Lake Merritt is Oakland’s crown jewel. On any given day, you might see drum circles and community barbecues lining its grassy three-mile perimeter, or people soaking up the sun on a lawn. And not only is Lake Merritt a fantastic place to spend an afternoon, it’s a fantastic place to eat, too. Tons of great restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, and bars are within walking distance - so whether you’re walking around the lake with a friend, stopping by the Saturday farmers’ market, or setting up a picnic on Fairyland Hill, here are 26 of our favorite spots. Just don’t feed the geese.
Please remember to follow social distancing guidelines and be respectful of others. The city’s new rules regarding vending, music, and parking around the lake are currently in effect.
Perfect For: Coffee & Tea
Equator Coffees & Teas
If you need caffeine motivation for a morning lap around the lake, or want something to sip on while you post up with a book at Snow Park, plan on hitting up Equator Coffees. The café, housed in a red shipping container, has tons of great options, from espresso drinks and chai to specials like blackberry cold brew with whipped cream. The coffee is smooth and strong, and you can grab a breakfast sandwich or pastry while you’re there, too.
There are plenty of coffee shops around Lake Merritt, but one of our go-tos is Farley’s East. Like the San Francisco location, the Oakland spot serves excellent coffee, tea, juices, and bags of beans to go. We also love Farley’s East’s expanded menu, which includes tuna melts, club and BLT sandwiches, soups, and hearty cobb and kale caesar salads. Get it all to go or enjoy it on their parklet out front.
Perfect For: Breakfast & Brunch
We love heading to this restaurant on the east side of the lake for weekend brunch and pitchers of mimosas out on their spacious patio. Options include challah french toast, eggs benedict, chilaquiles, breakfast sandwiches, and more. They’re not taking reservations but you can stop by for brunch starting at 10am on weekends and 11am on weekdays. They serve dinner, too, if you’re looking to eat something good and get fresh air later in the day.
When it comes to how much we love Poppy Bagels’ crackly, chewy bagels, we’ve written enough to fill a small novel. They used to focus mainly on bagels by the dozen, with the occasional bagel sandwich pop-up - but in an excellent turn of events, they’ve recently started offering bagel sandwiches every Saturday at the Grand Lake Farmers’ Market. Now, you can stop by their stall for bagels topped with cucumbers and wild salmon roe, or jalapeño cream cheese and honey, and eat them by the water.
The Lakeshore location of the worker-owned bakery is open every day except Monday and Wednesday with pastries, bread, and a daily-changing vegetarian pizza. It’s the perfect spot to load up your tote bag with scones, croissants, cinnamon-sugar twists, and other tasty baked goods en route to a lakeside picnic.
Perfect For: A Quick Snack
After spending an afternoon lying horizontal on a sunny patch of grass, it’s possible you’ll need something refreshing. Head to Bowl’d Acai, a food truck offering smoothies, juices, and acai and poke bowls. We like to power up with the Hella Green, a smoothie made with kale, spinach, mango, pineapple, banana, and almond milk. The truck usually parks at 550 Grand Ave, but check their schedule to confirm.
The Damel is a food truck on Lakeshore (they also have a brick-and-mortar restaurant downtown), and serves a mix of dishes from West Africa and South America, a combination that reflects owner Oumar Diouf’s Senegalese background and time spent in Brazil and Argentina. On the menu, you’ll find things like acarajé (fried, mashed black-eyed peas) topped with shrimp or veggies and spicy okra sauce, fried plantains, dibi plates, and fresh ginger and bissap juices. For a quick snack, grab an empanada or two. The dough is light and fluffy, and there are plenty of meat and veggie options: ground beef, creamy mushroom, ham and cheese, and deep-fried fataya with tuna, tomato, and shrimp.
Perfect For: Lunch & Dinner
Holy Land Restaurant
The Israeli restaurant is located on a quiet street right off Lakeshore, and churns out delicious lunch plates, dips, soups, and more. You can get everything from matzo ball soup and sabich sandwiches to falafel plates served with creamy hummus and thick, warm pita. Whatever you order, make sure to get it alongside a minty, icey lemonade. They’re open for takeout and outdoor dining daily from 11am-9pm.
