Before I get into the Best Bagel in DC Taste Test, let me start by saying all four of these bagel shops have super tasty bagels. They wouldn’t be the big names in DC bagels if they didn’t. And, as I discussed in my last post, each of them have reasons to stop by one over another.
But, we’re not discussing the merits of Call Your Mother’s za’atar seasoning or Buffalo and Bergen’s scallion cream cheese today. We’re talking about the foundation of all orders: everything bagel with cream cheese.
Tracking the Best Bagel in DC: The Taste Test Rules
So, let’s get into the logistics of this best bagel in DC taste test. We placed orders for the aforementioned everything bagels at each of the four contenders: Call Your Mother, Buffalo and Bergen, Bullfrog Bagels, and Bethesda Bagels.
As a reminder, we only considered the bagel shops that are in walking distance of our home, however, we’re fortunate the the big names are all on this side of town. Here’s my first post on the four contenders.
We picked up the bagels from each shop and brought them home, 11,000 steps later, to try with plain cream cheese. In keeping with traditional bagel protocol, we went untoasted. We measured the diameter on each, then split the bagels into quarters so that we could taste test enough to provide an educated review, without getting ridiculously full. I did not do a blind testing since someone had to actually set everything up, but Adam, who fancies himself a bagel connoisseur, did not know which was which. After the testing I had him guess — and he got every single one wrong, showing that sometimes hype and branding can skew our opinions.
Okay, with the logistics out of the way, let’s get into the reviews! I’m including the names here since that’s the whole point of this but, remember, 1/2 of this testing group did not know which was which while reviewing. I’ll go through diameter, review, rating, and ranking. Note: the order in which they are presented is not the ranking order!
Best Bagel in DC: The Taste Test
The first two contenders up are Call Your Mother, located on Barracks Row and in Petworth, and Bethesda Bagels, located in Navy Yard, Dupont, Bethesda, and a handful of other locations across the DMV.
everything bagel diameter: 4.9″
This is perhaps the most hyped bagel to ever land in DC. The lines are always long and the sandwiches are drool-worthy. But, to be 100% honest, the everything bagel is not the standout item on their menu. I ranked Call Your Mother #4, Adam ranked it #3.
There is an excellent distribution of seasoning, but it’s heavy on the sesame and poppy. Neither of us got much onion or garlic. It’s well-browned…but I’m not sure well-browned is what I want in a bagel. The outside is chewy, but it’s a super dense bagel. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good bagel, but is it the best in DC? No. Adam is still trying to reconcile his love of their branding with the fact he wasn’t blown away (in the blind tasting, he immediately guessed his actual favorite was Call Your Mother and was devastated when it wasn’t).
General sentiment here, skip the everything bagel with cream cheese and opt for the Sun City pastrami sandwich.
Call Your Mother rating: 7
everything bagel diameter: 4.8″
Bethesda Bagels was perhaps the dark horse here. It’s a DC establishment that’s been around for ages, but it doesn’t have the social media star power that some of the other bagel shops have. But, maybe that’s because they’re focused on making out of this world bagels. We both ranked Bethesda Bagels #1.
This boiled bagel has a smooth, slightly glossy, chewy crust with a light, yet filling inside. It’s super flavorful — you’re immediately hit with salt, then your mouth becomes a garlic and onion flake party. There is excellent flavor distribution and good seasoning coverage. This is the kind of bagel where you’re eating it for the unadulterated beauty of the bagel, not because they’ve fancied it up with branding and overpowering sandwich ingredients.
If you’re a bagel purist, Bethesda Bagels is your bagel.
Bethesda Bagels rating: 9
Best Bagel in DC: The Taste Test
everything bagel diameter: 4.75″
One of my favorite spots to grab breakfast or lunch on the Hill, I had high hopes for Bullfrog Bagels and they delivered. We both ranked Bullfrog Bagels #2.
Bullfrog Bagels has a distinct taste that neither of us can quite place, but I love it — it tastes like the shop smells…I’m just not sure what seasoning it us. Their bagels are boiled, so they have that gorgeous, chewy, smooth crust and a lighter inside. Of the four bagels we tried, this was the most garlic forward, which I’m 100% here for, though you’ll also get plenty of onion. There’s great seasoning coverage and there’s a bit of a yellow tone to this bagel, which I’m not sure what that means for the flavor, but, whatever it is, it tastes delicious.
While I 100% recommend ordering the everything bagel from Bullfrog Bagels, you also don’t want to miss their sandwiches. The brisket-dripping Oriole is a personal fave.
Bullfrog Bagels rating: 8.5
everything bagel diameter: 4″
Buffalo Bergen is a great spot for many reasons, bagels being only one of them. They have knishes, old-fashioned sodas, cocktails, and an excellent scallion cream cheese, which I tried this past weekend at the recommendation of a friend. But, when it comes to the iconic everything bagel, I ranked Buffalo and Bergen #3, Adam ranked it #4.
This smaller-size bagel has less seasoning coverage, particularly on the bottom. However, that doesn’t mean it’s hurting for flavor. It’s definitely salty (a win for me!), with a strong garlic flavor. It’s done in a New York water bagel style, though it’s definitely a denser bagel (we both thought it was baked).
Adam’s words: “this is a good sandwich bagel.” And, that was my takeaway, too. Buffalo and Bergen’s bagels are an awesome vehicle for their array of mouth-watering sandwiches and flavorful cream cheeses. It’s not my favorite bagel on its own, but they pack a punch with their other ingredients.
Buffalo and Bergen rating: 7.5
My Takeaways From Our Best Bagel in DC Taste Test
In case you weren’t following, here’s how we ranked the best bagels in DC (Adam and I had 3 and 4 swapped, but, since this is my blog, we’re going with my rankings):
And, again, all these bagels were scrumptious. It really came down to strength of flavor and, perhaps, personal preference over boiled v. baked. So, seriously, don’t come at me for ranking Call Your Mother #4, because you better believe I’ll still probably pick up a few of their za’atar bagels this week.