Special Report

The 25 Best Milkshakes in America and Where to Try Them

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Milkshakes and malts — which are just shakes with malted milk powder added — have been around for generations. There was mention of a prototype milkshake, described as “an Atlanta drink,” in the Atlanta Constitution as early as 1886. No ice cream was involved — just milk, crushed ice, “a mixture of unknown ingredients,” and “a bit of any desired sirup.”

The first milkshake-mixing machine appeared in 1902 (before that, milkshakes were made by vigorously shaking the ingredients in a covered container — hence their name). Malts are said to have been invented in 1922 by a soda jerk working at a Walgreens in Chicago.

Shakes and malts had become universally popular at soda fountains, burger joints, and diners around America by the 1950s. Their popularity hasn’t waned. Almost every fast food chain sells shakes today, including McDonald’s and Burger King as well as smaller operations like Fatburger, In-N-Out, and Five Guys — and at least two operations actually incorporate their name into their own: Shake Shack and Steak ‘n Shake.

Plenty of independents are known for their shakes and malts, too. Almost every “best milkshake” list mentions places like Tolly Ho in Lexington, Kentucky; Duckfat in Portland, Maine; Newport Creamery in various Rhode Island and Massachusetts locations; the Charcoal Pit in Wilmington, Delaware; Kroll’s Diner in four North Dakota cities; and Brent’s Drugs in Jackson, Mississippi.

Click here for the best milkshakes in America.

In assembling this list of the country’s best shakes and malts, 24/7 Tempo had hard choices to make. There are hundreds of fine milkshake purveyors around the U.S. Just for starters, these are the best places to get a shake in every state.

Beyond that, most places that make good shakes offer them in great variety, going beyond just the classic chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla. Bits of cookie, candy, even cake get mixed into shakes. Every kind of fruit is utilized in one place or another — as are such unexpected additions as root beer, lavender, or saffron. The possibilities seem endless, especially for places that make their own ice cream in-house. Some shake-makers might even consider reviving those lost ice cream flavors we wish would come back.

To assemble this list of some of the best milkshakes in America, 24/7 Tempo consulted 11 previously published nationwide lists of best shakes, plus a number of regional or state rankings, and read through numerous reviews by Yelp and Facebook users and other online critics. Not included in this list are any literally over-the-top examples in which doughnuts, slices of pie, whole bananas, waffle slices, and other items are arranged on top of the shakes instead of being blended into them. These are more desserts than milkshakes.

Source: Courtesy of Linda H. via Yelp

1. S’mores
> Establishment: Phillips Avenue Diner
> Location: Sioux Falls, South Dakota

There are more elaborate offerings on the milkshake menu at this old-style diner — for instance the Whatchamacallit (made with chocolate, caramel, Rice Krispies and peanuts) — but reviewers tend to single out the s’mores shake, blended with graham crackers and hot fudge, with a cluster of toasted marshmallows on top.

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Source: Courtesy of Lindsey J. via Yelp

2. Awful Awful Chocolate
> Establishment: Newport Creamery
> Location: 12 Rhode Island and Massachusetts locations

Don’t let the name of this shake scare you off: It’s short for “awful big, awful good.” More than a dozen flavors are available, but it’s the classic chocolate that gets the nod.

Source: Courtesy of Colette H. via Yelp

3. White Russian
> Establishment: Stanley Restaurant
> Location: New Orleans, Louisiana

Alcohol-spiked milkshakes seem like the best of two worlds: the frothy ice cream-based drink we’ve loved since we were kids combined with a grown-up punch. The White Russian shake at this classic Louisiana eatery, combining homemade ice cream with vodka and Kahlúa, defines the genre.

Source: Courtesy of Veronica C. via Yelp

4. Purple Vanilla
> Establishment: The Purple Cow
> Location: Little Rock and other Arkansas cities

The Purple Cow is on almost everybody’s list of best milkshake places in America, and its most famous offering is the Purple Vanilla shake — a creamy concoction of Yarnell’s Arkansas-made vanilla ice cream, colored and flavored with grape juice.

