Were you as sad as we were to hear that Cafe Euro, the only source of legitimate Georgian food in Istanbul, had closed? Well, little girl, stop your sobbing and get yourself back to the bus station in Aksaray. There's Khingali to be had!
The brand formerly known as Istanbul Eats, Istanbul Culinary Backstreets, broke the news about Cafe Niko, located a stone's throw from the late Cafe Euro. We agree with everything they say. Owner and Batumi native Beso is chatty and friendly, the khingali is the bomb and -- wait for it -- there is real pork meat. He serves all your favorites: Khachapuri (adjarian and imrelian), khingali, swine shashlyk (baked with onions, not grilled) and lobio (sadly, out when we went). He predicts a real bounty in October, when he starts serving kupati, homemade pickles and xaş (bone and tripe soup that you'll just LOVE).
Every ingredient, except the potatoes, flour and onions, comes from Georgia. There's no Georgian wine -- sad face! -- because Beso's homemade wine doesn't travel well. Beso is, however, a chacha usta and his homebrew, served in recycled plastic water bottles, is smoother than you'd expect. He attributes this to the wood charcoal filtering process he uses.
Beso has grand expansion visions. He's clearly a man whose ambitions will not be confined by a crappy bus station in Istanbul. At 20 TL/pp for a full meal of Georgian gloriousness, however, a lot of us will have to devour a lot of khingali to provide him with the capital he needs to grow.
We do feel a professional obligation to issue a few words of warning about Cafe Niko. If you thought Cafe Euro was a bit too chi-chi, you'll love Cafe Niko's earthiness. The kitchen looked mostly clean-ish but the astro-turfed terrace, while pleasant on a late summer evening, is, uh, gritty. You might want to leave your high maintenance friends and visitors at home. The crowd looks rough but friendly so unaccompanied ladies might not feel super comfortable. Also, if you don't speak Georgian, Russian or know Georgian food, you might have to take what you get (the menu is only in Georgian but Beso speaks a few words of English). Turkish isn't going to help, either. But wanting what you get is the key to expat happiness, right? What's the worst that can happen?* You eat something delicious you've never had before?
Cafe Niko: Carpetblog Stamp of Approval.
*the worst that can happen is that you go after 8 pm or on Sunday, when Cafe Niko is closed.
Address: Emniyet Otogarı (bus station), Küçük Langa Caddesi 190, Aksaray(Go 20 meters after walking through the gates of Emniyet bus station, then look left and you’ll see the balcony of Café Niko above Emniyet Café.)
Note that this is NOT the main otogar in Ensenler. It's in the middle of Aksaray. Yes, there is a bus station there.