On any given afternoon, one of the longest waits at the Turnstyle food hall is for Zai Lai, a tiny stand hawking beef scallion rolls. On any random Saturday, it’s not uncommon to hang around Win Son’s bar for an hour before snagging a seat, a worthwhile price to pay for the doughnut shrimp sandwich. And I’ve heard the queue can regularly snake out the door at Ho Foods, where the beef noodle soup is served teeming with tendon.
Taiwanese Food in New York is thriving — part of a phenomenon that dovetails with a larger boom in regional Chinese restaurants throughout the East Village and beyond — and the newest entrant is 886, a restaurant on St. Marks that glows neon purple like a nightclub. It was packed just after 9 p.m. on a recent Tuesday.
Owner Eric Sze, who helped launch Beijing noodle spot the Tang in 2016 after earning a degree in hospitality at NYU a year earlier, opened 886 to serve a version of his native Taiwanese fare. The menu has some of the usual suspects: Noodles in pork and shrimp broth (danzai mian), oyster omelets, Hakka stir fries. But the restaurant also sells a gigantic chicken sandwich, a dish that merits further inquiry.
Fried chicken occupies a special place in the heart of Taiwanese night market culture. Popcorn nuggets, crispy knobs of dark meat often dusted in chile powder, have been popular there since the late 1970s, while large fried chicken, pounded thin and seasoned, has been a staple there since at least 1992.
The $13 fried chicken sandwich at 886 is an homage to the version Sze grew up eating in at McDonald’s in Taipei. (KFC and McDonald’s are the two largest fast food chains in Taiwan.) It’s marinated, de-boned, skin-on, topped with a ketchup-based hot sauce, chiles, and crunchy daikon slaw. The delivery mechanism is a sesame bun.
If fancypants restaurant burgers can be accused of excessive height and girth, this sandwich is higher, girthier, and messier. The chicken, sporting a handsomely bronzed exterior, spills out over the edges of the bun; the first bites are best managed with a knife and fork before attempting to pick up this behemoth.
Should you order it? Maybe. The exterior is appropriately crunchy, and the slaw packs a refreshingly cool funk, helping to offset the prominent (but never overwhelming) spice levels. The poultry itself is a bit bland, however, with the chicken skin being a touch under-rendered in terms of the fat levels.
For those looking for solid Taiwanese chicken, I’d instead recommend the popcorn variety that’s occasionally sold as a special at Win Son; the smaller portion sizing there is also easier on the stomach (my colleagues say the version at chain Vivi Bubble Tea is quite good, too). Or looking more broadly past Taiwan, I find the chicken sandwiches at Fuku and Shake Shack to have a rounder flavor and seasoning profile.
So if you’re heading to 886, consider the broader menu of small plates before committing to the family-sized chicken sandwich. I’m calling this one a HOLD, and will return to 886 to check out the rest of the menu.
Buy, Sell, Hold is a column from Eater New York’s chief critic Ryan Sutton where he looks at a single dish or item and decides whether you should you buy it, sell it (or just don’t try it at all), or hold (give it some time before trying).
A previous version of this column incorrectly stated the NYU major of Eric Sze. He earned a degree in hospitality, not computer science.