After a breezy day on the beach there’s nothing like a warm, filling cup or bowl of clam chowder.
Creamy, salty, hearty – the quintessentially coastal dish is offered at nearly every seafood restaurant in San Luis Obispo County and it’s not hard to find a good one, loaded with clams. Most local places cover the basics just fine.
Still, some bowls rise above the rest. Whether it’s fresh herbs, a splash of wine or fresh clams, these chowders have something special.
Duckie’s Chowder House
$4.50 cup, $7 bowl, $9 bread bowl
New England-style clam chowder reigns on the West Coast to the point that including a Manhattan-style chowder on a list could be considered blasphemy. But, the tomato-based soup can be a nice alternative. The best version we found was at Duckie’s at the base of the pier in Cayucos. The broth is salty, but flavorful with hints of bay leaf and garlic. Order in a bread bowl from Brian’s Artisan Bread in Atascadero.
55 Cayucos Drive, Cayucos | 805-995-2245 or duckieschowder.com
Marísol at the Cliffs Resort
$5 cup, $10 bowl
This chowder won the Judge’s Choice Award at the 2017 Pismo Beach Clam Festival, and for good reason.
Head chef Victor Flores starts with a classic French mirepoix of celery, carrots and onion, then adds stock along with thyme, black pepper, and bay leaves before finishing with cream, potatoes and, at last, clams. The result is aromatic and more complex than most others on the market. It’s served with two slices of toasted sourdough from Edna’s Bakery in San Luis Obispo.
2757 Shell Beach Road, Pismo Beach | 805-773-2511 or cliffsresort.com
This sophisticated dish fits the fine-dining setting. The chowder is thick, creamy and flavorful with bacon, herbs and little neck clams. But clams are not the star here; potatoes are what make this soup special. Perfectly cooked and chopped a little larger than usual, they melt in your mouth.
268 Front St., Avila Beach | 805-595-4050 or oceangrillavila.com
Rose’s Bar & Grill
$4.95 cup, $8.95 bowl, $ 10.95 bread bowl
Freshly shucked clams elevate this gluten-free chowder to another level in quality, texture and flavor. Meaty, almost flaky clams float in a base of half-and-half, heavy cream, red potatoes, onion and celery. Topped with chopped applewood bacon, fresh parsley and dill, head chef Marcelo Cruz’s soup is laced with chopped garlic, white pepper, thyme and oregano. The result is an earthy, flavorful blend that stands above the brine.
725 Embarcadero, Morro Bay | 805-772-4441 or roseslandingbarandgrill.com
A sophisticated dish with a more complex flavor, this chowder is made of fingerling potatoes, parsley, and thyme and topped with paprika, more small potatoes and thick-cut bacon. An addition of white wine to the base of heavy cream and clam juice makes all the difference in the only chowder on this list that has a subtle vinegar taste. The recipe was recently redesigned to eliminate flour, making it gluten-free.
100 Ocean View Ave., Pismo Beach | 805-773-3463 or seaventure.com
$4.95 cup, $5.95 bowl, $7.95 bread bowl. Top with seafood, clams or bacon topping for $1.50, green onion or cheese for $.50.
Thick, creamy and butter, this clam chowder is the crowd favorite. It’s so popular that multiple batches are heated in two 20-gallon kettles each day at Splash Café’s Pismo Beach location. This classic chowder is bright white, briny and sweet. It’s made with three kinds of clams, potatoes, celery and parsley and served in deliciously flaky bread bowls made at the company’s San Luis Obispo bakery. Out-of-towners rejoice; Splash Café will deliver its signature soup frozen anywhere in the continental United States.
197 Pomeroy Ave., Pismo Beach | 805-773-4653 or splashcafe.com
Zorro’s Café & Cantina
$4.99 cup, $6.99 bowl, $7.99 bread bowl. Top with crab for $2.99 and bacon for $1.29.
Order the bread bowl with crab on top and you’re in for a deliciously herby meal. With broth spilling over the edge of the toasty bread from Edna’s Bakery, the chowder looks like gravy but is much more flavorful. Lump crab bumps up the seafood factor and when grilled, adds a nice crunch to the texture. Owner Cindy Foresee says rosemary is what makes it special.
For an extra kick, add the house-made hot sauce crafted with habanero peppers, sea salt and spices.
927 Shell Beach Road, Pismo Beach | 805-773-9676 or zorroscafe.com