, making our way up the stone staircase with its gorgeous walls of sea-blue tiles.

Delicious Delights at Pandeli Restaurant.

The stairwell up to Pandeli Restaurant.

Pandeli Restaurant.

The restaurant’s name comes from its founder, Pandeli Çobanoğlu, the son of a Greek shepherd who moved to Turkey in the late 1880s. As a young man Pandeli left the city of Niğde for Istanbul. Trying out a number of professions, he worked as an apprentice barber, a dishwasher and as a grocer’s assistant. A keen chef, Pandeli eventually opened his own street food stall where he specialised in meat balls (kofte) and bean & onion salad.

Window grille Pandeli Restaurant.

Peeking out one of the windows on the way up the staircase to Pandeli.

Before long, just about everyone in Istanbul was raving about Pandeli’s dishes. Thus he was able to open his own restaurant, which attracted some of the day’s brightest Ottoman minds, including novelists, poets, politicians and journalists. Even President Ataturk, the Republic of Turkey’s founding father, became a regular visitor and enthusiastic Pandeli spokesman.

The signature blue tiles of Pandeli Restaurant

Pandeli Restaurant.

Over the decades Pandeli owned a number of restaurants across the city. Along the way there were many hardships, such as the First Balkan War, World War I, the Second World War and the devastating Istanbul riots. But he and his popular establishment survived them all.

The history of Istanbul's Pandeli Restaurant.

By the mid 1950s he was down to just one restaurant, the venue that still operates today in the Spice Market. Pandeli certainly wasn’t short of customers, with numerous Hollywood actors and international singers often stopping by for dinner. The message was clear: when in Istanbul, one absolutely must eat at Pandeli.

The Great Pandeli Çobanoğlu.

Pandeli Cobanoglu.

Pandeli Restaurant.

Sadly, the great Pandeli passed away in 1967. Later, in 2016, the restaurant ran into financial difficulties and had to shut up shop. Happily though, it managed to reopen under the guidance of the family’s third generation, backed by a group of investors. That afternoon, as we arrived in the main dining space at the top of the staircase, we were met by a trio of lounging staff. Yup, in late 2020 Pandeli was experiencing its latest challenge… COVID.

A visit to Pandeli Restaurant in Istanbul.

Pandeli Restaurant.

The manager rose with a warm smile, before leading us into an adjoining dining space where we had our pick of the tables. Above the archway that connects the rooms sits a large photograph of Ataturk taking dinner at Pandeli. Fixing the camera with a steely glare, he is surrounded by advisers, ministers, generals and their wives.

A travel blogger's review of Pandeli Restaurant

Pandeli Restaurant.

Having settled at a window table, our host swiftly brought the menus. We wasted no time in perusing their dishes, quietly mmm-ing in approval at just about everything we saw. Quickly our choices were made and I found myself asking the waiter about Pandeli’s famous guests.

Dinner at Istanbul's historic Pandeli Restaurant

Sladja anticipating the coming dishes…

Smiling, he called the manager, who was only too happy to talk me through some of the big names who’ve dined within these charmed walls. Impressively, a host of international royals have feasted at Pandeli, such as Queen Elizabeth II during her state visit to Istanbul in 1971. As for Hollywood royalty, he takes me to the large framed photograph of Audrey Hepburn and friends.

Delicious Delights at Pandeli Restaurant.

Audrey Hepburn at Pandeli Restaurant Istanbul June 1968

Pandeli Restaurant.

Audrey dined at Pandeli in the summer of 1968 as part of a whirlwind 24 hours in the Turkish capital. According to one online account, she ate lobster, sea bass and spring rolls with a tall beer. Browsing online, I have since seen the same black and white image, but in a golden frame signed by Hepburn with a simple Thank You. I wonder what became of it.

Audrey Hepburn at Pandeli Restaurant in Istanbul

Audrey having a blast at Pandeli.

From Audrey the manager ushered me towards Pandeli’s so-called Wall of Fame. A carefully arranged row of framed photographs fitted with handwritten messages.

The wall of fame at Istanbul's Pandeli Restaurant

Pandeli Restaurant.

