David Lynch has written at some length about his creative meditations and the fact that for many years they were fueled by little more than the chocolate milkshake at Bob's Big Boy in Burbank. We're big Lynch fans. We think his films are beyond brilliant. Still, we can't help but wonder at the heights he might have reached had he been drinking a decent milkshake.
A good milkshake is as much about ratios as the quality of ingredients. Ice cream to milk to syrup to fruit — or whiskey or slices of pie, as the case may be. A good milkshake will hover at the midpoint between soupy and solid, thick enough to hold a cherry on top but not so thick that it requires a spoon to eat it. And a great milkshake will adhere to all these ratios and, you know, taste good, too.
This Southern California chain leaves something to be desired. A few things, actually. But what Polly's Bakery Café lacks in solid milkshake texture, and clientele under the age of 70, it more than makes up in willingness to sacrifice an entire slice of pie for a milkshake. Almost any pie on the menu, blended right in with vanilla ice cream and milk. Sure, the Apple Pie Shake at the Counter is thicker. But while the Counter leaves little more than a slightly grainy texture to suggest the presence of pie, Polly's pie milkshake is a coarser blend, scattering bits of buttery crust particulate and fruity seeds floating about in the milkiness. 819 W. Carson, Torrance; (310) 533-8124; Various locations.
Expect no frills at this South Pasadena sandwich stop. Just milk and ice cream, proportioned with surprising perfection, and served in a Styrofoam cup. Priced both on size and flavor, the biggest and most expensive of which sets you back only about $3 before tax. Still well within Vincent Vega range. Did you order a side of sass mouth with that shake? Nope, it seems the staff just threw that in for free. 1505 E. Washington Blvd., Pasadena; (626) 794-5018.
The Persian ice cream at Saffron & Rose may be gooey, and indulgent, and more numerous in flavors. But the wonderfully creamy scoops at Mashti Malone's, floral infusions rich with rosewater, cardamom and saffron, are better suited for milkshaking. The more intensely perfumed flavors, which to some taste a bit like Bed Bath & Beyond, are tempered by the additional milk in the shake. Sipping the lavender shake — at first cold on the tongue, then warm in the throat — is a strange but intensely pleasurable experience. 1525 N. La Brea Ave., Hollywood; (323) 874-6168.
After morning hikes in Runyon Canyon and shows at UCB, summer concerts at the Bowl and free “Stress Tests,” you'll find us here with a milkshake. One for every time of day. Open from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m., the 101 Coffee Shop is an L.A. diner, emphasis on the L.A. Inside the Best Western hotel across from the Celebrity Center on Franklin, Hollywood types and wannabe Hollywood types sip the Purple Haze (vanilla ice cream, blueberries, banana and honey) in the morning, the 50/50 Shake (orange sherbet and vanilla ice cream) in the afternoon, and the Black Eye Shake (a Black and White with a shot of espresso) in the wee hours. The Chai Latte Shake is a decisive favorite for any time. 6145 Franklin Ave., Hollywood; (323) 467-1175.
The Oinkster pops up on a lot of our best of lists these days. It is an old-school burger stand with serious culinary chops, beloved for pastrami and twice-cooked Belgian fries, and its ube milkshake. Made with Fosselman's ice cream (Fosselman's makes an excellent shake, too, only not with the ube ice cream, which it carries in half-gallons only), the Filipino prince of tubers brings a mellow tropical flavor to the milkshake, along with a beautiful purple hue. 2005 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock; (323) 255-6465.
A lot of places make a chocolate banana milkshake, but few make it with such a sense of tradition. Fair Oaks Pharmacy has been jerkin' sodas, phosphates and shakes on Route 66 in South Pasadena for nearly a century, and takes pride in doing things the old-fashioned way. They'll mix chocolate and banana ice creams or chocolate ice cream with real banana. It's your choice. Either way, the shake comes in a tall cold glass painted with ribbons of chocolate sauce, the overflow served in a steel canister, which is really the way it should be. 1526 Mission St., South Pasadena; (626) 799-1414.
With price tags reaching up from $12, spiked milkshakes may be the new cash cow, but doing them well is tricky business. It's not simply a matter of finding the right flavor combinations. Texture must be considered. For those looking for a lesson in proper milkshake spiking (we're looking at you, pretty much everyone else spiking their shakes) we recommend the flights made by BLD pastry chef Mariah Swan. Served on the last Sunday of each month, with different flavors all the time, Swan's combinations include caramel with Sauza tequila and Spanish latte with Grand Marnier. Both sweet and texturally sound. Roasted banana Nutella with Frangelico and chocolate oatmeal stout with toasted marshmallow topping and Maker's Mark have been among our past favorites. 7450 Beverly Blvd., L.A;. (323) 930-9744.
Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan's ice cream is reason enough to brave the bougies at the Brentwood Country Mart. Velvety sweet cream in flavors like Verve coffee, fresh mint with homemade chocolate chips, jasmine tea granita and cherry compote with coconut granola, all of which blend beautifully with Clover organic milk and homemade sauces. The most popular flavor, the salted caramel, mixes into a knockout shake. Finishing it feels like being drugged by a Ryan Gosling type, then topped with fresh whipped cream. 225 26th St., # B, Brentwood; (310) 260-2663.
Though often overlooked in favor of the more exotic flavors — chevre with fig, smoky Venezuelan chocolate, buttered brown sugar, etc. — Pazzo Gelato's vanillas have a kind of romantic purity that do wonderful things for the traditional vanilla milkshake. A smooth, creamy texture that's soft on the palate but thick enough to hold a straw up straight. The Madagascar vanilla shake, in particular, has a stronger flavor than your average vanilla and looks very elegant with its floating flecks of vanilla bean. We recommend adding malted milk for an extra 50 cents. 3827 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake; (323) 662-1410.
The Milky Way Malt at Milk is stellar. Certainly more than the sum of its parts, this blend of vanilla ice cream, malted milk and chocolate-caramel syrup combines in such perfect proportion that they're altogether elevated to a kind of supernova flavor status. So thick it takes a few tugs at the straw to get it going, but not so much that you need a spoon, with chocolate asteroids floating through the sweet solar system. The Banana Peanut Malt (banana dulce de leche ice cream, malted milk and roasted peanuts) and the Coffee Toffee Crunch Shake (coffee ice cream with toffee crunch and espresso) are major contenders. 7290 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; (323) 939-6455.