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The Best Bagel in Los Angeles
I used to believe all yeasty dough circles were created equal until I met the bagel that changed my life forever.
My wife and I share an affinity for bagels, which is really a particular manifestation of our overarching desire for combinations of bread and cheese.
We get bagels at least once a week, usually fetching them by bicycle, and often pairing them with whatever designer coffee calls our name that morning. A cream cheese slathered bagel may not be the quintessential athlete’s choice breakfast, but nevertheless they’ve powered me through dozens of morning bike rides and hikes. Bagels are versatile, durable, affordable, and above all — delicious.
What more can you ask for?
In March of 2017, we made it our mission to find the best bagel in Los Angeles.
How does one judge a bagel?
I imagine there is some standardized grading rubric for the doughy yeast circles developed by a food writer at Eater.com, but a rubric felt far too sophisticated for us. We weren’t going to let some schmuck on the internet tell us what bagel was best. That’s what mouths are for.
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It seemed arrogant to decide which qualities the best bagel would possess before we’d even encountered the best bagel. We decided to dive into the deep end and begin our bagel hunt the same way we began our lives: hungry, and willing to try almost anything.
Several notes quickly emerged as the defining factors of the best bagel: texture, flavor, and cream cheese to bagel ratio. The perfect bagel is chewy and dense, but somehow also light and springy. Tough—but not too tough. Slight resistance to the bite, but easily gives way to a fluffy interior. Yeasty, but not over-proofed or too salty. Bagels are bread—but not quite bread.
Cream cheese can make or break a bagel. Slathered too thinly it can dry up and leave one desiring more. Laid on too thickly it can overwhelm the bagel flavor entirely. And god forbid the cream cheese is refrigerator-cold and saps the bagel of its just-out-of-the-oven warmth.
Like I said, no rubric required. All one needs to find a great bagel is a mouth and an opinion.
Nicole settled on a standard order: cream cheese on a toasted everything bagel. I was much less scientific about the whole thing and switched up my order drastically day to day. One morning I’d get an egg, cheese, and bacon sandwich on a jalapeño bagel, the next day a cream cheese on asiago, then avocado and cream cheese on a plain bagel.
This approach might seem erratic or reckless, but inspiration is a big part of the bagel experience. Some places specialize in bagel sandwiches, others their cream cheese selections, and going with the bagel each shop advertised as their best was all part of it.
Several of the first contenders in the search for LA’s best bagel are lost to time forever, though my recollection is that our first stop was some chain bagel place like Noah’s which got us started on the whole journey. “We live in Los Angeles,” we thought. “Surely there has to be a better bagel here than one from a chain store.”
Fortunately, Nicole was prolific on Snapchat at the time and we were able to dig up a few of the early documented cases:
We only made it to six official bagelries before I gave up and declared we’d found the best bagel in LA. I’d made up my mind that all bagels were created basically equal. Sure, there were minor differences, and some places flat out make bad bagels — but a good bagel was a good bagel, and there were plenty of them around.
Plus, I started noticing that Nicole seemed to judge her bagels purely by the amount of cream cheese they heaped on, a metric I thought had very little to do with the quality of a bagel.
Deep down I knew it wasn’t true, but I was overwhelmed. Bagels are bagels are bagels, and there are hundreds — if not thousands — of bagel shops in Los Angeles. Who was I to decide which doughy yeast circle was best?
We still went out to bagels because we don’t hate ourselves, but I’d killed the game. The official search for the best bagel in Los Angeles dropped out of our minds for several years.
Then, one morning in 2020, our lives unexpectedly changed forever.
We’d just moved to Highland Park and I was out exploring the neighborhood searching for a go-to coffee shop when I happened to ride my bike past The Hi Hat on York. A line winding down the sidewalk caught my eye. It’s 9am, who would be lining up to get tickets for a show this early? I stopped and noticed a sign placed out front: “Belle’s Bagels - LA’s #1 bagel shop in a music venue.”
Interesting. A line out the door is always a good sign, and it had been a while since I had a good bagel, so I decided to give it a try. I bought two everything bagels with cream cheese and brought them back home.
I hadn’t even taken a bite yet before I uttered what may have been a prophecy. “Nick, I think we finally may have found the best bagel in Los Angeles.”
Belle’s makes simple bagels. Hand rolled, boiled, and baked golden. Toppings on both sides. No dough conditioners.
Yes, I stole that from their website, and I don’t know what dough conditioners are, but the rest of it is absolutely true. One bite in and Nicole and I shared a look of knowing. We’d done it. The search we’d abandoned years earlier had reached its final conclusion. The holy grail we didn’t realize we were still seeking had humbly presented itself to us out of a hole in the wall of a music venue.
I used to believe all bagels were created equal, but that was before my conversion experience.
Forgive me father, for I knew not what I said. I was blind but now I see. I have been born again, baptized in the undulating cream cheese waves of Belle’s Bagels. Perfectly flavorful. Perfectly chewy. Perfectly fluffy. And ah! The toppings thickly wrapped around all sides of the bagel—including the inside of the hole. I didn’t know what I was searching for, but I was home at last.
Sometimes all you have to do to find what you are looking for is stop looking so hard and open your eyes. Many times, the experience is right in front of you, hiding in plain sight. Or everything sight. Or sesame onion sight.
No, I am not sponsored by Belle’s Bagels, but I am open to a potential partnership. Let’s talk, Belle’s.