Finding the perfect bagel in New York City is a bit like polling opinions about music: everyone has a fave. My ideal: firm and slightly crunchy crust, dense but chewy insides, and nothing but a slit where the hole should be.
This perspective is based on years of carbo-loading; as a kid growing up in the suburbs of the Big Apple, bagels were as much a part of my life as Debbie Gibson and pick-up basketball. Later, as a resident of NYC, I spent years in search of the No. 1 bagel. Here, in no particular order, are my top places to get your nosh on the next time you visit.
This circa-1908 Upper West Side restaurant bills itself as “The Sturgeon King,” but bagels here are no afterthought. I like them because they’ve got crust that’s sturdy enough to support the heft of smoked fish and all the trimmings. When I go, I order the pastrami salmon appetizer, a dish that comes with a serving of smoked salmon cured like pastrami, a bagel, a smear of cream cheese, and a plate of accoutrements such as onion, lettuce, and tomato. Assembled as a sandwich, the combination is, to me, New York on a plate. That’s why every trip home starts here.
This Manhattan chain (with locations on First and Third avenues near Stuyvesant Town) boasts that its bagels are the biggest in the city, and, quite frankly, they might be – some of them rise higher than an average hamburger bun with the hamburger inside. You don’t visit E-A-B for the ambiance; you go to order a baker’s dozen and a half-pound of cream cheese, then head to Central Park for a picnic lunch. I dare you to eat more than two.
Viewfinder Tip: Most schmears of cream cheese in New York include enough for two bagels; if you think you’ll want seconds, order No. 2 plain and “spread” the love.
Especially on weekends, ravenous Upper West Siders line up for 30 minutes to grab a sack of hot-and-crusties from this hole-in-the-wall deli. Because it’s is so small, the family that runs the place is cooking bagels constantly. Once you’ve waited patiently for your turn to order, be sure to peer over the counter to watch the dough balls boiling in giant vats (before they’re baked).
This Park Slope icon is the only borough bagel shop on my list (it’s in Brooklyn), and it’s here for good reasons. Chefs often cook up miniature versions of the real deal for customers with smaller appetites. What’s more, the big bagels made here actually find their way into many of the most respected restaurants around the city – the Bagel Hole proudly supplies Russ & Daughters, a Lower East Side Jewish deli that has become an institution.
It’s worth noting that New York City also is a great place to find bialys – small rolls that have centers filled with minced onions or garlic. These puppies are too savory for my tastes, but I know plenty of people from older generations who actually prefer them to bagels. Their pick for the best bialys: Kossar’s, on the Lower East Side.
My advice: so long as you don’t have a gluten allergy, indulge. Bagels are a big part of foodie culture in New York, and the best way to experience that culture is to take a bite.
What are some of the tastiest foods you’ve sampled while traveling?