Hometown Hungers: Best Clam Chowder Outside of New England

Dive into a creamy bowl of Boston clam chowder without booking a trip to New England.

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Photo By: Jon Selvey

Photo By: Kristen Loken

Photo By: Ingrid Pape-Sheldon

Cream of the Pot

New England has long had creamy clam chowder on lock, though there have always been slight variations in the dish’s recipe — and even its name. But whether it’s made with milk or cream, studded with salt pork or bacon, or named after New England or Boston, the ideal version of this iconic clam chowder is white in color, rich in taste and has zero trace of tomatoes. These days, a wicked-good bowl can be found far beyond New England. Read on to find top Food Network-approved spots across America.

Firehouse American Eatery + Lounge, San Diego

Channel those beach vibes at this airy, modern spot, which offers stunning ocean views and steaming bowls of clam chowder. For his take on the New England classic, Chef Brian Redzikowski pulls in plenty of bacon and cherrystone clams, then further amps up the flavor with a slick of Old Bay oil, a squirt of house hot sauce and some crunchy croutons on top. The rooftop deck is an ideal spot to savor a bowl while soaking up the striking views of the Pacific Ocean below.

GT Fish & Oyster, Chicago

Many of the dishes served at this sleek seafood spot are small plates meant to be shared, but one taste of the clam chowder and you may not want to give up even a spoonful. Chef/Partner Giuseppe Tentori builds on a creamy broth base by adding succulent clams and smoky chunks of Nueske's bacon, along with a garnish of housemade oyster crackers for extra crunch. Each order comes served in a Mason jar and can be customized with a GT hot sauce — either Burn or Smoulder.

Go to: GT Fish & Oyster

The Clam, New York

The Clam serves its namesake bivalve in a variety of bright, briny iterations, but a sure bet is the chowder. Chef-Owner Mike Price sticks close to tradition when it comes to the chowder at his elegant, brick-walled eatery. He offers a cream-based version featuring bacon and leeks. This rich concoction comes strewn with clams still in their shells and a sprinkling of oyster crackers on top.

Half Moon Bay Brewing, Half Moon Bay, Calif.

The craft beers and bay views may get top billing at this rustic brewery, but the New England Clam Chowder is its sleeper hit. Half Moon’s chowder starts with a classic roux made from butter, cream and flour roux. This creamy base is stepped up with an ample amount of onions, celery, applewood-smoked bacon and diced potatoes, then seasoned with salt, pepper and a proprietary blend of spices. All these ingredients add up to a chowder so thick that it coats the tongue, yet still lets the natural flavors of the dish’s star ingredient —clams — shine through.

Earls Kitchen & Bar, Orlando

It’s rumored that New England clam chowder might not have originated in the United States at all, but actually arrived here by way of Canada. If so, Leroy Earl Bus — owner of Earls —has repeated history by introducing his Canadian-made chowder to American diners. Earls’ clam chowder is New England-style, so it includes full cream, fresh vegetables, bright parsley and a bit of smoke-tinged bacon. Originally from Cleveland, Leroy Earl Bus and his family moved to Canada and the first Earls restaurant opened in Edmonton, followed by a second location in North Vancouver. Now bowls of the restaurant’s beloved chowder can be found throughout North America, including at the chain's locales in Orlando and Miami.

Fish Bar, Chicago

The Windy City’s landlocked location didn’t stop Chef-Owner Michael Kornick from dreaming up a seafood-centric menu for his cozy Chicago restaurant. The quaint fish shacks that dot New England’s coastline serve as the inspiration for both the decor and the dishes at this tiny spot, so it’s no surprise that Kornick went the classic route when creating his recipe for clam chowder. “The key to great clam chowder is to respect the tradition,” he says. Salt pork (never smoky bacon), light roux, onions, celery, garlic, thyme, quahog clams, potatoes, milk and cream, that's all, period, end of the story.”