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Source: Courtesy of Danny A. via Yelp

5. Be Still Cody
> Establishment: Cousteau’s Waffle & Milkshake Bar
> Location: St. Augustine, Florida

Yes, Cousteau’s is named for famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. (Owner Stephen DiMares’s father and grandfather once overhauled the Frenchman’s boat.) The menu items, however, have a different nautical provenance: They’re named after people, places, and lines from Wes Anderson’s 2004 “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” starring Bill Murray. Aficionados will recall the iconic scene in which Jeff Goldblum smacks a whining dog with the words: “Be still, Cody!” It’s unclear exactly how that moment translates to a chocolate shake enhanced with espresso, mocha sauce, and espresso whipped cream, but the result is delicious.

Source: Courtesy of Sabrina H. via Yelp

6. Sea Salted Duckfat Caramel
> Establishment: Duckfat
> Location: Portland, Maine

Actual duck fat figures in many of the dishes here, but not, fortunately, in the shakes. The sea-salted caramel version is considered a must — and you can always order some duckfat fries to dip into its salty-sweet perfection.

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Source: Courtesy of Richard L. via Yelp

7. Chocolate Cake
> Establishment: Portillo’s Hot Dogs
> Location: Addison, Illiinois, and more than 60 other locations in eight states

Portillo’s has come a long way since 1963, when it started as a hot dog stand called the Dog House in the Chicago suburb of Villa Park. Along the way, the chain became famous for its milkshakes and also for its chocolate cake — so of course they had to blend the two together into an incredibly decadent treat.

Source: Courtesy of Lawrence C. via Yelp

8. Chocolate Malt
> Establishment: Old Mill Tasty Shop
> Location: Wichita, Kansas

Sometimes simplicity is best, and the old-fashioned chocolate malt at Wichita’s first soda fountain, opened in 1932, is as good as shakes get. Food TV host Alton Brown liked it well enough to tweet out an image of the malt and the machinery that made it.

Source: Courtesy of Missy A. via Yelp

9. Golden Summer Fig
> Establishment: Creole Creamery
> Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, and Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

This popular dessert shop will turn any of its homemade ice creams into shakes or malts, and the possibilities are many. One creation that’s unique, however, is this seasonal combination of saffron ice cream and bits of fig preserves.

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Source: Courtesy of Sally S. via Yelp

10. Mountain Mud Slide
> Establishment: The Corner Shop
> Location: Bramwell, West Virginia

An old-style ice cream parlor in a picturesque 19th-century town, the Corner Shop offers a number of milkshake options. A perennial favorite is the rich, thick, chocolatey Mud Slide.

Source: Courtesy of Samantha S. via Yelp

11. Hot Fudge Malt
> Establishment: Annie’s Parlour
> Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Served in a large glass with a canister of leftover shake on the side, Annie’s malts are thick, creamy, and cold. Some people like some banana added to their hot fudge malt, while others are content with just a sprinkling of nutmeg on top.

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Source: Courtesy of Susan W. via Yelp

12. Oreo
> Establishment: Kroll’s Diner
> Location: Fargo and other cities, North Dakota

Oreo cookies are a popular addition to shakes and malts around the country, enhancing them with crumbly chocolate and that dense, sweet cream filling. The old-fashioned “All Shook Up” version here, served in a tall tin cup, is definitive.

Source: Courtesy of Florence C. via Yelp

13. Coffee Chip
> Establishment: Holsten’s
> Location: Bloomfield, New Jersey

Coffee-lovers will go crazy for this excellent shake, based on homemade ice cream and served in a tall glass mug. In case the interior of this diner looks familiar, by the way, it’s because it was the site of the controversial final scene in “The Sopranos.”

Source: Courtesy of Matt C. via Yelp

14. Butterscotch Malted
> Establishment: Crown Candy Kitchen
> Location: St. Louis, Missouri

This ivory-hued, caramel-y malt is addictive. No wonder it gets mentioned often as a favorite at this 1913-vintage St. Louis institution.

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Source: Courtesy of AC Petersen Farm via Yelp

15. Chocolate Chip
> Establishment: AC Petersen Farm
> Location: West Hartford ond Old Lyme, Connecticut

This intensely chocolatey shake at this 80-year-old ice cream parlor and café is made with Petersen’s own ice cream and syrup, mixed in an old-fashioned Hamilton Beach milkshake machine, and served in a soda fountain glass, accompanied by a metal cup of the overflow.

