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Susan Axelrod

Susan Axelrod's food writing career began in the kitchen; she owned a restaurant and catering business for 15 years before turning to journalism. By day, she is the social media editor for Portland Press Herald. To relax, she bakes, gardens and hikes with her husband and their two dogs, preferably followed by a cocktail or a Maine beer. Susan can be contacted at 791-6310 or saxelrod@mainetoday.com On Twitter: @susansaxelrod

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Posted: August 20, 2015

Dining Guide: 5 Portland-area favorites for chowder

It’s a staple of New England cuisine, and if you’re a clam or fish chowder fan, you know that even on a summer day, you may be craving a cup or bowl of the rich, creamy soup.

Written by: Susan Axelrod

For full listings and more restaurants, see our searchable Restaurant & Bar Guide.

Gilbert’s Chowder House

Clam chowder in a bread bowl and a crab meat roll with fries served at Gilbert’s Chowder House.

Clam chowder in a bread bowl and a crab meat roll with fries served at Gilbert’s Chowder House. Press Herald file photo

92 Commercial St., Portland | 207-871-5636 |  gilbertschowderhouse.com | $$
Gilbert’s is a no-nonsense chowder house set in a sea of upscale businesses on Commercial Street. Play to the kitchen’s strengths and order a cup of house-made clam or corn chowder; both are rich, peppery and full of flavor. Skip the specials on the blackboard and try a fried haddock sandwich from the standard menu instead: the coating is light and crunchy, and the fish it encases is juicy and steaming hot. Sandwiches come with chips, but you’ll want to order a side of French fries, which are among the best in town.

Becky’s Diner

Becky’s Diner on Commercial Street in Portland.

Becky’s Diner on Commercial Street in Portland. Press Herald file photo

390 Commercial St., Portland | 207-773-7070 | beckysdiner.com | $$
Popular with locals and tourists alike, this waterfront diner is run by an actual Becky, with help from many if not all of her children. Regulars know that Fridays mean haddock chowder is on the menu, made in the traditional style with chunks of flaky fish and potatoes in a deeply flavorful, milky broth. The restaurant is also known for hearty breakfast dishes such as “The Hobson’s Wharf” which includes bacon or sausage, two pancakes or French toast, two eggs, home fries and toast. Seating is in booths or on stools at the giant wrap-around counter.

J’s Oyster

At J’s Oyster, order the steamers and chowder.

At J’s Oyster, order the steamers and chowder. Press Herald file photo

5 Portland Pier, Portland | 207-772-4828 | No website | $$$
In a city of increasingly sophisticated dining choices, J’s keeps it old-school. Sure, it has its regular clientele, but newcomers are warmly welcomed too. The beer is cold, the chowder is hot, the bar is dark and oysters are ample and cheap. Especially on a rainy, day, J’s is an excellent Hemingway-style option to ride out (or hide out from) the storm. Definitely order the steamers and some clam or fish chowder — both excellent. Always follow the rules, be polite and never mess with the wait staff.

David’s Restaurant

David’s in Monument Square is known for its clam chowder. Press Herald file photo

David’s in Monument Square is known for its clam chowder. Press Herald file photo

22 Monument Square, Portland | 207-773-4340 | davidsrestaurant.com | $$$$
Not a classic Maine seafood joint, David’s, in the center of downtown Portland, is nonetheless known for its clam chowder, enhanced with thyme, bacon and brown sugar. A bowlful makes a fine first course for a meal of chef David Turin’s contemporary American dishes with European and Asian influences. The pepper-crusted sushi-rare tuna with sesame peanut soba noodles is a customer favorite. More casual options such as burgers, pasta and pizza round out the menu. Reservations are recommended.

Dock’s Seafood

Outdoor seating at Docks Seafood in South Portland.

Outdoor seating at Docks Seafood in South Portland. Press Herald file photo

15 Evans St., South Portland | 207-899-4433 | dockseafood.com | $$$
A local favorite for expertly and simply prepared seafood, Dock’s also offers homemade chowders — clam, fish, corn, and corn and crab — by the cup, bowl or quart. The restaurant and fish market does a brisk take-out business, but there is plenty of seating inside and at umbrella-shaded tables on the patio. It’s casual, comfortable and reasonably priced, the sort of place you can bring the whole family and everyone can find something to enjoy (yes, there are burgers, hot dogs, and fried chicken too).

Key to prices

The approximate cost of two dinner entrees (not including appetizers, drinks, tax and gratuity).
$ – $15 and under
$$ – $16 to $25
$$$ – $26 to $45
$$$$ – $46 and up

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