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The Iconic San Francisco Clam Chowder



My quest begins.... Where better to start my quest for amazing food than in San Francisco, with the iconic clam chowder.


This year, I finally decided to pull the plug and begin my journey as a traveling nurse. I accepted my first assignment in San Francisco. I currently live in Santa Cruz, so this is my version of a baby step. Being a traveler gives you plenty of time to yourself. I was living away from my friends and family, but I didn't want to let being alone stop me from exploring. I began walking around this beautiful city, and often found myself searching for the best clam chowder San Francisco has to offer.


What do I look for in a chowder, you ask? I want that comfort food feel. I want that rainy day, home with a nice bowl of soup, experience. I want little to no sand or grit. Let's face it, worrying about ruining the integrity of your teeth while eating soup, really is a buzz kill. I want the perfect chowder consistency.... not too thin, not too thick. (Hmmmm.... There may be a joke there, but I'll ease you into my personality as this is my first blog.) It's a chowder, after all, not a broth. I want a substantial amount of clams. Sometimes, I swear, chefs' think their diners can't tell the difference between a clam or a potato. I'm sure we can all agree, that is definitely not the case. It is called a clam chowder not a potato chowder. (Anyone know why it's generally called potato soup not potato chowder?) I'm asking for a friend 🤣 Leave your answers in the comments, I'd love to hear from you.


Hi Dive


My journey for the best Clam Chowder in San Francisco takes me to the Hi Dive, which is a quick walk from my new apartment. The Hi Dive is an amazing, fun dive bar on the Embarcadero. If you have ever gone to a Giants game, you may have found yourself pre-gaming or post-gaming, or possibly both, at this popular bar just a 10 minutes walk to Oracle Park.


I love this clam chowder. Unfortunately, I had to add salt. I do not like my food overly salty and I rarely add salt to food in restaurants. I grew up watching my grandpa use the salt shaker like maracas during a fiesta. My mouth would become drier than August in Death Valley just watching. While we're on the subject.... I'm also not a fan of reaching for the salt shaker without even tasting the food. What if it has the perfect amount of salt??? Why not try it first?


Once I add a bit of salt, this clam chowder scores high marks for being very delicious. The Hi Dive clam chowder has excellent consistency, no grit, achieves a comfort food feel, and a perfect ratio of clams to potatoes. They score extra points for serving a yummy, toasted sourdough bread on the side.




Perry's


Next stop..... Perry's on the Embarcadero. I did not expect the amazing ambiance of this restaurant based on reading the menu online. I expected a typical pub vibe (which I love). Instead, it is both classy and romantic, with a blazing fire and beautiful dark wood.


Now as for the chowder..... First bite, absolutely amazing. The chowder itself was perfectly seasoned and the perfect consistency. The amount of clams was acceptable. Not a lot, it could have had a few more but there definitely were clams and not just potatoes.


The problem came when I got a chunk of...... I didn't know what. I thought at first maybe it was bread. But it seemed odd to just have a soggy chunk of bread in a cup of soup. I ate it telling myself it must be bread.


Then I got an even bigger chunk and realized it was flour. Uncooked large clumps of flour. Yuck! It was such a bummer because the rest of the soup was so good.


The Bloody Mary.... was ok. Tasted a little too much like tomato juice. Yes, I know what you're thinking.... Isn't it supposed to? Not to me. It's supposed to be a blend of vodka, Worcestershire sauce and yes tomato juice is in it, but it shouldn't remind me of tomato juice. It should remind me of a Bloody Mary. But I digress....


This chowder would be very high on the list of best of, if it hadn't been for the unforgivable offense.... clumps of uncooked flour. It's worth repeating..... Yuck! Perhaps, that was just a one-time mistake but unfortunately, it was my first and only impression. I would give them another shot though, before completely writing them off. Side note: I would have enjoyed some bread or even oyster crackers with the clam chowder.....




Fog Harbor House




The Fog Harbor Fish House is known for its' seafood and where better to be located than on Pier 39. I have driven for hours to try their lobster roll, which is amazing, prior to moving to the city. This time, I just walk from my new apartment.


The chowder itself was very solid. Delicious. The chowder consistency was perfect. I didn't see any whole clams, just very small pieces but it was an appropriate amount. For a chowder, it really was exactly how you think a chowder should be.


I kind of kicked myself for getting a bread bowl. I haven't done that in so long, but they said it was freshly made sourdough, so I thought, why not. I seem to remember having the center pulled out, buttered, and served on the side. There never seems to be enough soup to justify that much bread. The bread was ok but I didn't get that punchy sourdough flavor. I did love that they offered an 8 oz pour of wine. I've never seen that offered on a menu before. Overall, a very delicious clam chowder, I just prefer larger clams in my clam chowder and next time I'll skip the bread bowl.



