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The 10 Best Clam Chowder Spots in New England

Fresh clams and passion meet top-notch ingredients in these beloved cups and bowls.

Clam chowder, the classic dish of clams, potatoes, salt pork, and cream, is a New England classic. Almost every region has a slightly different take on this hearty soup, which has a long history. The flavorful soup has been popular since at least the 1800s and was being served in Boston at Ye Olde Union Oyster House (one of the oldest continuously operating restaurants in the country) by 1826.

In New England, you'll find two base styles: a creamy version and a clear broth known as Rhode Island style. (The region doesn't acknowledge any tomato-based versions.) Variations can include adding whitefish and using other types of pork for flavoring, like sausage for the soupy Rhode Island-style, chorizo, and, of course, bacon.

What makes a great chowder? According to Robert Sisca, executive chef of The Banks Fish House in Boston, it's all about the fresh clams.

"The key to a good chowder is using fresh clams and fresh clam juice. We steam our clams, and that is a great way to get some fresh juice," says Sisca. "We also make our homemade bacon from pork belly, and that helps give it a smoky flavor. I also prefer my chowder a bit thicker, and instead of crackers, we serve a dinner roll because it gives it more substance than the crackers do."

Another key ingredient is passion, says chef Dell Leandro from Jasper White's Summer Shack seafood restaurants. "The secret to good chowder is making it with love," Leandro says. "I have been making chowder for years, and I do it with passion and love every day."

We found the best places in New England to sample this American classic, ranging from history-laden favorites to quick takeaways that satisfy those chowder cravings.

Legal Sea Foods

legal sea foods clam chowder in a bowl.
Courtesy of Legal Sea Foods
Clam Chowder Bowl (Per Order):
Calories: 510

If you visit Boston and don't get at least one meal at Legal Sea Foods, you're missing out on classic New England seafood in a sophisticated setting—even its airport outposts serve solid seafood. The chain is famous for its chowder, which you can order online and have shipped if you're not local, and for good reason. The creamy chowder is always packed with clams and has been served at presidential inaugurations since 1981, representing the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

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Matunuck Oyster Bar

matunuck chowders side by side.
Photo: Courtesy of Matunuck, Design: Jené Sena, Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition information unavailable.

Founded as an oyster farm on Potter Pond in East Matunuck, R.I., in 2002, the oyster bar opened in 2009 and is widely regarded as one of the top seafood restaurants in the country. By harvesting its shellfish on-site, the restaurant can provide the fresh clams that make chowder so sweetly savory. The bar serves a classic version, thick with cream but not overly so, studded with potatoes. It also has a clear Rhode Island broth version highlighting the pleasures of the clammy broth.

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Oyster Club

oyster club chowder in bowl.
Courtesy of Oyster Club
Nutrition information unavailable.

Located in bucolic Mystic, Conn., the Oyster Club is helmed by James Beard Foundation outstanding chef nominee Renee Toupounce. The restaurant has garnered attention across the country for innovative and inspired seafood. Using the best locally sourced ingredients, the restaurant serves deceptively simple classic and Rhode Island-style chowders made with quahog clams, salt pork, and potatoes. Add house-made oyster crackers for a one-of-a-kind crunch.

Row 34

row 34 chowder in a bowl.
Courtesy of Row 34
Nutrition information unavailable.

A growing empire in New England, Row 34 has three locations in Massachusetts—Boston, Cambridge, and Burlington—and an outpost in Portsmouth, N.H. Known for its extensive beer list and raw bar, the seafood restaurant chain has a pretty ideal classic creamy clam chowder, packed with clams and bacon and served with crunchy house-made "saltines."


Clam chowder at Eventide
Courtesy of Eventide
Nutrition information unavailable.

With multiple awards under its belt, this small operation, with restaurants in Boston and Portland, Maine, is making waves with its pristine oysters, buttery lobster rolls, and creamy clam chowder. Order a half dozen oysters from a deep menu that spans the Northeast coast, and make it a meal with chowder studded with salt pork and potatoes and served with saltines.

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Kelly's Roast Beef

A diner is spooning up clam chowder from Kelly's Roast Beef
Courtesy of Kelly's Roast Beef
Nutrition information unavailable.

With 12 locations in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Florida, this casual New England favorite specializes in hearty roast beef sandwiches, lobster rolls, and clam chowder. When you're looking for great chowder without a lot of fuss, try Kelly's. It's made fresh daily with chopped sea clams, white potatoes, onions, butter, and a light cream. The recipe hasn't changed in more than 70 years.

The Banks Fish House

the banks chowder in a bowl garnished with bacon.
Courtesy of The Banks Fish House
Nutrition information unavailable.

One of the best new seafood restaurants in Boston, The Banks Fish House has won accolades for its fresh-from-the-ocean dishes that have an indulgent bent. This is the place for a business dinner or celebration that starts with a bowl of classic New England clam chowder seasoned with Berkshire pork belly and chive oil and served with a warm dinner roll.

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Billy's Chowder House

billy's chowder house chowder.
Billy's Chowder House

While Boston is known for its chowder, the state of Maine is filled with excellent examples. Billy's Chowder House, based in Wells, Maine, is one of the state's best and oldest waterfront restaurants, dating back to 1979. Enjoy a cup of its signature clam chowder, rich with butter, cream, and milk and loaded with clams and potatoes.

Ye Olde Union Oyster House

union oyster house chowder in a bowl.
Courtesy: Ye Olde Union Oyster House
Nutrition information unavailable.

One of the oldest restaurants in the country, founded back in 1826, the Union Oyster House has hosted everyone from Daniel Webster to the Kennedys, with an upstairs booth dedicated to former president John F. Kennedy. While this restaurant is often packed with tourists, both visitors and locals enjoy a half dozen oysters and a cup or bowl of classic New England clam chowder served with a sweet hunk of cornbread.

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Summer Shack

summer shack chowder in a bowl.
Courtesy of Summer Shack
Nutrition information unavailable.

You can find a take on the traditional clam shack with a big dose of city flair at Summer Shack locations in Massachusetts and Connecticut. The table service restaurants offer excellent New England seafood and a menu of fun tiki-style cocktails. Start the meal with a cup of classic chowder flavored with smokey bacon and served with oyster crackers, or order a bowl for a filling lunch or dinner.

Tanya Edwards
Tanya Edwards is a seasoned food and health journalist, who has held roles at Yahoo Health as Managing Editor and at Food Network as Programming Director. Read more about Tanya
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