J. Kenji López-Alt, the celebrated cookbook author and recent Seattle transplant, raised eyebrows (and probably a few guffaws in Gotham) when he declared last year that “our best bagels are just as good as any in New York.”

Since López-Alt made that claim to The Seattle Times, his legion of social media fans has obsessed over his Instagram posts for hints about where the man finds his schmears and lox.

We went to the source, asking the acclaimed food scientist and New York Times recipe columnist to dish on his favorites and to opine on what makes a great bagel. Lately, López-Alt has been deep into Chinese food while researching his new cookbook, “The Wok: Recipes and Techniques,” which will be released March 8, but the bagel evangelist always makes time to grab his go-to order (an everything-seasoning bagel with lox) at least once a week.

There will be a lot more for López-Alt and readers alike to chew on in the coming months, as 2022 brings another wave of bagel shops to Seattle:

  • Brothers Jesse and Kit Schumann, who bake some of the best breads in Seattle at their Sea Wolf Bakers shop, are turning their attention to bagels. Their new cafe in Montlake is slated to open this spring.
  • Next month in the South End, the popular Zylberschtein’s Delicatessen & Bakery will do bagels at its offshoot kosher cafe, Muriel’s All Day Eats in Seward Park.
  • In March, the acclaimed Loxsmith Bagels will open a breakfast counter across from the Beacon Hill light-rail station.
  • Rubinstein Bagels, already in South Lake Union and Capitol Hill, seems bent on world domination, with plans to add branches in downtown Seattle and in Redmond in the fall. Next year, this Seattle chain plans to add branches in Bellevue and the North End with eyes on expanding as far as Boise, Idaho.
  • A cult favorite, Mt. Bagel, will hire a third full-time baker soon to ramp up production since its online bakery continues to sell out in 30 minutes.

When he moved to Seattle from California in late 2020, López-Alt said he discovered the Emerald City was in the midst of a bagel boom. “I was surprised how good the bagels were,” said López-Alt, who grew up in New York.

For López-Alt, a good bagel has certain characteristics. Even when untoasted, a fresh one should possess an eggshell-thin, crackly crust, dotted with tiny blisters that result from the two-step cooking: boiling followed by a high-temperature bake. Those microblisters give the bagel’s shell “more surface area and crunch,” he said.

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In a great bagel, López-Alt said the crust should give way to a dense and chewy interior when you bite. Bagels have a short life span. Once out of the oven, it’s a race against time before they turn jawbreaker-hard. López-Alt estimates the first 30 minutes out of the oven is when a bagel is still at its flavor and textural peak.

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But even an old bagel sitting for hours in the bin can be given a second life. If it’s clear a bagel has been sitting around for a while, López-Alt advises to order the bagel whole, never sliced. Then, request that the bagel be toasted, to revive that “contrasting” profile of crackly skin and chewy interior, he says. Or when you get home, run the bagel under tap water a few seconds before reheating in the oven, he says.

Here, in no particular order, are López-Alt’s five favorite bagels in Seattle. His comments were edited for brevity.

Rachel’s Bagels & Burritos

5451 Leary Ave. N.W., Seattle; 206-257-5761; rachelsbagels.com

López-Alt: Their classics — everything (seasoning), poppy seed, garlic, salt bagels — are very good. But they also do interesting modern flavors like with nori-and-sesame seed. Its bagel is a classic profile — blistery, crackly and chewy. A bagel when it’s a couple of hours old, gets hard. Rachel’s is always fresh. They also use whole-wheat flour, so they have a little sweeter flavor. Maybe maltier than some other bagels.

His go-to order: The togarashi seasoning bagel with nori, mixed chilis, salt, orange peel and sesame seed.

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Loxsmith Bagels

2709 17th Ave. S., Studio B; Seattle; loxsmithseattle.com

Loxsmith Bagels recently closed its Capitol Hill branch. It will reopen in Beacon Hill near the light-rail station as early as March.

López-Alt: He [owner Matthew Segal] is bagel obsessive. He reminds me of people who are pizza obsessive. If you want to make a good bagel or pizza, you have to be invested in it. And [Segal] is single-minded about bagels and lox. I like their lox, especially their specialty fish — salmon pastrami, whitefish, smoked sablefish. Their bagel has a darker crust [from the lye]. Loxsmith’s is more pretzel-like than other bagels. It’s darker, crustier, more blistery. From my knowledge, Loxsmith is the only place around that does egg bagels, which I enjoy.

His go-to order: Salmon pastrami on an everything-seasoning bagel.

Rubinstein Bagels

403 15th Ave. E. and 2121 Sixth Ave., Seattle; 206-539-2888; rubinsteinbagels.com

López-Alt: They also use lye, but the flavor is not as strong [as Loxsmith’s]. They use a sourdough, so it has more tanginess. Not typical of a New York style, but I don’t find it overbearingly sour. Rubinstein [on Capitol Hill] is the one I go to most frequently; [it’s] my local neighborhood bagel shop. They were out of lox once, so I got their salmon eggs. I never thought to put salmon eggs on a bagel before. It was delicious.

His go-to order: Fried onion-and-chive schmear with lox on an everything-seasoning bagel.

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Eltana Wood-Fired Bagel Cafe

1538 12th Ave. and 3920 Stone Way N., Seattle; 206-724-0660 and 206-420-1293; eltana.com

López-Alt: It’s a wood-fired Montreal style bagel. It’s slimmer, sweeter, less salty. Montreal’s are more Old European style like a Turkish simit bread. They’re not as chubby as those modern New York style bagels that are so big that the hole closes.

His go-to order: Za’atar-scallion cream cheese on an everything-seasoning bagel.

Zylberschtein’s Delicatessen & Bakery 

11752 15th Ave. N.E., Seattle; 206-403-1202; zylberschtein.com

López-Alt: [This is] a typical New York style bagel. I like Zylberschtein’s because of the experience. They have a lot of New York deli and bagel shop staples that I don’t know where else I can find in Seattle. They have good matzo ball soup and the best pastrami. And they have a good, dense, yeasted jelly doughnut.

His go-to order: I try to get an everything-seasoning bagel, but they always sell out. So I end up with a sesame, poppy, plain or whatever they have left with lox and cream cheese.