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Where are the best bagels in NYC? A lifelong New Yorker and bagel lover shares her recommendations, including New York’s most iconic bagel spots. We have the scoop on not only where to go for the best bagels in NYC but also how to order your bagel and how to avoid rookie mistakes that will brand you as an out-of-towner.
Disclosure: Brands mentioned provided some consideration.
Where to Find the Best Bagels in NYC
If you want to pick a fight just 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 – in my humble opinon.
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. All New Yorkers embrace the taste of bagels. In fact, we may have the best bagels in the world.
And, have you ever wondered about the reason for that yeasty smell on the plane home from your New York City vacation or business trip? Bagel lovers stocking up.
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.
My Picks for 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.
1. Bagel Hole
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. The Bagel Hole closes at 3 p.m. every day.
2. 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. There’s also 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. You’ll definitely want to eat one of these bagels! 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.
4. H&H Bagels
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 H&H makes blueberry bagels, do not order them, unless you don’t mind being labeled an out-of-towner.
5. Kossar’s Bagels &
This Lower East Side institution, around since 1936, makes great pumpernickel bagels (and other old school varieties), as well as bialys. Bialys are what my grandparents preferred, since they are a little softer. Instead of a hole in the middle, there is an indentation, usually filled with onions.
These bagels and bialys are so special that when my best friend and I would go into Manhattan from Long Island, her parents would stop the car and have us run out to carbo load. This was many years ago, when the Lower East Side was rather dicey, and they drove expensive suburban cars. But they had to get their fix.
6. Russ & Daughters
Russ & Daughters has been peddling smoked fish for over a century. Their bagels are top rate, but what really makes them shine is the amazing lox, whitefish or smoked sable on top.>Russ & Daughters has expanded beyond the Lower East Side to Upper East Side, with a cafe at the Jewish Museum (closed on Saturdays).
Russ & Daughters even jumped over the East River, with another location in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Try the babka – a coffee cake with attitude, not too sweet and swirled with chocolate or cinnamon.
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, they’ve only been around for two years. They also offer 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.
8. Terrace Bagels
This is 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. If you’re a vegan missing your scallion cream cheese, there is scallion tofu that mimics the dairy version.
9. 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 that includes a bagel these are the go-to places.
What to Order on a Bagel
You may have heard the term bagel with a “schmear.” The schmear refers to the cream cheese slathered on a bagel but nothing says “tourist” like ordering your bagel with a schmear. If you want cream cheese, just ask for cream cheese. Simple.
The classic bagel is cream cheese, Nova Scotia smoked salmon (AKA nova) tomato and onion on whatever bagel you like (except cinnamon raisin). You will require mouthwash afterwards. Warning: the nova is expensive.
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.” You can also order vegetable or scallion cream cheese or try pink lox cream cheese. The latter is a great choice for those who can’t commit to a smoked fish sandwich.
Egg and cheese is also nice on a bagel. If smoked fish seems too out there, try tuna fish.
Under no circumstances should you order your bagel 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. Go all in.
When my youngest daughter was little, she liked nothing on an everything bagel. 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, which means 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.
Driving Around NYC, Carbo Loading
You can take the subway, bike or even walk around the city to get great bagels. But if you want to drive, the Toyota Corolla hybrid is a great option. This is a car that actually gets better mileage in city driving. It is estimated at 53 mpg in the city, 52 on the highway. I got 55 mpg in a week of city driving. And the compact size means it’s easy to slip into a parking spot. [It was still large enough to fit our family of 5, though admittedly my young adult daughters are on the small side].
The Toyota Corolla comes standard with pedestrian detection, so if someone darts out between cars (it happens!) you avoid a collision. And the trunk is roomy enough for many dozens of bagels. We filled it on a pandemic shopping trip with groceries for a month.
Need more advice on NYC? Check out these posts: