This is either going to win me a lot of friends or make me a lot of enemies, because New Yorkers definitely take their bagels seriously, so be sure to let me know what you think!
Before we get to the top three though, I will say: For those of you who are new to the city, and may have tried bagels before in their home cities (and maybe didn't like them all that much), give them another shot. They ARE different here, and they're freaking delicious.
So, onto the three best bagels in New York City as reviewed by me. You're going to find that everyone has a very different opinion of what is good and bad, but I think I'm right:
Two locations: 165 Avenue A, and 184 Second Avenue (both in the East Village)
The only bad thing about these bagels is that they're so popular you may have trouble getting out the door with one in under 30 minutes on a weekend. They're an efficient place but with so many people loving their bagels, you may need to settle into the line (or outside during COVID) and make a friend while you wait.
The bagels are fresh, the contents are delicious, and the service is very friendly.
In normal times: Walk in, past the line facing you, and head towards the back of the store. You'll order in line, then take your slip to the front to pay and collect.
Please note: Cash only (and they're big Yankees fans, so be careful with your Mets cap)
831 3rd Avenue (Midtown East)
This place is another very popular one and on a Saturday morning, you're going to get REALLY good at lining up down the street.
You're going to order by yelling over the counter at the nice person in charge of your delicious treat, and then you're going to take it down the line where you'll pay!
500 Avenue of the Americas (Greenwich Village)
“Since 1996 Murray's Bagels has been serving Greenwich Village the finest in traditional, NYC bagels. Find out more about the hand-crafted methods that make a Murray's Bagel so delectable.”
This place is a classic and most New Yorkers will mention it in their list of favorites. They make some fantastically gourmet sandwiches that are going to take three hands to hold and eat but are going to be worth spilling all over your front.
How to order a bagel properly in New York
- Pick your bagel type.
- Some examples of bagel types are: Plain / Whole Wheat / Sourdough / Sesame / Poppy / Multigrain / Salt / Garlic / Everything / Whole Wheat Everything / Cinnamon Raisin / Pumpernickel / Pumpkin / Blueberry* / Chocolate Chip (don't worry though, there's lots of options but really all you want is an “everything bagel” or a “whole wheat everything bagel” – seriously);
- Explain how you want it prepared
- Toasted – Many places like the ones above will recommend against this because their bagels are so fresh that they don't need it, so that's why they might be looking at you funny) but sometimes it's nice to get a bit of extra crunch
- Scooped out – Take a good part of the contents of the bagel out. It makes the bagel a bit lighter for those who find them a bit heavy!
- Open-faced – Divide it into two and then have toppings topped onto each half – You can do this if you maybe want to share, or want half savory, half sweet!
- Pick your cream cheese
- If you want it, and sometimes it goes by “shmear”.
- Examples are: Plain / Light / Scallion / Cucumber & Dill / Nutella / Choc-Chip (and then an infinite list of specialties – but scallion is delicious);
- You can go down the savory path (my favorite) or the sweet path, both will serve you well.
- Then pick your toppings extras
- What would you normally go? Well lox is a standard choice for a first-timer (lox is what I knew as smoked salmon, that one caught me out), lettuce, tomato, and many other options (look in the window and pick what you want!)
- You'll also find at lots of bagel places that you can simply pick from a menu of pre-defined bagels which might have names. Some might have eggs, some might be sweet, some might be huge. You can either start there because it's easier, or construct your own if you're feeling adventurous!