Much like Minari’s Alan Kim and a flock of baby chicks, a Señor Sisig burrito and a picnic by the lake are a match made in heaven. Stop by their East Bay brick-and-mortar in Downtown Oakland (it’s just a few blocks from the lake), and pick up one of their delicious burritos stuffed with adobo garlic rice and sweet pork or loaded fries topped with a fried egg.
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 izakaya in Downtown Oakland is a fantastic spot for lunch or dinner, and has other great dishes like yellowfin tuna poke, oyakodon, fried tofu with miso ranch dressing, and tater tots finished off with katsuo bushi. They’re currently open for takeout only.
You’d think Vegan Mob was hosting a Supreme 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 of Pizza
Leaning Tower Pizza has been around for years and is instantly recognizable by the Italy-themed mural painted on the outside wall. Inside, Leaning Tower serves 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 house-made bread, pastries, and espresso drinks from nearby roasters Haddon Hill Coffee.
Pho King is one of our go-to spots for great pho. So if you’re in the mood for a steaming hot bowl of soup or a rice plate with grilled pork and shrimp, head to the Vietnamese restaurant right off Lakeshore. They’re currently doing takeout and indoor and outdoor dining.
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 Grizzly Peak. There are two TrueBurger locations, but the original one on Grand Ave is only a few blocks from the lake.
This Palestinian pop-up operates out of The Libertine on Grand Ave every Saturday. We daydream often about their thick, chewy flatbreads topped with things like za’atar, goat cheese, squash blossoms, and more. They also have dips, desserts, and falafel nachos. Keep an eye on their Instagram for hours and updates.
Comal Next Door
Comal Next Door is a more casual offshoot of Comal, a Mexican restaurant in Berkeley we love for their excellent food and cocktails. The takeout and delivery-only spot on Grand Ave has burritos (which you can also order as a bowl), tortas with fried chicken or carnitas, tacos, cocktails, and more. Come here, order a big spread, and eat it on the grass.
Perfect For: Tacos
Rico Rico Taco
What makes Rico Rico Taco special? Let us count the ways. First, their tacos come on thick, flavorful, house-made 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 pick up your order for takeout (they also have sidewalk seating), you can watch all the magic happening in the kitchen from behind a large glass window.
The Tacos El Último Baile truck usually parks right on the lake (at Grand and Bellevue) from Tuesday to Sunday, 12-7pm. Their tacos are certified day-makers - the meat is always tender and flavorful, and topped with a generous heap of onions, cilantro, and salsa. On Tuesdays, they do short rib birria, and on Thursdays they bring out the trompo and make incredible al pastor. They also have vegan options and burritos, all of which you can enjoy while you people-watch from the stools they put out front.
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 2:30am or 3am nightly). And don’t forget the red or green sauce - they’re both on another level.
Perfect For: Something Sweet
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 has powered us through countless lazy Sunday mornings and late-night runs for fried things. From sprinkle cake donuts to maple bars and classic glazed old-fashioneds, if you need something sweet, you’ll find it here.
Perfect For: Dining With a View
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, fried chicken, 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 (three for $12).
Perfect For: Grabbing a Drink
Alkali Rye Beverage Shop
Alkali Rye is a beverage shop that highlights local, women, LGBTQ+, and BIPOC-owned brands of spirits, wine, bottled cocktails, coffee, and tea. Stop by to grab a bottle from their thoughtfully-curated selections (they’re organized by Black-owned, women-owned, locally-owned, etc.). The store is also stocked with ceramics, cocktail books, drinkware, and more things you’ll probably want to buy.
The two-story bar near Oakland Chinatown also comes with a massive patio and an even bigger rooftop. You can enjoy a beer (they have 40 on tap), excellent cocktails, and food from The Lumpia Company. If it’s a game day, they usually have local sports playing on their TVs, too. Mad Oak is open Wednesday to Saturday until 9pm, and heads up - they’re not offering table reservations
The wine shop on Grand Ave has an impressive selection of natural wines. And though you currently can’t enjoy a glass at the bar over cheese and charcuterie, we still recommend you check it out and consider a bottle to go (they usually start at around $20). Ordinaire also has a monthly wine club and convenient online ordering.
Room 389 is one of our favorite bars near Lake Merritt - excellent cocktails, a laid-back atmosphere, and, pre-Covid, really great trivia nights. Nowadays, the Adams Point bar is open to go, and serving everything from slushies and coffee to snacks like empanadas and sandwiches from their takeout window.