The first one he hands me shows an image of Catherine Zeta Jones, who seemingly came for dinner sans husband Michael Douglas. “To All at Pandeli”, she wrote.“Thank you, what a fantastic time. The food, delicious. Until we meet again”. 

Catherine Zeta Jones Pandeli Restaurant.

Pandeli Restaurant.

Next, he shows me the note penned by Roman Polanski, who talks of “The greatest meal in Istanbul!” 

Adventures in Istanbul.

Roman Polanski Pandeli Restaurant.

Pandeli Restaurant.

Further along the shelf, my eyes scan over a trio of movie greats. First (left), I read through the spidery scrawl left by Robert De Niro. “Terrific restaurant!” he coos, “really good and authentic”. Willem Dafoe, meanwhile, gives his thanks for “a delicious meal”, while Burt Lancaster talks of “a wonderful restaurant with the most delicious Turkish cuisine”.

Robert De Niro Willem Defoe Burt Lancaster Pandeli Restaurant

Pandeli Restaurant.

Finally, we drag ourselves away from the Wall of Fame and return to our table. Where, happily, a pair of icy Bomonti beers await with a basket of fresh bread. Not a bad start.

Fresh bread and Bomonti beer Pandeli Restaurant

The meal begins.

We didn’t have to wait long for our mains, which arrived piping hot and gracefully presented. Taking a leaf out of Audrey’s book, Sladja went for the wonderfully tender Grilled Sea Bass, served with mashed spinach and a side salad. For me, it was the outstanding Roasted Lamb with traditional seasoned rice.

Roasted Lamb and Grilled Sea bass with mashed spinach Pandeli Restaurant

Pandeli Restaurant.

For dessert, we took something of a risk. Or at least what we perceived to be a throw of the dice. Known locally as Kazandibi, this classic Turkish pudding is a fabulous caramelised milk creation filled with beaten chicken breast. There are also hints of almonds and honey.

Kazandibi Caramelized milk pudding of chicken breast

Pandeli Restaurant.

Kazandibi definitely didn’t disappoint, it was really tasty. Moreover, I was curious to read that the dessert dates back to Roman times before being adopted and adjusted by The Turks. A fine end to a lovely meal.

Delicious Delights at Pandeli Restaurant.

Dessert at Pandeli Restaurant in Istanbul.

Pandeli Restaurant.

We loved our time at Pandeli, but never thought we’d be back. Life works in mysterious ways though and, two years later, the opportunity unexpectedly arose. We were on our way to Georgia for what turned out to be a 5 month stay. Flying from Belgrade, some unfriendly flight times saw us stopping over in Istanbul. We had barely 24 hours in the city, but of course we knew there could only be one choice for dinner.

A return visit to Pandeli Restaurant in Istanbul.

Pandeli Restaurant.

With COVID a distant memory for most of the city, Pandeli was a little busier this time, though we had no problem picking out a table. In fact, we had almost shown up too late, forgetting the restaurant’s weird early closing time of 19:00 (they really need to rethink that). For a moment it wasn’t clear if they could even serve us, but luckily the maitre’ d that day was happy to squeeze us in.

Pandeli Restaurant best food in Istanbul.

Pandeli Restaurant.

This time Sladja went for the Grilled Meatballs with buttery, fluffy, nutty pilaf rice. Wanting lamb again but not the same dish, I took a chance on Sultan’s Delight, a lamb stew served on mashed, roasted eggplant.

Grilled Meatballs and Pilaf Rice with Sultan's Delight's Lamb Stew Pandeli Restaurant

Pandeli Restaurant.

Another victory was our side dish, the so-called Spoon Salad. Cool and tangy, it was a yummy concoction of chopped tomatoes, onion, cucumber, walnuts and pomegranate molasses.

Delicious Delights at Pandeli Restaurant.

Spoon Salad with walnuts, pomegranate molasses.

Pandeli Restaurant.

As for dessert, we kept it simple with a pleasingly creamy, warm, oven-baked Pandeli style rice pudding. Once again, from start to finish, there were absolutely no regrets about our food.

