The Best Bagels in America
Nearly 50 of the greatest bagel shops from coast to coast.
Here's the thing about making bagels—it's not hard. Have you managed to produce a passable sourdough loaf over the last twelve months? Now that's a feat of baking strength. Have you ever succeeded at making a baguette? Maybe you should forget about bagels and move to France. To master bagels, any experienced baker will tell you: Follow a few simple rules, and nobody gets hurt.
So why, then, if they really are that easy, are most American bagels barely worth a bite? You don't have to be very old to remember a time when New York was synonymous with the utmost quality, a time when bagels were nearly always sensibly sized, golden brown and micro-blistered on the outside, crackling as the knife went in. The proof was the pull, in your first bite, like daily strength training for your teeth. The rest of the country? Who needed it.
Then things took a turn somehow, and your average New York bagel started to look more like a pale, over-inflated tire. City and suburb alike were inundated with these bloated monstrosities, strangely sweet and frustratingly doughy, too often made with the cheapest flours and, worse still, those dreaded dough conditioners. These were commodity-grade gut bombs, designed to keep you docile until lunchtime, only slightly better than the bread rings that were being passed off as bagels in the rest of America.
Worse still, very few New Yorkers seemed to mind—just ask the bakers who bucked the trend, and some of them are on this list. In certain cases, those who dared to stick to a smaller (or correctly-sized) bagel found themselves targets for criticism. Suddenly, everybody wanted their bagels enormous—anything less had to be a rip-off, surely.
Then things got even more ridiculous, with the moral panic over carbohydrates. To this day, wait in line at any bagel shop in the New York area, and you'll probably hear at least one patron ask for the insides to be scooped out, nobody ever stopping to ask, What if our bagels were a more sensible size to begin with?
Seriously, what happened? The answer is simple, as simple as making bagels—not hard isn't the same as fast. To make a truly great bagel, you need time, you can't be in a hurry, and if you're at all familiar with New York, you're probably already laughing. (Talk about life's little ironies.)
However! If you are patient, and stick to the rules, the results can be extremely rewarding. Any home baker willing to make the effort can do it. Use the right flour (high-gluten and high quality), leave enough time for a cold fermentation, and always boil before you bake. Serious bagel artists have some very specific ideas about the baking process, but assuming you did everything else correctly, you will be surprised what the most basic electric oven can do.
A funny thing happened, while New York began settling for mediocrity: a new generation of American bakers figured out just how easy it was to get into the game. Best of all, most of them have their own ideas about what a modern American bagel should look like. My first glimpse of this exciting future came almost a decade ago, thousands of miles from New York, on a sunny winter morning in Northern California. Here, two East Coast transplants had started making meticulous, wood-fired, Montreal-style bagels, opening up the most charming little deli. After years of accepting second best from my neighborhood bagel slinger in Midtown Manhattan, I took this as a serious wake-up call.
Perked up and paying attention, I traveled back and forth across the country, eventually finding other new bagel shops that had quietly worked their way onto the landscape, many of them far outside the usual comfort zones. Seattle, Minneapolis, Cambridge, you name it; everything was happening, change was coming. What I loved most was that none of them seemed to be wondering what people in New York or Montreal might think. Nobody seemed encumbered by the need to do anything other than create the best bagel their town or city had ever seen.
Before 2020 hit us all like a ton of bricks, this list was largely complete, and you'd think bagels of all things would be pandemic-proof, except that wasn't always the case. Some places all but disappeared. Others that seemed so exciting just a couple of years ago have either expanded too quickly, or have lost that drive to be excellent. But that's okay, because the project appears to be very much ongoing, the new American bagel isn't going anywhere—the number of pop-ups that appeared in 2020, in New York, in Los Angeles, all over, really, was extremely encouraging. Who knows? In a few years' time, perhaps we'll have some strong new contenders to consider for this list.
Yes, the list. Twenty years ago, such an exercise might have resulted in something mostly aimed at a New York audience; these days, you'd be surprised. I'm a native New Yorker, but if it isn't already clear, I don't believe the city deserves any kind of preferred status. Being blindly pro-New York does nobody any favors. I didn't consider geography, water sources, or any other hocus-pocus—good bagels are happening everywhere these days.
