A lot of purists turn their noses up at overly busy bagels (or even - gasp! - bagel sandwiches). To them, a bagel is only a bagel if it passes a very specific test: Does it have a thin crust? Are there blisters? How dense is the dough? Is it too tender? Too firm? Too fluffy? Is there a malty, yeasty flavor that’s not overpowering, but not exactly subtle, either? How big is the hole? What kind of oven was it baked in? Why is this one so thin? (And, as a follow-up to that last question: How did I get to Montreal?)
Don’t get us wrong - those qualities are very important to us, too. But in Los Angeles, what goes on top of the bagel is just as crucial. Many of city’s best shops take the toppings just as seriously as the bagels themselves, smoking their own pastrami, curing their own fish, culturing their own cream cheese, or even pickling their own fennel. Of course, they’re also boiling and baking their bagels in-house, too, which sort of begs the question: Do we love bagels, or bagel sandwiches? Why not both?. Let’s leave the semantics to the sticklers - these are LA’s nine best places for bagels, and everything that goes on them.
Belle’s Bagels, which is currently operating out of the former Côté Est space in Highland Park, makes distinct, double-fermented bagels with a yeasty aroma that sets them apart from the competition. They’re also a big part of the reason why the sandwiches at Belle’s are big winners, especially the Loxsmith, with smoked salmon from LA’s Michel Cordon Bleu, beet cream cheese, crispy salmon skin, and pickled fennel. It’s earthy, crunchy, vinegary, and smoky all at once, and, when combined with one of these malty bagels, it may very well be the best bagel sandwich in the city.
Gather ’round, boys and girls, because Courage Bagels is teaching a MasterClass® in opening a restaurant in Los Angeles. First off, the menu: As you approach their unassuming storefront in Virgil Village, you’ll immediately notice that their menus are translated in both English and Spanish - which is especially important, considering their location in a historically Central American neighborhood with a large Latinx population. Second, the bagels: They’re Montreal-style - slightly smaller, thinner, and sweeter than the New York-style bagels found at places like Maury’s, Brooklyn Bagels, and Hank’s. Toppings include thick, hand-sliced smoked salmon paired with cream cheese, cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes, dill, pepper, and drizzles of olive oil - which makes for a thoroughly well-seasoned bagel you might not be used to. The pan dulce on the menu is quite good as well, including pastries like the traditional and sweet concha, or slightly tart empanadas de pina.
Brooklyn Bagel Bakery first opened in West Adams in 1953, and moved to Historic Filipinotown in 1965 - making it the oldest spot on this guide by several decades. They operated as a wholesale operation for most of that time, but, after some, uh, structural issues and a subsequent rebuild, this bakery reopened in 2018 with a retail shop to sell their beautiful, blistery bagels. We like them best with a heavy-handed spread of garlic cream cheese, and a few capers sprinkled on top, so that the focus is on these dense, doughy, thin-skinned beauties.
Of course Gjusta makes good bagels - this new Venice classic handles baked goods like Mookie Betts handles hanging curveballs. They’re blistered and golden on the outside, and dense and tender on the inside, with a strong malty smell that brings to mind freshly brewed beer. In other words, by all those standards we talked about at the beginning of this guide, they’re basically perfect. The bagel topped with salmon roe and garlic labneh on the menu is great, but honestly, we also love them old-school and simple, with nothing but a bit of their locally made cream cheese.
A relative newcomer (they opened in 2019), Hank’s Deli in Burbank is all about the bagel sandwiches. Which isn’t to say their bagels aren’t good, it’s just that this place treats them like blank canvases. They cure their thick-cut lox in-house for their Number 3 sandwich, and serve it with heirloom tomatoes, pickled onion, and salted cucumber. The Number 1 is another good choice - a classic BEC updated with sweet maple-glazed bacon, sharp cheddar, and aioli - but our favorite egg sandwich here is actually the New Number 2, which combines braised greens, Gruyere, and a fried egg, and gets a tremendous kick of heat from pickled spicy peppers.
Manhattan Bread & Bagel has been a South Bay staple since 1992, and it’s easy to see why. They have shelves lined with pies, breads, and muffins, all of which are entirely deserving of your attention. But focus on the bagels. Texturally, they’re superb - each one is covered in tiny bubbles from a quick boil at high heat, and inside, they strike the perfect balance between light and dense. Toppings are a la carte - we usually go for a sesame seed bagel, topped with whipped cream cheese, avocado, and tomato.
Maury’s was famous long before they even truly opened. Their weekly pop-ups at Eastside coffee shops were the stuff of legend, selling out before 9am most days as hordes of people lined up to score a bagel. With their 2019 brick-and-mortar debut, Maury’s was able to cut down on the lines, but the quality remains. These bagels are on the small side, but they are dense, chewy, and absolutely fantastic. The thin-skinned crust still has a bit of texture, and Maury’s makes them at such a clip that yours will always be warm inside. If you’re going for a sandwich, any of the smoked fish options are great, especially the fatty, smoky sablefish.
Pop’s Bagels started in 2017 as a catering operation, run out of the owner’s apartment. Then last year, they opened a Smorgasburg stall and began popping up at various coffee shops around town. Now, they have a full shop in the Platform in Culver City. These bagels are super simple, doughy, dense, and very tasty. The bacon and avocado is a favorite of ours - served with your choice of cream cheese (we like the pickled jalapeño, which is full of fatty and spicy flavors, but won’t overpower the bagel beneath). You should also get the What Zach Had For Breakfast, a rotating special involving sweet-and-savory combos like a sesame bagel topped with Santa Barbara Smokehouse lox on one side, and cream cheese and strawberry jam on the other.
We’re saying this here and now: Wexler’s has the best lox in the city. This silky, house-smoked fish melts in your mouth - it’s beautifully ribboned with salmon fat, and sliced so thin it’s almost translucent. The bagel that lox is served on is merely pretty good - there’s not a lot of maltiness, and the texture varies, sometimes from bite to bite. But the salmon is so incredible that this is still one of our favorite open-faced bagels in the city. Each half is dressed with a bit of cream cheese, some thinly sliced red onion, and enough capers to give you a pop of salt every once in a while.
Yeastie Boys Bagels
If you’ve taken a Saturday morning drive down San Vicente in Brentwood, or Sunset in Silver Lake, or been anywhere in the vicinity of Melrose Place, you’ve seen the crowds outside Yeastie Boys’ bagel trucks. Their bagels are - you guessed it - distinctively yeasty, but the reason to come here are the incredible, over-the-top sandwiches. There’s The Reubenstein, an inside-out bagel sandwich with pastrami, Swiss, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing, or the Game Over, with heaping portions of scrambled eggs, bacon, tomato, and jalapeño cream cheese. They go heavy on that cream cheese, too - and we’re not complaining.