Equal parts drink and dessert, there’s one summertime treat that seems to perfectly mesh childhood nostalgia and adulthood indulgence: a milkshake.
Creamy, sweet and cold, one sip — or spoonful, for those who like theirs extra thick — and you’ll be transported back to the days when your feet barely touched the ground beneath the soda fountain stools. (It's also a great way to cool down on those days when the air conditioner just isn't enough.) And if you're looking for a true taste of retro nostalgia, there's no better place for a shake than one of L.A.'s classic diners. To find out which offers the best shake for your buck, we visited three iconic diners: Mel's, Swingers and Cafe 50s. Read on to see which one takes the cake (or, in this case, the shake).
See Also: 10 Best Milkshakes in Los Angeles
The Diner: Mel’s Drive-In
The Look: Just the right balance of rundown authenticity and Hollywood showmanship. Your Long Island bubbe would love it here.
The Milkshake: Banana Oreo, $7.25
The Flavor: I mean, it's banana and Oreo. It's a combo that would be really hard to mess up, but Mel's certainly does it justice. The banana overpowers the Oreo somewhat, but I appreciated the pop of fruit that brightened up what could otherwise have been an overly indulgent dessert.
The Texture: When it comes to texture, Mel's talks a big talk: The menu claims these shakes are among the thickest in the city. Well, I've got one word for Mel's: bananas! When the shake arrived at my table, it turned out to be the thinnest of the three I tasted during this experiment. Which wouldn't have been a problem, except that my expectations were already so high. Based on the menu's description, I was expecting to eat this shake with a spoon. I did appreciate the chunks of banana, which helped amp up the fresh factor, but I was still left disappointed by the unmet promises of the menu.
The Verdict: Had Mel's not taken such care to brag about thickness, this banana Oreo shake may have taken the title. It was just slightly too thin to win it all. But that being said, I'd still order it again. Besides, you can't beat the people-watching at this diner. Various locations including 1660 Highland Ave., Hollywood; (323) 465-2111, melsdrive-in.com.
The Diner: Cafe 50s
The Look: The real deal. Jukeboxes, “no smoking at the counter” signs, a cash-only policy and rundown red leather booths make this a nostalgia-inducing experience.
The Milkshake: Black and White, $4.50
The Flavor: This is what a black-and-white shake should be: the ideal balance of vanilla and chocolate undertones. My only critique is that it was slightly on the sweet side — but to be fair, it is a milkshake, after all.
The Texture: Freshly made, thick yet drinkable. The black-and-white was thin enough to be easily sucked up through a straw yet thick enough to feel like a decadent dessert — the texture has clearly been perfected over the years. Though there were some icy, unblended chunks, they remained few and far between — and, frankly, added to the authenticity, as each reminded me that this shake was made by hand, just seconds before it was placed into my own.
The Verdict: If you're looking for a milkshake that would do Sandy and Danny proud, you'll find it at Cafe 50s. These shakes hit the mark in every category: the taste, texture and price are all right. Various locations including 11623 Santa Monica Blvd, West L.A.; (310) 479-1955, cafe50s.com.
The Diner: Swingers
The Look: Designed in the spirit not of the 1950s but the 1960s, Swingers nails the balance between new-school and old-school. Classic with just a touch of grunge, Swingers has an air of rebellion — the kind of vibe that might have you cozying up to the plaid barstools until 3 a.m.
The Milkshake: Peanut butter & banana shake, $5.95
The Flavor: I was instantly drawn in by this selection — you can't go wrong with peanut butter and bananas — but I decided to order it only after it was recommended by the waitress as the most popular milkshake on the menu. It doesn't take more than a sip to see why: The recipe is equal parts banana and peanut butter, neither flavor overpowering the other, and it's elevated by the creamy vanilla ice cream component. The nutty and salty peanut butter adds a complexity that the fresh banana and sweet vanilla ice cream need, and all three ingredients come together to create a gooey blend I couldn't get enough of.
The Texture: As much as Swingers nails the flavor, it equally nails the texture. Free from chunks or icy bits, Swingers achieves a level of smoothness in its shakes that is rarely seen in handmade varieties (think, milkshake machine-style). But these milkshakes are the real deal: I watched mine being made just behind the front counter.
The Verdict: In the words of John Travolta in the 1950s diner scene in Pulp Fiction, this is a pretty fucking good milkshake. In fact, we feel pretty good about saying it was our favorite overall of the three milkshakes we taste-tested. From the texture to the flavor to the price, this is a milkshake we'd come back for — whether it was 3 in the afternoon or 3 in the morning. Various locations including 8020 Beverly Blvd., Fairfax; (323) 653-5858, swingersdiner.com