Sonic Drive-In Milkshakes, Ranked Worst To First

What's the best milkshake at Sonic Drive-In? It's a daunting question that only the strong of stomach and low of cholesterol can answer. And so it was we set out to determine this great mystery on a recent, sweltering winter weekday at a Sonic Drive-In in Boynton Beach, Florida. "We'd like one of every milkshake on your menu," we said into the massive screen next to the car window. "Ohhh lord, you gotta be kidding me," a laughing voice on the other end said. "All my years at Sonic, I've never seen this one. Milkshakes, get ready. We got a BIG order."

But Dale Allen, the voice in the big red box, assured us that, "Whatever you want, we can do. I work for you, not for Sonic." Over the next hour and change we raced the blazing sun as it attempted to melt our shakes, as Allen and his team brought shake after shake with smiles and plenty of napkins. By the end, we may have given ourselves diabetes, but it was for a valiant cause (and the Sonic staff's entertainment). And so we present to you our rankings for all the milkshakes listed on Sonic's menu.

14. Caramel

Interestingly, the most flavorless milkshake on Sonic's milkshake menu isn't vanilla, it's caramel. Which, while cold and creamy, isn't offering much in the way of ... anything. Sonic's caramel shake is almost indistinguishable from the vanilla, with some slight difference in color. You'll find more caramel flavor in a can of diet soda than you will here, and if you're ordering this expecting an ooey, gooey, dessert, you're going to be sorely disappointed.

Don't get us wrong: Sonic's caramel shake doesn't taste bad, per se, it just doesn't taste much like caramel. And whatever the flavor is that's added to the ice cream base actually mutes the vanilla, making it taste blander than the plain stuff. Fans of crème brulee, Snickers, and other burnt sugar based desserts will be better served to look elsewhere. Sonic's shake menu is big, and you can get much better stuff for your money.

The only option to save the caramel shake might be mixing it with Oreo, which our Sonic server Dale Allen ever-so-nicely informed us Sonic can do with any flavor. But since it wasn't on the main menu, that particular flavor combo isn't part of our rankings.

13. Chocolate

While it escaped the basement by having some semblance of flavor, the "chocolate" notes — if you can call them that — in Sonic's chocolate shake aren't a flavor you'll be chasing after. The shake is cold but still somewhat thin, even before being exposed to the humid Florida air. And the first sip will make you pull your head back and rhetorically ask the glowing screen, "Is this even chocolate??"

The shake is neither fudgy, like Nestle's Quik, nor slightly bitter like dark chocolate. It's not creamy like a milk chocolate or deep and rich like a mousse or chocolate cake. It can best be described as frozen Ovaltine, a flavor that has chocolate aspirations but didn't quite have enough to make it all the way. If you're looking for a chocolate shake, try stuff further down the menu like the hot fudge or Oreo options. Or if you want a pure chocolate shake, just go somewhere different.

12. Cheesecake

While to our knowledge there was never an episode of The Golden Girls where Rose, Dorothy, Blanche, and Sofia took a field trip to a Miami-area Sonic, we can only assume this shake would have been the first thing they ordered. And while Rose would have undoubtedly launched into a story about a cow named Sonic who owned St. Olaf's only Drive-In, and Blanche would have gotten a phone number from the gentleman parked next to them in a Ford F-350, they'd have found this shake about as satisfying a Drive-In experience as Stan Zbornak.

Of course, being finished in only a couple of minutes is a good thing when you're talking about milkshake preparation. But this "Cheesecake" shake doesn't taste like any kind of cheesecake we've ever had. What it does taste like is sugar and cream with a bizarre hint of lemon on the back end. So while we wouldn't call Sonic's cheesecake shake bland, necessarily, we wouldn't exactly bust it out at the kitchen table for late night conversations either.

11. Espresso

An espresso milkshake sounds suspiciously like a Frappuccino, if you're a Starbucks regular. But much like the Starbucks blended drink is really a cup of coffee with milkshake tendencies, so is Sonic's espresso offering a milkshake which leans towards coffee. The flavor is more cream and sugar than anything else, and if you're jonesing for a milky, frozen coffee you'll save about 200 calories rolling through the Starbucks drive-thru instead: A Frappuccino with whipped cream is only about 220 calories. A mini shake at Sonic starts at 420 calories and goes up from there.

