NYC hidden dining gems: Leon’s Bagels keeps it classic (2024)

Let’s stir the pot. Let’s talk about bagels.

There is a reason I haven’t written about a bagel spot in NYC Hidden Dining Gems yet. In a city like New York, I don’t want the death threats that will inevitably come with discussing what makes a bagel good. But, how can I really call myself a New York food writer without discussing the most iconic food the city has to offer? So, while I know there are plenty of true, tried and tested bagel shops in the city that have been standing for more than a century, I decided to try somewhere fairly new: Leon’s Bagels.

In a jet-lagged daze after returning from an international trip, I aimlessly strolled along Bedford Ave. in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in search of a bacon, egg and cheese on an everything bagel. It’s my go-to ritual when I return to New York after traveling. As I walked around the sea of cool, hip young adults, I saw a white awning that read “Leon’s Bagels” in forest green letters.

I approached the window, because that’s all this storefront is (just a takeout window with a small bench seating area out front for sunnier days), and saw a fairly simplistic menu. But like a true New Yorker, my order would have been the same even if they had 300 bagels with 4,000 cream cheese options. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I asked if they had hot sauce, and was told they instead offer chili crisp, an Asian-style textural hot sauce with crunchy bits of garlic, shallot and chili flakes throughout.

NYC hidden dining gems: Leon’s Bagels keeps it classic (1)

My litmus test for a good bagel comes down to texture. I want a slightly crispy shell without reaching the point of “crunchy,” paired with a toothsome, chewy interior. I also look for the right amount of seasoning, especially for an everything bagel. And if you skimp on my bacon, egg or cheese filling — fuhgeddaboudit.

As I waited for my order, I was lucky enough to catch the owner, Chris Taha, right out front. As he began to tell me his journey through the restaurant industry, he mentioned he used to run Summers, a juice and coffee shop not too far from Leon’s. They sadly have closed, but we immediately realized we had possibly met in a past life, since I frequented Summers for the more than10 years I lived in the neighborhood. Our kismet meeting was only further emphasized when he mentioned he also runs Father Knows Best in Bushwick, a bar and restaurant that’s still open and yet another stop I frequented when I lived in that neighborhood. Meeting Chris was a friendly reminder that New York is indeed the biggest small town.

During the peak of the COVID-19 epidemic, Taha considered going back to school or changing career paths, but a light bulb flicked when he thought back to his roots of working in a bagel shop in Palm Springs, Calif., as a kid. With his expertise in the restaurant industry, he decided to open a bagel shop here, a bold move in New York. His idea was he could bring a familiar food that everyone loves at a reasonable price during a financially stressful time.

Taha wanted to avoid the stress that comes with sometimes entering a busy bagel shop, specifically wishing to avoid confusing lines and disgruntled employees screaming “NEXT!” I laughed at the relatable sentiment. He called the shop “Leon’s Bagels” after his godfather, Leon.

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“He was a guy that brought neighbors together, and helped create community on a micro level,” he tells me.

It seems Leon has passed the gift of creating community on to Chris. As we are chatting, a woman eavesdropping interrupts to tell me these are her favorite bagels in New York and she won’t go anywhere else.

While it can be hard to argue that a new bagel spot could hit all of the old-school marks, Leon’s is doing just that. There’s something nostalgic about just the look of it, with its clean-cut awning and bold letters, which can be credited to Jenny Taha, the woman behind the creative marketing and Chris’ wife.

We all know there is indeed such a thing as a bad bagel, but luckily, you won’t find one at Leon’s. While I went in blind and had neutral expectations, Leon’s quickly landed among my top five bagels in New York. It’s chewy in that satisfying way that only New York bagels can provide. It’s got body, it’s got soul, and the chili crisp, a nod to Chris’ Asian roots, gives it heart.

Speaking of the chili crisp, if you’re into heat, you should absolutely go for it. That first bite of my BEC at Leon’s gave me a sigh of relief after my nearly 30-hour commute back to the city. There’s really no place like home, and when your home is New York, only a good bagel can fully welcome you back.

Address: 128 Bedford Ave., Suite B, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11249
(Manhattan location: 169 Thompson St., Suite B, New York, N.Y. 10012)
Phone: (718) 290-9399
Hours: Monday-Thursday 8 a.m.-3 p.m.; Friday-Sunday 8 a.m.-4 p.m.
Prices: Single bagel $2; Assorted Dozen Bagels $24; Sandwiches $2-$15; Coffee $3.50-$5
Takeout and delivery available; no reservations.

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NYC hidden dining gems: Leon’s Bagels keeps it classic (2024)


Why do New Yorkers love bagels? ›

As Jewish refugees from Poland and Eastern Europe began to arrive in New York City en masse in the 1800s, they brought their traditional foods with them such as challah, brisket, knishes, and bagels. For many decades, bagels were little known outside of the Jewish community, where their popularity was widespread.

Why is bagel popular? ›

Bagels gained popularity among the Jewish communities in Eastern Europe because of their accessibility and affordability, and as Jewish immigrants made their way to the United States, they brought their beloved bagels with them.

What is the secret of New York bagels? ›

The Key to a Real New York Bagel

New York bagels get boiled prior to baking, defining their special texture in a solution of water and barley malt. A long boil and thicker crust inhibit rising, resulting in a dense interior while a short boil yields a crusty yet chewy bagel bite.

What is the difference between a New York style bagel and a regular bagel? ›

NYC bagel purists will claim the main difference between a New York bagel vs. a regular bagel is the water you boil them in. Much like a specific vineyard terroir is used to make a wine, certain minerals in New York City tap water are attributed to creating the best bagels.

When did bagels become popular in New York? ›

While there is debate over just when the first bagels appeared, historians agree that the bread originally arrived in New York in the late 19th century. The bagel grew in popularity in Manhattan's Lower East Side in neighborhoods populated by Jewish immigrants from Poland, where it had been made for centuries.

Why are New York bagels superior? ›

According to popular mythology, the uniquely superb texture of the New York bagel has to do with New York City's water — specifically, its low concentrations of calcium and magnesium, which make it softer.

What do New Yorkers eat on their bagels? ›

A bagel is an iconic New York food. It's a round bread, with a hole in the middle, savory, crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside. It's topped with seasonings and traditionally filled with cream cheese and smoked fish. It's most known as a breakfast item but can be eaten at brunch or lunch time.

Why are bagels better in Long Island? ›

Some say it has to do with the water, some say it's the old-fashioned recipe imported from Eastern Europe and perfected in America. But no matter how you slice it, LI bagels are a cut above the rest.


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