3 London bagels I ate this month, ranked

The search for the perfect New York-style bagel in London

3 London bagels I ate this month, ranked

I only had one real concern about moving from New York to London: where would I find a decent bagel?

New York is, of course, the undisputed bagel capital of the world. And London… London isn’t. London’s got plenty going for it, don’t get me wrong—functioning public transport, the political willpower for congestion pricing, a conspicuous lack of Eric Adams. But the bagel culture… let’s call it underdeveloped.

Immediately after my plane touched down at Heathrow, my search for the best bagel in London began.

Now, I’m no bagel scientist, but I do believe I was born to eat bagels. There’s no need to debate nature versus nurture here—bagel-eating is both how I was raised and deeply set into my genetic code. I was eating bagels before I could even chew them.

A baby in swinging chair stares directly into the camera while munching on a mini-bagel.
Portrait of a bagel eater as a young man.

With my bagel bona fides established, let’s move on to the rankings. I visited three bagel shops in the last month, all of them promising New York-style bagels. Did they deliver the goods? You’ll just have to read on to find out.

3. It’s Bagels!

It's Bagels is a relatively new entrant to the London bagel wars—the first brick-and-mortar store opened in Primrose Hill just last September—but it quickly went viral for its long queues. Founded by a New York City expat who worked in a bagel shop as a teenager, It’s Bagels has solid credentials and very good vibes. It accurately captures the busy, chaotic energy of a New York bagel shop. The branding is also on point—it’s giving Williamsburg. Plus, they have iced coffee. Good iced coffee, which is not a given in London.

A plastic cup filled with iced coffee. Branding on the side reads "It's Ice Cold"

Here’s the biggest con of It’s Bagels for me: there’s only one serious option for vegan eaters, and it’s plain vegan cream cheese. (Sure, there’s also a PB&J, but that is deeply unserious.) Compared to the robust meat, cheese, and egg sandwiches on the menu, I felt a bit let down that this is all It’s Bagels could muster for the meat and dairy-averse.

But they say God gives His toughest battles to His hungriest soldiers, and soldier on we did. My wife and I took our bagels up to the top of Primrose Hill and enjoyed them while gazing over the London skyline. Again: vibes, good.

The It's Bagel bagel with plain vegan cream cheese on Primrose Hill, skyline in background.

Our everything bagels had a good crisp and were well-seasoned, but they were a bit small and bread-like for me. My wife compared them to Bagel Bob’s in Manhattan, if that clicks for any readers.

When it comes to that plain vegan schmear, she was let down by the taste and texture, though I thought it had a good bite to it. The most offensive bit is that it—again—was plain. A scallion, a sun-dried tomato, my kingdom for a topping!

If I found myself in Primrose Hill again—or, once they open their second location, down in Notting Hill living my best Hugh Grant and/or Julia Roberts fantasy—I wouldn’t steer clear of It’s Bagels, but I can’t imagine making a detour for them.

2. Paulie’s Bagels

Hey, get this—Paulie’s Bagels is founded by a Long Island expat. They have two locations in Hackney—the proper brick-and-mortar is on Well Street and they have a stall (“The Bagel Guys”) in Netil Market, a stone’s throw from London Fields. Like It’s Bagels, they promise a New York-style bagel, and that means plenty of meat, cheese, and eggs in addition to a slew of cream cheese options.

But unlike It’s Bagels, Paulie’s has a real veggie sandwich. The Veggie (or The Vegan if you get it with the vegan schmear) features a thick slice of tomato and pickled cucumbers and red onions. It’s a fresh and flavorful sandwich, and every bite is delightful. The vegan schmear—while still plain and not particularly flavorful—is, at least, inoffensive, and pairs well with the veggies.

The delightful and fresh Paulie's "The Vegan" bagel sandwich.

My only letdown with Paulie’s are the bagels themselves. They are good bagels, but they’re a little small, dense, and pale. They could use a bit longer in the oven to get that crisp, and I wouldn’t mind seeing them get slightly larger and fluffier.

These are minor complaints, though—Paulie’s delivers an excellent bagel sandwich, and the vibes at their Netil Market stall are very good, especially if you beat the morning rush. No iced coffee here, but Paradox Coffee just across the market can satisfy your fix.

A short aside about opening hours
Here’s the thing about bagel shops in New York: they open early. My old stand-by, Court Street Bagels, opened at 6 am and didn’t close until 5. Paulie’s, meanwhile, opens at 9 am during the week and 10 am on the weekend. 10 am! Paulie, let me assure you, I am hungry for a bagel before 10 am! The only shop on this list that understands New York bagel hours is It’s Bagels—they open at 7 am every day except Sunday, when they sleep in until 8.

1. Papo’s

Papo’s up in Dalston is—you’re not going to believe this—also the product of New York expats. Located at the end of a short alleyway off Shacklewell Lane, Papo’s is an unassuming shop with a large, open kitchen showing off their bagel ovens.

For me, Papo’s has two major ticks in its pros column: they have the best bagels of the bunch and they have two—count ‘em, two—vegan sandwiches on the menu.

Let’s start with the bagel. I love it. It’s got a great crisp, it’s nice and chewy, and it’s well-seasoned. No complaints here. If you’re going out of your way for one bagel on this list, make it this one.

Onto the sandwiches. First is the Veg Classic, a kind of alternate universe version of Paulie’s The Veggie. Instead of pickled cucumbers, Papo’s sandwich has proper pickles, and they’ve added in capers. It’s more acidic and tangy and very flavorful. Which one you prefer will come down to personal taste—I’d choose Papo’s, while my wife gives Paulie’s the edge.

The tangy Papo's "Veg Classic" with plain vegan cream cheese.
Look at that crisp. Look at that crumb structure.

Also on the menu at Papo’s: Georgia’s Heirloom Bagel, an open-faced beauty, each side topped with a schmear of your choice, a thick slice of tomato, a smattering of herbs, and a drizzle of oil. It makes me feel like a @real_housewives_of_clapton meme, but it is delicious.

The open faced Georgia's Heirloom bagel from Papo's.

The vibes at Papo’s are good, but there’s no place to actually sit and enjoy your bagel. And no coffee here—iced or otherwise—making a morning out at Papo’s a two or three-stop excursion. These aren’t dealbreakers, of course. I’d put up with a few more inconveniences if it meant I’d get one of those perfectly cooked bagels for my troubles.

The search continues

While I’m pleased with the results of my bagel quest so far, the search for the perfect New York-style bagel in London will never cease. Don’t worry—I’ll report back here on Night Water with my next batch of London’s best bagels. Have a bagel recommendation? Throw it in the comments below and I’ll add it to the list.