Source: Courtesy of Seabrook M. via Yelp

16. Mexican Chocolate Adobe Mud Shake
> Establishment: Shake Foundation
> Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico

This Santa Fe favorite is famous for its thick, creamy Adobe Mud Shakes, made with organic Taos Cow ice cream. Such exotic flavors as lavender and piñon caramel are available, but Mexican chocolate remains the go-to choice for many customers.

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Source: Courtesy of Yoko K. via Yelp

17. Triple Thick Strawberry
> Establishment: The Charcoal Pit
> Location: Wilmington, Delaware

Named as one of the best milkshakes in America, the Charcoal Pit’s triple thick strawberry shake takes a traditional favorite and intensifies it into pure strawberry bliss.

Source: Courtesy of Mike C. via Yelp

18. Dutchman Delight Concrete
> Establishment: Ted Drewes
> Location: St. Louis, Missouri

Regular shakes and malts are available at this Gateway City mainstay, but the signature offerings are the concretes — versions so thick they won’t fall out of the cup if it’s turned upside down. The extravagant Dutchman Delight version combines chocolate, butterscotch, and pecans.

Source: Courtesy of Rebecca G. via Yelp

19. Passion Fruit
> Establishment: Robert Is Here
> Location: Homestead, Florida

Reviewers love the key lime milkshake at this fruit stand and farm on the edge of the Everglades, but the fragrantly tropical passion fruit shake — one of the many varieties the place makes from its own farm-grown fruit — is unusual and particularly tasty. Like all the shakes, it’s served in a 100% biodegradable corn-based plastic cup.

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Source: Courtesy of lisa B. via Yelp

20. Nutella
> Establishment: Tolly Ho
> Location: Lexington, Kentucky

In Lexington, says Spoon University, “no night out is complete without a classic Tolly milkshake.” Nutella is a popular shake flavoring all over the country, and Tolly Ho makes a particularly memorable version of the specialty.

Source: Courtesy of Brandon L. via Yelp

21. Peanut M&Ms
> Establishment: Hamburg Inn No. 2
> Location: Iowa City, Iowa

Lots of places will mix peanut butter into a shake, and many also offer M&Ms as an add-in, but this longtime Iowa City comfort-food purveyor cuts to the chase by making those M&Ms the peanut kind — adding real peanut flavor to the shake’s chocolate richness.

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Source: Courtesy of Lauren G. via Yelp

22. Huckleberry
> Establishment: Big Dipper Ice Cream
> Location: Missoula, Montana

Tart-sweet huckleberries, related to both cranberries and blueberries, are found mostly in the Pacific Northwest (as far east as Montana), and huckleberry ice cream is the signature creation at Big Dipper. It also happens to make a memorable shake.

Source: Courtesy of Steven F. via Yelp

23. Strawberry
> Establishment: LunchBox Lab
> Location: Seattle area and Gig Harbor, Washington

Sometimes it’s hard to improve on a classic — but LunchBox Lab elevates this basic milkshake, based on Snoqualmie ice cream, by making it with fresh strawberries when they’re in season.

Source: Courtesy of Ren A. via Yelp

24. Vanilla Bean
> Establishment: Kaminsky’s Dessert Café
> Location: Charleston and Columbia, South Carolina

All the shakes at Kaminsky’s begin with three scoops of vanilla bean ice cream from the noted Atlanta ice cream producer Greenwood. It’s made from aged East Coast Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans, and while Kaminsky’s will blend various candy bar or cookie pieces, among other ingredients, into the basic shake, the ice cream is so good that it deserves to be enjoyed in a shake all by itself.

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Source: Courtesy of Paulette M. via Yelp

25. Chocolate Malt
> Establishment: Brent’s Drugs
> Location: Jackson, Mississippi

An old-school pharmacy and soda fountain dating from 1946 that became pharmacy-free in 2009, Brent’s shows up on numerous best-milkshake lists, and it has been said that a traditional chocolate malt — topped with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry — is the best way to experience the place.

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