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Jan 29
Features, Reviews (Eats)
Sultanahmet’s Dining Secrets

Call it the Sultanahmet Squeeze: How to stay close to the monuments of the Old City and avoid eating in tourist traps? We get this question a lot. We. Since the Sultanahmet area is primarily a tourism zone, locals-only haunts are few and far between. At most restaurants, prices tend to be higher than usual, while quality and service are unreliable, at best. That said, there are some fine places to eat in the area. We’ve compiled a short list of restaurants to help avoid the traps.

Tarihi Sultanahmet Köftecisi
Tarihi Sultanahmet Köftecisi is the real deal for köfte, or meatballs. All those hand-written, framed letters from movie stars, politicians and military generals that cover the walls of this Sultanahmet mainstay are not complaints. This İnegöl-style köfte – that’s the log format of the meatball, not the patty – is pleasantly springy, aromatic and juicy. When dressed with a spicy red pepper sauce (served upon request) and stuffed into a fresh hunk of bread, it borders on divine.  We like to sit in the front room at the old marble tables to watch the action at the grill.  (15-20 TL/person)
Address: Divanyolu Caddesi 12
Telephone: 212-520-0566

Giritli (in the photo above) deserves more ink than we can afford it here. This elegant yet comfortable fish restaurant, serving food typical of the Turks who once lived on the island of Crete, is full most nights with groups of locals and tourists taking advantage of a prix fixe menu that includes bottomless glasses of wine, rakı or beer. But the food here more than holds its own. While the grilled octopus leg in olive oil is close to perfect, but we get really worked up for the seafood and orzo salad and the olives stuffed with walnuts and feta – part of the dozen or so starters brought to the table. In the warm months Giritli’s garden is just as pleasant any rooftop terrace. (Set menu: 95 TL/person includes local wine, beer or rakı)
Address: Keresteci Hakkı Sokak
Telephone: 212-458-2270

Dubb Indian
You’ll need the strength of Shiva to fight past the hawkers shoving menus in your face as your work your way to the quiet side street that is home to Dubb Indian. Inside, you’ll find a quiet, if garishly decorated, sanctuary to curry and vindaloo. Dubb’s menu has all the Indian standards, although the kitchen needs a little encouragement if you like your food spicy hot. Request to become a “Dubb Club” member and you’ll get a discount – if the gods are willing. (30-40 TL/person)
Address: Amiral Taftil Sokak 25 (just behind Divan Yolu by the fountain)
Telephone: 212-517-6828

Seoul Restaurant
Istanbul has an unusual abundance of Korean restaurants, many of which are surprisingly good. We suggest the full Korean spread laid out at Seoul Restaurant. Usually packed with groups of Korean expats and tourists, this restaurant can’t afford to slip on authenticity. The cold salad starters, including the fiery pickled cabbage kimchi, followed by a range of BBQ standards grilled in situ at your table, offer a refreshingly spicy break from Turkish norm. (40-50 TL/person)
Address: Akbıyık Caddesi 37
Telephone: 212-458-0621

Ahırkapı Balıkçısı
We found this little grilled fish and beer dive while popping out for a drink from a dry wedding at the lovely wooden dervish lodge, Dede Efendi. With a simple menu dominated by fresh seafood at reasonable prices, a smattering of rickety tables and colorful locals sipping rakı, this is just the sort of place a concierge might tell you avoid. In warm weather, when they drag a few tables out onto the sidewalk, there are few better places in Sultanahmet to eat a simple grilled fish washed down with a cold beer. (20-30TL/person)
Address: Keresteci Hakkı Sokak 46
Telephone: 212-518-4988

Hocapaşa Sokak
Hocapaşa Sokak near the Sirkeci train station, a short trek from the Sultanahmet monument epicenter, is without dispute (at least in our opinion) the best address for authentic, inexpensive dining options in the Old City area, if not Istanbul. From
İskender kebab to cağ kebabı it is hard to go wrong with the many options packed into this small pedestrian street. (10-20 TL/person)
Address: Hocapaşa Sokak (one street uphill from Sirkeci train station), Sirkeci

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13 Responses to “ Sultanahmet’s Dining Secrets ”
  1. Giritli is one of my favorite restaurants in Istanbul. Balikci Sebahattin, which is nearby, is also a good place to eat fish.

  2. Wow! That’s exactly what we are looking for. We are coming up to İstanbul from Fethiye at the end of February and will try one of these. If you had to choose just one of them for us, which would it be?

  3. Thank you for your suggestions for Sultanahmet eating. I am local Turkish and my guests from Europe always complain about the restaurants in Sultanahmet when they are there touring the historic Old City. Ahirkapi Balikcisi sounds like a perfect place. Usually for fish I am recommending Balikci Sabahattin. Did you try this place. I think it is very good. Cheers :0

  4. If we consider Cankurtaran close to Sultanahmet then i would say that in Sirkeci y Cağaloğlu there are some incredible local restaurants. Not only they have various types of dishes but also they offer food of different traditions and regions of Turkey. Not only fish.

  5. Ahirkapi Balikcisi is fantastic. It is the kind of hole-in-the-wall that you can sit by the kitchen window and watch your dinner being prepared. Everything we had was delicious, especially the purslane salad with yogurt and the best calamari I have ever eaten (and I’m a real fan.) An inexpensive choice in an expensive neighborhood, the two of us had two cold appetizers, two hot appetizers, a large grilled fish to share and drinks for 80 TL. Thanks!

  6. Sid Mewara

    Dec 10, 2010

    Had the Iskendar at Kasap Osman… the best I have ever tried… Hoca Pasa /Sirleci is just steps from my Hotel, and I have made it my local..

  7. Emily Verret

    May 12, 2011

    Giritli sounds wonderful! Do you know if they are open for lunch? If so, do you think reservations are necessary for that time of day? Thanks for the great post!

  8. Emily,
    Giritli is open for lunch and, according to them, reservations are not really necessary. If possible, get a table in the walled garden. Enjoy!

  9. I had heard that Sultanahmet was not the best for good local food, so your reviews are much appreciated. Any thoughts on the restaurant at Cooking Alaturka?

  10. Giritili is by får the best turkish restaurant I’ve sampled, anywhere! 17 different mede (all of them Good), fantastic grilled squid, calamare and grilled sardines. Fantastic! And the athmosphere is next to none.

  11. based on your recommendation I went to Ahirkapi Balikcisi. It was 7 pm on a monday. There were five empty tables, yet I was told, rudely, by the staff to go somewhere else. I was by myself – but that shouldn’t be a reason not to seat someone.

  12. Michael –
    We’re truly sorry to hear about the bad experience you had with Ahirkapi Balikcisi, but thanks for letting us know — we always appreciate reader feedback. Hopefully it was just an aberration or an off night.
    – The editors

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