New York bagels are copied all over the world but never quite duplicated, perhaps because the secret ingredients that make them unique are the quality of the city’s tap water and the love and care that go into creating them.
Born-and-bred New Yorkers eat bagels throughout the day—both as fast-food breakfasts and as all-day noshes. They also buy baker’s dozens (13 or 14 bagels, depending on the venue) to take home and freeze. Although bagels are available at sandwich shops, luncheonettes, and grocery stores, they taste best when they’re warm, fresh out of the oven from one of the numerous bagel bakeries found spread across the city.
Unless you favor the plain ones, you’ll find an infinite variety of choices, including standard fare like sesame, poppy, salt and garlic, or more exotic types like pumpernickel, spinach, and jalapeño. Don’t hesitate to let the clerk know whether you prefer your New York bagels golden light or well done. When it comes time to choose a spread, decide whether you want butter, a smear of cream cheese, or the whole enchilada—a fat bagel sandwich with any choice of filling.
Here are three popular bagel emporiums worth checking out.
Bagel Works is on First Avenue on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The line tends to snake out the door of the tiny storefront, but it moves so quickly that you may want to study the menu before you get inside, or ask the person in front of you what to order. You’ll have a choice of the usual offerings, but this joint is known especially for its sourdough bagels that are soft inside. A choice of spreads is available, and because the place is so busy you’ll find some of the freshest chopped liver, egg salad, and whitefish salad in the city.
Pick a Bagel
If you prefer a sit-down experience in sandwich shops, head over to Pick a Bagel, another favorite with a convenient Midtown West location. You can order a bagel here with a smear of cream cheese (fat-free, regular, or tofu) and enjoy it with a steaming hot cup of coffee at one of the tables overlooking the traffic on Eighth Avenue. It’s a great place to savor a breakfast bagel with scrambled egg, bacon, and cheese (the servers at the counter are even happy to toast your bagel upon request). Warning: You’ll surely be tempted by the oversized muffin display near the cash register.
Ess-a-Bagel (Yiddish for “eat a bagel”) in the Turtle Bay neighborhood in Midtown is known for its plump, colossal bagels that are crisp on the outside and chewy-soft on the inside. The original location that opened on First Avenue has closed down, but this outpost is thriving. To avoid lines, visit this bagel shop during non-peak hours. If you’re looking for the essential Ess-a-Bagel experience, order the everything bagel with a lox spread or scallion cream cheese. The bagels here are also certified as kosher.