For years I lived in the shadow of the Pfizer Building, in a corner of North Brooklyn that is geographically close to most things, but in practical terms is the middle of nowhere. There were no cafés, no bars, no restaurants and it was a long, ugly trek to the grocery store. What we did have was a cheap, huge loft and a roofdeck. A few years ago, in search of a more welcoming neighborhood and some actual rooms, my husband and I moved close to the Graham Avenue stop on the L train. Now we say hello to our neighbors (living amongst the Hassidim you quickly learn that your greeting, even if it’s a perfunctory smile, will not be returned), have our choice of latte providers and revel in how great it is to live two blocks from a grocery store.
The one thing that has always been missing for me is a go-to neighborhood restaurant.
If you live in the area (hi neighbor!) you may have your own personal favorite. I love Hummus Market, but that’s more of a lunch spot or a deluxe takeout situation. My husband loves the red sauce classic Frost Restaurant, but it’s just too well lit and too heavy for me to want to go all that often. We both love Il Passatore on Bushwick Avenue, but you don’t always want pasta, and there’s nothing I love to drink there. These are not real problems, I know.
All that is to say that now that Win Son has opened on the corner of Graham and Montrose my non-problems are truly non-issues. It’s a Taiwanese-American spot that serves delicious small plates, dumplings, noodles, sandwiches and more, with an excellent cocktail menu, friendly staff and a welcoming bar. In other words, a go-to neighborhood restaurant.
The entire menu is ideal for sharing, starting with the smaller plates. The marinated cucumbers are bright and refreshing, and I can’t really imagine not ordering them. Nothing on the menu arrives super spicy, but the chili oil sitting on your table is definitely for the heat-seasoned. The pan-griddled pork buns are beautifully crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside. I’m an equal-opportunity lover of all dumplings from pierogis to wontons and these are some of the best I’ve had in recent memory.
Mains can be loosely divided into noodles, meat dishes served with rice, and sandwiches. Zhajiangmian are silky egg noodles that come bathed in spicy lamb sauce, with crunchy cucumbers for contrast. If you’re a fan of X’ian Famous Foods lamb noodles, as I am, these are a slightly more refined variation on that theme–the noodles are narrower and more manageable and the flavors more subtle, so you’re not blowing out your palate with cumin and staining your shirt with flecks of bright orange spicy oil.
The big chicken bun, true to its name, is very big. In general, I just don’t like a chicken sandwich that uses chicken thighs, which are delicious in other contexts, just not in a sandwich. There’s something I find unsatisfying about their texture and about how every bite has a different meat-to-bun-to-other-stuff ratio. Also, chicken thigh sandwiches tend to be too big–I think it’s to combat the appearance of cheaping out by not using chicken breasts. Here’s the thing, yes, chicken breasts are kind of boring. But they are perfectly uniform flavor conductors that are ideal for sandwiches. Give me a smaller chicken sandwich made with butterflied breasts over a hulking thigh-based dish, please. The big chicken bun, though, is so good that I’ll make an exception for Win Son on this. They’re seasoned with five spice, expertly fried, and taste like something on the Pu Pu platter from the really nice Chinese restaurant you grew up going to for special occasions, the one with the koi pond and the waterfall, in the best possible way. The sandwich is so huge that my husband and I have taken to splitting one half and then sharing the other half with our toddler for lunch the next day.
One of the reasons the Win Son is a true neighborhood joint, and not just a destination for Taiwanese food, is the bar, which set back from the main dining room, and peeks into the semi-open kitchen. You can get local beers and ciders here, as well as Taiwan Beer in a can. There’s a solid wine selection and the cocktails are way, way better than they even need to be. Meet a friend at the bar, order the pork buns, some marinated cucumbers and a couple of Chiña Coladas (a pale green combination of dark and light rum, cilantro, basil and coconut cream that is not overly sweet, but packs a deliciously boozy punch) and you’re in heaven.
Win Son, 159 Graham Avenue (at Montrose), 347-457-6010
Tues-Thurs and Sun: 5pm-11pm