Sultanahmet is the heart of Istanbul’s touristic landmarks, but it also has some of the best food in the city – if you know where to look. From tasty kebab and meze to fresh seafood and homemade Turkish classics, these restaurants have got you covered.
Aslan Restaurant is a classic esnaf (tradesman) haunt, where the day’s dishes are displayed in a cafeteria-style open kitchen. Take a look and choose from traditional meals such as kadınbudu köfte (meatballs and rice, dipped in egg batter and fried), karnıyarık (eggplant stuffed with minced meat), or kurufasulye pilav (bean stew with rice).
Open since 1901, Pandeli is an institution when it comes to esnaf restaurants, with its signature turquoise tiles and beautiful, stained-glass ceilings. The Greek and Turkish menu has remained the same for decades, but why change a good thing: it’s attracted famous guests along the likes of Audrey Hepburn and Burt Lancaster, after all.
A popular food joint inside the Grand Bazaar, Havuzlu Restaurant gets its name from the small, marble fountain situated by its outside seating area. Pick one of the freshly made Turkish classics from the canteen, but make sure to arrive before 3pm, at which point the dishes usually run out.
A top spot in the summer because of its lovely garden, Giritli Restaurant specializes in Aegean and Mediterranean cuisine. Order a whole selection of hot and cold meze to share, washed down with glass of rakı, for a true meyhane (tavern) experience.
One of the best places in the Grand Bazaar for authentic kebap, Gaziantep Burç cooks the meat on an ocakbaşı, a traditional grill with a copper hood. The food is not only delicious, but also budget-friendly – the ali nazık (marinated beef morsels on a bed of eggplant purée) comes highly recommended.
A traditional meyhane, Karışma Sen Restaurant has been open since 1938 and continues to serve delightful Greek and Turkish meze varieties today. In the warmer months, the retractable roof opens up, so guests can tuck into their feast of local delicacies and fresh fish with a sea breeze.
One of the oldest taverns in Istanbul, Balıkçı Sabahattin has been around since 1927 and is housed in a beautiful, Ottoman-era wooden mansion. A family-run business, the meze and catch of the day is always excellent, while in the summer, the lanterns in the garden create a softly lit, romantic haven for diners.
Belonging to luxury Turkish-goods store Armaggan, Nar Lokanta reflects the upscale vibe of the brand. The restaurant, located on the fourth floor of the modern flagship store, serves traditional dishes from all corners of Anatolia, with fresh and regional ingredients taking center stage.
You can’t miss Hamdi Restaurant, which stands out in a large building with quite a discernible sign in Eminönü Square. Inside, you’ll find baklava and kebab heaven, where everything you order is sure to hit the spot. Make sure to reserve a table on the top floor for an amazing view of the city.
Quite a humble restaurant, Şeyhmus Kebap happens to be one of the best places around the Grand Bazaar for kebab and pide (flatbread with various toppings). The kitchen is known for mincing its meat with a traditional zırh (a rounded blade with double handles) as well as regional dishes such as cıvıklı (thin dough covered with minced meat from Kayseri) and Mardin kebabı (lean meat served with grilled peppers from the southeastern city).