Still, let's not go completely mad. While I approached each new bagel I tried with an open mind, some standards had to prevail. The fifty states are full of bagel places: old, new, some of them quite fashionable, some of them selling steam-proofed bread rings. Also, exciting up-and-comers are great, but for the most part, I tried to resist the temptation to be too distracted by shiny objects, leaning more towards the shops that had stuck it out for at least a few years, and hopefully more. And finally, this is a list of the best bagels in the country, not a list of sandwiches made using bagels (there's a Food & Wine Best Sandwiches list for that, if you're interested) or a list of America's best Jewish delis (we've got one of those too, if you like).
Here, just for a moment, we're focusing primarily on the actual, genuine article, no distractions. This story is about the kind of bagels you take home by the dozen, hot and fresh. Close the door, get out the good butter and some quality cream cheese, and forget about the outside world, if only for a little while.
Absolute Bagels (Manhattan, New York)
And then there was (very nearly) one. After years of attrition on the Upper West Side, the neighborhood is left with surprisingly few destinations for bagel lovers. This no-frills, cash-only operation way up at the northern end of the neighborhood is not only one of the best, but it's also one of the finest old-school shops left in Manhattan. Sam Thongkrieng studied the craft at Manhattan's legendary Ess-a-Bagel, and it still shows in the generously-proportioned, (but not wildly oversized, either) finished product—big surface, big interior, not so much hole, all music to the ears of the loyal crowd lining up each weekend. No need to hurry out of bed—like any good New York operation, they're baking throughout the day.
Bagel Hole (Brooklyn, New York)
Frustrating Park Slope size queens since the 1980s, this stubborn traditionalist not only stands against the dreaded New York bagel bloat, but it does so rather confrontationally. If you think their bagels are too small—and they're not, they're really not—well, you're in Brooklyn: there are any number of great options within a fifteen minute walk from this aptly named shop, goodbye, have a nice life. Hand-rolled and all, emerging from the oven with that unmistakable blistered crust, the product here is typically terrific, high on the chew factor. For years, this was the house bagel at Russ & Daughters. What, you know better?
Bagel Oasis (Queens, New York)
You could easily spend at least another hour (or more!) on the Long Island Expressway in search of the best of suburban New York bagel culture, or you could cut your trip short and immerse yourself in the 24/7 world of one of the most treasured bagel shops in Queens, in business since the 1960s. Little about the bagels has changed since, which is already something to celebrate. These buxom (but not too-too-big) beauties are made from the simplest of recipes, offering a beautiful note of malt in every bite. Grab a carton of Tropicana, or a bottle of Yoohoo, and don't forget to play the lotto on your way out.
Bagelsaurus (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
Before the pandemic, you lined up and you took your chances at Mary Ting Hyatt's scene-stealing shop, which opened up near Porter Square the better part of a decade ago. And while getting up awfully early to have your pick of the day's bake is still a great idea, online ordering—with pickup just twenty minutes later—has made it easier than ever to sample some of the best new-style bagels in the country, made from a sourdough starter. The result is something that looks traditional, with the perfect crust and chew; inside, however, you'll find one of the lightest bagels you may ever fall in love with. This is a bagel that will last on your counter for days.
Belle's Bagels (Los Angeles, California)
Moving spots more times than a struggling sitcom, Nick Schreiber and J.D. Rocchio's decade-old enterprise never had any trouble finding its audience, no matter where you had to go looking for them. They're still in pop-up mode, but by now, everyone knows what they're all about. The co-owners are Los Angeles natives, but their bagels, subject to a long cold ferment, with everything done by hand, are closer to the East Coast classic ideal. Just six standard options are offered, and sandwiches are definitely a focus here, but this is a bagel that doesn't need much embellishment.
Benchwarmers Bagels (Raleigh, North Carolina)
Not content to have delivered one of the South's best bakeries, Raleigh's Boulted Bread went after bagels next. Partnered with another local institution, Jubala Coffee, smack in the middle of biscuit country, they've created an essential morning stop for some of the country's most fussed-over modern bagels, wood-fired and made with the same extremely high-quality, freshly-milled, heirloom grain flour that Boulted is well known for. Slice through that gorgeous crackle, the crust often lightly flame-kissed, and you're into something almost like a tiny ring of perfect sourdough.