Sutlac Oven baked rice pudding Pandeli Restaurant

Pandeli Restaurant.

The only minor niggle was that everything was really rushed this time around. The waiter was clearly preoccupied with getting us out the door at the earliest opportunity. And I admittedly wasn’t impressed with him presenting the bill and asking me to pay while we were still eating. That was a disappointment, but nothing that would stop us going again if we ever find ourselves in Istanbul. Cheers Pandeli, you are truly one of a kind!

Come In We're Open Pandeli Restaurant.

Pandeli Restaurant.

Like this? Take a look at my series of articles on Istanbul.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

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  • Toonsarah

    One to remember for when/if (but probably ‘when’!) we visit Istanbul – thank you 🙂

    July 16, 2023 - 3:15 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading!

      July 16, 2023 - 3:20 pm Reply
  • anoush

    A great life story, from a street stall to cooking for Ataturk and movie stars. The food looks delicious. I’m particularly intrigued by that Kazandibi dessert, would love to try it some day. Looking for that salad recipe right now, sounds like a perfect meal for this hot day. Such a shame that your second visit wasn’t as good as the first one.

    July 16, 2023 - 3:29 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Anoush, the chicken dessert was surprisingly nice. The chicken playing a subtle part in proceedings, I’d say. Spoon Salad would indeed be an excellent choice on a roasting hot day, hope you can knock together something similar.

      July 16, 2023 - 4:05 pm Reply
  • christinenovalarue


    July 16, 2023 - 3:42 pm Reply
  • David Linebarger

    What a beautiful restaurant.

    July 16, 2023 - 4:18 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Certainly is David, thanks for checking in.

      July 16, 2023 - 4:23 pm Reply
  • kagould17

    It is always good to find that a revered restaurant delivers consistently, no matter what. Too bad about the bum’s rush from the waiter on the return visit. He obviously does not fit the Pandeli mold and needs some more indoctrination. All the food looks wonderful. We love Turkish/Lebanese/Middle Eastern food, no matter which country claims it as their own. Thanks for sharing Leighton. Allan

    July 16, 2023 - 5:32 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I think that second time we didn’t give ourselves enough time. Better that we were a little rushed rather than be turned away altogether I suppose. I’m with you on Middle Eastern food in all its glorious forms, Allan.

      July 16, 2023 - 5:46 pm Reply
  • Memo

    Heaven in a post. Those blue tiles are hypnotic. Love the fact that we not only got some great food pics and info but a couple of quality pics of you and Sladja, too. I also would want to try some lamb dishes that were beyond midwestern standards. And the salads looked really refreshing. So glad you like to eat new dishes and post about it.

    July 16, 2023 - 5:51 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Midwestern lamb not up to scratch? That’s a pity and somewhat surprising. Thanks for checking out my piece on Pandeli, Memo.

      July 16, 2023 - 11:14 pm Reply

    You’re absolutely right about Turkish food, Leighton. Having spent nine weeks of 2020 in Turkey, and two visits previously, we’ve barely had a bad bite. Not been to Pandeli’s but every other Turkish place was great….even our local in Herne Bay!

    July 16, 2023 - 7:43 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I remember as a teenager in Buckinghamshire thinking that Turkish kebabs and the like might just be the worst food in the world. Ha, what a surprise I eventually got when I realised that the shitty kebab shop I went to in Chesham was not an accurate representation of authentic Turkish cuisine.

      July 16, 2023 - 8:13 pm Reply
  • Stan

    a lovely presentation leighton of a wonderful restaurant and its special backstory. good enough for audrey good enough for any of us i would say. those tiles are lovely do you think pandeli does bathrooms? the food looks mouth watering but i would have been irked by the rushed service second time around

    July 16, 2023 - 8:19 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha yes, I wouldn’t mind a Pandeli bathroom, if truth be told. Or a Pandeli kitchen come to that. The service on visit 2 did really annoy us at the time, but I think it’s a testament to how much we loved the place that we haven’t held it against them. Cheers, Stan.

