The Rest of the Best: Houston's Top 10 Milkshakes

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For the next 20 weeks, we'll be rounding up the runners-up to our 2011 Best of Houston® winners. In many categories, picking each year's winner is no easy task. We'll be spotlighting 20 of those categories, in which the winner had hefty competition from other Houston bars and restaurants.

Milkshakes -- otherwise known as ice-cold, creamy, dreamy goodness in a cup -- are grand. Whether you drink (eat?) them as a dessert, side dish, meal, beverage, treat or dip for french fries, it's really hard not to like love them.

For this very reason, finding Houston's top milkshakes was an endeavor more challenging than it sounds. Lucky for you, we completed the agonizing task of sampling countless shakes to bring you a list of the best. So, without further ado, the cream of the crop of Houston's milkshakes:

10. Avalon Diner If you're looking for a wonderful old-fashioned milkshake, you'd be foolish not to seek it out at Avalon Diner. This no-frills mom-and-pop restaurant, which has been in business since 1938, is the real deal: a diner that serves nostalgia-inducing food with a heavy dose of Southern hospitality, all reminiscent of the good ol' days.

Avalon's thick milkshakes come with the mixing can in tow, which only makes you feel more like you're in the 1930s. For tradition's sake, don't rush the lunch or dinner milkshake run to Avalon; sit back, relax and enjoy sipping on a shake along with some friendly conversation with the elderly, overall-clad customers or the grinning fifty-something waitresses, aprons and all.

9. The Counter The Counter is a modern-day burger joint that still has that laid-back, diner-like feel. The large namesake counter is an ideal spot for pulling up a bar stool and downing a shake. Try their peanut butter variety, as it's a flavor you won't find just anywhere. The Counter makes this shake with just the right amount of peanut butter. And just like The Counter's yummy burgers and fries, their milkshakes come in generous portions - consider sharing it. Or not, if you like generous portions of simple perfection.

P.S. - if you're one of those people who like to dunk their fries into their milkshakes, this a good spot to do it. The Counter's shoestring french fries are always served hot and with just the right amount of crisp; they're perfect vessels for transporting milkshake deliciousness from cup to mouth.

8. Potbelly There are lots of reasons to love the milkshakes at this affordable sandwich shop with multiple Houston locations. First things first - the size. It's easily hand-held, perfect for taking to go, making it one of the most easily drink-able shakes in town. Yes, we know that everything is typically bigger in Texas, but who said that milkshakes have to be, too? Another plus to Potbelly milkshakes is that should you choose one of the fruit flavors - strawberry, mixed berry, or banana -- the fruit used is all natural. Finally, see those two rings around the straw? They're two mini shortbread cookies, baked in house -- the delicious little cookies are a little treat on top of your drinkable treat.

7. Smashburger Häagen-Dazs ice cream is one of the most premium brands of ice cream in the world, and it's the use of this top-notch stuff -- known for its dense, buttery texture -- that sets Smashburger's milkshakes apart from others. Even after being mixed into the milkshake, the ice cream holds extremely well, even under the Texas sun. And in a city as hot as Houston, bonus points are due to the milkshake that can hold its own in the heat. Just another reason to love the already likeable Smashburger.

6. Amy's Ice Cream Considering that milkshakes are made up of few ingredients and that ice cream is one of their core components, it's almost a no-brainer that Amy's Ice Cream makes the list of the best milkshakes in Houston. You see, the delightful ice cream served up to customers in scoops and cones at Amy's -- which comes in mouth-watering flavors that range from classic to alcoholic to eccentric -- also goes into their milkshakes. You get to choose which flavor of ice cream will flavor your shake and add ingredients regularly used as "crushn's" and toppings (candy, cookies, nuts, and fresh fruits and syrups).

5. The Burger Guys The Burger Guys' milkshakes - like everything else the locally owned and operated burger and hot dog spot serves - put other Houston milkshakes to shame, mainly because they make their marvelous ice cream in-house -- eight gallons at a time, to ensure that the ice cream is always as fresh as can be. The Guys are extremely talented at making ice cream that rocks your socks off. The cafe sua da milkshake is a spin on the Vietnamese iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk. The unique, filling milkshake's strong flavors are made from high-quality ingredients that will leave you yearning for a second visit even before you're done with the first. Also not to be missed: the salted caramel milkshake.

4. Reef Reef's "No-Minors" milkshake is thick, sweet, and boozy. Served alongside the shake's sipping straw is a delicate, house-made chocolate cigar. This White Russian-flavored shake is by far the thickest of all on the list, the ice cream dense and gooey and creamy and plentiful. We're not quite sure what the ratio of milk to brandy and Kahlúa is, but one sip reveals that this one's for grownup good times. Designed to be a dessert, the sophisticated concoction is all too fitting with Reef's posh setting.

3. Katz's Deli & Bar This New York-style delicatessen and bar with two cool locales makes one amazing milkshake. The cheesecake variety contains a gargantuan slice of house-made slice of cheesecake. And the milkshake's garnish? A little slice slice cheesecake, which is infinitely better than those tired maraschino cherries. This shake has an unparalleled creaminess that's pretty much addiction-forming. And the graham cracker crust adds a welcome texture that gives it a home-made quality. At $8.50 a pop, this beauty of a shake is best thought of as an investment in your personal happiness. Trust us, your tastebuds will thank and praise you.

2. Jerry Built Burgers One of the greatest things about Jerry Built Burgers is its commitment to sustainability, which translates into fresh, locally sourced, organic-when-possible ingredients -- and wonderful milkshakes. The fresh fruit in the shakes is from nearby farms, while both the half and half and whipped cream are organic. Make it a point to try the Ginger Bull shake, not only because it's so good, but because it has a cool story behind it. Jerry Built buys gingerbread cookie dough from Three Brothers Bakery, which is then used to make fresh gingerbread cookies on a daily basis. The flavorful cookies (some of the best we've ever tried) are packaged into packs of three and sold for $2.99, with $1 from each pack's sale going to benefit a local charity. Cookies that don't sell are used the next day in the Ginger Bull shake made with Blue Bell vanilla ice cream. From now through August 24, Jerry Built will be featuring a Blue Bell-based shake each Friday until it sells out. Flavors to look forward to include Peachy Peach (June 15); Dulce de Leche (July 6); and Dreamsicle (August 31).

1. Little Bigs This low-key, casual spot serves sliders, fries, and inexpensive beer and wine. It also happens to be the place where you can find two of Houston's most delectable milkshakes. The shakes at Little Bigs are small but make a big impression. The Dude, which is White Russian-flavored like the one at Reef, differs greatly from the version at its sister restaurant. It's icier (think frappuccino consistency) with the alcohol flavors toned down and a hint of coffee flavor. But the king of kings is Little Bigs' butterscotch milkshake. What makes it so special? The fact that it doesn't try too hard to be the best - it doesn't have any crazy hard-to-find ingredients and isn't complicated to make. The simple, incredibly fine-tasting milkshake features simple ingredients, house-made butterscotch being the best of them. Not only does the divine butterscotch make the shake, it's what holds it together. It remains intact, even when sitting on the patio for an hour under 90 degree heat. Simply put, Little Bigs' butterscotch milkshake is fluffy, creamy joy, second to none.

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