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Chicagoist's Favorite Bagels

By Staff in Food on Feb 13, 2013 7:00PM

In putting together our list for Chicago's best bagels, one of our East coast-born staffers said the best ones to find are the dozen she flies back with from New York. Which is typical New York navel gazing bullshit. Chicago used to be home to the largest Jewish population in the country outside of New York City. Do you think they simply dumped bagels in favor of Italian beef and Chicago-style hot dogs? Border suburbs like Skokie, Lincolnwood and Evanston, and the North Shore, all have sizable Jewish populations.

Chicago doesn't have the breadth of bagel options to which New York may lay claim, which only makes the gems we feel are the best in the area further stand out. New York may have more bagel places; Chicago is more discerning.

We now present to you our choices for Chicago's best bagels. If there's a place we left out you feel passionately about, please chime in the comments with the locations. We're always looking for more.

A corn rye bagel from Kaufman's Bagel and Deli in Skokie. (Photo credit: Renee Rendler-Kaplan)

Upper Crust Bagels in Northbrook is hands down the best bagel I've ever tried. Their bagels are just as it should be—crusty and shiny on the outside with the satisfying, soft chew of a true New York bagel inside. I tried the salt, sesame and "supreme" (their take on the everything) and each one made me feel progressively more guilty for sourcing 99 percent of my bagel intake from Dunkin' Donuts. In case you need another reason or two to take the drive north, Upper Crust also offers a magnificent selection of traditionally-smoked fish, house-made salads (including three varieties of tuna) and signature cream cheeses. If you've got an hour to kill this Saturday, Upper Crust should be your destination.—Lizz Kannenberg

Upper Crust Bagels is located at 2831 Dundee Road in Northbrook, 847-559-9229

Once Upon A Bagel opened in Highland Park in 1982, and for much of my childhood was what our family ate on Sunday mornings in our Jewish house. Their bagels, which now come in 16 varieties, have the proper crispy exterior and soft, chewy interior. While these bagels are properly boiled—if not boiled, they're simply buns with holes!—they do have a somewhat lighter texture than some other bagels available on the North Shore. A traditional Jewish deli, OUAB offers the classic flavors of bagel like egg, sesame seed, poppy seed, onion and pumpernickel. They've also added more health-conscious flavors like Honey Blueberry and Whole Wheat with Oat Bran. Personally, we'll stick with our All Season, thank you very much. Because Once Upon is a full line kosher-style deli, there are of course the large variety of cream cheeses to schmear on top, as well as lox, white fish salad and tuna salad to accompany.—Benjy Lipsman

Once Upon a Bagel is located at 1888 First Street in Highland Park; 847-433-1411

I am morally opposed to steamed bagels or doughy, baked bagels. Generally, I hate Midwest bagels. I'm a fan of the classic New York bagel—kettle boiled and lightly browned, with a slightly crusty, tough exterior and a soft chewy interior. NYC Bagel Deli is the closest I've found to that here in Chicago. When you ask a New Yorker why their bagels are unique, you often hear them say "It's the water." To replicate that, NYCBD mimics New York Water using a unique water filtration and softening process. The result is bagel perfection. If you're in the mood for something more substantial than the standard bagel and cream cheese, they also have a great selection of "piled-high" classic NYC deli sandwiches—including lox, pastrami, and a Reuben. They even have black and white cookies and, at their River North location, New York style pizza.—Julia Weeman

NYC Bagel Deli has three locations at 1001 W. North Avenue, 300 South Wacker Drive and 515 North Dearborn Street.

Whenever a New Yorker (or a Chicagoan) tells me they can't find a good bagel in the area I give them the address to Kaufman's Deli in Skokie, tell them to order an onion bagel with lox and cream cheese and STFU. In addition to their bagels, the family-owned Kaufman's also has some of the best corned beef in the city, which makes for an amazing bagel sandwich for this goy, and tons of other smoked fish and half sour pickles for your eating enjoyment. Trust me, once you've had a bagel from Kaufman's, you won't want any other.—Chuck Sudo

The "Fat Frank" bagel sandwich at Bagel Art in Evanston. (Photo credit: Chuck Sudo/Chicagoist)

Kaufman's Deli is located at 4905 W. Dempster Street in Skokie; 847-677-6190

If you can't make your way to Skokie, take a ride on the Purple Line, exit at Dempster and enjoy the bagels at Bagel Art. Owner Nancy DePondt moved her little store to this location a few years back and the location is a favorite for Northwestern University students, locals and commuters. Bagel Art bakes their bagels (a sacrilege to some, I know) in small batches and the seeded varieties are liberally sprinkled to satisfy. But it's their bagel sandwiches, like the "Fat Frank," which predates DePondt's ownership, that are the draw for me. A loaded combo of salami, tomatoes, red onions, and chive-whipped cream cheese, served on a bagel of your choice, the Fat Frank is a carbo bomb. You'll probably want to sweat some of it out of you at a gym immediately after consumption.—Chuck Sudo

Bagel Art is located at 615 Dempster Ave. in Evanston; 847-864-8700.

New Yorkers looking for a taste of home often head to New York Bagel & Bialy. The distribution of poppy and sesame seeds is—like at all the other places on this list—liberal, but they're judicious in salting, allowing the flavor of the flour and other ingredients to shine through. NYB & B also has a solid assortment of accoutrements (cream cheese, lox, tomato, etc.) so you can scarf one down immediately. New York bagel & Bialy's products can be found at many of the better coffee houses in the city.—Chuck Sudo

New York Bagel & Bialy has two locations: At 4714 W. Touhy Avenue in Lincolnwood and 3556-1/2 Dempster Street in Skokie.

Restaurants and coffee houses looking to serve the best bagels they can without having to make their own look no further than Chicago Bagel & Bialy. For over 30 years Harold and Sharon Harkavy have been making bagels the way Harold Harkavy learned in New York, along with some of the finest cream cheese, lox and deli trays in the area. It's worth a trip to their wheeling storefront for one of their loaded bagel sandwiches while admiring the oversized bagels strung up around the deli.—Chuck Sudo
Chicago Bagel & Bialy, 260 S. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling, 847-459-9009.