The shake is thick, though, and has a pronounced coffee flavor, so nothing about the name is misleading. That said, it's an odd profile to pair with chicken strips, seasoned fries, and hamburgers, so it may be the kind of thing that's best ordered solo. There's nothing wrong with Sonic's espresso shake, really, but nothing overwhelmingly right about it either. If coffee flavor is your thing, go for it. But if you just want a milkshake, there's better stuff on the menu.

10. Oreo espresso

You see the words "Oreo" and "Espresso" in the same menu line and you assume it's going to be this aggressive explosion of coffee, cream, and chocolate flavors that puts a Frappucino to shame. And while we'd hesitate to ever describe anything on the Sonic menu as "subtle," the flavors here don't come up and slap you in the face as much as you think they would. The first sip hits more creamy than anything else, with slight notes of both Oreo crumble and coffee. But not a whole lot of either.

Sonic's Oreo Espresso shake might be the classic case of "love them both separately, but not so much together," as while the flavors don't exactly clash, they're not a beautiful marriage either. Our advice: If you like Oreos, get the Oreo shake. If you like espresso, get the espresso. If for some weird reason you like them both, order one of each and alternate sips. But this mix, while inoffensive, isn't all that memorable.

9. Hot fudge

If one shake on Sonic's menu is teeming with Proustian moments, it's the hot fudge. Because before anything else from this milkshake hits your taste buds, you taste the hot fudge. And as the fudge flows over your tongue you're immediately taken back to summertime state fairs of your childhood, or long holiday weekends out at the lake. It's like Sonic ripped this shake right from the soft serve ice cream stand on the boardwalk, where you covered your face in chocolate after crushing a hand-dipped cone with no regard for the mess.

But like Happy Meals and Saturday morning cartoons, revisiting this milkshake as an adult makes you realize it was actually kinda bland. At least, Sonic's take on it is, and after you're done being transported back to the boardwalk you'll realize once the fudge wears off you're left with little more than a memory. So despite the smile it'll undoubtedly bring to your face, the hot fudge shake still ranks low. Your grown up palette will likely demand more, and you'll find better options elsewhere on Sonic's milkshake menu.

8. Vanilla

Vanilla, in general, gets a little bit of a bad rap. When people describe something that lacks spice, interest, or anything to distinguish it from the rest of the pack, it's often described as "vanilla." Which really isn't fair. Because if vanilla really was that bland, it wouldn't be the favorite ice cream flavor of a whopping 15 percent of people, according to a recent study from YouGov. That's second only to chocolate. And when it comes to Sonic shakes, vanilla is far from the least interesting.

While we wouldn't call the flavors here "complex," it does have a thick, creamy, sweet flavor with strong notes of, you guessed it, vanilla. There's even a little bit of a custard undertone, even though this is very much a milkshake. No, it's not anything novel, but it's an excellent take on the classic. While its simplicity isn't putting the vanilla shake anywhere near the top of the rankings, there's something to be said for doing simple right.

7. Banana

You may want to warm up your sucking muscles before attempting to inhale Sonic's banana shake through a straw. This stuff is thiccccc, with about five Cs, and won't shoot up your straw without a lot of pressure. This is a good thing, though, as most of that thickness comes from the real bananas Sonic uses in making the thing. It's also ripe with ice cream and sugar, and creates a milkshake with a serious presence.

Don't get your hopes up too much though; this isn't exactly Bluth's with a drive-in. The bananas are still quite frozen, and don't taste even remotely fresh. But they do add just enough banana flavor to make the shake taste like a refreshing summer day at the beach. It's smooth and easy, and though the flavor dissipates pretty quickly after your first sip, it also doesn't overpower your mouth. So it's a good choice to pair with a burger and fries, or whatever your go-to order is at Sonic. Just take our advice and eat this one with a spoon. Or prepare to be inexplicably winded just sitting in your car.

6. Oreo

If you've had a cookies and cream milkshake, literally anywhere, you've had the Oreo shake at Sonic. That's not to say America's Favorite Drive-In isn't using name brand Oreo's — the cookie's branding is all over the milkshake menu. It is to say the taste of this shake is classic, and though it's not bringing us anything new or groundbreaking, it's never going to disappoint.

That said, you've gotta really love the flavor of cookies and cream ice cream to enjoy this shake, as it's an overwhelming burst of sugar and chocolate that will destroy any other taste in your mouth. The Oreo shake could be a stand alone meal, if you're cool with having milkshakes for lunch, and while we might suggest adding a salad or something, well, what you do is between you and your cardiologist. The other intriguing thing about the Oreo shake is that it can be combined with any other flavor on the menu. And while we didn't have enough insulin to go down that particular rabbit hole, it might be a fun experiment for you.

