Spots like Union are scattered all over Logan Square—dark places filled with wood and bricks that aren’t quite bars and aren’t quite restaurants either. Now, we realize you have free will and can utilize these…(apologies in advance for the incoming portmanteau) barstaurants however you want. But Union has exceptional food, and that's why you should make eating dinner here a priority.
Union is the second project from the team behind Lardon, a mostly-daytime cafe right next door that we named one of Chicago’s Best New Restaurants of 2021. Union has a full dinner menu and takes reservations, but is also open until 1am, and the bar itself takes up a majority of the space. Aside from a few wooden booths, the seating is communal, and the space is as loud and crowded as you’d think a cool spot 144 feet away from the California Blue Line would be.
Union calls its food New American, and if reading that vague classification just made you fall asleep, well, wake up. The dishes here are thoughtfully composed and include twists that you wouldn’t expect to find at a place that looks like just a regular ol’ bar.
We’d happily eat the creamy pimento spread even if it wasn’t flecked with pieces of spicy salami, smoked peppers, or served with a giant housemade cracker. Olives as a bar snack are usually about as interesting as hearing about someone else's dream that doesn’t include you. But at Union, the olives, which are lightly friedo, stuffed with mortadella, and sit on creamy romesco, are worth talking about.
As great as a bowl of not-dull olives are, Union really captures our attention with their larger plates. Like juicy pistachio lamb meatballs sitting in an acidic caper broth and topped with shaved fennel and pomegranate seeds. A bite that includes all of the above is salty and a little sour, with refreshing pops of sweetness. They have seasonal mains like roasted chicken with charred fresh corn, jus, and the unexpectedly welcome addition of spicy honey labneh. There’s also the chaotically great cauliflower romanesco: a pile of charred cauliflower, piquillos, shishitos, almonds, mint, and queso fresco on top of a generous smear of spicy romesco. No two forkfuls are the same, unless you count the fact that they’re guaranteed to be delicious.
Of course, you can definitely just come here to meet someone for drinks. There’s a section of the menu devoted exclusively to varieties of Old Fashioneds, and there are about a billion Midwestern beers on tap. The communal tables are fun so long as you don’t mind people overhearing your boring dream. Just know, all that olive-frying and attention to creative detail means you might wait longer than anticipated for your food. We say: make friends with your table neighbors, be patient, and order a drink to pass the time. But you can make your own decisions.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Be the first to get expert restaurant recommendations for every situation right in your inbox.
We weren’t sure what to expect from Union’s fried olives, images of fried pickles with heavy breading that slides off kept dancing in our minds. But the breading on the mortadella-stuffed olives is light, and the spicy romesco adds a nice level of spice.
How interesting can a pimento cheese spread be? When it’s full of smoked peppers and minced salami it can be pretty interesting. It’s salty, creamy, smoky, and comes with a giant housemade cracker that’s fun to crush into tiny pieces. Order this.
Lamb And Pistachio Meatballs
These are some of the best meatballs we’ve encountered. The lamb is juicy, and sitting in a savory caper salsa verde broth that’s balanced out with pomegranate seeds.
The chef put what looks like a very fancy compost heap in front of us and said: “This is my favorite dish.” We were skeptical but now we get it—it’s delicious. The charred cauliflower is mixed with piquillo peppers, shishito peppers, almonds, mint, and pieces of queso fresco on a bed of spicy romesco.
Cavatelli Alla Vodka
Most New American restaurants have at least one pasta on the menu. At Union, it’s handmade cavatelli with vodka sauce. The pasta is al dente, and the flavorful sauce is mixed with mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach and ricotta. Our only complaint is that we detected minimal mushrooms, but we didn’t miss them.
You didn’t think we’d review a “New American’ restaurant without a burger, did you? Of course there’s a burger on the menu, and it’s very good. It’s made with a thick brisket patty, and is topped with fried onion strings and a bone marrow aioli that’s probably unnecessary but we’re completely fine with since it just tastes like beefy mayonnaise. It’s on a brioche bun, and served with crispy yukon gold potatoes that have a crispy, smashed exterior and a fluffy interior.
"Almost Boneless" Half Chicken
We know, we know, chicken is boring etc. etc. But the roast chicken at Union isn’t. The deboned breast and intact leg changes seasonally, and the two times we ordered it included roasted sweet corn, peppers, jus, and was sitting on a spread of spicy honey labneh. It’s great, no chicken-shaming here.