      July 16, 2023 - 8:28 pm Reply
  • Little Miss Traveller

    What a meal to remember Leighton. I enjoy Turkish cuisine with its subtle flavours.

    July 16, 2023 - 8:57 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Marion.

      July 16, 2023 - 9:01 pm Reply
  • Monkey's Tale

    Ooh sounds amazing. Putting it on the list! By the way I’ve just discovered Georgian food in Central Asia and now it has moved far up on my list. Maggie

    July 16, 2023 - 9:55 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Georgian food is indeed excellent Maggie, I’m glad you got to sample some. We loved the food scene across the country, especially in Batumi.

      July 16, 2023 - 11:16 pm Reply
      • Monkey's Tale

        It’s likely even better in Georgia than Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan 😊

        July 17, 2023 - 6:46 am
  • Lyssy In The City

    Looks so delicious! I don’t think I’ve had Turkish food specifically, but jon’s family is Lebanese so there’s no shortage of delicious Middle Eastern food.

    July 16, 2023 - 11:32 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Lyssy, Lebanese is another of our favourite cuisines.

      July 16, 2023 - 11:34 pm Reply
  • bronlima

    Passing through Istanbul in a few weeks time. Should have stopped for a day or two! Next time!

    July 17, 2023 - 1:38 am Reply
    • Leighton

      With the way flights from Armenia to Southern Europe work, Istanbul (and sometimes Athens) is usually the transfer point, so I’m sure we’ll also have an opportunity to swing by Pandeli again at some point.

      July 17, 2023 - 9:53 am Reply
  • Anna

    Yum!!! It all looks fantastic! I think I’d love Turkish food!

    July 17, 2023 - 3:41 am Reply
    • Leighton

      I’m sure you would, Anna. At the end of this seres I’ll be putting out a general foodie post on Istanbul to give an idea of the range of Turkish dishes on offer. Everything there is so good.

      July 17, 2023 - 9:57 am Reply
      • Anna

        Look forward to it, will take notes for whenever I get my ass over there!

        July 17, 2023 - 10:43 am
  • Rebecca

    Gosh, I LOVE Turkish food; I was in absolute food heaven during my visit to Turkey a few years ago, and I ate my weight in tender, succulent kebabs, decadently-sweet baklavas, and crispy, flavorful pides. I also tried the Kazandibi (although I know of it as “tavukgöğsü”), and I actually liked it! Pandeli Restaurant looks like a delightful place to sample some of the finest in Turkish cuisine, and it’s truly incredible that it’s survived so much throughout the years, especially during the pandemic! May you have a return trip to Istanbul to have it all again!

    July 17, 2023 - 6:48 am Reply
    • Leighton

      How cool that you also tried Turkey’s amazing chicken breast pudding. It comes in a variety of subtly different forms from what I understand, all with their own names. Like you we were so enthusiastic about the dishes we tried in Istanbul, not sure I can recall a bad one.

      July 17, 2023 - 11:21 am Reply
  • Travels Through My Lens

    Pandeli created quite an impressive legacy. Not many restaurants can survive so many challenging times and keep the doors open and delicious food flowing. If I ever get to Istanbul I’ll definitely give it a try.

    July 17, 2023 - 11:13 am Reply
    • Leighton

      It certainly is an impressive survival story. Pandeli would be proud I’m sure if he could see that the old joint is still welcoming hungry patrons 53 years after his death. Thanks for checking in, Tricia.

      July 17, 2023 - 11:23 am Reply
  • wetanddustyroads

    Oh nice … a food edition! Pandeli looks like a super place to indulge in all that is delicious in Turkey. It must have been lovely to be the only guests (in 2020) and to be treated like royalty (almost like the real royalty and famous people who have eaten there before) 😉. Your meals look, on both occasions, a-m-a-z-i-n-g … pudding in 2020 sounded a bit strange, but looks very tasty. But pudding in 2022 – that’s my kind of treat!

    July 17, 2023 - 5:22 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks so much Corna, I knew you would appreciate a restaurant review. I would like to think that we have a third visit in us at some point over the next years, Pandeli is definitely one of our favourite restaurants.