5. Strawberry cheesecake

Sometimes it is better to leave well enough alone, and that is definitely the case with Sonic's selection of strawberry milkshakes. Scroll further down the list and you'll see the original strawberry shake ranked a few spots higher than its cheesecake upgrade, and the reason for this is simple: The cheesecakey richness is just a little ... extra. That's not to say this shake isn't delicious, the whole-strawberry flavor combined with the creaminess of the cheesecake makes for a complex, rich dessert. But when adding it to Sonic's already artery clogging menu of food, it's just a little more than your body wants to handle.

It is, in effect, a thicker, richer take on Sonic's strawberry shake, and the strawberry cheesecake may be a wiser play if you're ordering it solo. Or have a hankering for something sweet after a fairly light dinner. The flavor profile and design are nicely executed, and is better enjoyed on an empty stomach.

4. Peanut butter

If you thought the banana shake was thick, this one is thiccccc like an Instagram model with a cult following. Doctors may suggest people who've had COVID should avoid Sonic's peanut butter shake because of the intense pressure sipping it puts on your lungs. Those with a smaller VO2 max may actually need to take a break between sips to get the stuff all the way up. What we're saying is, you're definitely getting your money's worth with the peanut butter shake.

The peanut butter in this shake isn't nutty at all, and is overwhelmingly sweet. If you grew up on Peter Pan, Skippy, or other stuff that may have had more sugar than peanuts, this shake is pure heaven. It tastes a little like the stuff you'd find in a Butterfinger bar, and that bar is about the closest approximation to the flavor of a Sonic peanut butter shake we can imagine. There's nothing natural-tasting about this shake though, and if you buy your peanut butter at the natural foods co-op, this isn't going to be for you. Then again, if you shop at the natural foods co-op, Sonic may not be for you either.

3. Strawberry

At first sip, Sonic's strawberry shake reminds you of an after school glass of Strawberry Quik. But this milkshake is far more mature, and after the initial creamy blast of almost artificial strawberry flavor you get a solid jolt of fruit in your mouth. To the point, you may well pull your mouth away, look down, and say, "What is that in my straw?"

Don't worry, Sonic is a clean establishment, and the dark blockage in your straw is actually a whole piece of strawberry. It's a welcomed natural addition to a shake that could otherwise taste completely manufactured, and the blended fruit gives the shake a fresh texture, even if the strawberries are frozen. Sonic's strawberry shake flavoring isn't overpowering, but the hints of real strawberry are enough so you know what you're drinking. While not the best shake on this list, it's also a shake that's surprisingly better than the strawberry shakes you might find in other establishments.

2. Oreo peanut butter

Are you the kind of person who suffers check-out stand paralysis, and when faced with an entire wall of candies and cookies right next to the National Enquirer you can never choose just one? Well, Sonic has created your solution, combining two of America's favorite check stand impulse buys — Oreo cookies and peanut butter cups — in one fantastic milkshake.

If you took a Reese's peanut butter cup (Sonic doesn't use the brand name, but you get the idea), then threw it in a blender with ice cream, vanilla, and a little bit of pixie dust, you'd approximate the masterpiece that is the Sonic Oreo peanut butter shake. But this one is not for the faint of heart; easily the richest shake on the Sonic menu, the bits of Oreo cookie can almost seem excessive when added to the thick globs of peanut butter flowing through your straw. There is a 1000 percent chance the mixture gets stuck at some point during your shake slurping experience, and this might be the odd shake that's really best eaten with a spoon.

1. Oreo cheesecake

Oreo Cheesecake is just as decadent, rich, and delicious as the name suggests. Yes, there are enough calories in a large one to fuel a junior high track team, but if you're gonna splurge on one Sonic menu item, this is absolutely it. Or, if you'd like to eat something else that day, opt for the mini size. Either way, nothing about Sonic's Oreo Cheesecake milkshake will let you down. It is, effectively, the Rick Astley of milkshakes.

The cheesecake flavor here slaps, filling your mouth and your brain with an ecstasy usually reserved for tantric encounters and big room beat drops. Once that wave subsides, a hint of Oreo creeps in on the back end, reminding you the party in your mouth isn't over until Sonic says it is. Once that's passed, there's an inexplicable caramel finish, that may be by design, or may just be your over-stimulated brain playing tricks on you. Either way, Sonic hit it out of the park with this one. Just make sure you take a couple minutes after finishing to compose yourself before driving home.