Where To Eat Near Lake Merritt

The 23 best places to grab food before or after a trip to the lake.
Where To Eat Near Lake Merritt image

photo credit: Ed Anderson

Lake Merritt is Oakland’s crown jewel. On any given day, you might see drum circles and barbecues on the three-mile perimeter, or people soaking in the sun on the lawn. And not only is Lake Merritt a fantastic place to spend an afternoon, but it’s also a fantastic place to eat. Tons of great restaurants, bakeries, and cafes are within walking distance (or a quick drive) from the lake—so use this guide whenever you're in the area. Just don’t feed the geese.


photo credit: Mama's Boy



$$$$Perfect For:LunchCasual Weeknight DinnerSerious Take-Out Operation
Earn 3x points with your sapphire card

Fulfilling your daily steps goal by looping the path around the lake takes energy. So fuel back up at Mama’s Boy. The two-story pizza joint has the best slices in town. They’re New York-style, so expect snappy crusts that are just the right balance of sturdy yet foldable, and to wipe a satisfying drip of orange oil off your chin. The only effort you’ll spend is devouring the pepperoni and burrata slices like you just crossed the finish line at an ultramarathon—they’ll keep you coming back here as often as you check your mailbox. 

The Uptown spot feels like a relaxed bistro with high-top seating and neon lights. It’s an ideal setting to appreciate soy-cured ahi tuna, spicy scallops, king crab, and other sushi fish stuffed inside seaweed. Their versions are pretty straightforward (there isn’t any gold foil or speck of caviar in sight) but also playful, so you'll see one with kimchi fried rice and spam. The casualness here is part of its appeal, and why this place is well-suited for intimate yet lively group dinners. One option is to order handrolls a la carte, but we prefer making life easy and going with one of the three sets (five handrolls, $29-$52).

photo credit: Bethanie Hines



OpenTable logo

Calabash is an all-day spot serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner—which is one reason we already have plans to spend every waking hour at this spot near Uptown. The other is the fact that this place is from the chefs behind the excellent (now closed) Kingston 11 and Komaaj. They’re doing feel-good Afro-Caribbean and Iranian dishes, from sweet plantains with black bean sauce and roasted lamb leg salad to eggplant and sumac labneh mezzes, and serving in a plant-and-couch-heavy space that looks like a lounge crossed with a fancy, sun-filled cafeteria. Expect this place to be the backdrop for casual conversations, especially since it has two bars.

Lion Dance Cafe, a Chinese-Singaporean spot in downtown, serves a fully vegan menu that will make you forget meat exists. This place for plant-based dishes has gone through a few iterations over the years, but it's now a full-service sit-down restaurant serving incredible dishes from a rich laksa to mushroom goreng. Make sure to get their signature A.S.S. (almond, sesame, and shallot, naturally) cookies for dessert.

Lovely’s serves fantastic smashburgers on a vibey outdoor patio shared with Two Pitchers Brewing Company. The keys to their greatness: a squishy sesame seed roll that soaks up all of the juices from the meat, creamy house sauce, and a caramelized patty that pretty much melts in your mouth. After your first visit, you’ll probably wake up every night at 3am, inexplicably craving one. If you’re not in the mood for a burger, Lovely’s does a fantastic hot chicken sandwich, plus flaky fish and chips, hot dogs, soft serve, and sundaes. 

You don’t need to see the crowds that pack Enssaro each night to know that this Adams Point spot serves some of the best Ethiopian food in town—like perfectly sautéed or simmered chicken, lamb, and lentils plated over spongy injera bread. Get the meat or vegetable platters, so you can mix and match dishes, trying all the different spices and textures that make Ethiopian food so incredible. The dishes at this casual restaurant is meant to be shared, which is why you’ll always see tables of big groups and, at dinner, a line out the door.

Going to Mama in Adams Point is like scooting into your friend’s breakfast nook and recovering from a hangover over eggs and coffee—but instead of breakfast, you’re getting a delicious Italian dinner. Mama does a three-course prix fixe dinner for only $39.95 that changes weekly. And on any given night, you can get things like a salad with roasted delicata, pomegranate, and pear, beet ravioli with spaghetti squash and ricotta, and polenta cake with baked apples for dessert. If you’re looking for more of a classic, the spaghetti with Mama’s tomato sugo, beef, and pork is amazing and never leaves the menu.

