There are many similarities between Turkish and Arabic culture and cuisine due to its geography, religion, history, shared ingredients and spices. However, there are plenty of dishes that are considered distinctly Turkish or Arabic. And of course, Arabic dishes have variations throughout its 22 countries, down to its smaller towns and villages. For those searching for authentic Arabic restaurants in Istanbul, head on over to Aksaray, a neighborhood within the Fatih District with a large Syrian population. Many escaped and immigrated to Turkey during the Syrian Civil War and have formed communities, businesses and restaurants in this area. This is located in the Old City of Istanbul (in the “European side”), just a 15 minute tram ride west of Sultanahmet Square or off the M1 Metro-line “Eminyet-Fatih“.
Best of all, this list of Arabic restaurants will cost you less than $5 a person to fill your belly and heart’s desire!
5 Best Arabic Restaurants in Istanbul
Ehli Mesut Usta Et Mangal: A Meatlover’s Paradise
There is no shortage of juicy, flavorful Kebabs throughout Istanbul. There are just 10 items on this restaurant’s menu (truly a Carnivore’s fantasy). 2 skewers of Ground Beef/Lamb Kebab start at just 24 liras ($3 USD). Every dish comes with a side of Lamb Kibbeh, mixed Green Salad, Onion Salad, Roasted Tomatoes/Peppers, Tomato Sauce and Lavas bread.
What to Order: Beef Kebab, Eggplant stuffed with Kebab meat, Chicken Wings, Spicy Lamb Meat and Lamb Liver
Address: İskenderpaşa, Sofular Cd. No:5A, 34080 Fatih/İstanbul
Shawarma in Istanbul
Abu Abid Shawarma: a Local Favorite
This is a very popular establishment among the Arabic community in Istanbul. Located on Akşemsettin Cd, a busy street in Fatih with many other Syrian run businesses, Abu Abid is a small walk up and order stall. It is located on a corner, where you order and pay. There are a few seats inside but it would be more enjoyable to take it across the street at the public park to eat. There, you can enjoy the beautiful Istanbul weather and observe families and couples picnicking.
What to Order: Chicken or Beef/Lamb Shawarma Wrap, Meat Plate, Cordon Bleu
Address: Hırka-i Şerif, Akşemsettin Cd. 56-1 A, 34091 Fatih/İstanbul
Anas Chicken‘s roots began in 1991 in Damascus, Syria. Now, they have chainstores throughout Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. There are 2 restaurants within a block from one another just steps away off the Yusufpasha Tram Stop (also one in Taksim Square).
What to Order: Chicken Shawarma Wrap – “Suriye Lavas Dürümü” which translates to “Syrian Bread Wrap”. The shawarma wrap is packed with juicy chicken and a garlic mayonnaise you’ll surely drool over. These wraps cost only $1-2 USD. Also order: Shawarma slices over Rice, fried/grilled chicken, garlic fries, chicken burgers, pizza and more.
Where to Bite into the Best Falafels in Istanbul
Located right off the Yusufpaša Tram exit, stop in Falafel Tayba for fluffy, heart-shaped Falafels. The plate comes with a side of salad, pickled radishes/cucumbers and hummus.
Address: Molla Gürani, 34093 Fatih/İstanbul
Keyfine Göre Felafil
Keyfine is another small, corner stall that serves take-out options of falafels in either wraps or plates.
Cost: $1-2 for fresh, flavorful, fluffy falafels
Address: Akşemsettin, Balipaşa Cd No:139/B, 34080 Fatih/İstanbul
For other things to do in the Aksaray/Fatih neighborhood besides eating at amazing Arabic restaurants, I would also recommend:
- Fatih Mosque: The first mosque built in the 15th century since King Sultan Mehmet conquered Constantinople. There, you can also visit his tomb. You may notice that this beautiful mosque’s courtyard resembles Süleymaniye Mosque, my other favorite mosque in Istanbul.
- Sütçu Dükkani: a small market selling the freshest milk, yogurt, eggs, over a dozen variety of cheese, olives, sausage, local honey, arabic specialties, tea, spices and more.
- Barber Shops and Beauty Salons: There is surely no shortage of “Kuafors” throughout Istanbul, but prices may be even cheaper in Aksaray.
- Bakeries: There are many bakeries serving freshly made bread, Turkish and Arabic dessert specialties
- Shop: for clothing, shoes, used cellphones/electronics and brand name knockoffs
How to Get to Aksaray
By Tram: Get off the Aksaray or Yusufpasha stop off T1
Metro: Emniyet-Fatih off the M1 Line
Note: Due to the Covid Pandemic, when this post was written,
the restaurants are only available for takeout.
For more on traveling to Turkey during Covid, read my post.