6 Restaurant Chains That Serve the Best Chowder
Rich and hearty, chowder is the ultimate comfort food—especially for seafood lovers. Classic seafood chowders are creamy and thick, heaped with seafood and a mix of vegetables, like potatoes, onions, or celery, and pair perfectly with a side of oyster crackers or a flaky biscuit. (Some even come served in a bread bowl!)
But not all chowders are made equal. Each region has its own unique twist on the filling dish. New England is famous for its white clam chowder made with milk or cream, whereas a Manhattan clam chowder is tomato based, and Rhode Island's "clear" clam chowder uses neither.
Clams aren't always the star of the show, either. Restaurants may swap clams for scallops, shrimp, lobster, crab, or even cod or smoked salmon. Vegetarian chowders may opt for sweet potatoes or winter root veg. Southwestern chowders could feature Mexican spices, chorizo, and corn. Possibilities abound.
And while dockside locales like San Francisco and Boston are renowned for their mom-and-pop chowder shops, not everyone is lucky enough to live nearby. Instead, when hunger strikes, diners all over can opt for one of these six restaurant chains that make a mean bowl of chowder.
At Chart House's 26 waterfront and showcase locations across the U.S., expect scenic views and an award-winning New England style clam chowder. This is a classic recipe, prepared with lots of salty butter, clam broth, clams, celery, red potatoes, and cream. "Their clam chowder is outstanding!" one reviewer wrote. A small bowl will run you $10, and two extra bucks will get you a large.
The Boiling Crab
Talk about Southern comfort food. This tomato-based Cajun-style chowder is worth saving room for, according to Tasting Table. At two dozen locations across the country, the Boiling Crab reliably serves up a unique take on chowder, with tomato-forward taste that one reviewer likened to Campbell's tomato soup. It's got whole shrimp and seafood, plus an option to add rice if that's your style. It runs around $8.25 for a cup.
Cousins Maine Lobster
Cousins Maine Lobster is a national chain that serves up another classic take on New England style clam chowder in locations throughout 25 states. The chowder comes in cup or bowl sizes and it's gluten-free, making it great on its own or as an add-on to any meal. Clams sourced from Maine float in a rich fish stock, with salt pork, sauteed onions, and tender potatoes. "The chowder had a wonderful briny flavor and the broth was not too thick, just right," one reviewer wrote. (The chain serves a tasty lobster bisque, too.) It'll run you about $7.
Legal Sea Foods
This chowder is actually famous: it was served at Presidential inaugurations for decades. Described on the menu as a "classic recipe," this rich and creamy New England-style chowder is also available online in a 32-ounce container you can warm up at home. If you're in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, or Virginia, swing by one of Legal Sea Foods' many locations to try it. Tasting Table dubbed it "the best we've had anywhere." A cup costs $8.50, while a bowl is $10.50.
McCormick & Schmick's
This upscale seafood and steak restaurant serves up award-winning New England clam chowder in cup ($8) and bowl ($10) sizes. Packed with mainstay ingredients like potatoes, bacon, clams, and cream, it branches out with veggies like carrots, green peppers, and celery. Some reviewers pointed out a buttery taste, probably thanks to the addition of margarine. "Some of the best that I have tasted. Plenty of clams and the soup was hot and thick. Good portion size too," one reviewer wrote.
Now here's a chowder with West Coast flair. San Francisco-style chowder takes the classic New England chowder and serves it in a sourdough bread bowl. You can try this at Duke's Seafood, a regional chain with seven locations around Puget Sound in Washington State. In addition to the classic, Duke's offers four other types of chowders, including a Lobster Mobster Pernod Chowder with red shrimp and sweet potatoes and a Ragin' Cajun Chicken Corn Chowder with Creole seasoning. "Had a few Clam Chowder bread bowls in the Seattle [area]. Pretty sure Duke's has the best," one reviewer wrote. Chowders come in four serving sizes, ranging from $4.40 to $22.90, or diners can opt for a smattering of samplers.