Modern Mediterranean bites these aren't. But if you're craving an old-school New York experience, then a night at Pasha might be just the ticket.
'Turkish' on Serious Eats
Where do you go for a neighborhood full of great Turkish food? South Paterson, NJ, home to a host of stand-out bakeries, restaurants, and markets. Here's an afternoon tour for your first visit.
Ayvalık Tost is a popular Turkish sandwich, named for the Aegean resort town, containing some variation of sausage, more sausage, cheese, tomato, pickle, and Ayvalık bread. Luckily, if you ever feel such a craving locally, there's a place in Midtown that can help you out.
Little Rascal is completely unpretentious and extremely welcoming, and the care put into its food goes above and beyond for a place that likely makes most of its profits off of its booze.
A quick glance at the pubs that line Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside may have you thinking that the neighborhood is solely Irish territory. But there's some great Middle Eastern food if you know where to look.
Your typical New York Turkish restaurant is a nice-ish affair: smartly dressed waiters and white tablecloths, coursed meals, [middling] wine lists. But there are plenty of mom and pop shops that offer food which is just as good if not better, sometimes for as little as half the price, depending on how much atmosphere you're willing to sacrifice. Mangal Kebab in Sunnyside is one of them.
None of the grilled meat at Grill 43 wows me, but their cold salads and dips ($4 to $5 each) are worth a visit all on their own. A plate of four will run you $13.95 which, with endless refills of warm, crusty bread, makes a worthy light lunch for two (or a piggish meal for one).
Agora offers some of the freshest, most lovingly prepared Turkish food I've eaten in New York in recent memory. If this is Upper East Side dining, then you can bet I'll be spending more time on the 6 train.
The hunt for New York's best Turkish food has taken me to unexpected places. Midtown East. Sunnyside. And now Gravesend, to Taci's Beyti, a well-regarded Brooklyn restaurant that some call the finest Turkish cooking in the borough. Eggplant is worth an order here. But it's the lamb that wins the day.
Don't look for the Iskender Plate ($14.50 to go, $16.95 to stay) near the other Turkish sandwiches at 7 Spices in the East Village. You won't find it there because it technically isn't a sandwich—that is, until you DIY it into one.
At 7 Spices, a Turkish restaurant in the East Village, the meatballs come grilled.
Kofte Piyaz is principally a Turkish meat house in Sunset Park that looks like a small diner. Gyros, sujuk (Turkish sausage), and meatballs (the namesake kofte) dominate the menu, but it's the Lentil Soup that has me thinking about the restaurant days after my meal.
Here's one late night sandwich that isn't a greasebomb. Good for lunch as well.
The newly opened Turco in Hell's Kitchen makes a fine kofte kebab on even finer pita.
We may be better know Turkish food for its kebabs, but the Turks also have one of the finest bread cultures on earth. Few New York restaurants take advantage of that—good bread isn't as common in restaurant bread baskets as it should be, and decent pide is hard to find. The newly opened Mmm... Enfes in midtown does.
Unless you're serving jury duty or catching the railroad or AirTrain, you probably don't have many reasons to visit this stretch of Sutphin Boulevard in Jamaica. But if you're here with some time to kill, you can do well for yourself with this elevated gyro.
Look close under the green and white awning and you'll notice, in the window, brightly painted signs advertising dried fruits and nuts, homemade salads, and more. Welcome to Carmel, a tiny but wonderfully stocked Middle Eastern grocery in Forest Hills. The products are fresh, the staff is friendly, and the affordable prices can't be beat.
Never mind that a New York sandwich has tomatoes on it in January. The feta, tomato, and cubanelle pepper ($6.99) from Simit and Smith makes it work.
The newly opened Simit & Smith on the Upper West Side specializes in a Turkish bread, which they use for sandwiches with some NYC-friendly fillings.
"What you are eating here is my culture," Orhan Yegen tells us. He points across our expanse of dishes and says, "It has to be like this. There can be no other way." Unspoken, but implied: "and if you don't like it, tough!"
This is not what chefs tend to tell a happy, compliant group of twelve who are thoroughly enjoying their three course lunch. But I can't say I was surprised. Though it was the first time I was called out as a "tourist" in my dozen-odd meals at Sip Sak over the past several years, I had a feeling it was coming. Yegen's reputation—the Soup Nazi of New York's Turkish dining scene—preceeds him. We were essentially told that the food at Sip Sak is beyond reproach, and if we had a problem, it lay with us. But here's the thing: for the most part, Yegen is right. Sip Sak's cooking so resembles what you'll find in Turkey that it's hard not to imagine yourself there.