New York Bagels: Why We Love ‘Em (And Where to Find the Best Bagels in NY)

Bagel with a schmear and lox

A New York bagel with lox and a schmaer—a New York delicacy. Photo by Amanda Ruggeri

The New York bagel is a fundamental food in the city. But what makes the perfect bagel… and where can you find one? Read on to find out!

What’s a New York bagel, exactly?

A New York bagel (essentially a doughnut-shaped bread ring) should be a light caramel color. The exterior should be firm, and have a slight crunch as you bite into its soft, chewy center.

Traditionally, the dough is briefly boiled, then baked. Bagels are best when eaten warm from the oven. And, importantly, a proper bagel must be fresh—less than five hours old, after which it becomes tough.

Where did bagels come from?

Bagels in NYC

Mmm. New York bagels!

Bagels are believed to have originated in Poland in the late 16th century. They were a food staple for Eastern European Jews (in fact, the name derives from the Yiddish beigen, meaning “to bend”), who brought them to New York when they immigrated in the late 19th century.

Bagels became prevalent on the Lower East Side, and by 1915, the Bagel Bakers Union Local 338 oversaw 36 bagel bakeries in New York City and New Jersey. Their exacting standards produced the genuine New York bagel… by which, of course, all others are judged!

Bagels are baked in a number of varieties. Most traditional are poppy seed, sesame seed, and onion. More recent popular varieties include whole wheat, garlic, salt, sourdough, and cinnamon raisin.

How are you supposed to eat a bagel in New York?


Assortment of schmears Photo: Author

Bagels are usually eaten with some kind of filling. Cream cheese is the most common (known as a “schmear,” the cheese is often flavored with a variety of ingredients, either savory or sweet). Traditional extras are lox (cured salmon) or sliced tomato.

Bagel sandwiches have recently become quite popular, as well (and are a great excuse to have a bagel not only at breakfast, but lunch!).

And a simple buttered bagel is common.

Remember, though: In New York, purists consider toasting a bagel to be a faux-pas.

Where are the best bagels in New York?

While bagels are plentiful in NYC, here are some places particularly recognized for their excellent quality:

Ess-a-Bagel – 359 1st Avenue (21st St.) and 831 3rd Ave. (50th St.)

New York bagels

A New York bagel with a “schmear”. Perfection!

Absolute Bagels – 2788 Broadway (107th St.)

Russ & Daughters – 179 East Houston (at Allen St.)

Murray’s Bagels – 500 Avenue of the Americas (at 12th St.)

Kossar’s Bialys – 367 Grand St.

The Bagel Hole – 400 7th Ave (12th St.), in Park Slope, Brooklyn

Daniel’s Bagels  – 569 3rd Ave. (at 37th St)

Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Company – 286 Eight Avenue (at 24th St.)

Bagelberry – 3113 30th Ave., in Astoria, Queens

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