When you think of dessert on the Upper East Side, you might think of tiramisu and crème brûlée, and shelling out all the cash in your pocket for a small sweet treat to end the night. From thirty-dollar bite-sized cupcakes, to a thousand-dollar sundae served with a golden spoon, desserts on the UES can be much like their residents: rich. So, what happens when you aren’t in the mood to spend a small fortune on a sweet treat? Let’s face it, sometimes we all just need a cookie or a milkshake. But where can one find a milkshake in the midst of million dollar apartments and clothing boutiques that cost more than our college tuition?
Well, contrary to popular belief, the UES is home to some of the best milkshake spots in NYC! We searched out the top places from York to Madison, and even scored some recommendations from resident Upper East Siders. Check out our favorites, and the ones you can skip, below.
The Sweet Shop NYC (East 73rd Street, 1st Ave)
Tucked away on East 73rd street is a small, literal hole in the wall candy shop that is filled wall to wall with yummy treats. This cute, little candy store is so tiny that one could initially walk past the shop, only stopping at its doors because of its bright red lights strewn on the outside awning. Entering the shop is like entering the world of Harry Potter. This spot is NYC’s own Honeydukes Sweet Shop. The walls are covered with jars filled to the brim with gummies, chocolates, and hard candies and the smell inside is that of a combination of freshly baked donuts and chocolate. The space is quite small with only about 10 people able to fit in the shop at a time, and the man behind the counter, “Pie Guy” as we would learn to call him is friendly yet sarcastic when describing the menu that has everything from baby cake ice cream sandwiches to what we came here for, milkshakes.
The first thing we did when we walked in was ask what the best-selling milkshake was. An almost reflex response was cookies and cream. Shortly followed that was salted caramel. We opted to share a Cookies and Cream shake, and chatted with other customers while we waited for our order. One woman was trying out a matcha-flavored ice cream. When we asked if she came here often, she explained it was her first time, that she was craving ice cream, and Yelp reviews led her to The Sweet Shop to satisfy her sweet tooth. While our shake was blending, we couldn’t help but notice the option for a doughnut-shake. Can you choose a flavor of doughnut and blend it with ice cream into a creamy milkshake? Yes,that’s right, The Sweet Shop makes your dessert dreams come true. That will be the first thing we order when we come back, because the Cookies and Cream milkshake was divine! Topped with a healthy serving of homemade whipped cream and a cherry all the way from Mexico that his dad discovered would be the perfect topping to complete a milkshake! Not too sweet and perfectly creamy, this small-store did not disappoint. We will forever be thankful to the woman leaving Sweet Green on 71st Street who recommended it to us!
PS we got a sample of the mascarpone cheese ice cream, and all we have to say is; WOW!
Shake Shack (East 86th Street, Btwn Lexington Ave & 3rd Ave)
Shake Shack has become a staple of NYC, so much so that I challenge you to find a Shake Shack that does not have at least a 20-minute wait for food. This delicious, somewhat elegant take on the traditional fast food burger and fries has become a successful chain including the one on the Upper East Side. According to the official Shake Shack website at the end of 2016 the “total revenue for the company increased 46.8% to 51.1. million dollars.” While many people flock to the venue for burgers, the hand-spun milkshakes are really what every person should be ordering.
With the classic flavors of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry always on the menu for one to indulge in, it is the seasonal flavors that set Shake Shack apart from others. With spring right around the corner the flavors of Mint Cookies & Cream, Mud Pie, and Salted Vanilla Toffee are plastered everywhere inside the shop. However, when trying to find the best milkshakes sometimes it’s best to bypass the “specials” and go for the originals. Besides, we all know the Christmas special shakes are the best ones. The strawberry milkshake is so easy to drink, that no spoon is required and another positive is the lack of actual giant strawberry pieces that clog up the straw. The shakes are made with frozen custard as opposed to ice cream, creating a frothy easy drinking experience that will cost you about $6.00. Not a bad price or milkshake for a chain!
Mel’s Burger Bar (East 74th Street on 2nd Ave)
If you ever want the diner experience but kicked up a few notches then Mel’s is the place for you! With its rustic brown and green design on the inside and full service bar located to the right, this is not what one would expect from a burger joint! With this in mind, the milkshakes at Mel’s are far from the milkshakes we have covered on this list thus far; these milkshakes are much more adult orientated. Spiked milkshakes are what makes Mel’s a must try for any Upper East Sider who wants to enjoy a delicious dessert while also getting a buzz. (If you are of legal age of course)
From rum to tequila these Mel’s has you covered. While the shakes themselves are a bit on the more expensive side, about $12 per shake, this is typically normal for any drink one would get when going out for a night on the town! The shake themselves are sweet and smooth, with just the perfect amount of thickness. Either a spoon or straw can be used easily for those spiked shakes, but I recommend using a spoon at least for the first bite to get the whipped cream to mix in with the shake and alcohol. The blend of a typical shake (milk and ice cream) with a certain alcohol blends together nicely like a mixture of notes that are music your taste buds instead of your ears. If you are skeptical about trying one of the spiked shakes, I suggest the Shot Of Joe which consists of mocha chip ice cream, Baileys, and Kahlua! It’s like a mocha Frappuccino but with a little something extra and is really the perfect way to end or start your day.
Dylan’s Candy Bar ( East 60th. St on 3rd. Ave)
Many may not know that Dylan’s two-floor candy store also has a third-floor Cafe and Bar that sells appetizers, entrees, and duh! Everything sweet! So of course, we had to go to this fan favorite on the Upper East Side. The birthday cake shake, topped with rainbow sprinkles, whipped cream, and a mini cake slice gave us Black Tap vibes, but at almost half the cost ($9!).
The presentation was beautiful, perfect for the ’gram, but the taste didn't quite live up. We were pleasantly surprised that the shake wasn’t overly sweet, but the texture didn't reach the creaminess we expected. As you sip, you can taste the small pieces of cake they mixed into the shake. If you're looking for that perfect Instagram shake but not at the expense of your wallet, Dylan's is the place.
EJ’s (East 73rd on 3rd Ave)
Neatly on the corner of Third Avenue, lies a picture-perfect diner with a menu full of all the staples: pancakes, omelets, and of course, milkshakes. EJ’s boats family-like service and the best breakfast on the UES. We’ll have to come back another time for breakfast, because we stuck with the classic chocolate shake. As soon as we order, our waitressed pleaded, “That’s it?! I made like fifty of those today!” Popular item on the menu, must be a good sign? Not so much.
When the freshly blended shake arrived on the counter, it was noticeably runny. Not the first thing you want to see when you order a shake. There was an option to order “extra thick” but that would have added $1 onto the original $5 price tag. Basically, our chocolate shake was thick, slightly colder chocolate milk. So, if you are solely looking for a milkshake, EJ’s might not be your best option. But, if you are looking for a cheap sweet treat, and maybe a classic diner meal, this is a safe bet!
Finding a delicious dessert on the Upper East Side doesn’t have to be costly or super boujee, it is all about where to look when finding that one dessert we can all agree is fantastic. Sometimes it’s the big name, and sometimes it’s the hole-in-the-wall joints that surprise you! The Upper East Side can match on both top-notch quality and taste, and leave your bank account thick, just like your shake.