It took nearly a decade of living in New York City for me to feel confident that I had tried all the worthy bagel shops enough times to confidently curate this guide to NYC’s best bagels.
As a food and culture critic, I take this charge seriously! And I’m here to tell you that if you try any of the bagel shops on this list, you’re sure to have a quintessential New York bagel experience– but you have to know what to order where!
Enter: this guide to NYC’s Best Bagel Shops. 🥯
For those asking, the signature and most “iconic” NYC bagel order is an everything with lox (aka smoked salmon) and cream cheese. This is often what people are referencing when they talk about New York bagels.
Some people say that NYC bagels are so good because of the water. New York’s tap water is some of the finest and cleanest water in the country; it’s very “soft” water, which means it has low concentrations of minerals like calcium and magnesium, which can both affect the boil and bake on bagel dough.
I think the city’s bagel fetishization more likely has to do with the historic portability and filling-ness of this once humble street food, as bagels were the original grab-n-go breakfast in a city that stops for no one. (It’s why the local coffee shops here are also excellent.)
Today, the bagel has been elevated and reinvented in a litany of ways by New York’s oldest and newest culinary elite. And that’s a beautiful thing!
Ultimately, this is a city that loves its food, especially when it comes to New York classics like bagels. (We’ll talk about pizza another time.)
So, it is with earnest reverence to the art of bagel-making that I implore you: Please, read this guide in full before you buy any bagels. You have to know where to go, otherwise, you may end up disappointed. (Some visitors make the mistake of popping into any deli and buying bagels there, thinking that these are original New York City bagels. Unfortunately, unless you go to a dedicated bagel shop, you could be buying grocery-store bagels at a steep markup. Don’t let this be you!)
Fortunately for you, Dear Reader, I’ve included some notes on what to order where in order to have the best, most quintessential experience of what each of the below NYC bagel spots has to offer. A quick scroll will give you an overview of where to go.
Also, FWIW, I’ve repeatedly visited Montréal to research the city’s rival “sweet bagels” (also great!) and I’ve frequently explored what I consider to be the “new guard of bagel excellence” around the country– places like Call Your Mother Deli in Washington, D.C., for example.
Suffice it to say, I’ve experienced all the nation’s hits when it comes to bagels, and I know my way around a good one– as does any respectable, longtime food-loving New Yorker. (Most people have their favorite spots and attend to them with cult-like favoritism.)
Below, we spotlight what to order, where, at New York’s best bagel institutions. If you want to know where to get a good bagel in NYC, this is a complete guide.
Bookmark this list for easy reference later. Enjoy!
Russ & Daughters (Definitely Try The Lox)
The line outside of Russ & Daughters is always long, and with good reason. Many longtime New Yorkers claim they have the best bagel, cream cheese, and salmon combo of any bagel shop in NYC— and I would agree. This much is clear: Russ & Daughters is as much of a cultural icon in New York as it is a culinary one.
The fresh salmon, caper, and cream cheese combo is the go-to order here, but literally, everything on the menu is delicious and thoughtful. Plus, it stands the test of time: Russ & Daughters has been serving incredible bagels and lox for 107 years! (Their smoked salmon was Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s favorite food, FWIW.)
Go here for an authentic sit-down bagel and schmear, or get your bagel to go. (They also offer wonderful catering platters that you can order ahead of time.) In addition to their incredible chocolate babka, these bagels are a favorite among carb snobs in the city.
They even offer rare classics like kippered (baked) salmon and cream cheese on a bagel or bialy. (<– Bialys are a traditional Polish bread roll with an indent in the center that’s filled with caramelized onions and sometimes poppy seeds.)
Basically, if you’re a foodie in New York and you never try a bagel at Russ & Daughters, you’re probably doing it wrong!
Zabar’s (Go Wild With Gourmet Schmears)
Old-school New Yorkers go to Zabar’s Grocery for the classic lox, tomato, cream cheese, red onion, and capers combo. From Cynthia Nixon to Seth Rogen, it’s a fan-favorite. They’ve been around for over 85 years, and it’s where even the locals go to cosplay being a New Yorker.
In addition to bagels, they also specialize in smoked fish, caviar, fine cheese, coffee, artisan housewares, and other gourmet grocery items. It’s a great place to buy lox, kippered salmon, herring salad, or whitefish as a foodie souvenir.
In recent years, Zabar’s has gotten so commercialized that they now ship their bagels and lox across the country. They have several different varieties of bagel-themed gift baskets. You get the idea. They do a roaring trade.
Ultimately, this is a truly historic location that manages to strike a happy balance between serving tourists and locals, alike. (Usually, those two orbits don’t collide as well as they do here. Viva la #NYC!)
Zucker’s Bagels & Smoked Fish (Known For Their Extra Seeds)
Zucker’s Bagels & Smoked Fish is a chain that’s local to New York City only– and this bagel shop is all about the seeds. (Or at the very least, it’s the seeds on their bagels that set them apart.)
The sesame seeds they use on their bagels are extra toasty. They make an everything bagel spice mix with so much umami that they decided to white label it. (Now, they ship it across the country.)
