Win's Wontons and Barbecue Can Stay Under the Radar, as Long as They Stay Around

Wins_Noodles_BBQ.JPG
Jonathan Kauffman
Win's barbecue combo with noodles, $6.50.

Part of a series about restaurants that have been around so long they've slipped into a media black hole.

There are places that have seeped into the fabric of a neighborhood so deeply it's hard to see them as you drive by ― sandwich shops, taquerias, pizza places, noodle shops. With its decades-old sign and steam-smudged windows, through which the rows of hanging ducks and strips of carmine pork are barely visible, Win's Restaurant seems as if it's been camouflaged to fade into the fog. Ask your friends and your friends' friends about their favorite places for barbecued meats and noodles, though, and its name always filters back.

Wins_Exterior.jpg
Wes M./Yelp
Is it 1974 inside the wood-paneled room? 1989? 2000? A camera crew could film a multigenerational epic in here without needing to change more than the calendar on the wall. Weekends the place fills up, but on a weekday, it's you and a dozen workers like you stopping in for a quick bowl of wontons, plus scattered tables of a host of retired people.

A few of the dishes come out from the back counter, but the diners are mostly keeping the two cooks at the front busy: The noodle guy dips tangles of noodles and baby bok choy fronds in one bathtub-size vat and ladles supreme broth out of another. Next to him, the meat guy gives you a assessing glance when the ticket comes in, then picks out a duck just for you, as if it's got just the right shape to match your astrological sign. The thwack-thwack-thwack of the cleaver rarely stops for long.

Wins_Wontons.JPG
Jonathan Kauffman
Wontons in supreme soup, $3.95.
The wontons I ordered were good, stuffed with shrimp, with a little crunch to them and wrinkled skins that trailed like silk across the tongue. The chicken-pork broth they floated in was clear and deep.

After a side-by-side comparison of Win's barbecue duck against Cheung Hing's a few months ago, I'm still a Cheung Hing fan. It's a weak devotion, though, eroded after an hour with another plate of Win's duck, the skin papery and sweet, the meat easy to suck off the bones.The duck juices sweetened and shined up the skinny egg noodles underneath, which flickered against my lips as I sucked them in, all crunch and snap. (A side note to anyone who complains that the barbecue here isn't up to Vancouver or Hong Kong standards ― move anywhere else in the country for a few years and you'll miss it like the dickens.) I may have shied away from eating all the fat in the the siu yuk, or crisp-skinned pork ― middle age makes a man warier than he used to be ― but it was impossible to leave the table while a scrap of the bubbly, crunchy cap of skin still clung to the meat.

Noodles and meat, wontons and broth: Not much to make an excursion for, it seems on the foggiest days when Taraval and 41st seems like the Outer-Outer-Outer Sunset. Sometimes the humblest food, though, is the stuff that leaves me most content to have hunted it down.

Win's Restaurant: 3040 Taraval (at 41st Ave.), 759-1818.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie. Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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Win's Restaurant

3040 Taraval, San Francisco, CA

Category: Restaurant

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