Bergen Bagels (Brooklyn, New York)
The point of this everyday hero atop the Bergen Street subway, considered one of the best bagel shops on the planet by practically everyone within a few-block radius, is how unremarkable it appears at first. Great, you're thinking, another bagel shop, big deal. Which is exactly what makes Brooklyn so special: Of the five boroughs, this is the one absolutely spoiled for properly-sized, well-structured, nicely-executed classic New York bagels. No fuss, no days off, no celebrity guest bakers—just doing the job, the right way, year after year. Multiple locations.
BernBaum's (Fargo, North Dakota)
There are these very pretty, very generously seeded bagels at North Dakota's finest—and only—new wave Nordic-Jewish deli, but better to go for the plain on your first visit, in order to admire the perfectly blistered exterior of one very fine bagel, perhaps the last thing you might have expected to find, way up here. Sandwiches are their milieu, but the $1.79 bagel with schmear is easily one of the best values on this list. Surprising and delighting the locals (and those passing through town) since 2017, there's a reason Food & Wine called Andrea and Brett Baumgardner's daring enterprise Fargo's best food, right out of the gate.
Bernstein's Bagels (Portland, Oregon)
Vermonter Noah Bernstein and pal/business partner Peter Hurteau quietly threw down the gauntlet when they opened a sliver-sized shop in Portland's St. John neighborhood back in 2017. There were the bagels you knew about, and then there were, rather suddenly, the best bagels in town, and it wasn't even close. Slightly smaller, maybe a little tighter than its ancestors but with that unmistakable pull, this is definitely a New York-style bagel, albeit thousands of miles away from home. The original shop is gone, and the remaining location was built more like a full-service café, but these are bagels you want by the dozen, for home. It doesn't really matter where you pick them up.
Bialy's Bagels (University Heights, Ohio)
The story goes something like this: Back in the 1960s, a Brooklyn-born baker in search of an untapped market decided on Cleveland, picked up a phone book, scanned it for Jewish-sounding last names, and started calling around, asking where he should open up shop. For more than thirty-five years, Terry Skolnick, and later on his descendants, ran the best bagel shop around—a shop that twin sisters Rachel and Sarah Gross grew up visiting frequently, visits that inspired them to open their own place. That never happened, which was all for the best, because in 2017, they ended up buying Bialy's, carrying on a tradition of making some of the best New York bagels west of the Allegheny. The everything (here, known as a Mish Mosh) and sesame especially aren't just dead ringers for the original article—they're often better.
Bo's Bagels (Harlem, New York)
A bagel is a bagel, it is not pastry, but sink your teeth into one of the plain beauties at this new wave Harlem institution, fresh from the Picard and dripping butter everywhere, and you'll be damned if the lines haven't begun to blur, just a little. That crackle and crunch on the outside, the beautifully delicate interior, practically melting on the tongue—there simply isn't a nicer bagel in Manhattan right now, and if there is, it's playing awful hard to get. Everything you will sample at this modest, modern West 116th Street shop will likely be gorgeous, both inside and out, from the most classic to the more playful. (Elsewhere, a blueberry bagel might verge on sacrilege; here, it's nearly mandatory, yielding up wonderfully tart notes that will buzz around on your palate and in your brain for hours afterward.) How else to say it, really?Ashley Dikos and Andrew Martinez and crew are turning out some of the very best New York-style bagels in the country.
Brooklyn Bagel Bakery (Los Angeles, California)
When your father is one of the founders of the famous Beigel Bakers Union in New York, maybe you just don't want to be judged all the time, which is possibly why Seymour Friedman ended up heading west in the 1950s to seek his bagel fortune. For generations, this humble, mostly wholesale operation was a pillar of its downtown-adjacent stretch of Beverly Boulevard, remaining in the family until 2015. Since then, the bakery has had work done to make it more retail friendly, but the bagels are still the bagels—soft, approachable, in the old Los Angeles style. An essential piece of West Coast bagel heritage.
Call Your Mother (Washington, D.C.)
