When I recently returned to Istanbul after a two-year absence, I found the city transformed by a remarkable new energy, an infusion of cash (and flash) and a giddy optimism at the prospect of joining the European Union. Restaurants are opening practically every nanosecond, and the Beyoglu district—the city's old European heart—is gentrifying with the same speed.
360 Istanbul At this impossibly sleek new Beyoglu restaurant, South Africanï¿½born chef Mike Norman's global cuisine—everything from wasabi beef noodles, to Lebanese kibbe, to delicious thin-crusted pizzas—is nifty and fun but the scene and the views are the real reasons to come (Istiklal Caddesi, Misir Apt. K: 8 No: 32/309 Beyoglu; 011-90-212-251-1042).
Mikla Located on the top two floors of the Marmara Pera Hotel, Mikla was about to open as I was leaving town. It might just upstage 360 Istanbul with its innovative Mediterranean dishes, thanks to chef and owner Mehmet Gürs, who grew up in Sweden and gives his food Turkish and Scandinavian touches (Mesrutiyet Caddesi No: 167/185, Tepebasi; 011-90-212-293-8686).
Istanbul Modern The city's first museum of modern art is also home to a swank waterside restaurant with priceless Bosporus vistas and sensational local specialties, like the thimble-size dumpling called manti, and su borek, a kind of Turkish lasagna laced with tangy cheese (Meclis-i Mebusan Caddesi, Liman Isletmeleri Sahasi, Antrepo No: 4; 011-90-212-334-7300).
Komsu Once considered plebeian, kebabs have become chic. My new favorite grill house, Komsu, in the buzzing Nisantasi shopping district, has smartly modern blond-wood decor and succulent Eastern Anatolian kebabs that are the real deal. Ditto mezes, like the warm eggplant and yogurt spread topped with walnut, pomegranate-tinged salads and crackling mini lahmacuns, Turkish pizzas (Vali Konagi Caddesi Isik Apt. No: 8B; 011-90-212-224-9666 or 011-90-212-224-9724).