Above all, they generously coat all seeded bagels, taking care to cover not just the top but both sides of their bagels with seeds. It’s messier, sure, but that’s part of the fun.
For a high-end experience, order “The Truffled Egg”— two eggs with swiss, truffled cream cheese, and sauteed mushrooms on your choice of bagel. I love the Marbled Rye and Wheat Oat Bran bagels here, which are two flavors you don’t see many other places.
Tompkins Square Bagels (The Only Place in NYC That Serves Respectable GF Bagels + Vegan Cream Cheese)
Folks with dietary restrictions, rejoice! Tompkins Square Bagels is likely the only bagel shop in NYC that serves gluten-free bagels that are actually good. They’re also known for their excellent vegan cream cheese, which can go toe-to-toe with the real stuff any day.
Obviously, they make other bagels here that very much contain gluten, so cross-contamination is, of course, a possibility. Don’t go here if you’re a super-sensitive person with celiac, for example.
But, if you have a mild intolerance or are avoiding gluten, this NYC bagel shop will best suit your needs.
Other than that, for folks who do eat gluten, Tompkins Square Bagels is also worth the visit. They bake their hand-rolled, kettle-boiled bagels over wood planks to yield lovely salt bagels and cinnamon raisin bagels, which are both particularly good here.
It’s a rather hip spot, with an exposed brick interior and cozy location not too far from Madonna’s first NYC apartment. Take your bagel to nearby Tompkins Square Park and enjoy it on a bench in true New York City fashion. On a nice, sunny day, there’s nothing better.
Frankel’s Delicatessen & Appetizing (For Brooklyn Foodie Flavors)
Frankel’s is a hip new school Brooklyn outpost known for its foodie-focused flavors and trendy patrons like Zoe Kravitz and Lisa Bonnet, who get their bagels here. This deli’s crazy-delicious hot sandwiches are the stuff of legends, and their bagel sandwiches are no different.
Try the Smoked Salmon Tartare sandwich for the quintessential experience. Or, go old-school with “The Mintzer”– aka whitefish salad, dill cucumber salad, and beet pickled onion on your choice of bagel. (We recommend the whole wheat everything!)
The menu here is short but punchy. “Frankel’s No. 1 Bagel” is a combo of pastrami salmon, scallion cream cheese, and dill cucumber salad, which is exceedingly becoming the new “classic hip New Yorker bagel” of choice.
The shop is closed Monday and Tuesday and is generally only open from 9 AM to 3 PM on the other days. But with bagels this integral to the Williamsburg/Greenpoint community, you can expect lively patronage until they sell out. If you’re staying in Williamsburg, this is a great place to get your bagel fix.
Black Seed Bagels (For Upscale Stuffed Bagel Sandwiches)
Black Seed Bagels does a fusion of New York and Montreal wood-fired bagels with some of the coolest toppings in the city. We love the pastrami-spiced smoked salmon (above shown) and the pepperoni pizza bagel open-faced sandwich, which is like an adult version of 90’s-era bagel bites.
They use pasture-raised eggs and they also make delicious reubens (e.g. turkey reubens and pastrami reubens). Even the tuna and egg salad manage to elevate what could otherwise be the makings of a sad desk sandwich into a culinary art form.
We like that they crack the eggs for their breakfast sandwiches individually, on a made-to-order basis. (As opposed to pouring from a vessel of pre-cracked egg soup, if you know what I mean.)
Black Seed has multiple locations around the city and its bagels are big, fat, and fluffy. And they, unlike many NYC bagel institutions who scoff at this idea, will actually allow you to toast your bagel. (Worth noting if you like that!)
Baz Bagel (For Perfect Pumpernickel Bagels & Cheeky Nomenclature)
Baz Bagel is a quirky and fun Little Italy gem that really is one of downtown’s best-kept secrets. We love the chalkboard menus, twinkly lights, and vintage photos of Barbara Streisand. Most importantly, this aesthetically pleasing outpost serves excellent pumpernickel bagels, which are exceedingly hard to find outside the city.
Try the“Pretty in Pink” sandwich: nova salmon, beer and horseradish cream cheese, and dill on a pumpernickel bagel. We also love their “CC Bloom”— “sassy” salmon salad with pomegranate, cucumber, and dill on a pumpernickel bagel.
^ It’s my favorite and the most unique order on the menu. I love all of their sandwiches’ cheeky names! See, for example, the “Tina Turkey”— turkey, swiss, avocado, lettuce, and tomato served on challah. (Bacon is optional.)
Other combos served with a wink and smile include “The Lunch Lady”— half egg salad, half tuna salad with tomato and chives on a poppy bagel. Or, try the “The Mystic Pizza Bagel”— tomato, mozzarella, and basil on a garlic bagel with fresh mixed greens.
The menu here features cool extras like Chicken Schnitzel and a Waldorf chicken salad sandwich. (<— Made from chicken salad with apples, red onion, lettuce, and bacon on a cleverly-selected cinnamon raisin bagel. Fun!)
And, among other things, they have custom tie-dye color bagels that you can create for events and parties. It’s very cool, especially if you’re a die-hard bagel lover. And speaking of rainbow bagels…
The Bagel Store (For Bacon Egg & Cheddar Bagels, Plus The Rainbow Bagels That Broke The Internet)
… I know, a curveball. This viral Park Slope bagel shop, The Bagel Store, makes a bacon, egg, and cheddar bagel that is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. This bagel is baked with bacon, egg, and cheese inside, almost like a diner-style bialy.
^ To be clear: this is not a BEC sandwich. It’s a BEC bagel that you can make into a BEC sandwich. Because in a bagel-loving city like New York, more is more.
I lived directly across the street from the original Bagel Store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for about 6 years. It used to be a W’burg staple, creating long weekend lines that would sometimes snake 40 meters around the block. Sometime after I moved into Manhattan, it closed due to tax evasion, which is actually a New York bagel shop tradition (ha…).
Alas, the shuttering of doors in Williamsburg was only a temporary move, thankfully. The Bagel Store regrouped and relocated to Park Slope, Brooklyn, where it now regales tourists with rainbow bagels that have become a viral Internet sensation.
There’s a lot of gimmick surrounding any rainbow bagels in NYC, but there is some visual charm to the novelty here. The food coloring changes the texture of the bagel dough and makes it a little drier and spongier. Thus, my sense is that people who order these are often doing so for the social media-worthy picture.
Anyhow, if you want to order something delicious, try the incredible bacon, egg, and cheese bagel. (Again: this is a bagel that already has bacon, egg, and cheese baked into it. For some reason, readers always get confused. The bagel itself with nothing on it is just so, so good! It’s almost like a bagel-biscuit.)
Otherwise, opt for the “original” viral rainbow bagels, or try the delicious french toast bagels. Also, consider trying their crazy cream cheese flavors like red velvet or maple bacon.
People also love the novelty of the “Cragel” sold here. <— That’s a croissant-bagel hybrid that the team is constantly innovating into new flavors like Jalapeño Cheddar Cheese. Need I say more? If you’re going to make the trip out to Park Slope, The Bagel Store will make it worth your while.
Absolute Bagels (Bare Bones But Still Draws a Crowd)
Absolute Bagels is no-frills, bare-bones, doesn’t even have a real website, but still draws a crowd. Go to this Upper West Side Haunt for traditional sesame bagels which respectably nail the quotidian texture of “crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside” that most people look for in an NYC bagel.
The shop is a go-to for unadorned bagels and cream cheese, rather than sandwiches or lox, per se. Here, simplicity is the key, and if you want to stick to the classics (sesame, everything, plain, egg bagels, etc) you’ll find them all here.
Looking for a unique combo? Try the everything bagel with sundried tomato cream cheese. It’s a lot of zest, but we like this punchy flavor profile. The only downside? They’ll charge you extra to toast it.
Murray’s Bagels (Bulky Sandwiches Are The Name of the Game)
Murray’s Bagels is a highly visible downtown staple that has made its appearance in a number of New York-based TV shows like Orange is The New Black. This is a quick in-and-out bagel shop for weekend egg sandwiches and cream cheese cravings alike.
Go here for cream cheese and lox with all the fixin’s (cucumber, capers, and red onion– duh!). Or, try the “The Whole Megillah”, above shown, which features everything bagel seasoning smoked salmon with scallion cream cheese, tomatoes, Bermuda onions, cucumbers and capers on your choice of bagel. If you love everything bagels, the added spice on the salmon is a nice twist.
We also like “The Mensch” (and the name), which features a cheddar cheese omelet with avocado, tomato, alfalfa sprouts, and spicy mayo on your choice of bagel. The sandwiches here are huge that so you could easily split with a friend. (Though I suppose that’s true of every New York City bagel sandwich.)
H&H Bagels (For Pop Culture References)
H&H Bagels is one of the more “iconic” old-school bagelries in the city. They’re not exactly up on the latest foodie trends, but they’ve been around since the 70’s delivering a timeless product. Because of this name recognition, they’ve been mentioned in Seinfeld, Sex in the City, The Office, and How I Met Your Mother, to name just a few examples.
Go here for traditional everything bagels and cream cheese, or try the smoked fish on your choice of bagel.
At this point, H&H is more of a pop culture reference than anything, but if you’re looking to grab a bag of bagels to take home as a souvenir, this is a reliable go-to spot.
They bake their bagels on burlap-covered wood planks in vintage revolving ovens. So, you can really LARP your bagel experience from start to finish.
~ Honorable Mention/Other Things to Note About NYC’s Bagel Scene ~
- Don’t ask for your bagel scooped. This is New York. That’s an LA thing.
- For vegans, Greenberg’s Bagels in Brooklyn has a lovely 100% plant-based “bacon egg and cheese” made with a vegan hash brown. Check ‘um out!
- A true NYC bagel shop bakes all of its bagels fresh each morning. Thus, it’s ideal to check out any of these bagel shops before noon for the best experience. Enjoy!