Back in the earliest days of this gem of a "Jew-ish" deli, which has quickly become an institution around and beyond the District, you could roll up to Georgia Avenue for one of the finest bacon egg and cheese sandwiches in the country, for a perfect sesame bagel with a too-generous schmear, and for terrific cappuccinos, to boot. Sure it was all priced to match, but did it matter, when everything was this perfect? On its best days, the hardworking crew behind the counter were turning out near-perfect modern New York-style bagels—not too little, not too big, confidently tall, and never too dense inside. There are now multiple shops, with more on the way, which along with the pandemic has presented the usual continuity-related challenges; most days, however, the everything bagels in particular are still, well, everything.
Cleveland Bagel Co. (Cleveland, Ohio)
The direct route from New York to Cleveland is over seven hours of mostly lonely, mostly bagel-less road, and yet, stepping into either of Dan Herbst and Geoff Hardman's heavily-subscribed shops on a weekend morning, you feel as if you have covered almost no ground at all. (Herbst lived in New York long enough to know how a classic bagel shop looks and acts, and it shows.) Bagels here are made the classic way—no bull, nothing overly fancy, just good technique.
Courage Bagels (Los Angeles, California)
Arielle Skye's thoroughly modern bagels-by-bicycle scheme has been the talk of Silver Lake for some time now, and what better time than the middle of a pandemic to take your fledgling business to the next level? Then again, the clue's in the name. Besides taking a leap at a time when so many of us were sitting at home on our couches, Skye has been wonderfully committed to creating the kind of bagels she wanted to see in the world, never mind what Angelenos and kvetching New York expats were looking for. These are boldly rustic, sourdough bagels in what Skye calls the Montreal/Californian style—one of the most exciting entries in a bagel scene has evolved and grown immensely in recent years.
Ess-A-Bagel (Manhattan, New York)
There are precious few classic mom-and-pop bagel bakeries left in Manhattan by now, Midtown Manhattan even less so; this makes the Wilpon family's ongoing contribution to the culture more important than ever. A larger-than-life presence on the East Side since the 1970s, you'll now find them in three locations, including one over by Penn Station, and at first glance, these look like so many oversized, underwhelming, latter-day New York bagels, except that these happen to be the finest of their type, still made with far more care than most. One with a schmear will put most people under the table, but what a way to go. A staple of many a New York pandemic coping strategy. Ships nationwide, via Goldbelly
Feldman's Bagels (Burlington, Vermont)
The matter-of-factness of this bright shop on crowded Route 7 as you inch your way toward the heart of Vermont's big city, one of America's secret bagel capitals, is so charming. Why shouldn't you expect, it seems to ask, a decent New York bagel, way up here in the woods? Why, indeed—open for a few years now, and without seeking very much attention, this isn't one of those places that asks you to join them on a journey through the elaborate process of their artistry; this is a place for a great sesame with cream cheese, in and out, bing bang boom. Four locations in the area.
Forage (Lewiston, Maine)
What can be said about Maine's enviable baking culture, except that if you know, you know, and if you don't, take a little road trip. For a state with a scattered population less than Manhattan's, this is a group of people that is absolutely spoiled, and certainly for bagels: There isn't another off-the-beaten-path state quite so excited by the idea of the reinvention of the bagel. (There are three Maine shops on this list, and there probably should have been more.) When Allen Smith opened up shop in Lewiston the better part of a decade ago, he wasn't the first to tinker with the notion of a naturally leavened, long-fermented, and wood-fired bagel, but these days, Forage, which has since branched out to Portland's Munjoy Hill neighborhood, makes Maine's best bagel right now, gorgeously light and beautifully structured, with an exterior that snaps and crackles like popcorn. Saveur Magazine raised eyebrows a few years ago, calling this one of the finest in the entire country—they were right.
Gertie (Brooklyn, New York)
Master baker Melissa Weller isn't much for letting the grass grow under her feet. During the last decade, she's had her hands in the dough at some of New York's most high-profile operations, from Per Se to Sadelle's to High Street on Hudson. These days, the newly-minted cookbook author can be found heading up the pastry situation at this smart, all-day café perched just above the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in Williamsburg. On weekends, you'll need to wake up very early to get your hands on some of Weller's bagels; made famous at Sadelle's in SoHo, they're some of the most expensive in the city, but they sell out fast. These are happy little bagels: buoyant, almost like they've got a spring in their step, textbook perfect outside and inside.
