Food & Drink

The 16 Best Places to Get Chowder in SF

Published On 01/19/2015 Published On 01/19/2015
Amy Copperman
Amy Copperman
Amy Copperman
Amy Copperman
Amy Copperman
Amy Copperman
Amy Copperman
Amy Copperman
Amy Copperman
The Old Clam House
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1. Sotto Mare Oysteria and Seafood Restaurant 552 Green St, San Francisco, CA 94133 (North Beach)

This aggressively nautical North Beach seafood sanctuary is a San Francisco institution, with some of the best chowder-filled bread bowls in a city full of them, $1.50 oyster specials on Mondays and Saturdays. The wait can be long and the waitstaff can be salty (but in a charming "we've been doing this a while" kind of way), but once you have a bite of velvety, bacon-y, clam chowder you won't be thinking about anything else.

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2. Swan Oyster Depot 1517 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109 (Russian Hill)

Swan Oyster Depot, open since 1912 in Nob Hill, is a raw fish institution. The seafood is unbelievably fresh, and the menu includes everything from clams, oysters, and Dungeness crab to sashimi platters and sea urchin. The clam chowder, a buttery and briny both made with the day's clams, is awesome, as is the twice-cracked crab. Basically, everything here rocks. The narrow space has only 18 bar seats, and it's a great option for a solo lunch since parties of one can usually bypass the long wait.

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3. Crab Station 2803 Taylor St, San Francisco, CA 94133 (Fishermans Wharf)

Fisherman’s Wharf probably has more crab stands than it does fishermen at this point -- which can make things overwhelming -- but not all of them are created equal. In a district that is far from hurting for options when it comes to chowder in a bread bowl, Crab Station stands (!) out for those who prefer theirs slightly on the thinner side with plenty of clam hunks in every bowl.

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4. Alioto's Restaurant 8 Fishermans Wharf, San Francisco, CA 94133 (Fishermans Wharf)

Experience a slice of San Francisco history at Alioto’s Restaurant, a Fisherman’s Wharf seafood gem. Sicilian immigrant Nunzio Alioto opened his first fish stall in 1925, which turned into a full-fledged restaurant by 1938. Here, you’ll find famous San Francisco clam chowder served in a bread bowl (which you can grab from the counter below the restaurant, too), fresh pastas, lobster thermidor, and seafood towers. Enjoy views of the Bay as you feel like a tourist in this quintessential San Francisco restaurant.

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5. Fisherman's Grotto 9 Fishermans Wharf, San Francisco, CA 94133 (Fishermans Wharf)

This tiny waterfront shack is ladling out some super herby flavor. While the chowder here is still as salty as classic versions, they don’t skimp on the other spices, so you enjoy a rounder, more robust taste.

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6. Nick's Lighthouse 2815 Taylor St, San Francisco, CA 94133 (Fishermans Wharf)

You can get some tasty crab chowder at this stand. It has the consistency of super-thick (almost pudding-like) New England chowder, but it tastes totally different and has a slight green color. They use Rock Crab (so it’s not fresh), but it is flavorful. The whole kernels of corn lend it a pleasant sweetness.

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7. Scoma's 1 Al Scoma Way, San Francisco, CA 94133 (Fishermans Wharf)

You can get cheaper chowders at one of the stands a few blocks away, but here you’re treated to views of actual fishermen (a rare sight on the wharf) and an Old San Francisco vibe. The chowder is delicious, too -- as thick as it gets and loaded with four different kinds of fresh clams.

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8. Woodhouse Fish Co. 2073 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94114 (The Castro)

Whether you find yourself in the Castro or Lower Pac Heights, Woodhouse Fish Co. is your go-to for New England-style seafood in a nautical setting. Nosh on packed-to-the-brim lobster rolls, three styles of clam chowder, and dollar oysters all day on Tuesdays. Although this casual joint doesn’t demand attention, you’ll still find superb cioppino and perfectly cooked fish that rival those at Woodhouse’s fine dining counterparts.

