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The Union Burger, $14.95.

Image: Gary Wise

The fourth location of The Union Kitchen opened on October 17 at 3452 Ella Boulevard. With recent additions including Govinda's Vegetarian Cuisine and Liberty Kitchen Garden Oaks, the latter half of 2016 has been a banner stretch for the Garden Oaks/Oak Forest area, much of which was once considered a gustatory wasteland. Chef Michael Pitrello and sous- and pastry chef Johnny Wesley are already slowly beginning to add new dishes exclusive to the location, including a new burger served at lunchtime called the R.R. Crossing, which features a patty topped with jalapeño Thousand Island dressing, white onions, dill pickles, lettuce, tomato, bacon and American cheese.

But in a recent tasting at the new location, as much as we enjoyed the zip of the tomato-lime cream sauce on the pistachio-crusted chicken pasta and the sweet sesame crunch of the Lolo Hawaiian tostada, the thing that stayed with us was the Union Burger. Call us old-fashioned, but a well-built, highly flavorful burger can be worth its weight in gold. And these days, most suffer either from too much ambition or too little. Often, that means a thin patty buried in a blur of fixings. The Union Burger is about the Angus beef first and foremost, well seasoned and cooked to temperature. Swiss cheese and Oregonian Tillamook cheddar blend for a soft covering of fromage that holds in place just enough crispy pecan-smoked bacon, which in turn gets a boost from barbecue-smoked aioli.

That outsized pile of onion rings? Eat them on the side. The bacon and lightly crisped bun are crunch enough in a single mouthful. In fact, you could even discard the onion rings and be perfectly happy to munch on the (not pictured) truffle fries. Despite what Gordon Ramsay says about truffle oil (and he, incidentally serves truffle fries at his Las Vegas restaurant, BurGr), it can make a nicely salted, crisp fry into a stunner, exactly the result at Union Kitchen. And extra points to the Union Burger for keeping vegetables on the side. Because we are babies. 

Yes, other burgers may come and go, along with more innovative dishes, at the new Ella restaurant. But the Union Burger is forever. Welcome to the neighborhood.

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