J. Kenji López-Alt says bagels in Seattle are as good as New York. Here is his top 5
J. Kenji López-Alt, the famed cookbook author and recently transplanted to Seattle, raised his eyebrows (and probably a few laughs in Gotham) when he said last year that “our best bagels are as better than any in New York”.
Since López-Alt made that claim to the Seattle Times, his legion of social media fans have obsessed with his Instagram posts for clues about where man finds his schmears and his lox.
We went to the source, asking the famed diet expert and New York Times Recipe Columnist to prepare their favorite dishes and give their opinion on what makes a good bagel. López-Alt has been delving into Chinese cuisine lately while researching his new cookbook, “The Wok: Recipes and Techniques”, which drops March 8, but the bagel evangelist still makes time to pick up his favorite order (an all-dressed bagel with lox) at least once a week.
There will be plenty more for López-Alt and readers to chew on in the coming months, as 2022 brings another wave of bagel shops to Seattle:
- Brothers Jesse and Kit Schumann, who bake some of the best breads in Seattle at their Sea Wolf Bakers store, are turning to bagels. Their new cafe in Montlake is expected to open this spring.
- Next month in the South End, popular Zylberschtein’s Delicatessen & Bakery will bake bagels at its spin-off kosher cafe, Muriel’s All Day Eats in Seward Park.
- In March, the famous Loxsmith Bagels will open a breakfast counter across from Beacon Hill light rail station.
- Rubinstein Bagels, already in South Lake Union and Capitol Hill, seems determined to take over the world, with plans to add branches in downtown Seattle and Redmond in the fall. Next year, this Seattle chain plans to add branches in Bellevue and the North End with eyes on expanding to Boise, Idaho.
- A cult favourite, Mount Bagel, will soon hire a third full-time baker to speed up production as its online bakery continues to sell out in 30 minutes.
When he moved from California to Seattle in late 2020, López-Alt said he discovered the Emerald City was having a bagel boom. “I was surprised at the quality of the bagels,” said López-Alt, who grew up in New York.
For López-Alt, a good bagel has certain characteristics. Even when not toasted, fresh dough should have a thin, crisp crust, dotted with tiny blisters resulting from cooking in two stages: boiling followed by cooking at high temperature. These microblisters give the bagel shell “more surface area and crunch,” he said.
In a great bagel, López-Alt said the crust should give way to a dense, chewy interior when you bite down. Bagels have a short shelf life. Once out of the oven, it’s a race against time before they become a headache. López-Alt believes that the first 30 minutes out of the oven is when a bagel is still at its peak in terms of flavor and texture.
But even an old bagel sitting for hours in the trash can get a second life. If it’s clear that a bagel has been sitting for a while, López-Alt advises ordering the whole bagel, never sliced. Then ask for the bagel to be toasted, to bring back that “contrast” profile of cracked skin and chewy interior, he says. Or when you get home, run the bagel under running water a few seconds before reheating in the oven, he says.
Here, in no particular order, are López-Alt’s five favorite bagels in Seattle. His comments have been edited for brevity.
Rachel’s Bagels and Burritos
5451 Leary Ave. NW, Seattle; 206-257-5761; rachelbagels.com
López-Alt: Their classics—everything (seasoning), poppyseed, garlic, salt bagels—are very good. But they also do some interesting modern flavors like with nori and sesame seeds. Her bagel is a classic profile – blistering, crunchy and chewy. A bagel when it’s a few hours old becomes hard. Rachel’s is always fresh. They also use whole wheat flour, so they taste a bit sweeter. Maybe more malty than some other bagels.
His favorite command: The togarashi seasoning bagel with nori, mixed chilies, salt, orange zest and sesame seeds.
2709 17th Ave. S., Studio B; Seattle; loxsmithseattle.com
Loxsmith Bagels recently closed its Capitol Hill branch. It will reopen in Beacon Hill near the light rail station in March.
López-Alt: He [owner Matthew Segal] is obsessed with bagels. It reminds me of people who are obsessed with pizza. If you want to make a great bagel or a great pizza, you have to invest in it. And [Segal] is determined about bagels and smoked salmon. I love their lox, especially their specialty fish – salmon pastrami, whitefish, smoked sablefish. Their bagel has a darker crust [from the lye]. Loxsmith’s looks more like a pretzel than other bagels. It’s darker, crispier, more puffy. To my knowledge, Loxsmith is the only place that offers egg bagels, which I appreciate.
His favorite command: Salmon pastrami on a wholeseasoning donut.
403 15th Ave. E. and 2121 Sixth Ave., Seattle; 206-539-2888; rubinsteinbagels.com
López-Alt: They also use lye, but the flavor isn’t as strong [as Loxsmith’s]. They use sourdough so it has more spiciness. Not typical of a New York style, but I don’t find it overly acidic. Rubinstein [on Capitol Hill] is where I go most often; [it’s] my neighborhood bagel shop. They had run out of lox once so I had their salmon roe. I had never thought of putting salmon eggs on a bagel before. That was delicious.
His favorite command: Fried onion and chive schmear with smoked salmon on an all seasoned bagel.
Coffee Bagel Eltana over a wood fire
1538 12th Ave. and 3920 Stone Way N., Seattle; 206-724-0660 and 206-420-1293; eltana.com
López-Alt: It’s a Montreal-style bagel baked over a wood fire. It’s thinner, sweeter, less salty. Montrealers are more old European style like a Turkish simit bread. They’re not as chubby as those modern New York-style bagels that are so big the hole closes.
His favorite command: Za’atar-Shallot Cream Cheese on a wholeseasoning donut.
Delicatessen and bakery Zylberschtein
11752 15th Avenue NE, Seattle; 206-403-1202; www.zylberschtein.com
López-Alt: [This is] a typical New York bagel. I like Zylberschtein because of the experience. They have a lot of New York delis and bagels that I don’t know where to find in Seattle. They have a great matzo ball soup and the best pastrami. And they have a good yeast dense jelly donut.
His favorite command: I try to get an all seasoned bagel, but they always sell out. So I end up with sesame, poppy, plain or whatever they have left with smoked salmon and cream cheese.