Lenore's Handmade Bagel Co. (Dallas, Texas)
There are plenty of things that likely will not be the same after the year we've had, and with any luck, American bagel culture will be among them—so many exciting pop-ups appeared in the middle of the pandemic, some of them at a level of quality not seen before in their respective cities. One of these bar-raising efforts came from a husband and wife team in Dallas, who started sourcing high-quality, high-gluten Yecora Rojo flour from Austin's Barton Springs Mill, and then got straight to work. In a part of the world where shops too often reflexively try and link themselves back to New York, here is a bagel that is proudly Texan, and a damn fine one, as well. For now, you've got to order online and pick up at local coffee shops—a small price to pay, for a glimpse of the future.
The Lox Bagel Shop (Columbus, Ohio)
A great deal many shops on this list almost seem to stumble upon a fusion of the New York and Montreal styles, or if they got there on purpose, they don't really like to talk about it. At the finest bagel shop in Ohio's happening capital city, the bakers are proud of their hybrid creation, and they really ought to be. Essentially, these are larger-sized Montreal bagels, handsome enough on the outside that you might like to gaze upon them for a time, before slicing. Inside, however, they're nice and soft, like a New York bagel, and whatever you do with them—schmear, sandwiches, or even just sink your teeth into a fresh one, with nothing on it—you're winning at breakfast.
Maury's Bagels (Los Angeles, California)
Of all the recent entries into the Los Angeles bagel market, nobody has come quite so close to nailing the classic New York style as Jason Kaplan, formerly of the Gjelina/Gjusta empire. Kaplan started out small with a pop-up, winding up permanent in lucky Silver Lake, back in 2019. These are properly-sized bagels, fuss-free, beautifully done and generously seeded, made in the traditional fashion, and readily available by the dozen.
Murray's Bagels (Manhattan, New York)
There was a time when you could separate the best shops in New York from the rest by the presence of a commercial-grade toaster behind the counter. Used to be, according to conventional wisdom, that only a second-rate operation would allow such a travesty; the best bagel bakers took too much pride in their work for such foolishness to go unchecked. Give this Greenwich Village institution some credit—for the longest time, they fought back. But as anyone who has spent more than five minutes in a New York bagel shop can tell you, the customer is always right, and possibly will also fight you, and everyone in the store for good measure. A few years back, Murray's relented, and now you get to ruin your bagel, just the way you like it. Based on recent visits, the argument could be made that a Murray's bagel—too big, and typically a bit sweet—just isn't what it used to be, so what's the difference? Still, recognition where due—this is one of the better operations on the entire West Side, south of 59th Street.
Myer's Bagel Bakery (Burlington, Vermont)
It makes sense that the closest thing we have south of the border to a true Montreal-style bagel shop is in the closest American city of size to actual Montreal. Owner Lloyd Squires apprenticed under St-Viateur's Myer Lewkowicz, and it definitely shows. Enter the no-fuss, cavernous shop, mostly dedicated to the busy production line, and while you may not exactly feel transported north of the border, you know you're definitely close. These are wonderfully scraggly bagels, tasting slightly of honey, and baked in a wood oven. Resist the urge to order anything other than a fresh dozen—beyond the all important bake, there's little being done on premises you can't do better yourself.
Native Bagel Co. (Berea, Kentucky)
Why shouldn't a small town in Kentucky have a standout bagel shop? Then again, Berea, population 15,500 and home to one of the country's more unique four-year institutions, isn't your average bump in the road, which is how Katie Startzman, who grew up around bagels in the Northeast, ended up in town, attending Berea College as an English major and staying for good. Her traditional, hand-rolled bagels have been a hit around town; have them load one up with fresh eggs from the college farm, and a few slices of country ham.
New York Bagel & Bialy (Lincolnwood, Illinois)
The great thing about the New York transplants rolling up on this suburban, 24/7 classic shop with thoughts and feelings and ideas is that nobody gives a damn, which is a very New York kind of attitude, come to think of it, making this the perfect place to come when you're homesick. Of course, with a name like this, they're definitely asking for a comparison—in appearance, these are New York bagels through and through. Bite in, and you're missing a bit of the chew you might have been looking for, it's a Midwest thing, but man—so close. One of Chicago's more memorable (very) late-night noshes.
