Bagel Grail: My Search for the Best Bagel in New York

Today I attended an early morning 4-hour store meeting for work. Those who know me well are aware that I am exactly the opposite of a morning person, and when forced to wake up before a reasonable hour (my preference is around 10:30), I get real irate. So I decided I deserved a bagel during my two-hour break between the end of the meeting and the start of my actual work shift. I’ve been trying to avoid carbicide since I got back to New York because bagels are my downfall, but today I just NEEDED it. I Yelp’d my closest bagel spot, which turned out to be Bagel and Bean on Broadway at 54th Street, and ordered an everything toasted with scallion cream cheese. Not the most amazing bagel ever, but it got the job done. But eating a bagel that was just fine instead of orgasmically phenomenal led me to think about my favorite NYC bagel experiences – the ones that really WERE orgasmically phenom. I am a mere enthusiast and not an aficionado by any means, but I’d love to share my favorites with you and hear about your best encounters of the bagel kind, whether in New York or elsewhere around the world.

1. Ess-a-Bagel
THE best bagel. Period. Honestly the Holy Bagel Grail as far as I’m concerned. There are two locations, both on the East Side, though I’ve actually only been to their 53rd street shop. Their bagels are generally large, crunchy on the outside, doughy on the inside, and they have an amazing variety of spreads, which have a great fluffy-whipped texture. My personal bagel of choice is pumpernickel toasted with lox spread, but it’s always a good idea to ask what’s hot when you walk in – nothing is better than a hot bagel fresh out of the oven, no toasting required. They are extremely generous with the cream cheese – you’re definitely more likely to wipe some off than ask for more. I usually scrape a bit off mine, and I’m a cream cheese freak. Seating is available at 53rd street but can get crowded during peak hours.

Murray Hill Location: 359 1st Avenue (21st St)

Midtown East Location: 831 3rd Avenue (51st/52nd Sts)

2. Tal Bagel
Similar to Ess-a-Bagel, Tal is a Jewish deli and a purveyor of fish, meats, and a variety of typical Jewish deli food like whitefish salad and smoked herring. The bagels are yummy, dense, and chewy, and there’s a huge choice of spreads, but the atmosphere can get a bit hectic and the counter workers quickly get impatient when you don’t order right away. It’s great when you know exactly what you want, but stressful if you need a minute to decide. Cash only. Also super generous with spreads; bagels are fairly comparable with Ess-a-Bagel but I like Ess-a-Bagel’s atmosphere, prices, and iced coffee better.
Upper East Side Location: 333 East 86th St (1st/2nd Aves)

Upper West Side Location: 2446 Broadway (90th)
Midtown East Location: 977 1st Ave (53rd/54th)

3. H&H
Located on the upper west side, this shop is a favorite amongst purists. The bagels are large and have more of a fluffy, bread-like texture on the inside. I like H&H when buying in bulk – they’ll give you individual bagels but they will not toast them for you. Now some people are freaks and are okay with gnawing on an untoasted bagel. I find this super weird and will only eat them hot and toasted. It’s a texture thing. So if you’re like me, either ask for what’s hot at the moment, or get a half dozen bagels and grab some cream cheese spread from nearby Zabar’s food shop. Toast at home and enjoy. And enjoy. And enjoy.

Address: 2239 Broadway (at 80th Street)

4. Times Square Hot Bagel

Kind of a hole-in-the-wall place located, as the name would indicate, right next to Times Square. I used to get bagels here a lot when I first moved to New York and was staying with friends in Midtown. They are the dense and delicious kind. The shop is very small and if you’re there during a busy time (like Saturday or Sunday morning) you WILL have to wait for a bagel. No seating, and if i remember correctly they’ll only take cash for orders under $10. I haven’t had one myself, but I’ve heard the breakfast sandwiches are delicious. And they deliver! Definitely a great spot for tourists to grab a legit New York bagel if they’re in the area.

Address: 200 W 44th St. (At 7th Ave)

This is not by any means an exhaustive list – I have way more bagels to eat before I can truly complete the quest of the Grail. I haven’t even touched Brooklyn yet. If I don’t die of carbohydrate overdose, expect an updated Bagel-Quest entry in the near future.

