While in Los Angeles, I saw one of those queues that wraps around a block, a sure indicator that a meet-and-greet or shoe release was about to take place. I did a full round of the block to get a sight of the local superstar that is Courage Bagels. Hundreds of worshippers crowded into the street, spilling out from little outdoor tables shaded by sun umbrellas. Their open-faced, imperfectly round Montreal-style bagels were piled high with chunks of cheddar, pink tomato slices, creamy roe, and tangy cream cheese.
As you may have guessed, Courage doesn’t behave like a traditional New York bagel. Lines are building all across the nation for innovative, out-of-the-ordinary bagel options. Guests at Benchwarmers in Raleigh, North Carolina, may choose bagels to spread with either country ham and fancy butter or duck rillettes with sour cherry cream cheese. Open-faced bagels are called “tartines” at Flour Moon in New Orleans, and they come topped with creative ingredients like roasted carrot spread, Fuqua, sunflower seed butter, and tahini.
Bagelfeld’s, located in an industrial building on the east side of Phoenix, caters to carb-phobic Crossfitters with a modest menu of traditional bagels. Charles Blonkenfeld, a native New Yorker who relocated to Phoenix after the epidemic, opened his bagel store in 2022 after perfecting his recipe to withstand the city’s scorching heat.
2. Belle’s Bagels
A restless throng awaits Belle’s Bagels on York Street in LA’s Highland Park area for their hand-rolled, slow-fermented bagels. Like most things in Los Angeles, these bagels aren’t quite traditional. You may have a latke on the side or with your bagel, and there are a variety of imaginative schmears to choose from, such as a brilliant pink beet cream cheese.
3. Courage Bagels
Courage’s bagels, in accordance with Montreal regulations, are wood-fired baked till crisp on the exterior and fluffy on the inside; they are also smaller and thinner than their New York counterparts. They have a rainbow assortment of toppings that match their adorable names and are delivered in biodegradable clamshells. For instance, in “Run It Through The Garden,” premium-quality ingredients from Los Angeles are combined with the perfect amount of cream cheese and a generous amount of lemon juice and olive oil. It’s perhaps the finest bagel with toppings I’ve ever had.
4. Layla Bagels
The sourdough bagels from Layla in Santa Monica stand out from the rest of the city’s bagels because of their uniquely Californian California radiance. Although you could technically take a Layla bagel to go, the ideal place to enjoy one is in the bright front window of the little bakery, where open-faced bagel sandwiches are the norm. The small but excellent menu doesn’t have any duds, and we highly recommend the Laika. Smoked salmon, cucumber rounds, tomato slices, capers, pickled red onion, a flutter of dill and lemon zest, and a pleasingly thin swipe of herb cream cheese are beautifully piled on a bagel. The Pre-Jam has cream cheese, honey, and fresh seasonal fruit spread over an open-face bagel. Layla has you covered if you’re not a fan of your bagel’s contents being on full display: she serves scrambled eggs with chermoula in a bagel that is tightly wrapped and banged shut.
Maury’s is a modest Silverlake corner shop where simplicity reigns supreme. New York-style bagels (with a glossy, tight outside and a soft, chewy inside) and the city’s finest smoked salmon can be found at this bagel store. Most of the bagel sandwiches on the menu involve fish of some kind, such as lox, smoked trout, kippered salmon, whitefish salad, or even wasabi tobiko roe. My go-to order is Lox on an everything bagel with a dollop of scallion cream cheese, some capers, and red onion, but I’m sure you’d like any of the bagels they offer.
6. Chicken Dog Bagels
Chicken is the name of two things: a lovable senior Chihuahua and a famous bagel pop-up in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights. Alex Rogers, who grew up on H&H bagels in New York and later worked at the renowned (but now defunct) 20th Century Cafe and the naturally leavened pizza place PizzaHacker, owns both businesses. Now you may find him at Avedano’s Meats, your local butcher, a couple of mornings a week, and the line will always stretch down the sunny street. Rogers only makes a few hundred bagels at a time by hand, but the quality shows in every bite. They are made with organic local flour and natural sourdough leavening for that signature San Francisco crust and tang.
7. Midnite Bagel
Midnite’s “plain” bagels are everything but basic since they use organic rye and stone-milled Yecora Rojo flour. A little bouncy, not-too-doughy inside lies behind a less-than-crisp exterior. Walking around the embarcadero in downtown San Francisco with a spread of apricot jam on a buckwheat-black sesame bagel is a surprise in rich, earthy flavor. While the restaurant’s heartier fare is delicious, nothing beats tearing into a Midnite bagel and slathering it with butter.
8. Poppy Bagels
At the start of 2023, a charming bagel store named Poppy Bagels debuted in Oakland’s Temescal area, decked up in pops of butter yellow and poppy orange. Customers who love bagels may place their orders at the counter and then choose between the front bay windows or the rear garden patio. Kashuk uses commercial yeast in his bagels, but he chills them for a long rise, so you can enjoy the delicious crackling of tiny bubbles just beneath the skin. Kashuk is known for her hand-rolled bagels with an explosive and superb “everything” taste because she believes in vigorously seeding all over.
9. El Bagel
You can’t go wrong with a bagel sandwich, a packet of smoked fish (a lemony pastrami-like lox), or a dozen bagels (which I keep in my freezer at no cost) from El Bagel. Getting your hands on El Bagel’s goods used to be more of a challenge. The business was founded by Matteson Koche, who moved it from his house to a food truck and then, in March 2020, into a tiny storefront in the MiMo neighborhood, where he usually sold out before midday. The procedure has been simplified since customers may now make orders either online or in person. While a storefront and regular hours are helpful, customers should still plan to come early and wait for up to an hour.
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