Where to find the best milk shakes in Vancouver

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      A quest for a strawberry-banana milk shake was the turning point for Xiomara Lopez after she moved to Vancouver from Winnipeg several years ago. It was a fruitless search, one that left Lopez a little perplexed: despite the fact that practically everyone loves milk shakes, she found the options for good-quality versions in her new city lacking. So in 2013 she and business partner Bobby Soor opened What’s Shaken (586 Davie Street), a milk shake shop near Emery Barnes Park on the western edge of Yaletown with something for everyone.

      “My daughter and I were craving a strawberry-banana milk shake, and every place I looked at was either a fast-food restaurant or didn’t have ingredients that I liked,” Lopez says in a phone interview. “I just really wanted something with lots of fresh fruit, and I couldn’t find one. That’s where the idea [for What’s Shaken] came up, and it just kind of snowballed from there.”

      What’s Shaken goes far beyond traditional chocolate, strawberry and vanilla shakes, offering dozens of flavours, peach, plum, peanut butter and jelly, marshmallow, caramel latte, apple pie, and mango lassi among them. Then there are veggie shakes, including avocado, cucumber, and kale. Using fresh produce and no preservatives or added sugar, the shop also serves up protein and superfood shakes, smoothies, and veggie juices. Dairy and nondairy shakes are available (Lopez says coconut-based shakes are especially popular), as are several supplements, such as chia seed, hemp protein, and omega-3 with vitamin D. You can also get creative and come up with your own combo:

      “Anything your heart desires we can make,” Lopez says. “The options are almost limitless.”

      While What’s Shaken is the only shop we know of that specializes in milk shakes in Vancouver, a few other spots around town will make discerning shake-sippers happy.

      Glenburn Soda Fountain and Confectionery (4090 Hastings Street, Burnaby) is one of them. As a kid, co-owner Ron LaQuaglia loved going for sundaes in his hometown of Revere, Massachusetts, but when he moved to Vancouver he couldn’t find the same kind of old-fashioned shop serving up banana splits and other traditional ice-cream treats. So in 2013 he and his wife, Roberta LaQuaglia, opened their own. The two have helped put Burnaby Heights on the map with their retro spot that makes sundaes, malts, floats, and milk shakes to order.

      “When it comes to milk shakes, we take a classic approach,” Ron LaQuaglia tells the Straight. “We use premium Birchwood Dairy ice cream, Avalon homo milk in glass bottles, and a specific proportion of ice cream to milk. We also believe that using our vintage 1940s…Hamilton Beach mixers gives the shakes the perfect blending time and texture. It’s all about top-quality ingredients, equipment, and time to make the best milk shake.”

      Named after the former Glenburn Dairy, which was once a landmark at the corner of Boundary and Hastings streets, the shop has just launched its Summer Kickoff menu, featuring Berries and Cream milk shakes, which are classic vanilla shakes layered with a local-berry purée. Glenburn’s dairy-free shakes, called “freezes”, are made with sorbet. (If you don’t see them on the menu, ask and they’ll make one for you.)

      Moderne Burger (2507 West Broadway) also takes a classic approach to milk-shake–making, using vintage mixers. (One is mint green, the other tan.)

      “We use premium, whole-milk, Canadian ice cream and original methods like tempered ice cream that is first cut into smaller sections after it is scooped,” explains owner Peter Kokinis. “We’ve tried many mixers in the last 14 years and keep coming back to our restored 1940s Hamilton Beach mixers. The different brands can all work, but each one requires a slightly different approach. You don’t simply attach the cup to the mixer and walk away. It requires a talented eye to know when to remove, swirl, and manually agitate. Pouring into the glass to eliminate lumps is another talent in itself.

      “You’re having the same milk shake today your grandparents had when they were young, made exactly the same way with a backup canister for seconds,” he adds. “Classic.”

      Besides the traditional flavours, Moderne Burger makes Creamsicle, coffee, and chocolate-covered-cherry shakes, among others. Malts are another option. “Ask your grandparents and they will tell you all about the Bay and Woodward’s malts embedded in their childhood memories,” Kokinis says.

      The Cannibal Café (1818 Commercial Drive), meanwhile, has classic vanilla and chocolate shakes, made with two-percent milk using an old-school Sterling Multi Mixer. It also does two-ounce boozy shakes: there’s Irish Nuts (Baileys and Nutella added to a vanilla or chocolate shake) and Black Forest, with fudge and cherry bourbon.

      “My personal favourite is the Banana Rum Caramel,” says general manager Natalie Warnke. “It’s got vanilla ice cream, one ounce of banana liqueur, one ounce of Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum, and is topped with whipped cream and caramel drizzle.

      “We also add a special ingredient that keeps people coming back for more: love,” she adds with a laugh.

      There’s no secret ingredient in the shakes at Vera’s Burger Shack (various locations), says co-owner Gerald Tritt. The restaurants stick with tradition, serving up chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, and banana shakes.

      “If you want to go really crazy, chocolate banana,” he jokes. “We use real, full-fat milk and ice cream. That gives them a fuller, richer taste profile.”

      After all, when it comes to milk shakes, why hold back? As Tritt puts it: “It’s an indulgence. Enjoy it.”



      Carol Gibson

      Jul 2, 2015 at 7:09pm

      I wish someone would resurrect the Malt Shop....I think that's what they were called. There was one at the entrance to Richmond Centre Mall when I was a little girl. They might have served hot dogs too?