A rich, creamy bowl of New England clam chowder is essential to winter in the Northeast. So with the season nearly upon us, we set out in search of the region’s best, from light broths filled with briny flavor to thick, velvety chowders perfect for warming up in the New England cold.
63 Salem Street, Boston
On the edge of Boston’s North End, the intimate dining room at Neptune Oyster is the perfect hideaway from the cold weather. Although the elegant seafood restaurant is best known for its oysters, which we highly recommend, it is the light and creamy Wellfleet Clam Chowder that attracts the winter diner. Made-to-order with pink cherrystone clams, salt pork, and heaps of potatoes, the fresh, flavorful chowder is filling enough on its own – but not so heavy that you can’t enjoy an oyster or two on the side.
Because Neptune is always packed, you will want to call ahead for both lunch and dinner then take a stroll around the North End until your space is ready. Try to sit at the wraparound marble bar if possible as it overlooks the oyster shucking.
Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Company
9 Oak Bluffs Avenue, Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard
Not only does Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Company have some of the best clam chowder around, it is also regularly named the number one restaurant on the island. The award-winning Martha’s Vineyard Clam Chowder – rated Best Chowder for five years running by both Cape Cod Life magazine and Martha’s Vineyard Magazine – headlines an incredible selection of fresh, local seafood.
The savory dish is thinner than your typical New England clam chowder but absolutely filled with flavor. Made from scratch daily and gluten free, it contains hearty chunks of clams and potatoes, just the right seasoning, and a topping of classic oyster crackers. You can get yours in a cup or bowl to enjoy with a regional craft beer from one of 15 taps. The restaurant is also open year-round – a rarity on the island.
Legal Sea Foods
255 State Street, Boston and locations along the Eastern Seaboard
It doesn’t get more classic than a cup of Legal Sea Foods clam chowder. The traditional recipe filled with tender Cape Cod clams, salt pork, and potatoes has been served at every presidential inauguration since Reagan and is also the clam chowder served at Fenway Park. In the Legal Sea Foods restaurants, it has been on the menu for more than 50 years.
Like the chowder, the family-owned establishment has history, having first opened in 1950 as a fish market in Cambridge. (You can actually check out the Legal Sea Foods history on your placemat if you choose to dine in.) Along with restaurants up and down the East Coast, there are 11 restaurants in Boston alone. We like the Long Wharf location near the aquarium for its modern exhibition-style kitchen, patio, and consistently delicious clam chowder.
Island Creek Oyster Bar
500 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston
When in the mood for a fresh take on New England clam chowder, head to Island Creek Oyster Bar, located just between Fenway Park and Charles River. Blending the fisherman’s lifestyle with casual elegance, the space is a work of art with thousands of oyster shells filling gabion cages along one wall, high ceilings, and stunning statement artwork.
On the seafood-heavy menu, diners will find incredible lobster rolls, an ever-changing raw bar selection, and various fish from grilled Maine salmon to Cape Cod monkfish. But the chowder takes center stage with a unique recipe that features hand-dug clams, house-cured bacon, and actual biscuits on the side. A complex flavor profile favors the heavy, smoky bacon, so purists may want to look elsewhere, but those searching for a one-of-a-kind clam chowder will find what they are looking for at Island Creek.
45 Sparks Avenue, Nantucket
For the best quahog clam chowder on Nantucket, head just outside of town to SeaGrille, a family-friendly restaurant with a lot of local appeal. Founded in 1991, the cozy eatery has always been known for fresh local and regional seafood like their seafood-packed bouillabaisse as well as an incredible selection of daily homemade pastas and breads.
Chef de Cuisine Tucker Harvey makes the Island Quahog Chowder, a deliciously creamy dish with large chunks of quahog clams and bacon rather than salt pork. The widely recognized chowder owes its flavor to a few key ingredients (Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce, so we hear).
*Featured image: Flickr