Food & Drink

Where to get clam chowder: 6 of Boston's best spots

Published On 01/29/2014 Published On 01/29/2014

Chicken soup might be good for the soul, but your ravenous hunger and bone-chilling Boston Winters call for something better: clam chowder. New England clam chowder. Not that red garbage, which is so undignified there's no need to even name it. We’re talking about rich, creamy, clam-studded, stick-to-your-ribs-and-your-chin tastebud bliss. It’s a warm, comfy blanket for your insides. Vanquish any polar vortex with any of these excellent renditions...

Jennifer Sloan

East Coast Grill
Inman Square
Chef Jason Heard has a bold take on the classic befitting this Inman Square institution. Clams go swimming in heavy cream (lucky clams!), white wine, and clam juice along with bacon, celery, onions, grilled corn, sweet potatoes, and pureed chipotles (for a nice hint of heat). Chopped sage tops it off and ties the whole thing together.

Michael Piazza

Island Creek Oyster Bar
The fresher-than-fresh seafood kings at ICOB up the ante in their version of the regional specialty. Chef Jeremy Sewall, deeply committed to ocean/farm-to-table creations and intricate preparations, incorporates house-smoked bacon into the mix with an abundance of local hand-dug top-neck clams. Instead of saltines or oyster crackers, ICOB serves it up with melt-your-brain buttermilk biscuits. Assuming it didn't already melt from the house-smoked bacon.

Chris Padgett

James Hook & Co.
James Hook, a Boston institution since 1925, rebuilt their humble shop after the devastating 2008 fire, because THAT is just what tough New Englanders do, damn it. This classic crab shack on the water cooks up honest working-man’s chowder (a two-time Boston Chowderfest champ) with tender and sweet whole clams and plenty of potatoes in clam broth and cream to keep your belly warm. Lick the bowl clean while you’re there and/or buy a half gallon (yep) to take home. Order online if you’re snowed in.

Ned Devine’s

Ned Devine’s Irish Pub
Faneuil Hall
Who knew Ned Devine’s had some of the best chowder in the Hub (besides the Briar Group)? This three-time Chowderfest champ is bursting with flavor (and clams), has a medium texture (aka just right, according to the Goldilocks porridge index), and is crowned with fresh thyme. Simple and effective.

Anthem Kitchen + Bar

Anthem Kitchen + Bar
Faneuil Hall
Apparently the Briar Group is really into chowder, because their venue Anthem also boasts two victories and two runner-up finishes at Chowderfest. Chef Ben Hennemuth’s rendition is velvety smooth, stocked with clams and potatoes, and nuanced with secret special spices. Probably something addictive. Not meth though, at least we don't think.

Legal Sea Foods

Legal Sea Foods
Many, many locations to choose from…
We can't forego an obligatory nod to the standard bearer. There’s a reason why this dish has represented the Commonwealth of Massachusetts at every Presidential Inauguration Dinner since Ronald Reagan’s January 1981 fete: it’s damn good chowder. With plenty of littleneck clams, potatoes, onions, and salt pork flavor-melding in clam broth, fish stock, and light cream, Legal’s much-celebrated version is everything that everyone imagines New England clam chowder to be. Bonus: here’s the recipe. Double bonus: if you are kitchen-averse, you can order it online.

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1. Island Creek Oyster Bar 500 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02215 (Fenway Kenmore)

Everything about Island Creek’s modern, simple decor and comfortable atmosphere makes you think of an upscale coastal shanty, not to mention the shellfish is impeccable. The raw bar is the main draw here as some of the oysters are sourced directly from its farm of the same name in Duxbury Bay, but you can also get other local New England staples like, Chatham, Wellfleet, and Pearly White. You’ll find daily changing fresh fish options like, Maine Grilled Salmon with mustard spaetzle and apple purée, Falmouth Bluefish with delicata squash and chorizo, and Fried Ipswich Clams, plus brunch fare like, Salt Cod Cakes with house-made baked beans, a fried egg, and bacon.

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2. East Coast Grill 1271 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139 (Inman Square)

East Coast Grill showcases chef Jason Heard's love for Southern food and BBQ, as well as cuisines from around the world. Enjoy a hearty selection of ribs and BBQ alongside bites like Asian-style Island Creek oysters, seared tuna tacos, and Creole-style BBQ shrimp.

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3. James Hook & Co. 15 Northern Ave, Boston, MA 02210 (Financial Dist Waterfront)

You can buy raw, fresh fish from this seafood purveyor, but you should definitely stick around for some of their cooked offerings, including the can't-miss lobster roll.

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4. Ned Devine's 1 Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston, MA 02109 (Watertown)

Ned Devine's Quincy Market is a buzzy, touristy pub that slings traditional British and Irish favorites like corned beef and bangers and mash -- by day, at least. Once the sun goes down, the dilapidated brick walls are washed in green and purple neon light, and the whole place becomes a clubby bar with DJ-ed dance parties and live music.

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5. Anthem Kitchen + Bar 101 South Market St, Boston, MA 02109 (Govt Center)

From the restaurant group behind City Table, Gather, and Ned Devine's, Anthem is a tried and true Boston favorite inside Faneuil Hall. The menu has a classic American lineup featuring veggie-laden wood-fired flatbreads, lobster mac & cheese, and a couple of artisan-style burgers. Aside from à la carte comfort food, Anthem serves prix-fixe menus with impressive seafood courses, and the interior features elegant dining rooms equipped with dark leather booths and stone walls.