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6 delicious chowders in Northern New England

Chowder takes advantage of New England’s proximity to the sea. This version, from Bleu Northeast Kitchen in Burlington, Vermont, adds perch from Lake Champlain. Photo by Oliver Parini

What could be more “New England” than a steaming bowl of chowder? The tradition of stirring up a pot of the rich, satisfying soup predates the arrival here of some of the earliest European settlers since Native Americans had their own formulation (the newcomers added milk). Back then, cooks utilized whatever seafood they could catch or forage in the brew, whose name may have evolved from chaudière, the French term for the large cauldron in which it was simmered.

Looking for a great New England chowder? Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont offer plenty of choices. Throughout Northern New England today, you’ll find clams, fish, a seafood medley, or even corn studding the creamy broth—with nary a hint of tomato (it appears in chowders in Rhode Island and farther south). To slurp and savor some especially memorable “chowdah,” dip your spoon into these 6 outstanding versions.


1. Seafood chowder

Rockland Café, Rockland

Rockland Cafe chowder served with a haddock fishcake and oyster crackers

A haddock fishcake can accompany the Rockland Café’s chowder, which the menu claims will be the “best you’ve ever eaten.” Photo by Mimi Steadman

You could spend days eating your way through this welcoming Main Street diner’s menu of fresh local seafood and old-fashioned comfort food—meatloaf, liver and onions, or spaghetti and meatballs, anyone?

But be sure to start with the seafood chowder. It’s been a favorite since the restaurant opened more than 3 decades ago. Sit at a Formica-topped table and enjoy their time-tested recipe made with evaporated milk, just the way Maine grandmothers have always done.

Blushing with a hefty dash of paprika, the chowder is packed with lobster, crabmeat, shrimp, scallops, haddock, and clams, but no potatoes or onions. Ask your server—who might call you “Honey” or “Dear”—for a grilled haddock fishcake on the side. The café opens at 6 a.m. daily to dish up hearty breakfasts for early-bird visitors and locals, including lobstermen heading out to haul their traps.

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2. Fish chowder

Dolphin Marina & Restaurant, Harpswell

Dolphin Marina & Restaurant chowder served with a blueberry muffin and oyster crackers

Chowder at the Dolphin Marina & Restaurant comes with a blueberry muffin. Saving it for later could be a difficult choice, but the staff will be prepared. Photo by Mimi Steadman

Follow a meandering byway to the very tip of a sea-lapped peninsula. You’ll be greeted by ocean vistas for days and—when you order the fish chowder—a cup or bowl of warm, buttery cream full of chunks of haddock, chopped clams, potatoes, and onion. It comes with a just-from-the-oven Maine blueberry muffin, a heavenly pairing dreamed up by the current owners’ grandparents when they opened the restaurant in 1966.

Every day, the kitchen creates pots and pots of chowder and dozens of muffins, both made according to secret family recipes. The menu also offers a fine selection of other sea and land dishes. Soak up the Casco Bay views (a map on your placemat IDs the surrounding islands) while you enjoy your meal.

Want to save your muffin for later? The waitstaff stands ready with a small paper bag that’s just right for taking it with you. Open seasonally, April through November.

You may also like: 5 easy-access, easy-to-love Maine islands

New Hampshire

3. Clam chowder

Portsmouth Brewery, Portsmouth

Porstmouth Brewery chowder and a side of oyster crackers

When the Portsmouth Brewery reopens, fans will be able to savor its chowder, which includes a splash of chardonnay. Photo by Mimi Steadman

This bustling brewpub nestled in the heart of picturesque, historic Portsmouth enjoys bragging rights as New Hampshire’s original craft brewery. The food is brag-worthy, too.

One of the most popular menu items is the chowder—in the summertime, the restaurant goes through at least 10 gallons a week. The soup starts with a roux that’s lightly toasted to add a hint of smokiness. Then a mixture of clam stock, milk, cream, and even a little unoaked chardonnay goes into the pot.

In addition to lots of chopped clams, the chef sometimes adds chunks of sustainable pollock to boost the briny flavor. The result is a chowder that’s comforting, complex, and the ideal companion to a cold pint straight from the tap. 

Closed due to repairs from a June 2023 water main break; check website for details.

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4. Clam, seafood, and haddock chowders

Collins Brothers Chowder Company, Nashua

Corn studs the chower from Collins Brothers Chowder Company

In Nashua, New Hampshire, the Collins Brothers Chowder Company has soup for you. Corn and bacon chowder is available daily. Photo by Tina Burke

From mid-September until the beginning of May, this Nashua hole-in-the-wall ladles out a weekly choice of about 10 scratch-made soups. Options include traditional clam chowder (always available), Nantucket seafood chowder (available on Fridays), and chunky haddock chowder (available one Wednesday a month). Corn-bacon chowder is another menu staple.

Ever-changing non-chowder selections range from Hungarian mushroom soup to chicken-and-sausage gumbo. Regulars know to order a freshly baked baguette, honey-maple cornbread, or cheesy garlic bread (Fridays only), plus cookies or brownies, too. There’s no dining service; all soups are sold in to-go pint, quart, and gallon containers. Cash only, ATM inside.

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5. Seafood chowder

Bleu Northeast Kitchen, Burlington

Being far from the ocean doesn’t stop this sophisticated yet unstuffy restaurant from serving an exceptionally delicious seafood chowder. In fact, proximity to Lake Champlain inspired them to feature a local catch: perch, pulled straight from the lake. A freshwater species may be uncommon in seafood chowder, but it gets along swimmingly with a seasonally changing array of saltwater denizens that could include clams, swordfish, mussels, scallops, and salmon.

The only thickener is heavy cream, simmered down just enough to create a velvety consistency. Fennel, onion, celery, carrots, and potatoes are also part of the recipe. Topping off the bowl is a shower of crunchy croutons made from baked-on-premises Parker House rolls.

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6. Clam chowder

Shanty on the Shore, Burlington

Shanty by the Shore chower with oyster crackers

Clam chowder at the Shanty on the Shore in Burlington, Vermont, can come with the added bonus of a Lake Champlain patio view. Photo by Oliver Parini

If you crave seafood in Vermont, the menu at this hangout beside Lake Champlain will more than satisfy your longings. The clam chowder, named one of New England’s 10 best by the Boston Globe a few years back, is a perennial crowd-pleaser. The recipe is a secret, but it’s easy to figure out that heavy cream—and no milk—makes it especially rich and dense. For the ultimate soup-and-bread combo, order your chowder served in a hollowed-out sourdough boule.

The eatery is housed in a century-old rigging and sail-making shop whose exposed beams and lintels evoke the perfect coastal vibe. In warm weather, sit outside at an umbrella-topped table, and time your visit to take in the sunset over the water.

Mimi Bigelow Steadman writes about New England regularly for AAA’s publications.

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