The Insider: Why Taiwanese American hit Win Son still reigns supreme for New Yorkers

Credit: Win Son
A cheesy chicken dish at NYC restaurant Win Son

When Win Son opened in East Williamsburg in 2016, it quickly established itself at the forefront of a wave of modern Taiwanese American restaurants that would soon become a fixture in the city. Tons of acclaim followed, including a Food & Wine best new chef nod for chef and partner Trigg Brown, as well as a MICHELIN Bib Gourmand for the restaurant.

Lines out the door followed, too, and nearly a decade on, that still remains true at this Brooklyn favorite. The success—which includes opening the wildly popular Win Son Bakery across the street in 2019, with a soon to open second location in Manhattan—is particularly remarkable given the restaurant only came to be thanks to a chance meeting between Brown and his business partner Josh Ku.

Brown, an alum of fine-dining hotspots like Upland and Craft, and Ku, previously in property management, bonded over food at a barbecue in Bed-Stuy. Soon they were making pilgrimages to Flushing for favorite dishes from Ku’s childhood in Queens, and they ditched the idea of opening an Italian spot in favor of bringing Taiwanese flavors to their neighbors in Williamsburg.  

Dishes like Win Son’s crispy chicken sandwich have become stuff of legend. | Credit: Win Son

“We realized there were a lot of pasta restaurants, and that our friendship was built on eating Taiwanese food in Flushing,” Brown says. “We love our community and thought we [would] reconfigure those dishes that were inspiring to us for our neighborhood.”

Their crispy chicken sandwich with fermented tofu mayo and their take on the Taiwanese chive and pork stir-fry fly’s head have become stuff of legend, and it’s why New Yorkers keep going back. “We are cooking food with our hearts on our sleeves with the goal of feeding people food that is meaningful to us,” Brown says.  

In our latest installment of the Insider, Brown and Ku share the secret to their success, what to order on their new wine list, the best seat in the house, and more. Read on for the full scoop.

What do you think Win Son’s X factor is?

Josh Ku: Definitely the staff, both front and back of the house. 

Trigg Brown: True. Our staff, they keep it vibrant. We are both grateful for the banner of diversity that we have. It generates creative solutions and different perspectives, whether it’s the wine list or specials or service points. We cherish that element of Win Son.

Ku: Fly’s head [a dish of ground pork stir fried with chopped garlic chives, chiles, and fermented black beans, which give the dish its name]. Main Street Imperial in Flushing is one of the restaurants I grew up going to with my dad, and he would order it a lot. 

Brown: It’s not traditional Taiwanese, it’s got a Hakka stir-fry influence and some Sichuan elements to it. It speaks to the melting pot of Taiwanese cuisine. 
Ku: It’s an OG menu item, and it’s a dish that Trigg loved when I took him to Main Street Imperial. It was also one of the first things Trigg cooked when we were getting more serious about this restaurant as a goal.

What’s the underdog of the menu?

Be sure to get an order of the pea shoots when you’re at Win Son next. | Credit: Win Son

Brown: Definitely the pea shoots. We just stir fry them in the wok on high heat with garlic, add some sesame oil, and finish it with fried shallots and bean paste. It’s very simple, but it’s something a little more sophisticated than the traditional.

What is the hidden gem on the wine list? 

Brown: Ninety percent of our list is now new stuff we have been learning about. I love the Partida Creus, a Spanish wine of neglected and forgotten grapes that they nurture in clay soil right near the ocean and also the François de Nicolay Rully Chardonnay from Burgundy. The list is full of Chenins, Chards, Aligotés, and Rieslings—perfect palate wash for our food.

What’s your favorite product at the restaurant for people to try at home?

Ku: The Ginger Deluxe. This is on every sandwich we make at the bakery. It’s our house sauce, loosely modeled on Raising Cane’s fried chicken sauce. 

Brown: Ours is punched out with fermented bean curd, ginger, and scallions. We sell it at the bakery. You will put it on everything.

Who’s your longest regular?

Brown: We have a few regulars, but we should call out two. First is Chris, who we call Brunch Daddy. The girls (on staff) thought he was cute and called him that when they didnt know his name. 

Ku: And Greg Wong. He lives close by and has been coming in since the beginning. And hopefully we didn’t offend anyone here by leaving them out!

Who’s your longest serving staff member?

The Win Son team posing at the bar of their restaurant in NYC
The Win Son team has made the restaurant a perennial favorite since its opening in 2016. | Credit: Laura Murray

Brown: Stephanie Auquilla. She is the GM of the bakery, and she has worked every management role that we have had until this point. 

Ku: She’s been with us since we opened in 2016, so eight years.

What’s the best seat in the house?

Catch the action in the kitchen from the bar at Win Son. | Credit: Win Son

Brown: Bar Seat 1. Brian Girouard, who is our executive chef, said that that is the best seat because you can see him sweating in the kitchen while he cooks. 

Ku: Table 5 is also good, though there is less of Brian sweating. It’s one of our biggest tables and it has a lazy Susan on it. The restaurant is best enjoyed in larger groups, so this table is perfect for a bunch of friends to come and share. The more food you can order and taste, the better.

The table with the lazy Susan is the best in the house for larger groups. | Credit: Win Son

When is the best time to find a reservation? 

Ku: We are usually booked at 7 pm, so earlier is better.

What’s been the biggest change at the restaurant since the opening?

Trigg: Our wine list. We’ve been working on developing and bringing in new producers. We are not natural wine nerds. I mean we are, but we also like basic white Burgundys.

What’s your favorite award you’ve won?

Brown: In 2020, we won Food & Wine’s best new chef, which meant a lot, but it’s also such a team effort that I am not sure that sort of award is really appropriate. Also just the general accolades, like Yelp/Google reviews, we’re proud of.

Known for her pioneering food blog, The Strong Buzz, Andrea covers restaurants, chefs, trends, and big picture stories about the intersection of food, business, policy and the law for publications such as The New York Times, Fast Company, Food & Wine, New York Magazine, Eater, and more. She lives, eats, and loads and unloads the dishwasher in Brooklyn. Follow her on Instagram, @strongbuzz.

Find your table for any occasion