The Best Fast Food Soft-Serve Ice Cream, Ranked

Few things beat simple soft serve. But which soft serve beats the rest?

Illustration by Maggie Rossetti for Thrillist
Illustration by Maggie Rossetti for Thrillist
Welcome to The Fasties, Thrillist’s second-annual fast food awards! The awards feature more than a dozen categories celebrating all the best foods that came out of drive-thru windows over the past year—from Best Chicken Nuggets to Best Bacon Cheeseburgers, and many more. Watch the full awards show and check out the full list of categories and winners.

Soft serve is the meat and potatoes of fast food dessert. It can tell you a lot about how good the rest of the dessert menu is going to be. It's a bit like a basic burger in that way. If the meat on a stripped-down burger is trash, there's not much point trying the rest of the ways they dress up that garbage meat.

That's why we're digging into the best soft serve at major fast food restaurants. Unsurprisingly, we found the spots with the best soft serve to be the ones that took a lot of pride in the frozen treats section of the menu. That kind of care, it turns out, tells you a lot about what you're getting. The majority of the chains didn't have bad soft serve, but you aren't getting the best cone from places that can't even be counted on to have a working soft serve machine

Importantly, here's a look behind Oz's curtain (if we're Oz and the curtain is all the things we're looking for in our cone): Each ice cream was judged on five categories, not all of which were weighted equally. We're looking at the texture and creaminess, the flavor, the presentation, how melty the cone is, and, lastly, the price. The cone itself didn't play a significant factor because they aren't on the menu everywhere. When there was a cone available, we considered it as part of the overall experience. 

Okay. That's it. Here's what you're looking for: The absolute best fast food soft serve ice cream from major fast food chains.

6. Chick-fil-A: Icedream

Price: $1.39

It's fair to think, Why do I need an ice cream ranking? Even bad ice cream is good ice cream. We're here to tell you that's only about 83.3% true in our experience. Almost every ice cream on this list is at least fine. Some definitely rise above standard soft serve, but there's only one that we'd recommend you pass up if you can. It's this one. By almost every measure we considered, Chick-fil-A's Icedream is the worst. The texture is icy with very little creaminess at all. It has an almost chemical aftertaste. Maybe something was wrong with the "frozen dairy treat" at this location.

Additionally, it melts fast compared to the others. Though, given the other issues with Icedream, we don't really mind.

Illustration by Maggie Rossetti for Thrillist

5. Wendy's: Frosty

Price: $1.49

At Wendy's, you're getting a Frosty.

This is the start of the part of the list where the ice cream is good. From here on out, there is good and better. Here's what the Frosty has going for it: It's a great value (and that's doubly true if you've got a Frosty key tag). You're getting a lot of ice cream for the change in your couch cushions. From a distance, the texture of a Frosty might look a little off, a little too icy. But we can confirm that's not the case at all. It's creamy. There's nothing gritty or watery about it. Though, it does start to melt fairly quickly. However, it's not in a cone, and it's not running down your hand like you're a toddler.

The biggest knock on the Frosty is that the vanilla flavor feels like it should be called "default." It's just kind of there. It's not bursting with vanilla flavor. On the other hand, if we were rating these based on the ability to dip fries into your treat, Wendy's might have fared better. For whatever reason, a Frosty and fries hits the mark.

Illustration by Maggie Rossetti for Thrillist

4. Burger King: Soft Serve Cone

Price: $1

The presentation can be a little sloppy at BK. We found that you can end up with swirl that goes high and tips to the point where it might fall off when it's handed to you through the drive-thru window. Of course, this doesn't happen all the time, so we won't dock it for that. Nonetheless, it's a tall, skinny cone with ice cream that melts quickly and... that's not ideal. The vanilla flavor doesn't feel as artificial as the soft serve that comes before BK on this list. Plus, the ice cream is creamy with a better texture than McDonald's. Yet, it isn't better than any of the top three soft serves in any other category, so it sits just off the podium. 

Illustration by Maggie Rossetti for Thrillist

3. McDonald's: Vanilla Cone

Price: $1.49

Ronald's swirly treat is the baseline for being a good soft-serve cone. If you serve soft serve, you have to go stand by the theme-park style cutout of a kangaroo that says, "Soft serve must be this good to serve." Its cones consistently come out looking pretty. It's reasonably creamy. There's a strong vanilla flavor that doesn't have a chemical aftertaste. Moreover, the cone is solid. Nothing special, but it's not dry and flavorless, and it doesn't go instantly soggy. It sounds like a backhanded compliment, but this is a solid cone. It isn't exceptional, but there is nothing that it does wrong.

Illustration by Maggie Rossetti for Thrillist

2. Dairy Queen: Vanilla Cone

Price: $2.59

Sure, you can get a hot dog or, uh... Bacon Queso Fries? These giant pretzel batons? There's food at Dairy Queen, but that is not why you're there. You're at a DQ because of the ice cream. Hell, a lot of Dairy Queens don't even bother with the food. They've just got ice cream. So, it'd be a huge disappointment if Dairy Queen wasn't dishing out a good cone that surpasses the cone in the No. 3 spot.

Good news: It does. This is a good-looking cone, tightly wrapped with its signature curl on top. It's firm without feeling like you're at a scoop shop. Yet, that firmness doesn't take away from its creaminess. The texture is perfect. No, it's not a vanilla bean ice cream, but there's a pronounced vanilla flavor that's pleasant, if a bit mild. This soft serve hits all the right notes.

Illustration by Maggie Rossetti for Thrillist

1. Sonic Drive-In: Vanilla Cone

Price: $2.29

Sonic may not be the first fast food chain that comes to your mind when you think of soft-serve ice cream. The retro-style drive-in is better known for its myriad Slushes, so we went into this ranking assuming Sonic's soft serve would place somewhere low on the list. We were so wrong. 

Sonic has the creamiest, most delicious soft serve of any major fast food chain. The texture is delightfully creamy. It isn't too melty. The flavor isn't too mild. The cone is still crunchy down to the final bites. This, friend, is a good ice cream cone. 

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