8 Best Bagels In NYC, According to Chefs
If ever there was a city regarded as a culinary epicenter, it's New York City, a metropolis known worldwide for its steakhouses, its pizza, its celebrity chefs, and its award-winning restaurants. But topping that list of famous foods is the humble bagel, a breakfast tradition that's spawned hordes of bakeries and cafes across the city, and insights impassioned debates about which bagel shop makes the best.
Sure, bagels are not exactly a rarity. They can be found in chain restaurants, with fast-food breakfast sandwiches, and even iat your local Walmart. But real-deal, New York-style bagels? You gotta visit a real-deal bagel shop in NYC to scratch that itch.
Considering the surplus of bagel places throughout the sprawling city, though, it can be hard to narrow down the bagel bucket list. That's why we asked chefs who know the city well to recommend the best bagels in town.
One of the bagel shops that gets widespread praise is Absolute Bagels, a frills-free joint that ranks as the favorite for James Tracey, chef of Monterey Brasserie in New York City, as well as a go-to for Mark Welker. The latter is currently the executive chef and culinary director of Paradisaea in San Diego, but previously spent years in New York, working as the pastry chef at Eleven Madison Park and The NoMad.
For him, Absolute Bagels is nostalgia done right. "One of my first apartments was in Morningside Heights on 113th and Amsterdam. This was my go-to spot, and the bagels just happened to be amazing." He raves about the shop's "more traditional NYC sandwich offerings" and the everything bagels in particular, and since the owners are Thai, he loves that you can also get a Thai iced tea.
Black Seed Bagels
Another bagel brand that doubles up on praise is Black Seed Bagels, a local burgeoning mini chain that skews contemporary with its craft and its flavors. For Chris Arellanes, corporate executive chef of KYU NYC, it's Black Seed all the way. "My go-to is a toasted everything bagel with lox spread," he says. "The best part about this place is you can never tell which side is the top of the bagel because both sides are evenly doused in whatever seasoning you choose. The lox adds a salty, smokey flavor to the cream cheese, and when generously spread on that toasted, crusty everything bagel, it's truly a religious experience."
Michael Gallina agrees. The current co-owner and chef of Take Root Hospitality in St. Louis, he honed his love for Black Seed Bagels while working in New York as the chef de cuisine of Blue Hill at Stone Barns. "There's nothing better than going to Black Seed Bagels in Soho when I'm in town in the spring time for their ramp cream cheese on an everything bagel," he says. "I love the chewiness and flavor of their wood-fired technique."
Open since 1976, Ess-a-Bagel has long been a pioneer on that bagel front, and it remains one of the foremost destinations in the city for a good ol' fashioned bagel done right. Chefs like Freddy Vargas, from the new Virgin Hotels NYC and its restaurant Everdene, is a big fan. "If you're in NYC, you have to start your morning with Ess-a-Bagel," explains the chef. "My go-to is an everything bagel with cream cheese and bacon. This one is the perfect combination of crunchy and soft—a true New York bagel."
Another advocate of the everything bagel at Ess-a-Bagel is Jack Logue, chef at The Lambs Club in NYC, which he customizes with lox, cream cheese, and avocado.
With a handful of locations scattered around town, and a strong reputation for smoked fish, hand-rolled bagels, and perfectly stacked sandwiches, Zucker's Bagels commands quite the following. Just ask Jason Krantz, chef of Smyth Tavern, located right next door to their TriBeca location. "Our neighbor, Zuckers Bagels, is serving some of the best hand-rolled bagels in New York City," he proclaims. In fact, he loves the Zucker's bacon, egg, and cheese bagel so much that he started a collaboration: "We combined their bacon, egg, and cheese bagel with our Smyth Tavern signature sauce to make the ultimate breakfast treat."
In Queens, Utopia Bagels is the type of business that lives up to its heavenly name. The shop is the number one favorite for Welker, who applauds the company for baking bagels continuously all day and ensuring each and every order is hot and fresh. "They have a nice hard crunch on the outside and are super soft and chewy on the inside," Welker says. "Their sandwiches are also stellar and non-traditional as well." His recommendation: the chicken cordon bleu sandwich.
Russ & Daughters Cafe
One of the most famed delis and bagel destinations in New York City is one that exceeds the hype. Another favorite for Welker, Russ & Daughters Cafe is an institution with a well-earned reputation for bagel supremacy. Even though he may prefer bagels at Utopia, he notes that Russ & Daughters serves his favorite bagel sandwich: the Super Heebster with whitefish and salmon salad, wasabi flying fish roe, and horseradish dill cream cheese.
Tompkins Square Bagels
You know a bagel is good when you serve them at your sons' bris. That's exactly what Leah Cohen, head chef of Pig & Khao and Piggyback NYC, did for her sons' bris ceremonies, serving bagels from her favorite place in town, Tompkins Square Bagels. "My go-to order is an everything bagel with scallion cream cheese," she says. "If I'm feeling extra hungry, I'll get the everything bagel with smoked salmon, tomato, onion, capers, and scallion cream cheese. They are truly my favorite bagels."
For some of the best bagels in New York City, you may need to cross the river to Jersey City. That's according to Ari Bokovza, chef of New York's Dagon, who prefers Wonder Bagels for its "classic, doughy, gut bomb" bagels. But if he's looking for more inventive taste, he's another fan of Black Seed Bagels, too.