It may be sacrilege to say this in Boston, but there are places other than Legal Sea Foods to get chowder.
Some of these places are probably right in your backyard, some of them are a drive (and potentially a tank of gas) away, and one requires you to stop at the grocery store to pick it up—but trust us, it’s not from a can.
The On-the-Go Chowder
There are times when sitting down to devour a bowl of chowder just isn’t an option, like during a jam-packed work day or on a whirlwind bar crawl. If you happen to work in or around Faneuil Hall, where a massive percentage of bar crawls wind up, then your chowder craving can be satisfied at Boston Chowda Co. in Quincy Market (a.k.a. Faneuil Hall Marketplace). The local chain, which offers a variety of soups including chowder (not the best, not the worst), also has cafes in the Prudential Center and on Main St. in North Andover.
A small cup of New England Clam Chowda measures out to 8 ounces and runs $3.49. If you’re feeding an army, Boston Chowda Co. sells a whole gallon (!) of its signature New England soup for $32. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can grab a Maine lobster roll ($12.99) for the road.
The Chowder That’s Worth the Splurge
Lobster-infused butter, lobster meat, and quahogs in chowder? Yeah, we’re okay with it costing $13 if the description includes all that. Grill 23’s New England Shellfish Chowder is the only soup on the menu, and it sticks out like a tantalizing gem. The Copley Square restaurant only offers chowder at dinner, so you’ll have to get a table to try it.
If you have time to kill, there’s an array of small plates, including a Scotch egg and a twice-baked potato, on the bar menu to hold you over at $12 a pop—just make sure to leave room for the main attraction.
The Chowder That’s Worth a Road Trip
Cabby Shack is in Plymouth, so this pick is going to require a car (or a boat). We had to include the Plymouth Harbor locale on the list because a Boston.com staffer called its chowder the best she’d ever had. To reinforce her raving review, we found a TripAdvisor user who titled his/her post on the restaurant “Best Clam Chowder ever!!!!’’—with four exclamation points. babyrn91 called the summer destination’s big boy lobster incredible, so you know there’s more than just chowder to fill you up.
To put the nail in the coffin, Cabby Shack’s “award winning clam chowder’’ ($6.95 for a bowl, $4.95 for a cup, $8.95 for a bread bowl) was featured in Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.’’ Now go get your car keys.
The Eclectic Chowder
Cambridge’s eclectic Inman Square is home to East Coast Grill, where a chowder chock-full of sweet potatoes and chipotle peppers graces the menu. The funky take on a New England classic, which is only available Saturdays for lunch ($9), also features bacon, celery, onions, and grilled corn, and it’s topped off with chopped sage.
Thrillist’s 2014 list of the Hub’s 6 best clam chowder spots starts with East Coast Grill’s spin on the creamy soup, calling chef Jason Heard’s creation a “bold take on the classic.’’
The One That Goes Better With Biscuits
Oyster crackers go with clam chowder like peanut butter goes with jelly, but if you’re going to replace those crispy puffs of salty goodness with something, we’ll happily choose biscuits. Island Creek Oyster Bar’s simply named clam chowder ($11) is topped with house-made buttermilk biscuits and flavored with house-cured bacon.
Zagat dubbed the dish one of the “8 Must-Try Clam Chowders in Boston’’ in March and we aren’t planning to argue that anytime soon.
The Best-Thing-I-Found-in-the-Grocer’s-Freezer Chowder
Captain Parker’s thick and creamy New England clam chowder won the annual WCOD Chowder Festival in Hyannis so many times that the Captain finally bowed out of the competition so that other restaurants could have a chance at winning. The West Yarmouth restaurant, located on the Parker River, won 12 chowder titles in 10 years and has been inducted into both the Boston and Cape Cod Chowder Halls of Fame.
Now that you’re dying to try it, you’ll be delighted to find out that the secret conconction is available in many grocer’s freezers throughout New England. To find the one nearest to you, visit Captain Parker’s website and search by your zip code.
Have a chowder favorite that we missed? Post it in the comments. We’ll head there with a soup spoon and a bucket of oyster crackers ASAP.