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The Mercury News

A Quick Bite: Sam's Chowdermobile

For years, food writers, food shows and foodies in general have said the best lobster rolls on Earth can be found at small roadside stand off Route 1 in midstate Maine.

The only problem, for those of us in the South Bay, is midstate Maine is more than 3,200 miles away. That's 36 hours of driving — Gumball Rally style. Even if you fly into Boston you still have around 150 miles of road ahead of you — and it's not a quick drive.

Those New Englanders don't like to hurry anywhere, even on an interstate. Maybe that's what happens when you're buried under snow for seven months of the year. When I was a kid and made the trip with my parents, my policeman father threatened to shoot three farmers, and a state trooper, for having the audacity to drive the posted speed limit while in front of him (a favorite phrase of Pops that was repeated so often during my childhood that I sometimes hear it as I drift off to sleep: "If I just had a laser mounted on the hood to zap anyone in front of me "...").

Luckily, lobster rolls are now available at regular locations in the South Bay through the auspices of that great California innovation — the gourmet taco truck.

Sam's Chowdermobile is an offshoot of Half Moon Bay's Sam's Chowder House restaurant. They make regular stops throughout the lower Peninsula and make a twice monthly stop in downtown San Jose.

Their lobster roll comes in full ($15) and half ($10) sizes. What you get is a split top bun, which you almost never see on the West Coast, that's soft and pillowy on the outside but with a buttery crunch inside. It's crammed full of succulent lobster, big pieces, including whole claw meat, and also smaller, super flavorful leg meat. There are also little pieces of celery for a contrasting crunch and it's all lightly coated with a buttery dressing.

Of course, Sam's also serves New England clam chowder ($5). While the chowder is New England style, it's not so thick that you can stand a spoon up in it (New England native Pops would be disappointed). Instead it's a deliciously light creamy broth with pronounced thyme and pepper flavors that's chock full of clams, as well as bacon, celery pieces and dime-size cubed potatoes.

I also tried the fish taco ($5). It was a massive piece of whitefish that had been battered and fried until it was nicely crispy but not oily at all. It was placed on a bed of sliced cabbage inside corn tortillas and topped with a mango salsa. It was very tasty but very messy because the fish was oversize compared to the tortillas. So there was a little bit of fish and salsa leakage onto my hands.

The one negative about the Chowdermobile has nothing to do with the food and everything to do with a convenience that turns out to be not so convenient, taking credit cards.

The Chowdermobile's computer seems to break down in the field more often than it worked. On one of my visits I was part of a crowd of a dozen people that stood in the Tesla Motors parking lot in Palo Alto for 20 minutes, on a drizzly day, not ordering, or eating, our chowder but watching the three guys in the Chowdermobile trying to get the computer to reboot.

They finally ended up telling everyone it would be cash only that day.

Memo to Sam: It's a taco truck; everyone is going to understand if you only take cash.

Sam's Chowdermobile

Locations vary, follow them on or online at
Next scheduled stop in downtown San Jose (111 Market St.) is June 10.

Hours: Generally 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. for lunch
Types of food: Clam chowder and seafood
Average meal price: $10 or less, unless you order the lobster roll
Good choices: The chowder, lobster roll and the Old Bay seasoned fries
Not recommended: Arriving without cash money; their credit card machine can be temperamental
Attitude: No chitchat, very business-like
Amenities: None, it's a taco truck that serves chowder.
Vegetarian options: The Old Bay fries
Drinks: A limited selection of soft drinks, Gatorade and bottled water
Eat in car: I think Joe Simitian is trying to outlaw chowder eating while driving.
Next-day edibility: Chowder, good; lobster roll, not so much
Who goes there: A whole lot of people, there's always a line
Credit cards: See above
Parking: Depends on where they set up

Restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously. The Mercury News pays for all meals.