Best Clam Chowder in San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf

What are the origins of Clam Chowder?

Clam chowder is the undisputed comfort food king of San Francisco. Whether you are really, really hungry or just need a quick pick-me-up, this delicious creamy fish-feast will leave you feeling warm inside.

From the New England version to San Francisco clam chowder, bringing up the origins of clam chowder often leads to animated discussions where people defend “their” version as the original. While many believe that this popular dish hails from Portugal, others are convinced that the Bretons from France brought it to our northeastern shores. What we do know is that fishermen who migrated the oceans to our shores would use the offal from their catches along with other available ingredients for a warm, hearty, healthy meal.

The San Franciscan obsession with clam chowder dates back to the mid-1800s, with the timeless dish traditionally served in a sourdough bread bowl. Over time, clam chowder fisherman’s wharf style has been modified to become the culinary staple it is today.

chowder and salad

Clam Chowder – A San Francisco Staple

San Francisco chowder is a must for any visitor to the city, where fresh seafood is a point of pride. The delightful creaminess of San Francisco clam chowder has made it a staple dish of this vibrant city, which is why it can be found in many eateries throughout.

The signature sourdough bread bowl in which the chowder is served has helped make this creamy bowl of deliciousness a go-to dish while out and about in San Fran. The salty goodness and flaky consistency with savory clams give this the thumbs up from anyone who has tasted it. Have the best clam chowder Fisherman’s Wharf has to offer, as this hearty meal is best enjoyed by the water, sitting on an outdoor bench, while people watching. 

After all, the city by the Bay is famous for fog and the long living quote “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” This extremely popular quote somehow does not stop the visitors from traveling with just T-shirts, being “surprised” it is cold, and keeping sweatshirt shops in business to fix their error in packing judgement. Butm, it helps to explain why the famous and ever-popular best clam chowder in San Francisco is sought after year-round since it is usually cold during the busiest times when a warm bowl of clam chowder is that much more appealing. 

Why the bread bowl?

Best clam Chowder Bread Bowl

The infamous edible soup holder has been a tradition of the San Francisco cuisine going back to the gold rush days. In modern times it has become associated with clam chowder San Francisco-style. This clam chowder in bread bowl San Francisco is famous for is specifically the sourdough bread bowl. The variety is due to the Boudin bakery making the famous sourdough bread with its signature crunch and extra sour-ness that can only be made in San Francisco due to the city’s famous fog.  It is the go-to container for some of the best clam chowder in San Francisco. However, since clam chowder bread bowl San Francisco is such a popularly seeked out item, all restaurants serve clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl inside the sit-down dining room as well. 

Nothing beats a bowl of savory, piping hot clam chowder presented in a tasty bowl of bread to finish off your delicious meal. The crusty bread compliments the salty taste of the chowder, while the carbs in the bread perfectly balance the proteins of this fishy dish, making for a healthy, well-rounded dish. As for San Francisco clam chowder PIER 39 restaurants have some of the best award-winning that is made from scratch every day. 

Clam Chowder: they’re all the same — right?

If you want to start a heated debate, ask a New Yorker whether or not the New England version of clam chowder is the original and best recipe! While there are many versions and varieties (some with bacon, some with tomatoes, clear or creamy) each region defends their recipe as the “correct” version and, of course, the best.

While the recipe base is the same all over, there are subtle differences between them. If you order clam chowder in New England, you will get a creamy, thick broth, whereas the dish served in Rhode Island is a clearer broth. In San Francisco, the area of Pier 39 clam chowder is a version of the original recipe found on the east coast but served in a sourdough bowl. Sometimes bacon will be added giving a more modern twist to this traditional staple, but mainly the Manhattan, Boston, or New England clam chowder original recipes remain the most popular.

How to make the perfect Clam Chowder at home.

clam chowder with crackers

You don’t need to be a top chef to make the perfect clam chowder brimming with rich, delicious flavors. If you are hoping to make the best clam chowder, San Francisco style, you just need to follow a few basic rules to easily achieve the best chowder in San Francisco, right in your own home.

Use whole baby clams (with juice) and fresh, tender russet potatoes for a creamier consistency. The ultimate comfort food uses a roux to thicken the chowder, adding cream at the end to give it that extra-rich flavor. If you prefer a thinner version, simply add some milk. For the thicker, creamier variety, simmer the chowder for a little while longer.

Whatever you choose, you can dig into your homemade clam chowder from the comfort of your own home. Its taste will magically transport you to Fisherman’s Wharf, enjoying the best clam chowder in San Francisco!

If clam chowder in a bread bowl sounds too filling – perhaps its just the appetizer and you want to have room for the main course or even dessert – there are a few other ways to serve it that we recommend. For one, a nice sliced bread loaf is always a good option so you can dunk chunks of bread into the rich creepy soup for the perfect bite. This method of serving still leaves you fairly full depending how much bread you consume. It’s just so hard to stop. You should also consider serving little crackers on the side. Especially the little oyster crackers that are puffy and round but have a hollow middle. These crackers give a bit of crunch and texture to your soup while still giving you room for your appetite to hold up until the next course. 

