Welcome to the Great Bagel Boom, a series celebrating the vast creative expanses of bagel culture across America—because yes, you can find truly wonderful bagels outside of New York now.
It’s no secret that bagel snobs abound. Mention bagels and they’ll come out of the woodwork in online forums or restaurant reviews, fussing over flours, the quality of regional tap water, and debating the merits of steamed versus boiled. We know, because we’re often those people. But the not-so-secret secret? A bagel doesn’t really need to be good to be enjoyable. Just as frozen pizzas, Crunchwraps, and boxed brownies get their flowers, the humble lo-fi bagel warrants its own place in food culture.
A lo-fi bagel is likely from a chain restaurant or the bread aisle of your supermarket. Think Dunkin’, Panera Bread, or the plush Thomas’ bagel squished into your toaster at home. It’s assuredly not from a destination bagel spot. There’s a good chance it’s mass-produced and hurriedly warmed up in a rotary toaster oven. Bonus points if it’s handed to you through a drive-thru window, snagged from a hotel continental breakfast, or waiting for you in a conference room. They’re the plastic-wrapped and refrigerated doughy gas station bagels grabbed before a road trip and the crumbly bagels purchased bleary-eyed at the airport before an early flight.
But there’s something they give beyond that squishy Wonder Bread-esque texture. Lo-fi bagels are convenient, unpretentious, and, somehow, just as satiating and nostalgia-filled as the hand-crafted stuff.
When we chatted about our favorite bagel experiences in the Bon Appétit office, I discovered that many BA staff are Team Lo-Fi Bagel, or at the very least, have fond memories of them. The lo-fi bagel can feel like an entirely different food than bagels from storied generations-owned shops. That’s the point—it scratches a completely different itch.
For some people, especially those who grew up outside of bagel-centric regions of the country (like New York and the Northeast), most bagels are by default lo-fi bagels. In fact, sometimes those bagels are their first, and a formative experience.