New York Bagels (Ferndale, Michigan)
Detroit has always been one of the better bagel towns between the two coasts, and nobody comes quite so close to properly honoring the New York style as this century-old favorite, founded by Morris Goldsmith in the city back in the early 1920s. Today, the Goldsmith family is still in charge, and there are a total of three shops, all in the suburbs. Their quality lox and cream cheese on whatever bagel you prefer will make you feel a whole lot closer to New York than you were probably expecting.
Philly Style Bagels (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Fired on wood planks in a very hot oven—almost like pizza!—after a nice long ferment and boil, in a unique beer and water blend, these are typically tightly-structured, smaller bagels, often with a bit of a friendly wrinkle up top from the boil, not recognizably adhering to any other style than their own—admirable, considering the drive from Fishtown to the Outerbridge Crossing takes barely an hour. (Confidence! We love to see it.)
Pigeon Bagels (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
Long before Gab Taube opened up shop in an old laundromat in a quiet corner of Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill section, she was an avid home bagel baker, good enough at her self-taught craft that those lucky enough to sample the end result encouraged her to put herself out there, which she did, in local cafés and markets. Finally, in 2019, Taube opened up this very modern, very certified Kosher operation, turning out shiny, golden-brown bagels with a pleasing height to them, bagels any city would be lucky to have at their fingertips. Their pumpernickel, or pumpernickel swirls, stuffed with cream cheese and paired with coffee from local roaster Redhawk? The perfect modern Pittsburgh breakfast.
Proper Bagel (Nashville, Tennessee)
There are basic rules for making bagels, and then there's everything else you need to know. To do things really right, there's no such thing as just baking a bagel. The baking itself is an entire process, and ideally it should involve a stone oven, giving each side enough time to form the perfect crust. A family of New York expatriates opened this bright and beautiful shop on the ground level of an old house in East Nashville a few years back, quickly becoming one of the best bagel shops in the South. The typical response from homesick New Yorkers says it all—this is one of those places that puts more care into the work they do, stone-lined oven and all, than many bagel factories back north.
Rise Bagel Co. (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
Debuting at a local farmers' market in 2014, this studiously careful operation makes some of the finest (and organic) bagels in the Midwest, filling them with very good cream cheese, and sustainable smoked salmon from one of Minnesota's other great small businesses, the Northern Waters Smokehaus, up by Lake Superior. There's a reason why you'll often end up waiting on weekends; this is one of the most sought after breakfasts in the trendy North Loop neighborhood, if not the entire city. Like the very best modern bagels on this list, these do not adhere to anyone's dated notions of regional style. Here, the attention is more on sticking to old-world method, doing things slowly, methodically, with the end result something like one of the finer home-baked bagels you'll ever try, shimmering, crisp on the outside, with just the right amount of soft interior.
Rover Bagel (Biddeford, Maine)
First popularized among the fishing communities north of Boston, Anadama bread is one of those quaint New England traditions that never really made it that far from home. Made with cornmeal and molasses, Anadama is a rustic but satisfying bread, evoking a very different time in American culinary history. At this clever bakery in Maine's most fashionable old mill town, the flavor takes the place of your usual cinnamon raisin, and cranberries are added to the mix for a final, extra-New England-y twist. (There's also a regular, berry-free version.) These blistered rings of chewy, sourdough, wood-fired happiness aren't much like the bagels most of us will be used to, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Rover appeared in town a few years back, went over to pop-up mode for a while, and is now back, hopefully for good, with a little service window at their bakery, located directly next door to Night Moves Bread, one of Food & Wine's 100 Best Bakeries in America in 2020.
Rosenberg's Bagels (Denver, Colorado)
Just a little too cute to double for your average suburban East Coast bagel shop—okay, maybe one of the WASPier suburbs, where everything has to be just so—but still damn close, Jersey boy Joshua Pollack is easily turning out the closest thing to a New York-style bagel in the Mountain Time Zone, in a warm, come-one-come-all environment that will make any sojourning New Yorker feel at home. A richly dark pumpernickel bagel stuffed with cream cheese and lox is remarkably transporting. Two Denver locations, coming soon to Boulder.
