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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