It's official: The best place in town to eat clam chowder is the . The Pier Bowl cafe's recipe snagged first place among restaurants at this year's San Clemente Seafest, winning both the judges and people’s choice awards on Sunday.
In the non-restaurant category, the judges' first-place nod went to the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines group, while people's choice honors fell to the San Clemente Journal's creamy soup.
But it wasn't an easy decision.
As the taste-off got underway at the San Clemente Pier, tempting aromas of herbs and spices wafted from steel pots that had been boiling signature chowders since 3 a.m.
“It’s a great event,” said Bob Novello, director of operations for Fisherman’s Restaurant and Bar.
In addition to slurping traditional New England-style chowders, tasters also sampled Southwestern red chowder.
"We have made a Santa Fe red chowder, also known as New Mexico-style, which has clams, shrimp and scallops," said Jesus Serrano, executive chef at .
The official panel of judges included sheriff's Lt. Paul D’Auria, Mayor Lori Donchak, City Manager George Scarborough, Mayor Pro-tem Jim Evert and Chamber of Commerce Chair Nancy Hunt.
“All of the entries were so close and everyone put out their best efforts,” Hunt said.
But, in the end, Beach Garden Cafe once again dominated, and now has a five-year winning streak.
What's the restaurant's secret?
“It’s a clam chowder with a lot more vegetables than what is usually found,” said Chef Scott Spohr. “It separates us from the rest.”