The Latest and Greatest Bagels in San Francisco
It’s pretty crazy to hear of people lining up at a pop-up for over an hour (in the rain!) for day-old bagels flown in from New York; don’t get me wrong, I adore Russ & Daughters, but really, it’s all about their sable and other smoked fish, not their bagels. Here’s the thing: San Francisco has some pretty fantastic bagels in town, from Montreal-inspired to, yes, San Francisco-style bagels. Fresh bagels, hand-rolled bagels, artisanal bagels, and all packing major flavor. Because here, we're free to do our own thing—it's all about what tastes good. Best of all, at all these spots (well, except Nopa), you don’t have to wait in line for over an hour to enjoy their bagels. Whether you want it toasted (or not) is another discussion.
At this little to-go window in the Mission is where you can find utterly delicious handmade bagels by Marla Bakery’s Amy Brown. She is one of the original players in the San Francisco-style bagel movement (let’s just call it that for now, okay?), who originally started making them when she was at Citizen Cake, and then perfecting them at Nopa. As Brown says, “I’m not trying to copy a New York bagel, I didn’t grow up eating them. But I do know what makes a good bagel.” Indeed. Hers use a custom mix of flours that help maximize flavor and texture, she uses both yeast and a natural starter (it’s the SF way), she boils them with malt powder and salt, and she likes to push their color to get a deep caramelization on the exterior. The bagels come as salted, sesame, poppy, or seeded (sunflower, millet, flax, pepita, sesame), and are $5 with herbed farmer’s cheese and housemade pickles, or $2 solo. It's one helluva bagel. Available daily, hubba. 613 York St.
Carrying the bagel torch for Nopa’s weekend brunch (after Amy Brown departed) is Anna Lee, who continues to make them on the weekends by hand, 36 a day. As Lee explains, it’s a dry dough, with no fat or oil, and she proofs the dough overnight (using a mother yeast), boils them in malted and salt water, and bakes ’em up to their warm, golden color with some subtle blistering. The bagel comes with some air pockets inside, keeping it from feeling too thick and dense. The Nopa bagel was originally sesame, but currently it’s sea salt, served split and toasted with smoked trout and dill farmer’s cheese and pickled onions for $14—it’s hard for me to not order it every single time. 560 Divisadero St.
Probably the darkest (all-over) bake of the local bunch are the hand-rolled bagels made by owner Michelle Polzine, who refers to her bagels as a "San Francisco bagel" as well. She uses a combination of yeast and natural fermentation (to get more flavor) which she thinks contributes to the nice blistering they acquire. Polzine adds a little honey to her dough, and has a special mix for her poaching liquid. Since 20th Century Cafe doesn't toast the bagels (they have an oven but not a toaster), the kitchen is actually making them twice a day; so if you come by the afternoon, there will be another fresh batch. The bagels have a beautiful elastic-yet-well-baked texture, and you’ll see some cornmeal on the base (so they don’t stick). The bagels come naked (as they like to refer to them), or with poppy-seed, or nigella seeds (exotic!) for $2.50; you can get them with smoked salmon, cream cheese, pickled shallots, and dill (open faced for $11/closed $8). Look for smoked sturgeon to be coming soon! 198 Gough St.
Many bagel hounds have heard of the mythic Montreal bagel, but have very few opportunities to try it. Montreal bagels are rolled by hand, boiled in honey-sweetened water, and then baked in a wood-fired oven—they have a light sweetness, and a larger hole in the middle (sesame is the traditional style). Amy Remsen and Blake Joffe opened their artisan bagel shop over a year ago in Oakland in homage to that style, but have made some tweaks to their recipe along the way. They’re more "Montreal-inspired" now, with a bit of New York technique as well—all in the pursuit of more flavor. You can score their pleasantly chewy bagels every day at High Cotton Kitchen in Second Act Marketplace (they’re hand-carried in each morning), and on the day when Beauty’s is closed (Mondays), High Cotton has sworn they will only serve the next-day bagels toasted. Try the popular salt and pepper version. $1.50 each, and $3.25 with cream cheese. (You can also get them from Wise Sons Deli Sat–Sun, and at their stand at the Ferry Building on Tuesdays.) High Cotton Kitchen, 1727 Haight St.; Wise Sons, 3150 24th St.
This San Francisco stalwart opened on Geary in 1962, claiming to be the first bagel shop to open in Northern California. Much respect. The dough recipe was brought over from Brooklyn, and House of Bagels is proud to note they make bagels the New York way. They proof them on boards (you’ll see a cornmeal base), boil them, and bake them on stone, with no stabilizers or fat. Compared to the other bagels mentioned here, these are definitely the lightest in color, and the flavor of the dough is downright subdued. But it does have a pleasant exterior, and we can’t do a piece on SF bagels without mentioning the original. $1.25 each. (Oh, and it’s worth mentioning they just released a new item, the “Cragel,” a croissant and bagel hybrid.) 5030 Geary Blvd.