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159 Graham Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11206
Opened in 2016 as part of a successful Kickstarter campaign, Win Son is simply one of the best Taiwanese restaurants in the city. Nestled away in a small space in East Williamsburg/Bushwick, the restaurant serves a traditional blend of Taiwanese dishes including pan-griddled pork buns, sesame noodles, oyster omelette and the always polarizing stinky tofu. (Try it, you just might like it!) Expect to wait, because Win Son is popular, but you will not be disappointed. Save room for dessert because the Tian Miantuan (fried sweet dough, vanilla ice cream and sweetened condensed milk) is amazing.
Win Son is just an unassuming neighborhood spot that happens to serve some of the city’s most ambitious Taiwanese fare. ne of Taiwan’s modern classics, spicy popcorn chicken, became popular in the late 1970s as an easier-to-eat analog to the bone-in variety, hawked by local KFC outposts. Win Son’s riff on that dish is spectacular. Brown coats dark-meat nuggets in a cayenne-laced sweet-potato starch, fries them to a dense crunch, and drenches the morsels in a butter-spiked persimmon hot sauce. The chicken bursts with a distinct poultry tang, offset by shards of crispy fried basil. Wendy’s stock price would go through the roof if the chain figured out a way to take these nationwide.
Taiwanese fare, of course, is not new to New Yorkers, but what makes Win Son particularly compelling in 2018 is that it’s benefiting from a resurgent interest in the Asian nation’s cuisine, fueled by a new crop of young culinarians riffing on their ancestral fare.
The menu is a mix of some of Taiwan’s greatest hits, freely tinkered with by Brown, and originals inspired by the cuisine. Take, for example, the so-called nutritious sandwich, named for the Keelung Miaokou Night Market stall that serves a very popular sandwich of fried sweet dough with Kewpie mayo, crispy hot dog, thousand-year-old egg, tomato, and cucumber. The dough is still fried, but the fillings are subbed out for a mix of pineapple, ham, and jalapeño. Other dishes only have minor changes or none at all: The fried eggplant comes with tart labneh in addition to the usual black vinegar, and pan-griddled pork buns are doused in chili vinaigrette. To wash it all down, there are a few beers, wines, and cocktails like the Auntie Leah (gin, cherry amaro, Aperol, lemon, and lime.)
Brown’s dishes feel constructed for maximum fun. He serves eggplant fried piping hot and buried under chopped cashews and fresh herbs, riffing on the chilled, marinated version he enjoyed abroad. The bowl of crunchy nightshades comes drenched in black-vinegar caramel and, startlingly, labne kefir. (“One thing I learned in Taiwan: Everything’s game,” Brown says.) The dish is Win Son’s sleeper hit, a donnybrook of flavors tied together by rich, tangy yogurt.