Go to: Fish Bar

Etta’s, Seattle

At Etta’s, the clam chowder brims with bacon. Luckily, a steady source is always close at hand, with supplier Bavarian Meats located just down the street from this casual seafood spot. Etta’s chowder gets an extra boost of bacon flavor from the rendered fat used to sautee the leeks, celery and Yukon gold potatoes after the bacon cooks. White wine adds a greater depth of flavor to the dish, while chopped thyme, fennel fronds and lemon juice make for a bright finish. Every bowl comes garnished with a vibrant splash of parsley oil and more savory bits of bacon.

Hello Betty Fish House, Oceanside Calif.

SoCal seafood is the standard at this hip spot with a beachy retro vibe, but there are some surprises on the menu, including a clam chowder that’s firmly in the New England camp. Delicate clams, savory bacon, soft potatoes and tender, translucent vegetables come together in a thick cream base. All that richness is balanced by specially seasoned clam juice and a squirt of hot sauce.

Ludvig's, Sitka, Alaska

The siren call of stellar seafood lures visitors from across the globe to this charming bistro. Inspired by her years of commercial fishing in Alaska and traveling through Europe as a student, Chef-Owner Colette Nelson transforms fresh seafood with Mediterranean-inspired flavors. A bowl of her clam chowder, though, conjures the tastes of coastal New England, thanks to a cream base swimming with aromatics, chorizo, clams, potatoes and herbs. In the summer, you can savor a bowl beachside at a seasonal chowder cart located along Sitka Sound.

Jack Dusty, Sarasota, Fla.

When the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota replaced its fine dining restaurant with Jack Dusty in 2013, the spot quickly became a culinary destination. Seafood is front and center at this casual, waterfront eatery. In addition to a proper New England clam chowder made with bacon and potato, the restaurant serves fresh seafood plucked straight from the nearby Gulf.

Go to: Jack Dusty

Duke’s Seafood & Chowder, Seattle

Owner Duke Moscrip certainly set the chowder expectations high when he settled on a name for his sustainable seafood chain. But Duke’s Seafood & Chowder delivers with a New England-style spin that has earned accolades throughout Seattle. The first version started with bacon, then a roux of flour and butter followed by dill, basil, marjoram, parsley, thyme, potatoes and heavy cream — and last but not least, clams sourced from the Chesapeake Bay. The latest adaptation has maintained the flavor and texture of the original recipe (which dates back more than a century) while dispensing with the gluten.

Swan Oyster Depot, San Francisco

Locals cram into this counter-service spot for a taste of the impeccable seafood dishes that have earned it cult status and an America’s Classics Award from the James Beard Foundation. Don’t sleep on the clam chowder, which serves as the perfect precursor to platters of oysters, crab salads and smoked salmon on rye. Swan Oyster Depot uses milk rather than cream in its recipe, so the chowder has a thinner consistency than most. And instead of ladling it into a sourdough bread bowl, which is the typical style in San Francisco, Swan offers its chowder by the cup or bowl — with optional oyster crackers and bread served on the side.

Go to: Swan Oyster Depot

Grand Central Oyster Bar, New York

An oyster list teeming with dozens of varieties delivered fresh daily isn’t the only draw at this New York institution nestled inside Grand Central Station. The crowds also clamor for the New England clam chowder. On any given winter day, the restaurant reportedly serves more than 500 bowls of it. Grand Central Oyster Bar’s beloved version features a roux of flour and cornstarch that’s added to a base of celery, onions, clam juice and potatoes. Surf clams and plenty of both light and heavy cream complete this rich creation.

Go to: The Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant

Woodhouse Fish Co., San Francisco

This nautical-themed spot has long hooked locals with its oyster specials and numerous seafood options. When it comes to chowders, the East Coast is well-represented with a selection that includes creamy New England, tomato-based Manhattan and the lesser-known Hartford option that is a combination of the other two. Order the New England version and you’ll get an onion-accented, extra-creamy chowder that’s thick enough to coat a spoon but never gloopy.

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