Upon the burning embers of the remaining coal, a spit filled with red, hot meat twirls around and around like a dervish until the succulent pieces are ready to instigate a trance-like ecstasy within the mouth of the consumer. This magical dish, home to the Turks, Greeks, and those in the Balkans, is so beloved that when the China Food Association attempted to negotiate with the Turkish Exporters Assembly to import 50 Metric Tonnes into China, the Turks refused as they didn’t have enough to meet the demands of their own countrymen.
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What is it exactly? The Turkish version is sweetbreads wrapped with lamb intestines that are thoroughly cleaned beforehand. Sprinkle a touch of herby oregano, spicy chili, and aromatic cumin, salt, and pepper; this ‘signature delight’ of the Turks is usually consumed after a night out drinking or as a hangover cure. Whether you try it with or without bread, those that taste kokoreç just once will become converts to the cause. You may even find yourself looking at offal in a whole new light. Served in kiosks that usually also offer stuffed mussel, your best bet is to eat this dish at a trusted spot. If you’re new to the game, we have 8 of the best kokoreç spots in Istanbul.
1. Çengelköy Kokoreççisi
Their mascot is a cartoon chef that’s labeled as “the man who’ll make you eat.” It’s adorable until you order a portion of their offal, and that’s when you’ll realize the cartoon is merely a reflection of reality. Their focus is less on a spicy or a plain, boring version, but their expertise is creating a juicy tomatoey version.
The quarter bread is satiating and stops juices from dribbling down your chin, but they do have bigger portions as well bread-free portions for those on keto. If red meat really isn’t your thing, the fragrant stuffed mussels are a delight not to be missed.
Each morsel is served on an adorable plate with a comic upon it. Open until 4 am if you’re feeling the drunchies (drunk munchies) with friends, this is the place to be with its comfy stools, comic-book style décor.
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2. Kral Kokoreç
This takeaway vibe eatery has been serving one of the best kokoreç in Istanbul since 1992, but its executive chef, Hasta Usta, has been in the business since he started with a food cart in 1980. He’s been around long enough to know the sad story of a bow-tied gentleman who popularised this street food. Perhaps that’s why their kokoreç is cleaned and produced by themselves.
They do have the Izmir and Istanbul versions and stuffed mussels, but their approach is laudable: they care little for the ‘extras,’ which are just fillings in their eyes because their focus is on the quality of the sweetbreads and intestines.
A little more expensive than the others, this is the place to eat the offal with the bread on the side as the tender taste will blow you away. They do give you the option of having it güveç style (on a hot plate), but the ultimate way to have it is to choose the thicker cut option with as much spice as you can handle. As they say, nothing beats experience.
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3. Güneş Kokoreç
Imagine being drunk at 2 am, with a rumbling stomach. Wandering down the streets of Istanbul, a seductive aroma greets you. That’s this place, and it’ll entice you long before you’ve even stepped foot inside. The taste has that classic meaty feel resulting in you still being spellbound long after you leave. It gets bonus points for being light on your wallet and the amount they managed to stuff into a quarter of bread. Though the décor is a little humble, there is unbelievable attention to detail when it comes to hygiene, and your chef will prepare the dish as you prefer it.
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4. Reks Büfe
Reks Büfe serves one of the best kokoreç in Istanbul. Still, if your bestie really can’t handle offal, this inviting diner serves meatballs, chicken, and sucuk (Turkish garlic sausage) on a plate and in a filling wrap. Each dish that arrives before you is grand enough to be served before Süleyman the Magnificent.
The frothy ayran is not only scrumptious but is served in an authentic brass cup. You also get a straw so as not to get a milky mustache. The kokoreç is customizable in terms of how spicy you want it done, but the herby, fresh flavor bowled us out of the water. The warm bread is fresh even at midnight.
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5. Ozzie’s Kokoreç
Ozzie’s is a hip joint that’s irritated many for its reservation-only approach. The annoyance is understandable as kokoreç is supposed to be street food, but Ozzie’s transforms it into an artisanal delight. His reservation policy exists, so he knows how much of the product to have on hand. After all, everything is freshly made – this isn’t one of those preassembled and frozen spots. That’s why you’re guaranteed a hygienic yet delectable delicacy. There’s a reason why notorious food critic, Vedat Milor, favored this joint.
You can also shop online for frozen kokoreç with sweetbreads at their website here.
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6. Gala Kokoreç
If you’re entirely sure that kokoreç is the meal for you, this is one of the rare spots that’ll allow you to fill a whole bread with the delicious grilled lamb intestines or the sucuk. This is a chain that’s loved for its herby approach and for its price to taste ratio. If you’re having trouble finding one of the more artisanal places, you may be glad to know that there’s a Gala Kokoreç kiosk in almost every corner of Istanbul.
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7. Özen Kokoreç
Then English on the menu is just as undeniably funny as the fried mussels on a stick is undeniably scrumptious. Those that hate seafood will love the popcorn-chicken feel to this dish but what really killed us was the French Fries with the spicy kokoreç. Perhaps having fries gives it a more American vibe, but it really is unbeatable!
Your offal boycotting friends have numerous alternative options between sucuk, chicken shish, and the meatballs. Each ‘main’ has four selections: the wrap, the quarter bread, the half bread, or a plate.
The owner is a little intimidating, but that may be because he has the perfect fat to meat ratio that makes his food incredibly enchanting. Bring your friends and have a feast because every option on the menu tastes better than the last.
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8. Kokoreççiler Kralı Zülfü Usta
Located in the touristic heart of Istanbul, this modest spot is an undiscovered gem that’s a favorite of the connoisseurs. The kokoreç is grilled over the quaint embers of the coal, which leaves a hint of that smoky taste that all BBQ lovers are infatuated with.
The herbs and spices are restrained to really let that meat flavor shine through. This cheap spot has a legendary taste you won’t find elsewhere. Unfortunately, it’s a tiny little place with only one table and chair, and the chefs seem to never smile, but that may be because they’re so highly focussed on creating the best quality meal you’ll ever taste that all else seems to escape them.
The taste means that they’ll always be a queue, but they open pretty early – at 8 am – which makes this the perfect breakfast for when you’re hungover to help absorb the remaining alcohol in your system.
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This blog post lists the 8 best Kokoreç (grilled lamb intestines) in Istanbul. We hope you enjoy kokoreç at these delicious restaurants and that they help satisfy your appetite for some of Turkey’s most popular street food!
If you’re looking to explore more of the Turkish cuisine while visiting Istanbul, join our food tours, where we will take you to local restaurants and taste the best of Turkish cuisine, including Kokoreç. Book your Istanbul food tour here.
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