The off-campus dining options here are fair in terms of convenience and variety, but there's definitely room for improvement. For example, there could be more healthy/organic food and/or vegetarian options. Also, because the campus is not in the middle of town, off-campus dining requires a little bit of a drive and can pose somewhat of a challenge. Generally, Merced’s best restaurants are hidden and considered special secrets. For example, Sam’s Café, a simple Thai cuisine restaurant and student favorite, is located in a low-key neighborhood on the other side of town. Yet, many students are willing to make the drive to Sam’s Café because of its quality, quantity, reasonable prices, and friendly, personable service from Sam himself, the owner who knows UCM and its students well. As a result, Sam’s Café has become a hot spot.
While there might be a limit on the number of restaurants found in Merced due to the town's size, each restaurant is unique, so there’s no endless repetition of the same few places. There are certainly the typical fast food chains, but there are also more ethnic, classy places. If you don’t want to sit down to some pad thai at Sam’s Café, you can swing by to Taste of Little India, an elegant Indian restaurant a little past the heart of town, for some naan, rice, and curry. Or you can visit Strings, which is probably the closest and most convenient fine dining place there is for UCM students. While somewhat pricey, Strings is an Italian restaurant that is within a five-minute drive from campus and is accessible through the campus transportation system.