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Wafels and Dinges

Yesterday my coworkers and I were treated to free waffles all day from the Wafels and Dinges truck in honor of our store’s 5-year anniversary. The truck boasts delicious Belgian waffles and a variety of dinges (pronounced DING-guess), or toppings, that include everything from strawberries and bananas to ice cream and Speculoos, a graham-cracker cookie spread made from a popular brand of Belgian cookies (which are also called Speculoos). The company actually has a small fleet of trucks that are parked in various spots around the city that change each day – check their website for daily locations or visit their permanent Central Park location outside the entrance of the zoo.

I opted for a waffle with Speculoos spread and whipped cream. I forgot to take a picture until I was half done eating it, which is not shocking at all seeing as I wolfed it down in about .5 seconds. The Speculoos was sweet, delicious, and reminiscent of a box of Teddy Grahams mashed up into a gooey paste that evokes memories of childhood delight – and perfectly complements a hot, toasty waffle.


Good Eats

My dad is a chef. Not the kind that works in a Zagat-rated restaurant or gets nominated for James Beard awards or anything like that, but he’s a real, bone fide, culinary school graduate who’s spent many tough years in various kitchens. I wish I had some specific kernel of wisdom he’s imparted to me that I could share with you all to start this blog off with the solid righteousness of father-daughter sentimentality, but I’m kind of blanking. I guess my point is that if my dad’s taught me anything about food over the years, it’s that it’s best served honest.

My dad’s the sort of guy who can thoroughly enjoy a perfectly cooked $50 filet and then turn around and eat a tub of off-brand Frozen Pudding ice cream when he gets home. He’s actually usually way happier making waffles for dinner in his own kitchen than he is going out and dropping mad cash on anything tha could be considered “fancy”. When I showed an interest in learning to cook, he taught me the biology of the sense of taste and why it’s important to properly salt and spice food. Then he asked my mom why she threw out the ham that had been sitting in the fridge for two weeks. He really wanted to eat it.

The art and pastime of good eating has always had its pricetag – not only is it expensive, it’s pretentious. But who says good food has to be cooked by a Michelin-starred chef and contain more than five ingredients and involve some wack cooking process with a French name, usually facilitated by a Mandolin or a Chinois or some other terrifying culinary instrument? How come we can’t just stay at home and make waffles and consider that to be good food? What if, like my dad, I enjoy a good batch of store-bought ham salad just as much as I enjoy a multi-course meal that involves multiple forks?

I’m 23 and I live in New York City and I love food. This blog is about my search to find a balance between what is perceived to be good food, and what is good food to me. It’s about a willingness to try new things, and also to refuse some things in an effort to support sustainable eating practices. It’s about knowing when it’s okay to compromise those ethical values, because money is tight. It’s about also not getting carried away and staying healthy – maybe even dropping a few pounds. But most of all, it’s about pointing to something that looks like it would taste really great, and saying, “I’d eat that.” And then eating it. That’s definitely the most important part.

Here are some things I’ve eaten since I moved back to New York almost two weeks ago.

Asian-inspired hot dog from the Madison Square Garden food market. Topped with Chinese pork belly in some kind of yum sauce with scallions.

Hummus tahini plate with falafel from The Hummus Place in the West Village. They had a great lunch deal – any hummus plate with any appetizer plus pita for $7.95. The olive oil in their hummus was particularly amazeballs.

Grilled corn on the cob with salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese from a street vendor. I like the cab in the background of this picture. Corn on the cab.

Cantonese noodles in a chicken broth with wontons from Kelley & Ping in SoHo. I sat in here for a good hour using the Apple Store WiFi (it’s just down the block) – the atmosphere was really peaceful, open, and relaxing. And the wontons were GREAT.

I was craving something sweet and had time to kill one day in Midtown, so I went to the Magnolia at Rock Center with cupcakes on the brain. But the cupcake line was long and full of slow-ass tourists, so I decided to go for a whoopie pie instead because it looked delicious and I didn’t have to wait for it. Yes, I asked the guy for the one with the most frosting. Sue me. This is literally just globs of buttercream sandwiched between two soft sugar cookies. It was amazing.

Beer and hot dogs from Rudy’s in Midtown. It’s $7 for a pitcher of Rudy’s house beer. Hot dogs are free. My friend Erin and I ate three apiece. I fell in love with this place immediately – crunchy elderly bartenders (the woman tending must have been at least 70), duct-taped seats, great music, and cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap beer.