Photo credit Jacob Gurvis; Image design Grace Yagel

I Have Thoughts About the Viral LA Stuffed Bagel

The Calic stuffed garlic butter bagel is tasty — but it doesn’t scratch the bagel itch.

I don’t usually think of myself as a bagel snob. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a bit of a purist when it comes to bagels and schmear — the Cold Stone-ification of cream cheese, where we just blend in random foods, offends me. But I typically reserve my pretentiousness for coffee.

Still, once I saw the famous stuffed bagel from Calic Bagel in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, I was skeptical. Bagels are meant to be sliced, not ripped apart, I told myself. Plus, that looks like a lot of butter. But after seeing the viral videos for the umpteenth time, I cracked. I knew I had to try it for myself.

Calic’s menu features three stuffed bagels: the signature garlic butter, a habanero garlic butter and a pepperoni pizza option. They offer five classic bagel varieties — plain, sesame, salt, everything and jalapeño-cheddar bagel — to pair with a rotating lineup of handcrafted cream cheeses and butters ranging from plain and scallion to a basil sun-dried tomato cream cheese and a Korean-inspired cream cheese made with Jeju Hallabong oranges. There’s also a selection of seven bagel sandwiches, plus soup, bagel chips and tater tots, as well as coffee from LA-based chain Groundwork Coffee and fresh-made juice.

Still on my post-Passover carb binge, I finally made my way to Calic last week to see what all the hype was about. And even though it was a cold and cloudy weekday morning, the restaurant — housed inside a Koreatown market alongside a new pizza joint and a bar — was, yes, stuffed. 

Calic, which opened in July 2023, prominently displays signs on their social media, website and in the restaurant itself warning that the stuffed bagels tend to sell out quickly. An employee told me they bake 500 daily and that they often sell out by 1 p.m., especially on weekends, though the warnings urge customers to arrive before 9 a.m. Framed photos of press coverage are proudly shown near the register, too. In other words, they want you to know they’re trendy.

As I prepared to order, I knew I had to try the Signature Calic: a garlic cream cheese-stuffed bagel dipped in garlic butter. The pinwheel-shaped bagel is served fresh, with pockets of the cream cheese filling bursting out of precut gaps in the warm doughy bagel. Calic uses an eight-step, 48-hour tangzhong baking method, an Asian technique for precooking part of the raw flour in water or milk, which leads to softer, moister bread.

And here’s the thing: It’s good. Really good. The bagel is soft, wonderfully gooey and creamy with the right amount of buttery and garlicky perfection. It is fairly rich, with a hint of sweetness.

But here’s where my East Coast bagel snobbery comes in: The Signature Calic is great — if you’re looking for an oversized garlic knot. It’s a delicious take on the classic pizza shop delicacy. But if you’re in the mood for a good ol’-fashioned bagel, this ain’t it.

But since I braved the LA morning traffic and schlepped to Koreatown for this much-hyped bagel, I wanted to be thorough. So I also grabbed two fresh bagels, an everything and a jalapeno cheddar, with their plain cream cheese (again, purist). Calic is very clear about how they view the correct way to eat their bagels: the rip-and-dip method.

I honored their request, betraying all of my values and ripping the bagels to give them a fair shake. And they’re good! Crispy and firm on the outside with a fluffy interior. The everything bagel made a complete mess, which is the sign of a legit everything bagel. The cream cheese did the trick. 

My only complaint? The bagels weren’t warm enough to actually dip into the refrigerated cream cheese, so I had to schmear each bite using the provided ice-cream-like wooden “spoon.” Next time, I’d bring the bagels home and heat them up first. Or, just go somewhere else where they serve them sliced and toasted (with lox and Muenster cheese? Yes, please).

So here’s the bottom line: I’m glad I tried it. The stuffed bagel is pretty good and unquestionably unique. The regular bagels were solid too, even in a city with an underrated bagel scene. But is the whole enterprise a smidge overhyped? Definitely. So next time you find yourself looking for a good LA bagel, I’d stick to the classics.

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