How to serve Clam Chowder at home.

Now that you’ve made your delicious creamy clam chowder, deciding how to present it is the next step to perfection. If you are serving the chowder as the first course you should serve it in a small cup or even a mug so your guests will be able to enjoy and finish the dish while still having room for your main course. If the chowder is the main event, it is very filling after all, you can either serve it in a bread bowl on a plate or serve it in a nice wide bowl. 

As for the table setting, you can think about adding nautical touches or even San Francisco-like accents to the table to really bring the clam chowder to life. Consider crab netting, clam shells, Golden Gate Bridge or trolley car figurines, and the like. Also be sure to set out spoons with a deep wide curvature so you can enjoy bites of clam chowder with the perfect amount of clam, potato and creamy soup broth ratio in each bite. 

Since everyone’s palette is different you should also place salt, pepper, and spicy sauce out on the table so guests can season their clam chowder to their own preference. If not, guests will have to ask the host for the seasoning and drawing attention to the fact that they may prefer it a bit differently and worry about offending the host. We just want everyone to enjoy the meal! 

Lastly, definitely do not forget Napa Valley wines – some of the best in the world. It is true that Napa Valley is not in San Francisco but it is so close and Napa wines are the most popular served in Fisherman’s Wharf so they go together. Pop open a nice chilled bottle of Napa chardonnay to sip on while you and your guests enjoy your masterpiece. Place the chilled bottle in a chilled bucket or marble wine holder to keep the wine chilled until you finish your glass and are ready to pour more. Having the bottle easily accessible helps you and your guests feel comfortable refilling their glass while not having to get up from your meal and disrupt the engaging conversation. And let’s face it, if there is enough wine to refill the glasses for the evening it’s already a great evening. 

Some creative twists on this classic recipe.

Adding salt pork or bacon to the original clam recipe gives an extra taste dimension to what is already a fulfilling, taste experience. Bacon brings warmth and extra savory deliciousness to the dish. For a Clam chowder Fisherman’s Wharf style experience, you cannot go wrong.

For a less traditional twist, some recipes add cheese to add a fuller flavor to this scrumptious dish. When the clams and potatoes are added, stir in the grated cheese until melted.

For a spicy, southwestern twist on clam chowder, roasted poblano peppers (or whatever chili types you have available in your area) can be added along with fire-roasted tomatoes. A taste sensation you will not forget!

For the ultimate chowders Pier 39 experience, taste this recipe the way we make it at our PIER 39 restaurant. If you’re looking for the best clam chowder Fisherman’s Wharf has to offer, you won’t be disappointed with our original recipe.

How to eat Clam Chowder in a bread bowl.

clam chowder
clam chowder

Picture this: you search for and seek out clam chowder in bread bowl San Francisco. You get there, place your order confidently since you’ve had your eye on this for weeks. Then your bread bowl is served to the table. You have a deep spoon to your right, a napkin on your lap,  and salt, pepper and tabasco sauce on the table in front of you. The bread bowl comes to the table served with the top on, covering the chowder, with the chowder steaming out the sides. What do you do? 

First things first, you should open the top and let it fold and hang off to the side and admire the beautiful bowl of seaming clam chowder and take in the smell. If the top was cut all the way off and is not longer attached, you can set it down leaning on the bread bowl. Next, you should dunk and stir your spoon around a few times to see what you’re working with. Are there clam pieces? Potato chunks? Bacon? Now, fill your spoon with the cream soup and little bits of each of the pieces you saw as you were stirring. Be sure to blow on it and test your tongue that it is cooled down enough to take your first bite. You will only make this mistake once but hopefully not at all after reading this.

Once you take your first bite and enjoy how delicious it is, think critically. Is it missing a bit or salt or pepper? Would it taste more to your liking if you added a bit of spice? Add accordingly and stir it in. 

Once you have perfected your seasoning, take a few more big slow bites of the soup as is. YUM. Then it is time to pick up the top of the bread bowl that you put to the side and dunk it in the clam chowder to get the full flavor of the bread with the soup combination. Why not just eat the bowl, you ask? Well if you eat the bowl at the beginning, the soup will fall out because that is what is holding it up! 

After a few more bites, gently but firmly scrape your spoon against the interior side of the bread bowl to pull off some of the sourdoughs that has soaked up all of the delicious chowders. Be careful not to scrape too hard or you will punch a hole in the bowl and the soup will come pouring out. 

Once you finish the soup, you are very much encouraged to finish off the remaining bread bowl lined with the last bits of the chowder. Don’t worry about being polite with silverware at this point. This is hands-on rip and pull-apart straight into your mouth territory.