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9. Boudin Bakery & Cafe 160 Jefferson St, San Francisco, CA 94133 (Fishermans Wharf)

This bakery's flagship hall on Jefferson St is the spot to take visitors (they have a tour on site). The sourdough bread bowl is the move: relatively light on the clam flavor, cream and potatoes are the star of this super-thick, gloriously white rendition, making it perfect for the seafood newbie who’s wary of anything too fishy.

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10. Dante's Weird Fish 2193 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110 (The Mission)

There’s generally no wait at this funky, hidden spot on Mission St, and they serve bottomless mimosas for a mere $10 on weekends until 3pm. (We repeat: Mimosas without the wait.) Flecks of flavorful scallions and colorful slivers of carrots offer a subtle twist on the classic chowder at this joint. The soup is right in between thick and thin and the rustic potatoes with the skin still on them are hearty and perfectly cooked (read: not too mealy).

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11. Mission Street Oyster Bar 2282 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110 (The Mission)

This seafood market-cum-restaurant is a known spot for deliciously fresh fare.

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12. Anchor Oyster Bar 579 Castro St, San Francisco, CA 94114 (The Castro)

When you come to this tiny pearl of an oyster bar in the Castro, the line will likely be long, but the nautical nook's fresh seafood dishes like a fan-favorite clam chowder, crab cakes with house-made tartar, and cracked Dungeness crab are more than worth the wait. Once you're settled with a draft beer or white wine, the real move is to order the cioppino, which isn't always listed on the menu (fear not -- it's available) and is quite literally overflowing with flavor from the shellfish, tomato sauce, and red chili flakes that turn the heat up. One spoonful and you'll be Anchor's loyal follower.

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13. The Ramp 855 Terry Francois St, San Francisco, CA 94158 (Dogpatch)

Hanging out in a shipyard while drinking sounds like a potentially dangerous combination, but at The Ramp, it’s nothing but a good idea. Open for brunch, lunch, and evening appetizers (the menus are American and seafood-centric), this popular waterfront hole-in-the-wall is situated directly next to the San Francisco shipyard in Dogpatch, meaning the views of tankers are exceptional -- and so is the brunch lineup, particularly the top-notch Bloody Marys and the juicy Angus beef burgers on locally baked buns. Not to mention, if you stick around long enough (and down enough drinks), there's live Latin music and outdoor dancing later in the day.

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14. Bar Crudo 655 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117 (Alamo Square)

If Nopa made the Divisadero neighborhood what it is today, Bar Crudo solidified its status as a golden dining destination. For over a decade, Bar Crudo has been serving up a seriously good happy hour and dinner that’s ideal for family visits. It’s perpetually packed and one of the city’s most underrated restaurants, with a bumping happy hour that features dollar oysters, fish tacos, and sumptuous seafood chowder. Don’t miss the crudo sampler, uni avocado toast, and lobster burrata salad at this small restaurant that packs a punch.

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15. The Old Clam House 299 Bay Shore Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94124 (Bayview)

Anyone who has spent time playing soccer on Silver Ave or driving down Bayshore Boulevard or just living around SF knows the Old Clam House’s iconic sign and that giant clam sitting on the side of the roof and the fact that it’s the oldest restaurant in the same location in SF. But more people should know about their incredible clam bake cioppino and the amazing kettle bread they bring out with hot clam juice and their own “Milwaukee steam beer."

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16. Hog Island Oyster Co. 1 Ferry Building, San Francisco, CA 94111 (Embarcadero)

Hog Island Oyster Bar, located in the Ferry Building Marketplace, does its namesake proud; for those that love oysters, few places do it better. With outdoor seating that truly completes the seafaring experience, a grilled-cheese sandwich with superb word-of-mouth buzz, and cold, IPA brews to complement, Hog Island has serious make-a-day-out-of-it appeal.