Among the food icons of Gotham—the classic ’za slice, street-corner hot dogs and chewy oversize pretzels—the classic bagel and lox stands out as one of New York City’s emblematic culinary titans. Like so many American favorites, this simple sandwich is rooted in a hardscrabble immigration story. In the 1800s, inexpensive, already-cooked lox—a derivation of the Yiddish word for salmon, laks—was a boon to Eastern European Jews living in tenements with spare kitchens. The combination of the fish with butter and bread was also a favorite in the old country, and swapping in cream cheese was a logical progression. In the 1930s, a Kraft-sponsored radio show hyped the combination of bagels and cream cheese—then a relatively novel spread—over the waves, and within a decade, the Jewish answer to the cheeseburger had caught on in a big way. Today, there are a seemingly endless number of combinations of bread, spread and fish, from the pared-down purist versions to the profane bastardizations (see: the blueberry bagel, maple cream cheese). Even the fish often used in the sandwich isn’t lox—technically cured in a salt brine—but often a lightly seasoned, smoked and still-delicious salmon. According to David Sax, author of Save the Deli, the proper version is made with five key ingredients: a plain, sesame- or poppy-seed bagel; regular cream cheese; tomato; red onion; and slices of gently brined, cold-smoked Nova lox—the traditional fish rose out of the decades following World War II when Nova Scotia, Canada, supplied the majority of New York City’s salmon. These days, corner delis across the city offer their own varieties, but few do it justice. Below are the best bagels and lox—superlative standard-bearers worth the fight to the front of the appetizing-counter line.
New York City’s best bagels and lox
TONY tracked down the eight best bagels and lox in New York City. From venerated stalwarts to scrappy up-and-comers, here are Gotham’s top versions of the classic sandwich.
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