Food is a serious topic in Istanbul, and when it comes to local delicacies—from borek phyllo savories to lokum (Turkish delight) sweets—residents are passionate about their favorite spots. One of the most hotly-contested honors is for makers of the best lamachun, a thin, minced-meat-topped flatbread considered a Turkish staple.
Open since 1960, and still set in the same building in the leafy Nisantasi neighborhood, frequent list-topper Tatbak draws a constant stream of regulars, as well as the rare tourist, for its freshly-baked lamachun, as well as other signatures like kebabs and meat-and-veggie pide "pizzas."
Originally offering just three tables, Tatbak now seats about 90 between two dining rooms – one upstairs, the other street level. Both are unassumingly decorated, just plain wooden tables and paper napkins, in order to let the food take center stage.
Grab a seat on the ground floor to get a real feel for Tatbak's time-honed rhythm: the tables are packed tight with chatting diners; the delivery men beat a constant path to the open oven at the back of the room to pick up stacks of foil-wrapped lamachun; and everything is kept moving under the watchful eyes of the longtime waiters, whose deadpan faces occasionally break for a joke with regulars.
Turkey's southwestern city of Gaziantep is considered one of the county's foodie epicenters, and most of Tatbak's recipes—and many of its ingredients—come from this region. But while the lamachun may be Gaziantep-style, the correct way to eat one comes down to personal preference. To go the classic route, take the tortilla-like dish—which is baked with a finely-chopped mixture of minced beef or lamb, tomatoes, parsley, onions and herbs—then add as much fresh parsley leaves, tomato slices and red chili seasoning as you'd like, squeeze on some lemon juice, and roll it all up into the ultimate wrap.
Afterward, you can move on to one of the restaurant's main course best-sellers, like the meat or chicken kebabs skewers served with yogurt and tomato sauce and paper-thin bread. Or make like a real connoisseur and take on two or three lamachun in one sitting. Top the meal off with some freshly-brewed Turkish black tea, which is brought in from the local teahouse down the street—just as it has been for over 50 years.