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The 7 Best Restaurants Near UC Merced

The 7 Best Restaurants Near UC Merced

Looking for a quick snack or a delicious full meal near UC Merced? We have 7 of the best restaurants near UC Merced that will make your day.

Mateos Glen Hayes


4 min read

December 08, 2023

Known as the “Gateway to Yosemite,” Merced is a fast-growing city in the San Joaquin Valley and is home to UC Merced, an up-and-coming California State University with a growing reputation for academic excellence. In addition to being in a cradle of idyllic natural landscapes, Merced manages to exude a cozy “small town” charm perfect for those that would like to avoid the hubbub of large metropolises such as Los Angeles. 

Another great thing about this city is Merced's many great restaurants, particularly those near UC Merced. With its younger population and growing size, UC Merced has become a magnet for trendy restaurants and high-class eateries, and there are plenty of diverse options catering to every pallet. Let’s take a gander at some of the best restaurants near UC Merced to see what makes the local dining scene so special. 

1. Jantz Cafe & Bakery

Address: 3361 G Street, Merced, CA 95340

First up on our list is the Jantz Cafe & Bakery, a lovely little patisserie that specializes in only the finest in French pastry delights and artisanal coffees. With beautiful cupcakes, decadent brownies, and great cakes, there’s plenty here to satisfy your sweet tooth, making this a great place near UC Merced for a coffee break between classes. If you’re feeling peckish, the Jantz Cafe also makes a great brunch spot thanks to its hearty breakfasts and flavorful American-style offerings. We highly recommend their house specialty breakfast burrito with egg, potato, cheese, and a choice of meat from bacon to chorizo.

The Jantz Cafe and Bakery feature wonderful made-from-scratch pastries perfect for a quick inter-class brunch.

2. Bag O’ Crab

Address: 455 W Olive Avenue, Merced, CA 95348

When it comes to UC Merced food, there are many places to choose from, but there’s no doubt that Bag O’ Crab should be number one on the list for UC Merced seafood lovers. While it may have a slightly unusual name, this restaurant features a light modern interior and an extensive menu with some of the best in seafood near UC Merced. Cute robot servers ensure an adorkable and welcoming atmosphere with fast, efficient service. Although Bag O’ Crab has some great combo offerings on the menu, we would be remiss not to recommend the lobster with Louisiana seasoning and on-fire spiciness. 

3. Strings Italian Cafe

Address: 731 E Yosemite Avenue, Merced, CA 95340

There are a few excellent Italian restaurants in Merced. Still, Strings Italian Cafe stands apart thanks to the best in Italian classics, including great pasta dishes, scrumptious salads, the freshest fruto di mare, and of course, delectable pizza. Strings also stand apart thanks to great prompt service, and its charming outdoor seating area perfect for enjoying a meal on a sunny Merced summer day. We’re a stickler for the classics, which is why you’ve gotta try Strings’ Meat Lasagna, a traditional Italian dish that’s covered with fine Italian cheese and filled with ground beef and quality tomato sauce and served with freshly baked bread, and your choice of homemade soup or salad. 

Strings is renowned for its fresh, flavorful pasta and its rich, authentic lasagnas.

4. Houa Khong 2

Address: 3518 G St Merced, CA 95348

Since Thai and Vietnamese cuisine tends to take center stage in North America, chances are you probably haven’t gone to all that many Laotian places. If that’s the case, this is your chance to try something fresh, new, and different. Houa Khong 2 is the second interaction of a Laotian restaurant that has fast become a Merced household name thanks to its great food and its many culinary delights. A favorite standard is red curry, Laotian style. Unlike Thai curries, Laotian curries tend to be milder and are made with a curry paste infused with the distinct flavor of bamboo shoots. Paired with a dash of spiciness and perfectly marinated chicken, this makes a scrumptious yet light dinner. 

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5. Turmeric Indian Cuisine

Address: 731 E Yosemite Avenue ste c, Merced, CA 95340

For Indian food that is always fresh and full of flavor, you can’t go wrong with this irresistible Indian restaurant. Turmeric is located just a skip and a hop away from UC Merced and is the kind of place where you eat until you’re full to bursting because the food is just that good. For a dish you won’t soon forget, try Tumeric’s lamb saag, a green curry dish with buttery and savory notes infused with ginger, tomatoes, and delectable lamb shoulder.   

Turmeric has made a name in Merced by making fresh and succulent curries.

6. Rainbird

Address: 609 W Main Street, Merced, CA 95340

Based out of the luxurious El Capitan Hotel in downtown Merced, Rainbird is a fine dining establishment that offers eight-course dinner menus, decadent brunches, and much more. This is the kind of place where having dinner is just as much about the experience as it is about having tasty food. As in any haut cuisine establishment, you choose your courses, bread, and desserts in advance, and each finely crafted meal comes out at its appointed time. All of Rainbird’s mains are truly special, but our pick is the fire-grilled pork rack, a melt-in-your-mouth meat dish cooked with confit shallot, truffle jus, black sesame, and griddled cabbages. 

At Rainbird, every meal is a precisely crafted affair and a special experience.

7. Mainzer Theater

Address: 655 W Main Street, Merced, CA, 95340

Also known simply as the Mainzer, this former theater near UC Merced was once a storied art deco movie palace and then a center for the Cali Indie Rock scene. After decades of decay, it was restored to its former glory thanks to renovation works in 1999, and the Mainzer functions today as a multi-purpose entertainment center. You can catch concerts here, watch movies, play in the arcade, or get lunch in the Mainzer’s classic diner-style eatery. The Mainzer features many southwestern and diner-style classics to choose from, and their biscuits and gravy make for a hearty handmade breakfast that is a must-have.

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