Where to Find the Best Real-Deal Bagels in DC

By Olga Boikess  |  April 18, 2014
Credit: Palena/Jes Russell

Bagels have become such a popular food stuff that many people don’t know (or care) that the real deal is much different than the puffy “round bread” (to quote food maven Calvin Trillin) found in supermarkets and chain places. Having literally teethed on the old-fashioned kind while growing up in New York City, we’re happy to go out of our way to find a crusty, chewy, yeasty specimen that’s made in the time-honored way. Here are some of our favorite bagel stops:

Bread Line: Weekday mornings, shortly before this White House/World Bank cafe opens, the baker boils the hand-shaped, sourdough orbs, sprinkles poppy or sesame seeds on some, and bakes a dozen or more in its bread oven. They’re sold plain with cream cheese or butter. Adding smoked salmon is always a possibility.

Palena: Beautiful, dark-brown-crusted, creamy-textured bagels emerge from this Cleveland Park kitchen's wood-burning oven each morning, to be snapped up by customers at its adjacent day-time coffee shop. Chef-owner Frank Ruta researched historic bagel lore and tapped into the expertise of his colleagues to develop a recipe based on his sourdough starter that uses honey (in place of malt) and takes two days to develop. The dough is boiled in alkaline soda water (a defining step for a true bagel) before baking. Some are topped with sweet sauteed onions. On weekends, they're sold with cream cheese and his house-smoked salmon.

2 Amys: Chef-owner Peter Pastan believes in making everything from scratch. The bagels sold only on Sundays at his Cleveland Park pizzeria are no exception to his artisanal approach. For example, whey from the buffalo mozzarella he imports from Italy is used to add a tangy flavor to the sourdough that is also used for bialys. The boiled and brick-oven-baked bagels, as well as the bialys, come with cream cheese and smoked salmon, each also made in-house.

NoPa Kitchen & Bar: Chewy, yeasty bialys are bagels' second cousins - they’re not boiled before baking and have no hole. Instead, a similar style of dough is given a thumb-sized depression in the center that is filled with something savory. Chef Greg McCarty at this Penn Quarter New American restaurant uses slowly cooked onions and poppy seeds in the center. It’s served with house-smoked salmon, sliced red onions, minced capers, flat-leaf parsley, a hard-boiled egg and an apple-brown-butter puree.