Rubinstein Bagels (Seattle, Washington)
A funky pop-up on Capitol Hill has spruced up its image and joined the brick-and-mortar ranks. Located directly across the street from the Amazon Spheres, these bagels don't come cheap, but they are the best (and Seattle does actually have options). Andrew Rubinstein never planned on being a bagel guy, sort of wandering into the craft after a few decades of corporate life. Made in the modern style, with a sourdough starter and a long ferment, the appearance is one of a higher-end New York style bagel (the structure, too—chew haters need not apply), but the flavor is so much deeper than the classic norm. It's the best of all possible worlds. The shallot and rosemary salt are two of the Northwest's finest bagels.
Sadelle's (Manhattan, New York)
From the very start, bagels have been front and center at this extravagant SoHo brunch spot, where patrons can see the bakers in action, directly in back of the dining room. Originally, the program was spearheaded by Melissa Weller, one of the city's finest freelance bakers, and while Weller moved on some time ago, you can still catch glimpses of her excellent handiwork in the seeded bagels here. Normally, you can order a dozen to go from the counter up front; these days, you ask at the host stand, and someone will come outside to take your order. Locations in Las Vegas and now Paris—that's right, Paris, France, steps from the George V.
Scratch Baking Company (South Portland, Maine)
Would Maine's bagel culture be as advanced as it is today, without the earlier contributions of this SoPo neighborhood treasure? Since the mid-aughts, they've been turning out a highly distinctive, stone oven-baked bagel—big but never cumbersome, with a distinct sourdough tang and a rustic, pleasing exterior. (Slice through, and admire the typically unimpeachable crumb structure.) Even if you dislike salt bagels, you can't say no to the ones crusted with local sea salt; take a few home and load them up with something local, like a nice Casco Bay Creamery cream cheese.
Teaneck Hot Bagels (Teaneck, New Jersey)
For almost thirty years, some of the most proper, hand-rolled, New York style bagels in existence have been coming out of this tiny storefront just seconds from go-go-go Route 4. If you've been rushing to or from the George Washington Bridge your whole life and have never stopped by, rectify the situation, immediately if not sooner. These Kosher bagels are absolutely the perfect size, no larger than a fist, bragging the perfect texture inside and out; all this perfection is taken for granted by the clientele that have been coming here, and no place else, for years.
Tompkins Square Bagels (Manhattan, New York)
By now, most bagel shops in the Tri-State area are selling absurd flavored bagels, often stuffed with even more ridiculous cream cheeses, so why should this East Village institution in the making get razzed any harder for its detours into non-traditional territory? And really, what's so wrong about pumpkin spice cream cheese, now that we're on the subject? The important thing to know is that the bagels here are of great quality, hand-rolled—look for that distinctive twist in the finished article—and made from a 1950s recipe treasured by owner Christopher Pugliese, who began practicing the art at 16. You won't find a hint of the cloying sweetness found in so many other bagels these days, either. It's one of the best options south of 14th Street, and in the end, it's best at the classics. Shipping nationwide via Goldbelly.
Utopia Bagels (Queens, New York)
When people talk about the way New York has changed, they're usually leaving out neighborhoods like Whitestone, a far-flung enclave that often seems content to let time pass on by. Is it any wonder that one of the city's very best bagel emporiums thrives here? Serving the neighborhood since 1980, Utopia Bagels has a modern vibe, but back behind the counter, where it matters, everything here is done the old way, the correct way, from a longer ferment than most New York bagel makers, to the oven on premises, a remarkable 1940s relic. What you get: correctly-sized, hand-rolled bagels, crackling between your fingers like a pond at spring thaw. A rare feat, Utopia consistently knocks it out of the park with their unseededs—plain, egg, and cinnamon raisin in particular. Service will range from mildly distracted to downright dismissive, but you're not here to make friends—you're here for some of the last truly great bagels to be found in the five boroughs. Shipping nationwide via Goldbelly.
Yeastie Boys Bagels (Los Angeles, California)
Evan Fox didn't grow up in New York, but he got there as soon as possible. After years of being spoiled by the bagel situation, he found himself in Los Angeles, where he evaluated the offering, pronounced it wholly inadequate, and set about making bagels himself, launching via a series of pop-ups in 2014. These days, there's a lot more choice in this part of the world, but Fox and crew have found an enthusiastic audience for their amusing menu of creative sandwiches, sold from a small fleet of trucks that circulate throughout the city. The bagels have a distinct, handmade charm —load one up with (at least!) lox and cream cheese.