Classics Innovated at The Union Kitchen

Categories: On the Menu

UK baked brie.jpg
Photo by Henry Thiel.
Pleasure Dome at The Union Kitchen.
I don't quite understand how after four years of living in Houston, I only just visited The Union Kitchen. And it's only five minutes from my school. Shameful, shameful.

My "good restaurant" radar finally picked up on the restaurant after I stumbled on some enticing online photos of its appetizers. Then I read reviews touting its fantastic service, colossal burger, and something called "Hawaiian" tostadas. A visit was in order.

To celebrate the end of the semester, a friend and I crept in one chilly evening for dinner. The dining room was noisy in that comforting sort of way, and casually elegant, with dim lighting and dark wood. I had thought the grown-up libation offerings at Union Kitchen were limited to beer and wine, but our chipper server Justin informed us of a brand-new mixed drink menu and shared some recommendations. Named after one of their loyal patrons, the "Liz's Martini" immediately attracted my attention. A mixture of chambord, vodka, and pineapple juice made for a refreshing, lighthearted cocktail that I was loath to sip patiently. My companion's "Patio Perfection" (Absolut Citron, ginger ale, ginger simple syrup, cranberry and lemon juices, served on the rocks) was tarter, with a more resounding bite.

I'm usually not big on sharing dishes (I'm a Virgo and an oldest child -- what do you expect?), but there was so much I wanted to try on the menu, it seemed foolhardy not to split both appetizers and entrees.

UK Hawaiian Tostada.jpg
Photo by The Union Kitchen.
Aloha, Hawaiian Tostada.
As a literal and figurative warm-up, we ordered the baked brie and the intriguing Lolo Hawaiian Tostadas. Enveloped in a crispy phyllo dough, the tanned brie was warm, soft, and rich. Accoutrements such as mission hill fig jam and water crackers prompted me to make a series of mini-sandwiches. The Hawaiian Tostadas were bolder and more complex in flavor due to a topping of fleshy ahi tuna, tangy coleslaw, pineapple chutney, and spicy mayonnaise. "A lovely bouquet of sea and citrus on a chip," I giggled, before shoveling one in my mouth. So much for being "lady-like."

UK Paul's Chicken.jpg
Photo by The Union Kitchen.
Paul's Chicken.
Union Kitchen offers a host of innovative pasta dishes, two standouts of which include "Paul's Chicken" and the "Shrimp Tiana." Because of its folksy moniker and mundane ingredients, my expectations for "Paul's Chicken" were rather low. My first bite reminded me, however, that impeccable preparation and construction makes even the most pedestrian food divine. In this case, the marvelously tender grilled chicken, milky melted cheddar, sweet-vinegary barbecue sauce, and smoky bacon on a bed of sauteed local spinach considerably elevated this dish.

UK Shrimp Tiana.jpg
Photo by The Union Kitchen.
Shrimp Tiana
The Shrimp Tiana, with its elegant sculpture of grilled shrimp, gnocchi, and vermicelli noodles, obviously had loftier aspirations. That particular trifecta of ingredients didn't strike me as inherently flavorful; however, the rich marinade on the plump shrimp made this entree redolent of garlic, pepper, sea salt, and olive oil. Fresh, natural, elegant.

In spite of all this gorging and perhaps because of my nine-mile run earlier that day, I managed to save room for some of Union Kitchen's famed burger. Last year, I embarked on a series of "meatings" with my friend Maggie in which we tasted some of H-town's best burger offerings.

UK burger.jpg
Photo by The Union Kitchen.
This burger is asking you to play Jenga.
Union's version was on par with some of the best I've had (re: Christian's, BRC, Branchwater Tavern) and pleasantly unique in its structure. Think "layer cake" in burger form: buttery bun, moist beef, crispy lettuce, juicy tomato, savory onion rings, jack cheese, Sriracha aoli, and another buttery bun. These stacked alternating flavors and textures result in a jaw-stretching taste experience that reminds you that a burger, that ostensibly simple sandwich, can rock your taste buds on multiple levels.

After that, I had little room left in my belly for real cake. I did manage, however, to cram in a few delicious forkfuls of a circular tower of marscapone vanilla cream filling and chocolate cake. Even more decadent were the unassuming chocolate peanut butter kisses, which we nicknamed "lumps of joy" for their shape and rich, creamy interior.

I don't always go so hog-wild at dinner, but seasonal celebrations demand some gluttony. Unlike the holidays, my visits to The Union Kitchen won't come just once a year because there's much more I need to sample.

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Location Info

Union Kitchen

4057 Bellaire Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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We love The Union Kitchen! The wine list is super and the crab cakes are fantastic!


Also a shout out to the potatoes cooked in duck fat and the house-made chips!

Jim Ayres
Jim Ayres

Really, you can't be blamed for missing out on The Union Kitchen the last four years as it's only been open for one. Before that it was the now-forgotten Gina's. The Shrimp Tiana is a holdover from Gina's menu IIRC.

TX Bohemian
TX Bohemian

And before that, Nick's Pasta place.  Grew up in the hood' there in Braes Heights, and still best place ever on that corner ( before it got all gentrified)  in Houston was the bar in the old Bellaire Theatre.  It was called the " Mars Bar."  Catchy huh?  The Whole Foods is not the same.   Well, at least you can still go to the classic dive bar inside the Palace Bowling lanes. 


don't think so. this dish was specifically made for the daughter of Juan.

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