Chowder's


The name is Chowder's, so obviously, I had to try it. This place is also on Pier 39. Consistency was there, but not very many clams and when I did find one, it was very small. I did get undercooked potato and celery. That pretty much killed the mood immediately. Not crunchy raw, but definitely not cooked properly. Undercooked potato is pretty hard to forgive. Especially, from a restaurants' signature, and only, dish.


There was a flavor or seasoning I wasn't expecting. I'm not sure what it is, maybe old bay or something similar. I didn't love the mystery ingredient. It lost some of that comfort food vibe because it tasted different than how I expected a clam chowder to taste.



Definitely fun for a quick bite when visiting Pier 39 with a bunch of kids, but way more of a tourist trap then a good chowder. The bread bowl was actually pretty good. Honestly, I think I liked it a little better than Fog Harbor's freshly made bread. It wasn't that it was a higher quality bread, but it had that nice kick of sourdough you would expect from a San Francisco bread bowl.



Hog Island Oyster Co.



I mean..... would you look at that? Need I say more. This was epic!!! I'll have to admit, I was completely shocked when this was placed before me. I have never..... ever, ever, been served a clam chowder like this before. I went straight for the chowder. Thin consistency for a chowder and holy butter. That's honestly all I could taste. Now, you ask, who could really complain about tasting butter? Had I ordered steamer clams and I was served this amazing butter sauce with my steamer clams, I would have been so happy. No complaints at all.


Two thoughts went through my mind.... This is a lot of work.... I wanted clam chowder not steamer clams..... and this is a butter sauce not a chowder. Ok that's technically three thoughts but who's counting?


But I mean..... Look at all these clams! I am not a chef, so I hypothesize... if a "chowder" tastes too much like butter does that mean just that? There is too much butter in it? Or is it lacking other flavors that would round it out. Cream, chicken stock, thicker roux? Anyone have the answer?


Either way, this is a memorable meal and for only $20.00, well worth it. The view of the Bay Bridge was stunning in the pouring rain and the server was very attentive.




Scott's Chowder House


I wanted to like this clam chowder. It's literally their specialty, as you can see by the name of the restaurant. The bread was actually very delicious. Nicely toasted, and a nice kick from the sourdough. The chowder was ok but I'm pretty sure I've had better from a can that's been sitting on the shelf. This clam chowder didn't have very many clams, mostly potatoes, and it was also a bit sandy.


They served me my food in a to-go container with a plastic spoon, even though I ordered it for here. That's just needlessly wasteful for a restaurant, even if you do order from the counter.





Woodlands Market



On this journey to find the best Clam Chowder in San Francisco, I had this sneaking suspicion I would find the best of... in the least likely place. I would go to these fancy restaurants and get these amazing chowders, but at the end of the day, I would find the best chowder in my local market.


If you've never been to Woodlands Market on Main St., you are definitely missing out. When you walk in the door, the aromas of all the delicious food in their hot bar, smacks you delightfully in the face. When I saw they had clam chowder, I obviously had to try it. What do you know.... Perfect chowder. Great amount of clams, perfect thickness, and very much the comfort food you look for in a chowder.


To sum it up.....


Clam chowder is as iconic to San Francisco, as surfing is to Santa Cruz. After sampling all these chowders, I have to say the best overall clam chowder from this small sample size..... (drum roll please) is Fog Harbor Fish House. The ambiance and view of the San Francisco Bay is amazing. They achieved that comfort chowder feel with a great consistency, no sand, and a reasonable potatoes to chowder ratio. I prefer full clams instead of their cut up clams but their chowder ticked the most boxes.


As a side note.... if a friend was visiting from out of town, and I wanted to impress them, I would choose to take them to Hog Island. This clam chowder did not win first pick with me, only because the chowder was too thin and too buttery. But having the chowder served with the clams in the shell, made for an epic experience and a standout dish. Plus, you get to stare at this beautiful view of the Bay Bridge, or mi puente as I call it, while eating the iconic San Francisco Clam Chowder.



Thank you for reading. Please leave your favorite San Francisco clam chowder experience in the comments. Side note...I did try to go to the Oyster Depot because I've heard they have one of the best chowders in the city, but they were closed even though their hours online suggested otherwise. Have any of you tried their chowder?


Until next time......

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2 Comments


Jessica White
Jessica White
Aug 25, 2023

This is exactly what I’ll reference next time I’m in SF! I don’t think I’ve even gotten chowder in SF because I was afraid of tourist traps. If you ever go up to Bodega Bay, I love Fishetarian’s clam chowder (and their fish n chips). I think it may be a little too brothy for your taste, based on what I read, but I love it. I feel like it tastes really fresh.

I had a chowder on the Oregon coast and I had the same experience as one you mentioned- the ‘what even is this seasoning?’ I think it was celery salt. Too much. Gross. My friend goes clamming up here so next I’ll learn how to make clam…

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Ashley Medulan
Ashley Medulan
Aug 25, 2023

I’d love to read a review of the Boudin chowder in a bread bowl! ;)

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