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Want to pick a fight? Wade into a group of New Yorkers and ask where to find the best bagels in NYC. There is no universal agreement, and opinionated New Yorkers can come up with a list of seven or more “must tries.” For a carb-based breakfast or brunch outing, here are the best bagels in NYC – IMHO!
How to Eat like a New Yorker
New York City is home to some of the best ethnic food in the world. Every immigrant group brings food from home, and we New Yorkers adopt it as our own. The bagel has been around for only 100 years or so, imported by Eastern European Jews. But it’s a taste embraced by all New Yorkers.
The reason for that yeasty smell on the plane home from your New York City vacation or business trip? Bagel lovers stocking up. We not only have the best bagels in NYC, we may have the best bagels in world.
What is a Proper NYC Bagel?
The best bagels in NYC are boiled, then baked. Some say the NYC water is what gives the iconic bagels here that certain je ne sais quoi. Great bagels should be hand rolled, chewy and eaten warm.
The Best Bagels in NYC
My highly subjective, alphabetic list follows. If you have a favorite New York City bagel, please tell us in the comments below.
People travel from all over NYC to my neighborhood spot, The Bagel Hole. Truthfully, these are not my go-to bagels. But there is a steady stream of hot bagels throughout the day, and you really can’t beat a fresh bagel. So get on the subway and come to Park Slope, Brooklyn. But note that the store closes at 3 p.m. every day.
Black Seed Bagel
The Outlier: Montreal bagels in NYC are like thin crust pizza in Chicago. It just isn’t done. But Black Seed Bagels, which makes the smaller, flatter Montreal-style bagels, has won over many jaded New Yorkers.
Black Seed bagels are boiled in water that has honey in it. And there is a gluten-free version. In just six years, Black Seed has opened seven locations, in the Financial District, East Village, Chelsea Market, Rockefeller Center, Nolita, Nomad and Brooklyn.
Ess-a-Bagel, around since 1976, makes Kosher, vegan bagels. The name of this Midtown East store means eat a bagel (in Yiddish), and you’ll definitely want to! If you are in a hurry to eat, you can go to the express line. Bagels won’t be cut or toasted on the express line, but they will be warm from the oven.
Here’s how you know H&H Bagels is good. There are outposts at JFK and LaGuardia, just in case you didn’t get your bagel fill before you left town. In Manhattan, you can get H&H Bagels on the Upper West Side and Upper East Side.
TravelingMom Tip: Although they have blueberry bagels, do not order them, unless you don’t mind being labeled an out-of-towner.
Kossar’s Bagels &
Russ & Daughters
Shelsky’s, the newest bagel shop on the list, makes the grade because of the salt and pepper bagel. This niche bagel sells out early. It took us five attempts to get the bagel and I only live half a mile away.
Although Shelsky’s seems old school, the bagel store has only been around for two years, and has several gluten free varieties. There is also a Sichuan pepper bialy I’ve yet to try. Shelsky’s has fantastic smoked fish. In fact, its original store opened in Cobble Hill in 2013 specializing in lox, sable and whitefish.
My go to spot, despite the recent appearance of a low carb bagel. (What’s up with that?)
There are whole wheat everything bagels for a little fiber along with the perfectly chewy great bagel. And if you are a vegan missing your scallion cream cheese, there is scallion tofu that mimics the dairy version.
Special Mention: Restaurants with Great Bagels
Barney Greengrass, on the Upper West Side, and Sadelle’s in Soho, both have great bagels. They are not bagel shops, but if you want a sit down meal, these are the go-to places.
What to Order on a Bagel
You may have heard the term bagel with a schmear. This is the cream cheese that is slathered on a bagel. Order this and you’ll stand out like a country bumpkin. If you want cream cheese, say “cream cheese.”
If you order cream cheese, note that the average bagel can hold a slab of cream cheese that is enough for 3 bagels. Do your heart a favor and order it “light.”
Under no circumstances should you order it scooped or gutted! This is a strange dietary invention of Upper West Siders, who throw away the soft insides of their bagels to save a few calories. They SAY it’s to create a crevice for their whitefish salad, but that is just a ruse. They are counting calories. If you’re eating a bagel, you’re clearly not on a diet, or cheating your Whole 360 or Keto, so go all in.
Plain cream cheese is a starter schmear. There’s vegetable or scallion cream cheese, and pink lox cream cheese for those who can’t commit to a smoked fish sandwich.
Yes, Nova Scotia smoked salmon (nova) on a bagel is expensive. But the classic bagel is cream cheese, nova, tomato and onion on whatever bagel you like (except cinnamon raisin). You will require mouthwash afterwards.
Egg and cheese is also nice on a bagel. If smoked fish seems too out there, try tuna fish.
When my youngest daughter was little, she liked nothing on an everything. You can’t order an everything plain because plain is a type of bagel. An everything bagel has onion and garlic flakes, salt, poppy and sesame seeds on the outside.
What NOT to Order on a Bagel
Remember the kerfluffle when Cynthia Nixon, running for mayor, ordered a cinnamon raisin bagel with lox? The cinnamon raisin bagel is what we Jews call a shonda, a shame. It is like asking for cream cheese in your sushi at Nobu, or ordering a Bud Lite at Bemelmans Bar. Just no.
NEVER ask for mayo on a bagel. It’s sacrilege.
Some bagel stores won’t toast their bagels. They serve bagels hot from the oven and believe there is no need to toast. But if you want to order a toasted bagel, go ahead. Just know that some purists will refuse.
How to Eat the Best Bagels in NYC
The way to eat a bagel is to get a copy of The New York Times. Print edition, of course! No reading on a phone. Plop yourself down on a bench with the newspaper, a cup of coffee and your bagel, which will be sliced in half horizontally and loaded with whatever you ordered. You take the top half of the bagel and transfer some of the filling onto it. Bagels, even Black Seed bagels, are too large to bite whole.
You usually wind up with an uneven distribution of filling, but that’s OK. Life isn’t always fair.
How to Order Bagels to Go
If you are bringing home a dozen bagels, you should know how many of each bagel variety you want before your turn. New Yorkers don’t like to wait, and the guy behind you will sigh loudly and start fidgeting if you don’t have your order ready. Also, most bagel shops give you a baker’s dozen, the 13th bagel thrown in for free.
If you are getting everything bagels along with other types, have the everything put in a separate bag.
Need more advice on NYC? Check out these posts: