It's not easy to get a great bagel in Southern California. It's easy enough to get a bagel, but too many of them are just bread in another shape, by another name.
But it's not impossible. There are a handful of shops that turn out solid, satisfying bagels, and a few that make genuinely delicious bagels. A good bagel should be dense and substantial, but never a brick — pliable and chewy, with a slight crispness to the outermost layer.
You can find good bagels if you know where to look. Here's a list of some favorites in L.A., in alphabetical order. Just remember, bagels are time-sensitive. For best results, wake up early.
If you're looking for excellent bagels in the Fairfax district, pay a visit to the Bagel Broker. It's a small shop that gets very busy, but service is great and the lines move quickly. There's also plentiful seating, which is not the case at most of these places. The bagels are dense and spongy on the inside, offering a soft, pleasant chew. Bagel Broker also does a delicious lox sandwich that takes at least half an hour to eat. 7825 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 931-1258, bagelbroker.com.
As the plain name suggests, Bagel Factory is a functional no-fuss bagel cafe, where you can drop in and get a fat, oven-fresh bagel loaded high with cream cheese. It feels friendly and casually old school, with kosher certificates as wall decor. The family-owned business has spread to three locations in the last 40 years. The bagels are on the fluffy side, with good texture along the edges. 8986 Cadillac Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 837-6046; 3005 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 477-8460; 21221 Hawthorne Blvd., Torrance, (310) 540-2077, bagelfactoryinc.com.
Brooklyn Bagel Bakery
Brooklyn Bagel Bakery is easily the best bagel bakery in L.A. The bagels are ideal, with that lovely yielding sequence of textures in every single bite. We've tried most of the bagels, from poppy to jalapeño cheese to cinnamon raisin to "everything," and every one of them has been the best of its kind. Be warned that this place has no seating — it's to-go only, more of a specialty grocery store than anything else. Still, drive across town for these bagels. 2217 W. Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 413-4114, brooklynbagella.com.
Milo and Olive
Milo and Olive is the only place on this list that doesn't particularly emphasize its bagels. It's actually a casually upscale Santa Monica pizza parlor in the Rustic Canyon/Huckleberry family, with a dedicated bakery attached. The bakery offers all manner of bread and pastries, as well as a small selection fresh bagels. These are wonderful — hefty, chewy and golden-brown, with an almost crunchy bite. 2723 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica, (310) 453-6776, .
New York Bagel & Deli
As you might have guessed, New York Bagel & Deli is the work of a New York native who brought a Brooklyn recipe to the streets of L.A.'s Westside. NYBD is a fully functional deli where you can get a salad or meat-laden sandwich, but the focus is clearly on the bagels. The bagels tend toward bready, but they're still quite tasty, especially with lox in middle. 11700 National Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 391-6226; 2216 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 828-3228, www.newyorkbagelanddeli.com.
Western Bagel is a chain bagel shop, but it's a local one, with fewer than a dozen locations, most of them in the San Fernando Valley. It's also remarkably good, with a wide selection of quality bagels that are several cuts above your Noah's and Einstein's and Bruegger's. Western also offers several low-calorie options, both for bagels and accompaniments. Purists may cringe, but health-conscious customers are grateful to share in the bagel experience, with or without full-fat cream cheese. And Bagel Brad, the cowboy logo with the bagel torso, is pretty adorable. Multiple locations. See website at westernbagel.com.