237 Holland Street, Teele Square
Somerville MA, 02144
(630) 440 7387
Don’t let its size fool you. About a year and a half old, tiny Istanbul’lu packs huge Turkish flavors into its entire menu.
Located in Teele Square, Istanbul’lu owner and chef Huseyin Akgun serves up what he says could have found in his mother’s kitchen back in Turkey. And while the fare at Istanbul’lu is traditional, Akgun’s personal history of global travel lends his food a unique twist. In addition to a section of full-size entrees, the menu includes hot and cold tapas, a Spanish style of serving a variety of small plates instead of one larger meal. Akgun says that this addition to the menu has encouraged his customers to take a meal slowly and enjoy a conversation instead of focusing on the meal in front of them.
Spanish tapas culture aside, if you’re feeling rusty on your Turkish history look no further than the bright green walls of the restaurant. From a kilij, a type of saber dating back to the Ottoman Empire of the 15th century, to a bağlama, a type of stringed instrument found along the Silk Road, there’s no shortage of interesting artifacts and art to be found. When I asked the waitstaff about a few of these decorations they didn’t hesitate to provide me with some interesting stories to accompany my meal.
Ah, the meal. Certainly my favorite part of the visit, the Beyti Kebab featured tender grilled lamb ground up with peppers and spices then stuffed into a thin lavash bread. To make things even better, the whole dish came topped with tomato sauce, grilled vegetables, and a dollop of incredibly creamy yogurt sauce. While I waited a bit for the entree to arrive (everything is cooked from scratch), I munched on a complimentary basket of fluffy homemade bread and quite possibly the most delicious roasted red pepper dip I will ever encounter. To finish off the meal, I ordered Burma, a kind of pistachio-laden baklava, and a Turkish coffee.
If you’re the kind of person who’s used to a morning coffee from an auto-drip machine, don’t be surprised by the intensity of Turkish coffee. It’s no surprise that the Turkish tradition serves up some serious coffee; coffee’s first appeared in the Middle East, and the word for coffee in most languages comes from the Arabic word qahwah. Turkish coffee is made by boiling finely ground coffee beans in a copper pot filled with water. This richly concentrated coffee is then served extremely hot, allowing the cooked coffee grounds to settle to the bottom.
Turkish food may be old news to Huseyin Akgun, who says that he took a particular liking toward pizza and subs after immigrating to Boston. Despite his personal preferences, it’s clear that Akgun knows exactly what he’s doing in the kitchen. Istanbul’lu offers some of the most interesting and tasty cuisine to reach Somerville in years.