Breaking Down the Variations of Clam Chowder
New England vs. Manhattan: Who Does It Best?
When it comes to serving clam chowder, the majority of restaurants fall into two categories: New England style and Manhattan style. Both contain potatoes, onion and clam, of course, but the main component setting them apart is that the New England variety contains cream or milk for a thicker consistency while Manhattan’s offers a red broth and tomatoes.
Interestingly enough, there are many riffs throughout the country, based on regions and local ingredients, but these are the two you’ll find on most menus. We’ve rounded up some of the top restaurants serving chowder coast to coast, including the oldest eatery in continuous service in America.
GIGI’S SOTTO MARE OYSTERIA & SEAFOOD
Expect to wait up to an hour to be seated during peak hours at this family-owned restaurant based in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood. Gigi’s showcases Italian-focused seafood, and fish is flown in daily. The New England-inspired clam chowder is thick and rich with generous pieces of bacon in it.
552 GREEN ST., SAN FRANCISCO, 415-398-3181
GT FISH & OYSTER
Consistently named one of the country’s top seafood restaurants since opening in 2011, the Chicago-based GT has won several competitions for its New England-style chowder. The secret weapon is the artisan bacon from Wisconsin-based specialty meat supplier, Nueske's, which is generously crumbled in the chowder. It’s accompanied by a house-made oyster cracker.
531 N. WELLS ST., CHICAGO, 312-929-3501
GRAND CENTRAL OYSTER BAR
A major Manhattan tourist attraction since opening in 1913, the Grand Central Oyster Bar debuted the same year as the Grand Central Terminal. Its storied history has seen ups and downs throughout the more than 100-year reign, but one thing has been consistent: sales of the clam chowder. New Yorkers know to sidle into one of the counters and slurp a steaming hot bowl that’s overflowing with fresh clams and potatoes. New England- and Manhattan-style chowder are both on the menu.
GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL, 89 E. 42ND ST, NEW YORK, 212-490-6650
THE OLD CLAM HOUSE
Yet another old schooler, The Old Clam House is San Francisco’s oldest restaurant. It opened in 1861, and one of its top sellers since day one is the chowder. What makes it extra special is that it’s served in a sourdough bread bowl — that’s made daily, of course — making it the ideal comfort food when it’s chilly. There’s a nice ratio of clams to potatoes in the soup, but if you’re craving more, you’re also treated to a shot of clam juice as an aperitif. That’s an added bonus for all diners.
299 BAYSHORE BLVD, SAN FRANCISCO, 415-826-4880
UNION OYSTER HOUSE
When this iconic Boston restaurant opened in 1826, a bowl of New England-style chowder would only set diners back a nickel. It’s now $8.50, and the recipe is exactly the same. Union Oyster House is also the oldest restaurant in continuous service in America, but you’ll see fans of all ages slurping this authentic chowder. Word is that the kitchen goes through more than 50 gallons on weekdays and up to 90 gallons on weekends. And that’s all year long — not just during winter.
41 UNION ST., BOSTON, 617-227-2750