If you've ever considered getting one of those candles shaped like a garlic bulb, you'll be a fan of the garlic toum from Shawarmaji, a counter-service Jordanian shawarma spot. The thick, pungent toum is made with canola oil, lemon juice, and what tastes like a pool-sized amount of garlic. It's used in their fantastic chicken shawarma wrap—which is thinner and longer (like, forearm-length long) than most wraps you’ll find in the Bay. Chicken is marinated in yogurt and spices and slow-roasted on a spit until juicy and crispy. It's then wrapped up in a flatbread with that toum, pickles, and (optional) fries, and griddled until golden brown.

Champa Garden is located on a residential corner in Ivy Hill and is the spot for Lao, Thai, and Vietnamese specialties that are bright, flavorful, and just really damn good. The best move is coming here with people you like, and kicking off this casual lunch or dinner with the Champa Sampler (a name we’d get tattooed on our left rib). It’s served on a plate shaped like a boat, and shows off the restaurant’s greatest hits—Lao sausages, fried rice ball salad, crispy spring rolls, and lettuce wraps.

If you’ve ordered a mezcal margarita at any point in the last month, there’s a very good chance you’ll want to become a regular at Odin. The mezcalería near Jack London Square has an impressive 300+ collection of agave spirits, plus excellent cocktails, mezcal flights, and Happy Hour with a mezcal special of the day. Odin is a rebrand of the Mexican restaurant Nido, and they're serving light, bright Mexican shareable plates, like queso fundido, quesadillas, and asada tacos. Odin’s updated interiors are dark, and dare we say sexy, with slate-colored walls, hand-shaped chairs, and long church pews. It’s exactly where we want to be sitting while we drink chilled coupes filled with tequila, chilis, and orange bitters.

We head to this American spot on the edge of the lake to have weekend brunch and pitchers of mimosas on their spacious patio. Morning options include challah french toast, eggs benedicts, chilaquiles, and more. They also serve dinner, if you’re looking to eat something good and also get your fresh air quota later in the day. We like the solid "mini burgers" filled with fried chicken or pork belly, and the herbed garlic french fries.

The always buzzing Lakeshore location of the worker-owned bakery is home to pastries, bread, and excellent scones that are nice and moist inside. They also serve daily-changing vegetarian pizzas on tangy sourdough crusts—you can get one half-baked and finish off in your oven at home. Arizmendi is the perfect spot to load up your tote bag with muffins, croissants, and cinnamon-sugar twists en route to the lake.

If you’ve lived in the Bay for more than five minutes, you know Señor Sisig. The Filipino spot exists in multiple truck and restaurant forms, like this massive one in Uptown Oakland. The menu is basically the same reliable handheld dishes as the other locations, including the tosilog burrito, loaded fries, and their iconic California pork sisig burrito stuffed with fries, guacamole, and sour cream. This one has an additional bar menu. So come here to drink margaritas or a Hennessy-spiked ube horchata before lazing away on Fairyland Hill.

If you only make one good decision today, let it be getting the fried chicken at Aburaya. A second good decision: ordering it with dry seasonings like the umami salt or garlic miso. The downtown izakaya is a fantastic spot for lunch or dinner, and has other great dishes like oyakodon, fried tofu with miso ranch dressing, and tater tots finished off with katsuo bushi.

You’d think Vegan Mob was hosting a sneaker drop with the lines it attracts every day—but once you get closer, you’ll see that the crowds are there for their impressive plant-based soul food. The menu highlights entirely-vegan versions of shrimp, spicy fried chicken, brisket, and more—our favorite dish is the lumpia made with Impossible meat and served over fragrant garlic rice. The mob plate, which comes with your choice of protein, plus sides like coleslaw or mac and cheese, is also a great bet. Walk up, or order ahead to avoid waiting.

Leaning Tower has been around for years and is instantly recognizable by the Italy-themed mural painted on the outside wall. Inside, Leaning Tower does really good thin-crust pies that are made with quality ingredients, have nicely charred edges, and come in 12- or 16-inch sizes. The pizza spot serves other things too, like housemade bread, pastries, and espresso drinks from nearby roasters Haddon Hill Cafe.

