The Best Bagels In ChicagoIt’s easy to find something that passes for a bagel in Chicago. But a great one? You’ll find those in this guide.
It's a universally held truth that Chicago's bagel scene can't compete with New York's. But after spending countless hours traversing the city and enduring weeks of ridicule from Infatuation NYC, we discovered plenty of respectable—dare we say, great—bagels within our city limits. We recognize that bagel preference, much like your decision to forgo a coat when it's 45 degrees and sunny, is a deeply personal choice. Whether you like yours soft and airy, dense and chewy, or toasted beyond belief, here are 10 spots for a quality bagel with cream cheese.
New to the guide (08/14): Tilly Bagel Shop
R&A Sourdough has the best bagels in the city. They’re hand-rolled, kettle-boiled, baked onsite, and, as the name suggests, are made from sourdough. That flavor comes through in a tangy and squishy crumb that has just the right amount of loft, wrapped in a lightly bubbled crust. You can get the usual variety, but there are also flavors like rosemary and pink salt, za’atar, and oats and honey (the latter tastes suspiciously like dessert when paired with the maple cinnamon schmear). The bagel sandwiches are pretty good too—our favorite is the Youngster, which comes with cream cheese, cheddar, egg, hot honey bacon, and hot sauce. R&A is in Ravenswood and is only open until 2pm during the week and 1pm on weekends, so our advice? Go early, and go often.
The everything bagel at this Jewish deli in Lakeview is near perfection, with a crunchy golden crust and a generous dusting of seasoning that doesn’t have any burnt garlic pieces. The crust-to-crumb ratio and the overall softness (but not mushiness) of the dough means it stands up well to cream cheese or whatever filling you choose from the long menu. Unlike a lot of the other spots on this list, Steingold’s has a legitimate dining space, and plenty of bagel flavors left even later in the afternoon. But be prepared to get your food to go during weekends when the line can spill out onto the sidewalk.
BroBagel in Wicker Park is from the owners of nearby New Haven-style pizza spot, Piece Brewery and Pizzeria. These New York-style bagels are boiled then baked for an especially crackly crust with a springy interior. They’re hefty and thick, and so is the cream cheese that’s slathered on (which will probably end up as much on your hands as in your mouth). The bagel sandwiches are pretty solid, and there’s even a vegan option with scrambled spiced tofu, sautéed mushrooms, onions and spinach.
Bagels are part of the “first bake” at Mindy’s, meaning they’re available right when they open at 7:30am. And you’ll need to get to this specialty bakery early because these bagels sell out fast. They’re incredibly soft and light, with lots of air pockets, and a golden, chewy crust. Our preferred method of consumption is a gentle tear and dunk—pick your cream cheese wisely (the chive pesto or lox is never a bad choice). There are usually five staple bagel flavors every day, like garlic challah and an everything bagel that includes fennel, plus a few rotating specials and gluten-free options. Mindy’s is only open Thursday through Sunday, and there’s limited seating, so be prepared to fight off the Wicker Park crowds and eat in your car.
The Bagelers Coffeehouse makes their own kettle-boiled bagels. They have a light, bubbly crust that gives way to a soft, doughy interior, and come in classic varieties, plus flavors like pretzel or chocolate chip. They’re the perfect vessel for one of their housemade cream cheeses, like garlic chive or giardiniera. There are also a few options for bagel sandwiches—we like The Butcher: an Italian meat triple-threat of salami, mortadella, and hot coppa with muenster, lettuce, onion, tomato, and garlic mayo. This Lincoln Park spot is great for grabbing breakfast or lunch to go, or for dining in while getting some work done.
On paper, Gotham might not seem like a likely candidate for having some of the city’s best bagels. It’s originally from Madison, Wisconsin (not exactly known for its bagel prowess), and runs its carryout operation from three nondescript windows around Chicago. But the bagels here are big, bready with a lot of chew, and come in 12 different flavors—including pumpernickel, asiago, and a very reliable everything bagel. There are some basic cream cheese options, plus a very long menu of bagel sandwiches like the perfectly proportioned BEC or a simple but satisfying cheddar, avocado, and bacon combo.
Lincoln Square bakery Baker Miller recently relaunched as Bagel Miller, a dedicated bagel shop. The flavor variety is limited (just five to choose from), but that allows the non-routine schmear flavors, like gochujang chive, to really shine. The bagels are also a little crunchier and flatter—not as smooshy as we normally like. But their structural integrity makes them excellent vehicles for sandwiches, which is what this place does best. There are options like classic BECs, pastrami and giardiniera cream cheese, or pho-spiced round beef, chive cream cheese, and basil. You can order your food to-go at the walk-up window, or there’s a handful of booths inside for dine-in.
Getting a bagel from All Together Now is like trying to take advantage of the one 65-degree day we get in March: you’ve got a limited time frame to enjoy it, but if you manage your plans right, it's incredible. The restaurant-slash-wine shop-slash-cheese counter in Ukrainian Village only serves bagels during weekend brunch (from 10am until they run out), and there aren’t that many options to choose from—a plain or everything bagel (with plain or scallion cream cheese), or a bagel sandwich with creamed trout. But whatever you choose, you’ll end up with a beautifully formed bagel with a just-crispy-enough buttery crust and a pillowy interior that you’ll be thinking about the rest of the day.
Like R&A, the bagels at Tilly Bagel Shop in the South Loop are sourdough-based and made fresh throughout the morning, a watchable activity thanks to a partially-visible kitchen. Each bagel is fluffy and chewy, with a thin, lightly blistered crust. They come in interesting flavors like cacio e pepe or a rotating special like pepperoni pizza. The soft bagels seem designed to be ripped and dunked in the housemade cream cheese, which are equally delicious and creative—like the seasonal peach and olive oil.
Beans & Bagels is the epitome of a neighborhood coffee shop—it’s on a quiet corner in a residential area of Lincoln Square. While you can’t sit inside, you can stare longingly through the walk-up window at the variety of baked goods on display. The bagels here are comparatively small, but (besides their size) the dough has a delicate underlying sweetness that sets them apart. The flavor is a nice counterpoint to their more savory housemade cream cheeses, like the red dragon (English mustard cheddar) or jalapeno. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention their everything bagel croissant—a (you guessed it) flaky croissant covered in everything seasoning, and stuffed with cheddar and chive cream cheese. We’ll excuse the fact that it’s technically bagel-adjacent, because it’s that good.