      July 17, 2023 - 6:54 pm Reply
  • Mallee Stanley

    The decor alone would be worth a visit. Perhaps the owners sold Audrey’s signed photograph when they were going through one of their hard times. I’m sure it will show up one day.

    July 17, 2023 - 5:42 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      That’s a solid theory, Mallee. Their financial concerns are well-documented and a signed photograph of Audrey is always going to make a pretty penny.

      July 17, 2023 - 6:56 pm Reply
  • Diana

    I can see why a dessert with chicken in it might seem like a roll of the dice. I’d be nervous to try it as well.

    July 17, 2023 - 6:05 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Luckily it was used subtly and being unsalted it felt like a perfect fit with the creamy, milky, lightly sweet taste of the pudding itself. If I hadn’t know in advance I was eating chicken, I’m not sure I would’ve identified it. Thanks for checking in!

      July 17, 2023 - 6:58 pm Reply
  • grandmisadventures

    That is a pretty impressive wall of fame. No better credentials needed then a visit by the Queen and Audrey Hepburn 🙂 while I salivate over the pictures of the food, I’m also trying to figure out the best way of telling my husband that I’ll be redoing our whole house to include those beautiful blue tiles.

    July 17, 2023 - 7:36 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hm, a tricky situation. Best not to mention the cost of importing historic Turkish tiles until the end of your pitch, is the only advice I can think of. Thanks for checking out Pandeli Restaurant, Meg.

      July 17, 2023 - 10:00 pm Reply
  • Mike and Kellye Hefner

    Pandeli sounds like an epicurean adventure, Leighton. What mouthwatering food you had, and the place looks gorgeous. I’m with Meg – what better credentials than having Queen Elizabeth and Audrey Hepburn dine there. I also loved knowing the back story about its beginnings and its esteemed owner. So glad to hear that the third generation has kept it going. Now, I’m off to eat lunch and I assure you it won’t be anywhere close to the meals you just described.

    July 17, 2023 - 9:34 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Well, our own lunch here today certainly wasn’t anywhere near Pandeli standard. So you’re in good company 😉 I’m delighted that you enjoyed the backstory and only wish I could’ve found out a bit more about Pandeli’s life. Cheers, Kellye!

      July 17, 2023 - 10:03 pm Reply
  • WanderingCanadians

    The restaurant looks so inviting with all those colourful blue tiles. And the food all looks and sounds delicious. It’s strange to hear how their closing time is so early though.

    July 18, 2023 - 2:04 pm Reply
  • Yorum Satın Al

    Great article!

    July 19, 2023 - 8:53 am Reply
  • NortheastAllie

    What a gorgeous restaurant with delicious foods! The history of it is pretty neat too, and very cool that Audrey Hepburn was there!!!

    July 20, 2023 - 11:11 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks so much Allie, these were special dining experiences and ones that I know will always stay with us.

      July 21, 2023 - 8:45 am Reply
  • travelling_han

    I’m drooling. We couldn’t get in on our visit – I can’t believe you had it all to yourselves, WOW.

    July 21, 2023 - 4:15 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ah that’s a pity. “Next time”. Thanks for your comment, Hannah.

      July 21, 2023 - 4:24 pm Reply
  • Lookoom

    I also have a problem with countries that finish dinner at the same time as they start elsewhere, especially on long summer days. It’s part of the cultural adjustments that mark travel. If everything were the same everywhere, would we travel so much? Turkish delight and baklava were my main foods during my few days in Istanbul. I know, it’s a bit primitive, but for once.

    July 25, 2023 - 1:54 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Nothing wrong with baklava and Turkish delight, especially if one is visiting for the first time or on a brief adventure. Quintessential Turkish sweets indeed. Our definitive favourite though was lokum, so so good. I would like to see you try that next time, if only for the opportunity to say “Lookoom has lokum”.

      July 25, 2023 - 9:29 am Reply
  • writtenundertheweather

    That looks incredible 💙

    September 9, 2023 - 6:10 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for your comment!

      September 9, 2023 - 6:12 pm Reply

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