This casual Vietnamese restaurant is one of our go-to spots for great phở—steaming hot bowls are filled to the brim with fragrant soup and bouncy noodles. The fully loaded pho dặc biệt or any of the beef phở options are the way to go. But they also have rice plates with grilled pork and shrimp, plus vermicelli bowls and appetizers like lotus root salad or chicken wings, if you're not in a fill-up-on-soup mood.

This fast-food-style spot has mastered the art of three things: burgers, fries, and shakes. We’ll start with the burger—juicy grilled patties with tomato, lettuce, and garlic mayo on slightly-toasted egg buns. The fries are thin and perfectly crispy. And the not-too-thick milkshakes evoke more joy than the Bay views from nearby Grizzly Peak. There are two TrueBurger locations, but the original one on Grand Ave. is only a few blocks from the lake.

What makes Rico Rico Taco special? Let us count the ways. First, their tacos come on thick, flavorful, housemade corn tortillas, the perfect base for all the delicious toppings—like the well-marinated al pastor finished with chunks of pineapple and the lightly battered fish slathered with an incredible chipotle crema. Then there’s the carnitas, which are flattened like a pancake and fried, making each bite perfectly crispy. When you sit in the small dining room or order takeout (they also have sidewalk seating), you can watch their taco sorcery happening in the kitchen from behind a large glass window.

No matter what time or what state you’re in, rolling up to this permanently parked Mexican food truck is an absolute must—especially if you’re craving al pastor tacos or a 15-inch super burrito late at night (they’re open until midnight nightly). And don’t forget the red or green sauce—they’re both on another level.

It wouldn’t be a Lake Merritt guide without a nod to an Oakland institution: Colonial Donuts. The counter-serve spot on Lakeshore is open 24 hours, and, throughout the years, has powered us through countless lazy Sunday mornings and late nights. From sprinkle cake donuts to maple bars and classic glazed old-fashioneds, if you need something sweet and fried, you’ll find it here.

There are lots of coffee shops in Uptown Oakland, but our go-to for long coffee dates (or to get some work done) is Farley's East. Like its sibling location on the other side of the bay in Potrero Hill, this cafe serves excellent coffee, tea, and juices, plus bags of beans to go. And since you're here for a while to flip through one of the many magazines on the shelves, or talk about your week with a friend, look to the food menu, which includes club and BLT sandwiches, soups, and an incredible, hearty cobb salad. This place also has a good amount of seats inside.

Hanging out by Lake Merritt is a city-wide pastime, and an afternoon at Lake Chalet, a rite of passage. The popular restaurant and lounge right on the city’s famous lake serves things like oysters and risotto on their stunning dock. The food doesn’t always live up to the beautiful setting, but when a visit to Lake Chalet is more about drinking something cold and relaxing near the water, it’s a detail we can easily forgive. The ultimate move is to come here on Taco Tuesday for fish, chicken, carne asada, or veggie tacos ($3.50 each).

Chase Sapphire Card Ad

Suggested Reading

Table spread at The Salty Pearl in Oakland.

The Hit List: New East Bay Restaurants To Try Right Now

We checked out these new restaurants in Oakland, Berkeley, and beyond—and loved them.

The Best Restaurants In Oakland image

From bánh mì institutions and casual sushi joints to New York-style slice shops, this is where you should eat in Oakland.

8 Great Bánh Mì In The East Bay image

Where to go for this excellent Vietnamese sandwich.

Where To Eat Near Golden Gate Park image

Where to pick up food for a picnic or sit down at a restaurant near Golden Gate Park.

Infatuation Logo


2024 © The Infatuation Inc. All Rights Reserved.
The views and opinions expressed on The Infatuation’s site and other platforms are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of (or endorsement by) JPMorgan Chase. The Infatuation and its affiliates assume no responsibility or liability for the content of this site, or any errors or omissions. The Information contained in this site is provided on an "as is" basis with no guarantees of completeness, accuracy, usefulness or timeliness.


Get it on Google PlayDownload on the App Store