January was National Soup Month, and well, we missed the boat. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still pay tribute to our favorite cold weather comfort food: clam chowder. (After all, the temps are FINALLY starting to feel more winter-y again!)
Used to be you could only find clam chowder in many restaurants on Friday. That was a nod to “those who abstain from meat every Friday, which once was a requirement for Catholics before liturgical changes in Vatican II,” said Wikipedia. Thankfully, finding a great bowl of clam chowder today is a daily doing at some of these best options up and down the coast. Read on for a few of our faves.
But before we do: No offense to Manhattan, but when it comes to our clam chowder, we are all New England all the time, so we will only be concentrating on the creamy, potatoey, oniony, clammy stuff here in our first-ever “Best Of California Eats.” Man, we’re getting hungry just thinking about it. Now excuse us while we drive over to…
Splash Cafe is a Pismo Beach mainstay and also purveyors of the single best
cup bowl of clam chowder we have personally ever eaten (and when it comes to clam chowder connoisseurs, we are unusually connoisseury). It was a bread bowl if we’re being really specific. And it was delicious—every last spoonful and bite.
Trust us when we say it’s well worth the drive from just about anywhere, not to mention the inevitable wait in line.
One of Pismo Beach’s oldest restaurants (and aside from the beach you can drive your car on(!), its most exciting element), Splash Café serves more than 30,000 gallons of its award-winning clam chowder per year and has reportedly fielded requests from Gourmet Magazine and Bon Appetit Magazine for their recipe.
Don’t find yourself in Pismo Beach? Splash Café has expanded to two locations in San Luis Obispo and will even ship their chowder fresh frozen anywhere in the U.S.
For tourists, no trip to San Francisco would be complete without a jaunt to Fisherman’s Wharf. Here you can get pretty much any type and preparation of seafood you want, including numerous chowder choices. But if you’re looking for the best The Bay Area has to offer, foodies and critics recommend coming up off the water.
Head over to The Castro for Boston Clam Chowder at Anchor Oyster Bay. Or hit Swan Oyster Depot, the 100-year-old Nob Hill spot described as both a “hole in the wall” and also a “classic San Francisco dining experience” according to Frommers,
There is a similarly touristy situation at Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey (anywhere you can go whale watching and buy salt water taffy in the same place is a dead giveaway). However, here you have a rare chowder opportunity. If you just have to have it but you can’t decide where to go—don’t. Head over to the Wharf and take a stroll. A stroll accompanied by many, many spoons that will be hoisted in your direction, offering steaming tastes of clam chowder goodness.
You see, competition among the restaurants along the wharf is so fierce that they all set up cauldrons filled with clam chowder outside their doors and offer tastings to those walking by.
So taste it all. Every last one of them. By the time you get to the end of the wharf, you’ll have a happy belly full of chowder.
Many swear by Gladstone’s on the beach in Pacific Palisades as not just the best clam chowder in So Cal but also in the state, on the west coast, and maybe in the entire whole wide world. While we would never make such a bold statement, we can say this: if you’re in Los Angeles and are looking for the quintessential California experience, it doesn’t get much better than sitting on Gladstones’ ample patio with a view of the Pacific and maybe a celeb or two.
Gladstones on the beach is a favorite spot of locals and visitors, mover, shakers, up-and-comers, and authorities on clam chowder. They sell 19 gallons of it each year, per Wikipedia, and it’s not hard to see why.
The original Gladstones opened in Santa Monica Canyon in 1972 and moved to the beach in Pacific Palisades in 1981. Today, you can also hit up a Gladstones in Long Beach, Universal City, and in the Virgin America terminal of LAX (watching the planes come in while you savor every spoonful is not the same as doing so while watching the waves come in, but it’ll do in a pinch). Gladstones is also expanding to Nevada, with a restaurant coming soon to SLS Las Vegas Hotel & Casino.
Now that you’re hungry for chowder, which bowl has your name on it?