Bagels belong to New York, and New York belongs to Bagels. Like so many quintessential American dishes, bagels have Eastern European, specifically Jewish, roots. I didn’t even like bagels before I tried them in New York, and now that I live here I love to eat them all the time! I’ve rounded up the best bagels in New York City, so that on your next visit to New York you can make a beeline straight for the best bagels.
Planning a trip to New York? Check out my New York City Travel Guide
You can find the best bagels in New York all over Manhattan and Brooklyn, so no matter your plans you’ll be able to swing a side trip to one of these spots.
This guide includes:
- A brief history of bagels in New York
- How to order the best bagel
- The Best Bagels in New York City (list)
A brief history of bagels in New York
Ashkenazi Jews brought bagels to New York City in the 19th century, when they fled Poland and Eastern Europe. Jewish immigrants moved to New York City in several waves throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Most Jewish immigrants settled on the Lower East Side, which is still considered one of the most historic Jewish neighborhoods in the city. Over time, the original Polish bagel has adapted to result in the unique New York City bagel of today.
When the garment industry moved from the Lower East Side to Midtown West, many Jewish families move to the Upper West Side, which is nearby. The Upper West Side is still an important Jewish neighbourhood, and has many classic Jewish delis. I’ve tried two bagel “institutions” on the Upper West Side, but I can’t recommend either of them. I’ve still got one more to try, and am hoping to add it to this list soon!
Before bagels arrived in New York, the earliest versions can be traced back to 16th century Poland. Some say they came to Poland by way of German immigrants, whose pretzels morphed into bagels. Some say they came from Viennese bakers. Other insist they were born out of necessity, when medieval law only let Jewish bakers sell bread that had been boiled.
Regardless of what the truth is, the bagel evolved once it arrived in New York City into the unique product it is today.
How to order the best bagel
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to bagels, but my tried and true favourite is an Everything Bagel with with nova salmon, cream cheese, tomato, onion & capers. Nearly every bagel shop offers this combination. An Everything Bagel is a bagel that uses lots of popular bagel toppings, such including poppy seeds, sesame seeds, onion and garlic flakes, pretzel salt and pepper.
For an old school topping, try a bagel with lox & a schmear, AKA brined salmon & cream cheese. The Lox & Schmear combo was born in the 1930s, as a kosher alternative to Eggs Benedict, which was also invented in New York City. Be warned, lox is not the same as smoked salmon (nova). Lox is just brined, not smoked, so it’s a lot saltier.
The Best Bagels in New York City
Ess-A-Bagel does the best bagels in New York City. Founded in 1976, Ess-A-Bagel has stood test of time and is widely regarded as some of the city’s best bagels. They’re also some of the biggest bagels in the city, so David & I usually share one between the two of us. When we first arrived in New York, we had a temporary apartment in Midtown East, and it was my first breakfast in New York City. I’d even go as far to say that Ess-A-Bagel is the best (and only) reason to head to Midtown East. They also have a second location near Herald Square and Penn Station – another sad part of town, saved by a giant bagel.
Tompkins Square Bagel, East Village
Tompkins Square Bagels came to the rescue on a long day of apartment hunting in New York City. I wondered if they tasted so good just because I was so hungry and exhausted, but further investigation has proved that they’re actually something special. It’s an unassuming, true neighbourhood joint, and they churn out some of New York City’s best bagels. The beauty of Tompkins Square Bagels is that it’s off the tourist trail, despite being a local legend. It’s also opposite Tompkins Square Park in East Village, so you can take your bagel to-go for a picnic.
Every time I go, I always swear that next time I’m going to try one of their sweet varieties, like the blueberry bagel or the sweet potato cream cheese. I haven’t yet been able to pass up a classic nova salmon bagel, but maybe next time!
Read more: East Village Neighbourhood Guide
Black Seed Bagels, Nolita
Black Seed Bagels in Nolita dares to do what so few have done successfully before: break the bagel rules. Black Seed Bagels are a hybrid between Montreal and New York style bagels, in partnership between Montrealer Noah Bernamoff and New Yorker Matt Kliegman. Montreal has it’s own strong bagel culture, where recipes use no salt, and instead, sugar. Black Seed Bagels use traditional New York bagel dough, boil it in honey water & bake in a wood burning oven, per Montreal tradition.
Despite only opening in 2014, Black Seed Bagels are regarded as some of the best bagels in New York City, and they’re easily one of my favourites. Grab a bagel from the Nolita store & then take it to nearby Elizabeth Street Garden for an impromptu picnic. If you need coffee as well, pick this up first from Bluestone Lane or Cafe Integral, both nearby.
Read more: Nolita Neighbourhood Guide
Shelsky’s of Brooklyn, Cobble Hill
Brooklyn was once dotted with Appetizing & Delicatessens, the homes of traditional Jewish cuisine. Over the 20th century, these spots all but disappeared. Shelsky’s of Brooklyn is a new Appetizing & Delicatessen that aims to bring the best bagels in New York City back to Brooklyn. They’ve got more 30 styles of smoked fish, as well as other traditional Jewish baked foods like bialys and pastrami on rye.
Read more: Cobble Hill Neighbourhood Guide
Baz Bagel, Little Italy
Baz Bagel in Little Italy has a true New York pedigree: owner Bari Musacchio’s family is half Italian and half Jewish. The Italian side of her family lived on Mulberry Street in Little Italy and the Jewish side of her family lived on the nearby Lower East Side. Baz Bagel is new, but with an adorable soda fountain-meets-diner decor. They make some of the best bagels in New York City, with recipes passed down through the generations. Other classic Jewish dishes you’ll find include latkes, chicken soup and kasha varnishkes. They also make room for innovation, with their Baz Original Bagel Sandwiches.
I love going to Baz, particulary pre-pandemic when I could dine in. I took my whole family here for bagels when they visited from Australia!
Have you tried a New York City bagel? Which is your favourite?
The post The Best Bagels in New York City appeared first on The Wanderbug.