Our 2013 Best of Houston® winners have been announced, but in many cases, picking the best item in any category was no easy task. In order to show off all the culinary greatness Houston has to offer, we're rounding up the "rest of the best" in some of our favorite categories during the next several months. Bon appétit!
I won't even tell you how many milkshake jokes I heard while taste-testing shakes around town the past few weeks.
Thankfully, most of the shakes were good enough to make me overlook the lewd (though apropos) commentary from servers and other diners. Even during our (mild) Houston winters, there's something undeniably comforting about a good chocolate milkshake that makes you forget all your troubles for a while. Milkshakes remind you of your childhood, when time moved more slowly and the world was much more innocent. This list will tell you where to go to recapture some of that magic.
Of course, now that we're adults and we're stressed and the world is a crazy/terrifying place and you can't even get a damn milkshake without listening to a sexual joke, regular milkshakes often just don't cut it. And that's why there are boozy milkshakes. Those are represented in abundance on this list, as well.
10. Becks Prime Yes, it's essentially a fast-food restaurant, and yes, I'm pretty sure the chocolate milkshake is made with vanilla soft serve and Hershey's chocolate syrup (rather than chocolate ice cream), but no matter. The Becks Prime shake is smooth, creamy and almost impossibly thick, straddling the line between ice cream and milkshake. Initially, you have to eat it with a spoon, because it's too dense to suck up through a straw. Of course, it's so delicious, you might eat the whole thing before it melts enough to drink anyway.
9. Katz's Katz's is great not only because it's open around the clock and makes some fine Jewish deli fare, but also because the place knows how to do a milkshake. Rather than the traditional blending of ice cream and milk, Katz's ups the ante by sticking an entire slice of cheesecake into the blender as well. The cheesecake milkshake (say that five times fast) has an extra tangy bite to it that normal milkshakes don't, and the graham cracker crust gives it just a hint of that hearty graham flavor.
8. Little Bigs Ladies and gents, I give you the first of the boozy shakes on the list. Little Bigs makes two incredible milkshakes, The Dude -- a nod to the White Russians in "The Big Lebowski" -- and a simple, pure white butterscotch shake that tastes just like those Werther's Originals your grandpa carries around in his pockets. It's The Dude that I prefer, though, with its coffee liqueur and icy texture reminiscent of a frappuccino. One isn't strong enough to get you good and buzzed, but the nice patio at Little Bigs invites you to kick back and stay all afternoon. How many of The Dudes can you put back over the course of a few hours? This story continues on the next page.
7. Alamo Drafthouse I'm gonna let you in on a little secret: This movie theater makes good food. It's not one of those places where the movies come first and the food is an afterthought. At Alamo Drafthouse, both the eatables and drinkables are prepared with care. And as of last Friday, the already tasty milkshakes can have liquor blended right in. The Mexican Chocolate is particularly decadent, with vanilla ice cream, reposado tequila, chocolate sauce and cinnamon. The combination of the tequila and cinnamon gives it an extra bite that virgin chocolate shakes definitely don't have.
6. The Chocolate Bar Any flavor of ice cream at The Chocolate Bar can be turned into a milkshake, which means that at any time there are at least 20 varieties of milkshake to be had (more if you mix flavors). The kind folks behind the counter will recommend something without nuts, as nuts tend to stay chunky and clog up the straw, but I say go for it, and eat the darn thing with a spoon instead! At The Chocolate Bar, milkshakes are made precisely how they should be --with ice cream and milk, and nothing else except a dollop of whipped cream on top.
5. Jerry Built Homegrown Burgers Milkshakes with a conscience? Sign me up! At Jerry Built Burgers, many of the ingredients are either organic or locally produced, from the buns baked daily by Three Brothers Bakery, to Niman Ranch beef patties, to shakes made with Blue Bell ice cream and local fruit. The shakes are particularly great because they're made with real ingredients--no sugary syrups allowed. The strawberry shake is appropriately tart and features whole strawberries blended in with the ice cream. The best shake on the menu, though, is the Ginger Bull shake, made with Three Brothers Bakery ginger bull cookies thrown right into the blender. Thick, spicy, sinfully good, and all local.
4. Grub Burger Bar This College Station import does several things very well: Gourmet burgers. Fresh salads. Over-the-top French fries. Milkshakes. Both the $4.25 hand-spun milkshakes and the "spiked milkshakes" for $6.50 are near perfect versions of the classic treats, thanks to the creamy texture and the nuanced flavors that come through in the alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions. A Nutella shake tastes like the addictive spread was somehow thinned to slurping density without losing any of its rich, nutty flavor. The "Texaz," a chocolate shake with tequila and coffee liqueur, packs a mighty punch, and will convince even hardcore non-tequila drinkers that the agave liquor pairs incredibly well with chocolate.
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3. 59 Diner If ever there were the perfect setting for a milkshake, this is it. It's the definition of a classic 1950s soda fountain, and the milkshake, served in a tall glass with the leftovers in the metal mixing container, is proof of that. Keep it classic with a chocolate shake, rich with cocoa flavor and none of that sometimes unpleasant butter fat that can coat your mouth and leave a funky aftertaste. Best to tackle the shake in the mixing container first before it melts, then move on to the light-as-air whipped cream on top of the remaining chocolate-y goodness. This milkshake isn't so thick you could eat it with a spoon, but who cares? Straws are a much faster means of moving shake to mouth.
2. Liberty Kitchen and Oyster Bar/Petite Sweets These two spots from restaurateurs Lee Ellis and Lance Fegen have one awesome thing in common: custard. Petite Sweets makes it in-house, and Liberty Kitchen uses that, as well as pies and cakes (also from Petite Sweets), to make some of the most outrageous milkshakes around. You want a pecan pie shake? Done. How 'bout carrot cake with vanilla custard. YES. The selection depends on what flavors of cake and pie Liberty Kitchen has on a particular day, but the kind cooks will blend any of them into a shake for you. Over at Petite Sweets, there aren't any cakes going into milkshakes, but that luscious custard alone (and maybe with a few toppings) makes one sweet shake.
1. Lola Lola. Lo-lo-lo-lo-Looooola. Sorry, the milkshakes there are so good, they make us want to sing. While the options aren't as plentiful as The Chocolate Bar's or as boozy as the ones at Grub Burger Bar, Lola sticks with an unfailingly simple recipe for both malts and shakes (only chocolate, though!). Served up in a chic diner atmosphere in a repurposed building in the Heights -- think greasy spoon meets urban farm -- the milkshakes at Lola are as honest and overflowing as you're apt to find. Not too hefty, not too whipped, with a perfect cap of cream and chocolate drizzle to finish you off. And the best part? There's always enough left for seconds.